Slackers' Glen Pine talks about 2 Tone, songwriting and band democracy

Glen Pine joined the Slackers in 1997, just after the New York City band released its sophomore effort, “Redlight.” The album marked a major step forward, its mix of ska, reggae, rocksteady, dub, soul, and ’50s rock ‘n’ roll prefacing the string of smart, genre-defying releases that has followed. More than a decade later, the sextet stands as America’s foremost purveyor of Jamaican music.

That the band’s creative rise coincided with Pine’s joining was no coincidence. The Massachusetts-born trombonist and vocalist has emerged as the Slackers’ unofficial second front man, at times stealing the spotlight from longtime leader Vic Ruggiero.

Listen, Dammit, spoke with Pine as the Slackers prepared to release their 12th album, “The Great Rocksteady Swindle” (Hellcat), yet another winning entry in its catalog. Here are three facts we learned:

1. Every Slacker is a Star. When Pine joined the band, he was largely unaware of its democratic inner-workings. As such, he had no designs on becoming the featured songwriter and show-stopping secret-weapon singer he’s since become. “I was just playing Vic’s music, or the band’s music, and as time went on, we started becoming friends, and it’s like anything else. I’m like, ‘I’ve got a couple of tunes,’” he says. “It’s Vic’s band, but he’s very open to suggestions and other people’s material. Ultimately, he wants to have everybody contribute.”

2. Six Slackers = Six Voices. Ruggiero’s willingness to pass the pen has kept the music fresh, allowing each band member to develop his own distinct songwriting voice. “Some of the material Vic wrote years ago was a lot about relationships and sort of nostalgic — kind of looking at relationships and things,” Pine says. “And he still does that, but he’s writing a bit more about political stuff, obviously, being greatly influenced by Bob Dylan. … I tend to write some relationship songs. I also like to dabble in writing, for lack of a better term, surreal kind of lyrics and trying to attempt that, being inspired by some of the psychedelic rock ‘n’ roll of the ’60s.”

3. Jamaica Rules, but England’s Good, Too. Before discovering traditional ’60s ska, Pine, Ruggiero, and the rest of the crew grew up listening to 2 Tone, the hybrid punk-ska sound popular in Great Britain in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Last summer, the Slackers opened for recently reunited 2 Tone legends the Specials in Leeds, England, and the show revived their love of British ska. It also inspired “Mr. Tragedy,” a 2 Tone-style cut from the new record. “We’ve always loved this stuff,” Pine says. “We were putting the song together in the studio, and we were like, ‘Maybe we could do [the 2 Tone sound]. We can support this. We can embrace the 2 Tone thing a little, because it was what we came up listening to.’ For years, we tried to play [ska] like the Skatalites or Toots and the Maytals or something, but now, on a couple of songs, it’s OK to do a little homage to the Specials or the Beat.”

— Text by Kenneth Partridge, photo by Joelle Andres

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