I originally interviewed the Voodoo Glow Skulls for Inland Empire Weekly. I had seen the band play dozens of times at Spanky's, a punk club in downtown Riverside, so I was looking forward to talking to a group that had been one of my favorites in the 90's California hardcore punk music scene.
Other punk bands, like Circle of Violence and Golfball Liberation Front, were not as fortunate as groups like the Voodoo Glow Skulls. They burned bright for a short time and then vanished into the wind because of drinking, drugs, violence and prison.
Well, that's hardcore punk music.
“The World According to the Voodoo Glow Skulls”
For a band as experienced as the Voodoo Glow Skulls, there’d be an expectation that they’d have sold out by making seventy-two obnoxious music videos, a greatest hits album, and then retiring to do soda commercials. Instead, they have remained true to their own groove.
That groove has gotten deeper and traveled longer since their first album, Who Is, This Is, produced by Dr. Strange Records in 1992, going from a standard-issue aggressive punk sound, only to add manic, ska-style trumpets and sax accompanying the thrash-metal riffs, and then taking the multi-culture plunge a few years later with Spanish vocals aimed at the Latin side of the local population to create a sound the band calls “California street music.”
In a conversation with lead guitarist Eddie Casillas, I asked him if he believed that the Spanish-language vocals separated his band from the thundering herd of vanilla punk-prototypes the scene is heir to.
“Most definitely.” He said. “We’re the band that started that. We’re Mexican-American. It’s a part of our heritage. It’s something that we’ve always been proud of. It’s a big part of the scene-it’s unique to Southern California.”
They moved to Epitaph a few albums ago, causing a few detractors to accuse the band of selling out. Whereas hip-hop butt-humps the idea of getting paid, getting rich, somehow punk requires its bards to die poor in a filthy garage. The Voodoo Glow Skulls have walked this fine line with ingenuity and aplomb. They aren’t smiling their teeth out on MTV, but it’s been a while since any of them ate ramen because they had to.
“We got called sell-outs for going to Epitaph.” Eddie says. “Why the fuck would we not want to be there? We had played in Riverside for six years, and then when we went to a big label we got a lot of criticism, but I always felt that Epitaph was the one label a band could go to if they didn’t want to sell out, since they could still be independent.”
Since then the Voodoo Glow Skulls have delivered eight albums of their California street music to the farthest points on the globe from Brazil to Japan while still living in Riverside, the chewy center in the Tootsie Roll Pop that is the Inland Empire.
To listen to their sound is to realize that the Spanish lyrics and flamenco-tinged brass sections that are as mariachi as they are ska isn’t some band trying to make some leap to 97.9 LA RAZA to enhance their street cred.
They play Mexican-American music because they’ve been onto something for the past decade that the rest of So Cal is just becoming aware of: this whole side of California is Mexican-American, Anglo-Latino, white/brown…whatever you want to call it...the Voodoo Glow Skulls are here to celebrate the fusion.