THE TOASTERS – The band that has defined the era of ska music

Written by Nenad Pekez

If you listen to and love modern ska music, be sure that the influences of your favorite ska bands are very likely rooted in the New York band THE TOASTERS. It’s one of those bands that everything started with, in this case, regarding second wave of ska music. Robert “Bucket” Hingley in 1981 gathered a group that in the ensuing years managed to break all the stereotypes and skepticisms about the possibilities of ska music and quickly break into the top rankings of the US music. Till this day, the band has played literally several thousands of concerts all around the world and there are absolutely no indications that they will slow down or even stop anytime soon. Among these figures will be a concert at the manifestation Ritam Evrope in Novi Sad on 9th of May. From the very beginnings, to this day, we talked about everything with Rob Hingley.

…I am in no rush to spend money supporting rip off tech companies like spotify, google, amazon etc. these people are vultures and disrespect the very artists they make money off, so to hell with them!

If anyone told you back in the 80’s that The Toasters are going to publish as much as 10 studio albums, develop ska record labels, influence numerous of other ska bands and play several thousands of gigs in next 40 years time, would you belive them?
No, I would probably have told you that you were crazy. But the snowball ran down the hill with me inside it and he we are in 2018 still playing. Seems like the last ten years have gone by really fast but we are back playing live shows as fast as any point since the early 90’s. Last year was 227 (concerts) and this year looks like being almost as much.

Everything mentioned sounds really nice, but let’s be real, there were many challenges on the road that people mostly do not see or not even think about. What was the most challenging for you to overcome during all these years?
Closing Moon Records was very difficult. Not only because it had to be a realistic financial decision but which turned out to be the correct one seeing the direction that the independent  music scene has gone since that time. These days there is no place at the table for traditional record labels. There have also been many changes in the band formation but that’s easy since I literally have hundreds of players that I work with these days all over the world.

Moon Ska Records was one of the most influential ska record labels of the 1980s and 1990s. During 17 years of existance, from 1983 to 2000, this label was publishing only ska and ska-influenced albums. Amongst big ska names that published their albums under this label apart from The Toasters themselves, were The Slackers, Hepcat, The Pietasters, The Scofflwas, etc. Through various compilations they also promoted bands such as Less Than Jake, Gals Panic and No Doubt.

Are concerts still fun as they were few decades ago, especially since ska music requires a lot of energy?
Hingley: Mostly the shows are still fun although the touring can be physically and mentally taxing. I don’t think most people really have a clue how tiring it is with all the driving and keeping irregular hours for sleep, eating etc.  Fortunately we get to go to some odd corners of the world so that makes it exciting.

Was there any crucial moment at which you realised that (ska) music is the thing you want to dedicate your life to? Hingley: In 1981 when I made the decision to start the band for real. But of course at that time I had no idea what was in store. It was originally just a plan for the moment. And looked what happened!

When did you actually start playing music? Was it much before you founded The Toasters?
Hingley: I started  playing guitar when I was 16. so late. I had some band at university in reggae/punk/ska style.

The Toasters in 1990’s

How difficult was it for you to technically learn to play ska? Were there any musicians at the time you could learn to play it from?
Hingley: It came easy. Growing up  in the UK in the sixties it was already well steeped into the culture so not difficult to pick up at all.

You have toured all around the world with the band and witnessed so many different reactions to ska. Where do you think ska is the most popular right now?
Hingley: Mexico. No question. And South America generally.

Amongst the bands that have been directly influenced by  The Toasters is also a New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble, which is also popular all around the world and also played several times in the Balkans region. Rick “Chunk” Faulkner and Fred “Rocksteady Freddie” Reiter were the members of The Toasters for many years before they decided to start their own journey in form of New York Ska-Jazz Ensemble. Interview with this band can also be read on our portal (in Serbian though).

What do you think about European ska scene, especially the one in the Balkans and Eastern Europe, if you’ve had a chance to carefully listen to some of bands?
Hingley: There are loads of great bands. One of the best being Pannonia Allstars Ska Orchestra from Hungary.

The Toasters already played several times in Serbia and region. How do you feel about playing around here, concerts atmosphere and people, of course?
Hingley: Generally it is a very good atmosphere in the Balkans. We have never had a bad show in Serbia and of course we have been working for many years with the great Slavko Krunić.

These days there is no place at the table for traditional record labels.

What is your story with Slavko, Serbian painter and illustrator, how did this collaboration happen? Few years ago you published a single “The House of Soul” which was accompanied by an illustration made by Slavko…
Hingley: As I mentionned Slavko has been booking shows for us for over ten years so it was awesome to have him offer to paint the cover for that 7 inch. It is the Hotel Moscow downtown Beograd plus a rudeboy version of a Nat King Cole photo. Awesome!

Part of the cover for “House of Soul” made by Slavko Krunić

I guess that changes in music industry affected a lack of album releases in last 10 years or so, but are there any indications that The Toasters will publish new album (or more singles at least) in near future?
Hingley: Don’t hold your breath on a new album. We will release some more 7 inch vinyl here and there but I am in no rush to spend money supporting rip off tech companies like spotify, google, amazon etc. these people are vultures and disrespect the very artists they make money off, so to hell with them!

Thank you for your time Rob and see you in Novi Sad soon!
Hingley: Yeah man. Hvala and ziveli!

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