When Steve Douglas – guitarist for seminal ska outfit The Resignators – speaks, you’d best get ready to take note. Not just on account of the fact that The Resignators are a band that’s remained as catchy and relevant as ever throughout their decade-spanning tenure, but because Douglas is a person with an otherwise unobtainable perspective of an entire industry. From running nightclubs in North America, to being a founding member of GWAR, to being taught guitar by a Voodoo princess, Douglas is as experienced in this game as he is prophetic at it.
And as such it’s time to stop, listen and learn, with BLUNT checking in with Douglas to chat about the Ska Nation festival, and how he sees the music industry in crisis surviving the slings and arrows of a neverending pandemic.
“I look at things often as a big picture,” Douglas starts when asked to look into his crystal ball. “I studied a lot of history and stuff at uni, and the arts are not going to go away. That’s just simple. It’s something that’s part of our human nature. It’s what gives us a reason to live. It’s that beauty, or that expression, that angst, that ugliness. As human beings, we express ourselves in art, and in music. It’s not going to go away, it’s going to be reinvented.”
The pandemic shafted all industries, not just music, but there’s a compelling argument mounting that the music industry got a head-scratchingly pointy end of the stick. Bunnings was allowed to stay open and crowds could gather at sporting matches, but none of these concessions were afforded to the live music sector. From there, traditional physical supply chains fell apart before our eyes, all the while more and more ‘Closed’ signs appeared over once-thriving live music venues.
But where most see utter despair, Douglas sees hope. “Sometimes it takes stripping it back to bones and regrowing it again. Mushrooms disappear, but they leave roots underneath the ground – that mycelium, that network, that’s going to pop up, and we don’t necessarily know what form it’s going to take. We don’t know what it will manifest into, but one thing that is absolutely certain is that humans will never stop creating music.”
Douglas posits one potential way forward for the industry: “I think most venues will have a no-jab, no-play policy. We’ve all discussed it amongst the Resignators, and we’ve made sure everybody is onboard with getting the vaccine. Because I don’t think you’ll be able to play in a lot of venues if you’re not vaccinated. I know you can’t get on a Qantas airplane and go play in Europe or go play in the US or Canada without it.”
“It’s almost like the bluegrass festivals I used to go to in America, where there’ll be campfires with people jamming, coming up with new songs around the campfire…”
He also points to the upcoming Ska Nation festival, which will set up shop in an outdoor sitting within regional Victoria, as another indicator of how things will be different going forward – certainly not by reinventing the wheel, but by embracing specific elements to reduce the likelihood of IT becoming a super-spreader event.
“It’s in the country, outside,” Douglas says. “I think having it outdoors was a good idea in this case. The organiser’s got a huge, huge, almost endless paddock for camping. Then it’s anchored by a pub there, so you’ve got facilities and all the things that a pub brings along. The camping means there’s… It’s two nights, so after the first night, you’ve got that camaraderie. It’s almost like the bluegrass festivals I used to go to in America, where there’ll be campfires with people jamming, coming up with new songs around the campfire.”
But there’s also plenty of room for good, clean, skanking fun – after all, Ska Nation is about ska, not COVID-19. Having spent so long locked up in his home, Douglas is beaming at the potential of being surrounded by his brothers and sisters in checkered arms.
“The Bennies are one of my favorite Australian bands,” he gushes. “And I’m really excited about the fact that they’re anchoring. Loin Groin are the godfathers of ska – a goofy, crazy ska. It’s good to have them involved. Oh, then The Ska Vendors. We haven’t played with them in over a year, and they’ve got that good, traditional two-tone ska. The one I haven’t seen is The Pirate Ska Rebellion, but anything with pirates is cool.”
Douglas has been far from idle during his personal lockdown, and was kind enough to not just talk about new material from The Resignators, but give BLUNT a cheeky preview of it. “The next release is one called ‘Talisman’,” he reveals. “It’s a really groovy reggae, rocksteady kind of tune. We pulled back a little bit from our full-on punk, because we hadn’t written a nice rocksteady, dirty reggae tune in a while.
“The inspiration came to me from Shakespeare and Steinbeck’s Winter Of Our Discontent, because we’ve all been through that in the last while. I think we all need a ‘Talisman’ now – something to keep in our pockets; a little bit of hope to help us feel better. It’s that rabbit’s foot my grandfather used to carry around, or something. The one I’m working on here, it’s the story of the day that Bob Marley got shot in Jamaica.”
Whether it’s the idea of returning to his primary function as a musician onstage, new music from his own band, or new music from any artist, after everything the music industry and community have been through over the past two years, Douglas is simply excited to see the form music takes once it inevitably emerges from the ashes of the pandemic.
“Art and music have done that throughout history,” he says. “They get suppressed by different things. The more they’re suppressed, the more they pop up. And punk-rock came from music being suppressed. Rock ‘n’ roll came from music being suppressed.”
Whatever comes next, Douglas theorises, “Could be something we’ve never even dreamed of yet.”
Ska Nation Festival 2021
Friday, 29th October – Saturday, 30th October
Ti Tree Hotel, Warrion VIC
Tickets: Ska Nation
The Isolators (SA)
House Arrest (WA)
Alla Spina (QLD)
Special Guests TBA