In black and white: The Malcontents 

Lafayette based band defies 'ska' label

Lafayette based band defies ‘ska’ label
On the surface, Emmett Hall may appear to be the last individual you would expect to start a ska band. The inked-up, long-haired drummer moved from Chicago to Indiana roughly two years ago, bringing with him the experience of time spent in a doom-metal band called Novembers Doom. Lengths of hair and sinister tattoos do not often mesh with the cultivated image of Jamaican “rude boys” in suits, porkpies and close-cut scalps. But an exposure to the sounds of Reel Big Fish and an open mind to other forms of music, not to mention a few years under his belt at The American Conservatory of Music, found Emmett seriously searching for fellow ska enthusiasts in the spring of 2002. It was later that summer that The Malcontents found substance. “I’ve always been into a wide variety of music … I’ve always been into ska and soul and Motown … I decided to start [the band] and try to find other people to play with,” explains the 33-year-old drummer. Enter Ryan Fohl. The 23-year-old was schooled in the way of ska-core with the local outfit No Reason Given. Only eight months ago, he and Hall met at a show and struck upon the idea of seriously forming a ska outfit. Fohl, in turn, met up with bassist/vocalist Sharon Koltick who, at the time, was in a project that took its sound from the likes of Mister Bungle. Finding themselves on the same bills with their previous projects, Fohl and Koltick found a common ground in music and a common vocal range, complementing each other both on vocals and their instruments. “I played bass in my old band,” recounted Fohl, “and [Emmett] wanted me to do the singing. So I knew I had to get away from the bass, and I knew that Sharon could play bass a whole lot better than I could … Sometimes Sharon will play me a line that she wrote, that’s so avant-garde, I can’t make sense of it. I’m just like, ‘Wow, Sharon, you need a side project!’” Trumpet players Aaron Copeland and Cory Shields were gained through invitations and auditions, along with second guitarist Grant Stoops. Stoops came to the group after being a regular fan of No Reason Given and jumped at the chance to join an outfit with the same dynamics. The Malcontent family grew when Copeland invited his friend, Jason Inman, to play slide trombone. Fohl thought that finding horns would be the hardest thing to do when forming the band, but it turned out that he didn’t have to look far to complete the lineup. Ex-No Reason Given bandmate Jon Richard, who was unable to join the group right away, eventually joined the band full-time. Richard, who cut his teeth on ska in NRG, brought his skills with the valve trombone to add a greater dynamic to the already impressive horn lineup. “A valve trombone is basically a euphonium that’s made to sound like a trombone,” Richard states. Emmett Hall put it a bit more plainly: “Jon adds a really distinct flavor to the band playing valve trombone. It’s unlike anything else … You can tell that Jason is from a different school of thought than Jon and they complement each other exceptionally well.” What resulted was nothing short of a small explosion of buzz in the local scene. At the end of 2002, with a CD release party in Lafayette and an Indianapolis debut, the band sent heads spinning with a tight and boisterous live performance. Eight talented musicians packed onto a local stage can give any group a case of close quarter cramps. The Malcontents, on the other hand, perform with a fervor that reflects the punch of their music, shaking the stage, overhead lights and the audience. Hall counts himself lucky to be in the graces of his bandmates and to be so readily accepted by the Indianapolis music scene — the punk, metal and grindcore bands that The Malcontents have played with have all received the group warmly. “I’m real proud of these guys that I play with,” Hall says. “I’ve never been in a band that’s gotten that far this quickly. It’s very humbling.” It is that mixture of talent, seasoned confidence and bonds forged outside of the band that lend to The Malcontents’ overwhelming stage presence. From the first note to the last, the eight attend to their audience and their music — even bringing alive unorthodox covers, such as Katrina and The Waves’ classic “Walkin’ on Sunshine.” On the surface, The Malcontents’ upbeat ska rock is infectious. Underneath are deeper messages, often blending form and function, interjecting the music with social and political messages. Fohl, no stranger to the political punk scene, carries his views on the state of the underground to The Malcontents. Almost immediately he takes issue with Good Charlotte. “There are kids growing up in punk now and Good Charlotte and Saves The Day and New Found Glory are, like, their reference points. I think that’s sad because they’ve completely removed everything that punk was about,” he spits. “Punk had convictions and values and now it’s just a little bit different sounding music than what’s on the rest of the radio. And honestly, Good Charlotte weirds me out a little bit. They’ve got that song ‘Rich and Famous’ and the only people they mention in particular are all rich black guys! I’m like, ‘What’s the problem?’” Being steeped in the history of a music that comes from a Third-World Jamaican background that later blended with working-class youth in London during a time of violent race riots tends to cast the band in the role of crossing skin tone lines. Initially, much of the black and white dress of the original rude boys came from simply wanting to look good. Later, in the 1970s underground, the checkerboard style was often adopted to represent unification between the races. The Malcontents feel strongly about doing something positive regardless of their state of dress or music. The band has involved itself in anti-racist action groups, such as the Pennsylvania-based Positive Youth Foundation, and endeavors to promote a positive political message through their actions and music. “I think it’s a lot of what we were raised with,” Fohl says. “You should be good to other people and treat people as equals. There’s silly things to get mad at people for, and skin color and religious beliefs are some of them.” “It almost seems like it’s a cool thing to be part of a hate group nowadays,” Hall continues. “We’re not into that. We all love everybody for who they are — regardless of skin color, or sexual orientation, or anything. The state of affairs today is sad. That’s one of the things, when Ryan and I stated talking about the whole philosophy of this band, was we’re going to try to do something positive with positive lyrics and positive music.” “It gives you better urgency and drive … It’s on a personal level, too, because there are neo-Nazis in Lafayette. And they don’t like us,” Fohl says. This serious sentiment comes from a recent experience in Lafayette where club owners have had to contend with underground music fans who carry extremely different racial beliefs. But venues, which depend on show attendance to keep the lights on, won’t ban patrons based on lack of racial tolerance or political leanings. The hard fact remains that if no one is causing trouble and attends the shows in a peaceful manner, there is no basis for asking anyone to leave. Boycotting shows at venues whose regular clientele might harbor extremist views could cost the group many of the fans it seeks. But for Hall, the decision comes easily. “I’m not going to put anybody in my band in jeopardy just to play a show at a local venue … I just can’t endorse hatred for any kind of race ... And if [racists] choose to hang out there, then we’re not going to be there … And we’re not going to buy into that crap. Which is exactly what it is: crap.” The Malcontents currently have a self-produced four-song rough demo entitled Riley’s skafunkrockpunksoulloungemetal, recorded a scant three months after the group’s inception. In the works is a polished release under the wing of KMPD productions with a projected street date of some time in June. At the same time, labels such as Fueled by Ramen Records have been asking for material from the band. The far future for the band includes a healthy amount of change, with Grant Stoops leaving for college at the age of 18. The Malcontents have already enlisted the talents of Toby Russel as a replacement once August arrives. Even the group’s name might change, after the Lafayette eight were allegedly contacted by Dead Kennedys drummer D.H. Peligro concerning use of the name. No word was returned to this writer from Peligro concerning the matter, but a popular alternative for the locals is The 28th Street Malcontents. Regardless of where The Malcontents fit into the world of ska, or even if they really consider themselves to be a ska band — being part of some resurging wave of music forged decades ago — it’s obvious they walk their own line. Come lineup changes or litigating punk rockers, The Malcontents are content to rock steady.

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