Toasting and Dancing All...
“If you told me that I’d still be doing this 30 years into the future, I’d have said you were mad,” joked Robert “Bucket” Hingley, vocalist, guitarist, and leader of America’s longest-running ska band, The Toasters.
While bands that have been on tour for a while tend to get weary of the town-to-town gigs, The Toasters are a different story. Then again, having been touring nationally since 1984, these guys pretty much have travel down to an art. Chances are you’ve even heard some of their music already.
A ska band, The Toasters mix a variety of styles in their music to come up with something unique and flavorful. “It’s an amalgam of jazz, swing, blues....[Ska] eats other music forms and regenerates them,” Bucket said.
Even the band’s name, which might at first deceivingly point to a fondness for the household appliance, is really all about the band’s ska heritage. Bucket explained that early Jamaican MCs, when they were DJing and spinning up free-style rap, were known as “toasters.” And, since ska has its roots in Jamaican music, the band felt that it would be an appropriate homage.
Formed in 1981 with a group of friends in New York, The Toasters began touring nationally a few years later and have been ever since. However, not all of them had aspirations to lead a life in music. In fact, Bucket said that his own career “was an accident, really.” He began learning to play the guitar at age 17, and “it all snowballed from there.”
The band’s songs are as diverse and varied as their musical techniques, spanning from the bouncy theme song of the Nickelodeon cartoon Ka-Blam! to upbeat and propelling tunes that sweep listeners onto the dance floor. After all, ska, according to Bucket, is really all about getting people off their feet.
That said, “the song content,” he added, “is about the poverty of the human experience and how we allow politicians to rip us off all the time.” However, Bucket also stressed that while rebellious and irreverent, ska is also supposed to be fun and danceable.
Bucket’s own musical preferences follow in the same genre as the music he plays, although, he said, he “[doesn’t] listen to much music in the house,” having listened to so much of it on tour. However, when he does, he enjoys more classical songs, like hits from Motown, Stevie Wonder, and Elvis Costley.
While having national status as a music group, The Toasters have turned down several offers from major record labels. Why? Bucket wryly noted that “the biggest inspiration comes from having a mortgage to pay.” The Toasters, though, have always liked to go their own way. Preferring smaller, more intimate shows with their audience to broader, jam-packed venues, Bucket feels like the shows are better when more centered on the audience.
“Playing music live is really what it’s all about,” he noted, also adding that the audience is what makes the shows interesting since the band loves to see the crowd’s reaction to their songs. “Small places often have the best atmospheres.”
However, the touring scene can get a little rough, even for guys that have been at it for as long as The Toasters have. “Quite a lot of band members leave,” Bucket said. “About 85 percent of why people leave is because of girlfriends or wives, and the wear and tear on relationships.”
Still, though, after so many years of going strong, The Toasters show no signs of stopping. “Who knows?” Bucket laughed, when asked about his future. “Probably still touring with the band.”
Next year marks another studded with appearances and shows for The Toasters, and after that, it looks like there will be many more shows to come as these ska icons keep road-tripping across the nation, with no end in sight.