Fishbone is among more than 60 acts set to perform at DeLuna Fest, scheduled for Sept. 21-23 on Pensacola Beach. / Special to GoPensacola.com
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It’s hard to overestimate how groundbreaking Fishbone was when the band first burst onto the scene at the dawn of the ’80s. Bands whose sound encompassed elements of ska, punk, soul, metal and funk weren’t terribly common at the time; the fact that the members happened to be black made the barriers the band had to break through even larger. But break through the band did, as songs such as “Party at Ground Zero” and “Ma and Pa” became hugely influential.
More than 25 years later, founding members Norwood Fisher (bass/vocals) and Angelo “Dr. Madd Vibe” Moore (vocals/sax/theramin) are still at the helm, and “Dirty” Walter A. Kibby II (trumpet/vocals) has been back in the band for a few years, having left in 2002. Rounding out the 2012 edition of Fishbone are drummer John Steward, guitarist Rocky George, keyboardist and vocalist Dre Gipson and trombonist and vocalist Jay Armant.
Norwood Fisher opened up about his long life as a part of the band in a telephone interview.
Q: Fishbone has been around for a long time. You and Angelo are the only members of Fishbone who have stuck it out all that time. What keeps you going?
A: It’s a genuine love for what I do. It’s mine, you know what I mean? (Laughs) I get to stretch my imagination musically and execute it with guys I enjoy playing with and go out and get audiences excited with it and get paid for it. It’s not easy, the business being what it is, and there’s personality conflicts, but at the end of the day, it’s a dream that I’ve built.
Q: What have been some of the moments of that dream that have resonated for you?
A: Really, the first time we ever got paid, was like “OK, this is real!” Beyond that, it’s actually being in the club scene and seeing the Los Angeles club scene take exceptional notice of what we were doing. I mean, there’s tons and tons of things that have happened — putting out our first record; the first two kind of had a feeling that you can’t even describe, the sense of accomplishment. Other things, like encountering your heroes. Like George Clinton was a huge one. But even beyond that, the Circle Jerks, getting to hang out with them. And what kicked us off was hanging out with the Bus Boys. Encountering Bad Brains. Forming a kinship of bands that we idolized.
I heard of this picture of Robert Plant and he had “Truth and Soul” in his collection. That’s a big deal to me. I’ve never meant Robert Plant, but knowing that guy has a Fishbone record prominently displayed in his collection is pretty cool.
Q: By now, you’ve been around long enough to become an influence on other bands who were probably just as awestruck to meet you as you were to meet George Clinton. What are some of the acts that surpised you in that regard?
A: Maybe the first time that I was kind of like blown away by a band that stepped up was when the guys from Anthrax came to a show and stepped up and were like, “I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of our band but we really like what you do.” I was like, “Whoa!” That’s a heavily influential band that was stepping up.
There’s a documentary on the band called “Everyday Sunshine,” and there’s a ton of people in that that stepped up and voiced how Fishbone impacted their lives. That is documented, as well. But really, I’d say the Anthrax thing and the other one is to know that the guys in OutKast expressed Fishbone’s impact on them. There’s a picture of them in high school wearing Fishbone T-shirts. They made us a part of the movie “Idlewild.” It was an awesome experience.
Q: You mentioned the documentary, which has been very well received by critics. Talk a bit about that project.
A: The directors came to us with a concept. I had a little resistance to it, but they didn’t have to bend my arm too hard to get me to roll with the punches. It took a lot of work — they filmed us for like 4˝ years. If you see it, you can get a sense of what it took. Maybe only we know what’s on the cutting room floor, but they put in a lot of work and diligence and creativity.
I’m floored by people’s reaction. It’s been unreal. It’s difficult for me to judge its entertainment value, as I’m too close to the subject, but I can stand by it as honest.
Q: Fishbone found itself in a bit of controversy earlier in the year when the Roots played your song “Lyin’ Ass Bitch” on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” as walk-on music for then-presidential candidate, Rep. Michelle Bachmann. What was that like?
A: The firestorm surrounding that was incredible. I appreciate the political satire angle that Questlove brought, as a fan of “Saturday Night Live” from the ’70s and early ’80s, and National Lampoon, and George Carlin. I appreciate the humor and being a part of it.
The song is not political at all, it’s a love song. The original version is a woman singing about a woman. But I noticed there were people who took the opportunity to launch the Fishbone name as far into the stratosphere as they possibly could. I appreciated that. Or at least, that’s what it seemed like.
Q: What is different for you about playing a big festival like DeLuna Fest from your usual club shows?
A: You know what? The festival shows really, at the best, turn into big musical picnics. You’re either doing it with your buddies or you’re making new friends. There’s the energy of the audiences that are totally different. The opportunity to impact brand new converts is much larger, so that’s something that a smaller club can’t bring.
But on the other hand, the club experience, when the conditions are right and the walls are sweating and people are going crazy, there’s an energy that you can’t beat. It can’t be replicated in a larger setting.
Q: What’s next for Fishbone?
A: We have 5 songs recorded right now, we’re just trying to figure out the right point to release them — probably 2013. We’ll start working on the next full-length release, as well.
Q: What else would you like to say to all the potential new fans who may be seeing Fishbone for the first time at DeLuna Fest?
A: You know, strap on your safetly belt, put on your helmet. It’s wild. Fishbone is a projectile stage show, bodies get flung all over the place. The main motivation is to create havoc on the dance floor.