"It's fun being me," proclaims Fishbone bassist and founding member Norwood Fisher. "Believe that--it is." Since 1985, Fishbone has been making believers out of serious musical fun seekers with their raucous blend of ska, funk and outrageous stage shows. Several bands including the Red Hot Chili Peppers and No Doubt have borrowed the style and gone on to greater success, but nobody comes close to the 'Bone when it comes down to in-your-face punk-funk-rasta wildman antics. Frontman Angelo Moore is one of the last great stage divers, working himself up to a vein-popping frenzy with unscripted, stream-of-consciousness raps before launching himself into the audience.
Despite a memorable appearance on Saturday Night Live where the band literally tore up the place with a Sly and the Family Stone-influenced "Everyday Sunshine" that featured Angelo tossing a baritone sax offstage after a frenzied honkfest, and despite releasing a slew of albums that developed a devoted cult following, mainstream success has eluded the band. But that hasn't stopped them from getting their message out. With a compilation of their best work, The Essential Fishbone, newly released on Columbia Records, and a new album, tentatively titled Race Against Time, coming out soon on their own record label, Nuttsactor5 Records--plus an incessant touring schedule--Fishbone is still spreading the gospel of funkadelic ska by being the blackest, funniest and most funky bunch of funkateers on the planet. Or as Fisher vows, Fishbone will be playing "as long as the people will have me."
The Independent: Why do you think there aren't any other black rock bands coming up to do what you and Living Colour started?
Norwood Fisher: Because it has been plenty of them, but they run into the same thing we did. Nobody is really playing 'em on the radio, and this point not getting record deals. We started our own record label called Nuttsactor5 records. We'll do it ourselves rather than complain about the industry. I don't want to sit around complaining, so I'll create something to shed lights on the things that I love.
Did Fishbone start out to be a ska band?
Ska was one of the first forms of music that we learned to play together. We started at a very young age, and the first songs we learned were Funkadelic, and Rick James and Bootsy. Shortly after that, we were learning how to play ska. We thought we invented it, how 'bout that? For a very brief period. And then Dirty Walt was the only one in the band who knew that we really didn't, and he brought us a Selecter record and an English Beat record the next day and then we began to explore. We were doing punk rock reggae and I thought I invented something with my brand new band.
Does it drive you guys crazy to see bands like No Doubt getting all the attention when you guys are the real thing?
Nah--it don't drive me crazy. It's like, you know, they are writing things that are reaching the people for whatever reason. It might be because Gwen is beautiful--I don't know what all the things are, but I just try to be happy for them and I really appreciate the fact that they give us props. It'll be nice to have their dough, but it's fun being me too.
Do you guys still consider yourself a ska band, or have you moved on from there, or do you care?
We never cared one way or the other. That's why we call it Nutz.
Your new record, The Essential Fishbone--is it indeed the essential 'Bone? What would you want to add or take away?
I don't know. I know that we're playing a lot of that stuff live, and that is feeling real good. It's gonna enable us to explore the other. You know what? I'm a fan anyway. I'm actually a Fishbone fan at heart. So I love it all, really--on some level. Then there's this other me that's in the band. That guy doesn't listen to Fishbone a lot. He does it every night on stage.