Keith Douglas of Mad Caddies talks to Rabbits (An Interview)
Twenty years is a long time in this industry that is infamous for pumping out the trendiest acts for as long as they are commercially viable and then washing and repeating with a new cast of characters every few years. The Mad Caddies have stayed above that cycle of the music industry, releasing five albums since 1997 and with their sixth studio release Dirty Rice set to launch on May 13th. To be successful for this long you need a strong and cohesive group of musicians that share some core ideals about music and the direction they want to take the band. The Mad Caddies have both of those special ingredients- three of the founding members still make up the band in Chuck Robertson, Sascha Lazor, and Todd Rosenberg. And while trumpet player Keith Douglas was just a few years behind those guys, he’s become one of the most well known faces of the Mad Caddies and at this point is consider to be in that founding core. The last ingredient for longevity is one that the Mad Caddies have excelled at fostering- believing in common ideals about their music that allows them to stick together through the tough times and the fun (admittedly sometimes drunk) times. We sat down with Keith Douglas in Los Angeles at the start of their spring tour to talk the past, present and future of the Mad Caddies with the release of Dirty Rice only a few months away.
Rabbits Black: Your last full length album was 2007’s Keep It Going. What’s been going on for the past seven years?
Keith Douglas: A lot of dicking around! Interspersed with a lot of hard work that a lot of it just went by the wayside. There’s elements of some songs that have stuck around… but we kind of hit a wall at a certain point after the central selections. We even kind of went on a little hiatus. Chuck, Dustin, Graham and Todd started Elwood, which is basically some of the songs that never came to fruition in the Mad Caddies that they really felt strongly about, that they wanted to tour on and the Caddies just weren’t in a position to be on the road then. And I’m playing in a couple of bands on the side as well, I’m in a little band called Pink City, I’m also playing trumpet in Mariachi El Bronx. So that’s kept me pretty damn busy as well!
Rabbits Black: So why are the Mad Caddies coming back now with a new album and tour?
Keith Douglas: I think we finally got a little stir crazy just sitting around and rehashed the sort of stuff we’ve been sitting on and finally set a soft deadline. We got in the studio and it turned out it was a lot of fun and we found the momentum to just knock it out. We just finished mastering our new record and we are pretty excited about it.
Rabbits Black: What are some of the inspirations that we will find on the new album Dirty Rice?
Keith Douglas: I feel like each record’s sort of on its own with a diverse direction, whether it is hinging on a certain genre or maybe just more heavily on certain influences. They definitely sound different then the ones before. I would hope after seven years something has shifted. I know it’s a stretch but certainly trying to capture the essence of an Otis Redding, or Sam Cook, just in the vibe of certain little write outs or horns solos. There’s certainly still a big influence from Mano Negra, Manu Chao and just the amount Sasha’s been working and beat building and actually working with electronic music, there’s a little bit of sequencing and a little more electronic drum back bone on occasional tracks. But I feel it’s in a completely tasteful way! I mean Keep It Going was definitely a departure from Just One More and this one is following that trend.
Rabbits Black: Is this the type of music you guys listen to in your spare time?
Keith Douglas: Sasha’s huge into dance and dance hall reggae. He’s worked with a lot of big artists, he’s spent a lot of time in Kingston and that’s sort of where he got his initial interest in programming. So, that’s really where the core of that comes from. Todd, our original drummer who’s now back in that band, does some of the same stuff working in advertising. Between the two of them, Todd basically produced the record so we were able to incorporate a couple of things that maybe before we would have felt that were just completely non-characteristic of us, but now I think we totally pull off and really lend ourselves to the overall sound. It’s not on every song, but its there.
Rabbits Black: Us, and the fans, really appreciate that your music isn’t afraid to steer away from one particular genre. It’s such an eclectic style.
Keith Douglas: Shit, thanks! Yeah there’s still a ton of rag time, even some sort of more two tone kind of ska style. Preservation Hall Jazz Band, it’s all in there.
Rabbits Black: What did you personally grow up listening to?
Keith Douglas: When I finally started going to shows because I was already a trumpet player, I thought “god this is kind of boring!” I grew up playing bass, my dad was an electric bass player like a blues-rock bass player. And for whatever reason I focused more on trumpet, I was better at trumpet, I never was good at guitar. But I started noticing bands like Skank and Pitbull and Let’s Go Bowling, and at least I was like wow these guys are fucking pretty cool, really! As far as being able to do something on horn that I didn’t feel was just totally stuffy or scripted. That went along with certainly NOFX and a lot of the early Fat Wreck bands, Propaghandi, No Use For a Name.
Rabbits Black: What are some of your favorite cities and countries to play in while on tour?
Keith Douglas: You know a friend of mine just asked me this question the other night so I feel like I got it a little bit down, or at least my new list. I think personally I’m looking forward to going back to Tokyo more than anywhere for sure. We don’t necessarily kill it there but just the culture- I mean the fans, they’re not like massive, wild, crazy fans. They’re very polite fans, but just the energy and the city- and I love Japanese food!
Rabbits Black: So it’s more of just being in the city than it is playing for that particular concert audience?
Keith Douglas: Nothing against the atmosphere on the stage, that is also amazing because you’re just so taken aback to playing in a country like Japan. I’d say as far as cities to be in, cities to get lost in and just explore, I think I speak for probably at least half the band that the most blown away we’ve been by any culture or specifically city, I’m sure it is Tokyo. But as far as actual club atmosphere I can’t wait to go back to Brazil. We were just in Brazil for the first time! Sao Paolo, we did two nights there and I think those were the most rabid, just amazingly crazy fans we’ve ever seen. We had never been and you know our shit’s been distributed by Honest Don’s Fat Wreck Chords since ’97.
Rabbits Black: So you are saying they like you in South America?
Keith Douglas: There were guys my age if not older that have been spending every day wondering if we were ever going to make it to Brazil. We’ve always had a lot of feedback on Facebook and from even the early days on MySpace- “When are you coming to Brazil… coming to Rio?” And so we finally did, and it was just wild! Singing every guitar lick, every horn line right back into the verse lyrics, just screaming on stage, flying everywhere. They had been waiting for that moment. They killed us I think literally by like the fourth song! We had to match the energy you know, we felt like fuck, these guys are insane! And it’s not as if we even felt like we had to rise to the occasion, we just did and by the fourth tune we were just like ready to keel over.
Rabbits Black: Who have been some of your favorite bands to go on tour with? Have you become good friends with any bands after touring with them?
Keith Douglas: Yeah it’s funny, I think the band that in the early days that we did the most touring with was No Use For A Name. There were literally no real breaks between like North America, Canada, European tours. We did something like 128 consecutive dates with No Use For a Name. And obviously this last year was pretty rough, losing Tony- we were really, really happy to be a part of that tribute record which I feel that everyone that came out for it did a fucking amazing job. And they’re all still good friends, I got to see Rory recently, and Matt and Dave, we all go way back but those guys.
Rabbits Black: Any other bands that stand out to you?
Keith Douglas: Actually Belvedere from Calgary, Alberta. They were like this kind of speed, very innovative- anyway they were out there too. As far as early European bus days it was just a ridiculous kind of epitome of the early debaucherous days. And then no one’s really held a flame since.
Rabbits Black: Has the change in pace while touring in terms of debauchery been a conscious effort?
Keith Douglas: I think we’re less concerned, not everyday but in general, about seeing the sunrise driving down the highway, crushing the last beer or whatever. Sometimes it’s like, hey I heard there’s a really beautiful cathedral on top of the hill here, who’s down to hike there at ten in the morning. That’s also intermingled with stupid wasted late nights too ,so I think that there’s more of a balance now. Looking back on those early days, I think there definitely was a little more of an appeal because it was still just so fresh. I mean you can’t deny that.
Rabbits Black: The Mad Caddies have been around for a long time now, but in the eyes of your fans you never “sold out” or did things to get on the radio that went against the sound of the band or was obviously made to simply be a radio hit. How has the band handled those decisions over the years?
Keith Douglas: There definitely have been times throughout our career where that have been options to kind of take different paths. It’s not like we’ve been thrust a major label contract and be told to sign here, and then refused that. That would be a whole different story I think, I mean especially as we are getting older, this is still our primary work, the band- if not the only thing for most of us. So, you know we certainly wouldn’t mind seeing a little more return from it. And we’ve certainly worked hard enough at it. But I think by sticking to playing the kind of music we know we would like to hear and by not rocking the boat too much as far as the roots that we come from, we’ve sort of remained within whatever genre or category that we’ve been classified as from the start. Which, unfortunately a lot of the times simply seems to wind up being ska punk and I think ska punk has also become a taboo word these days. There was a lot of shitty ska punk bands!
Rabbits Black: That brings up a good point, what genre would you give the Mad Caddies?
Keith Douglas: Oh, god, I don’t know! Like you were saying earlier as far as trying to describe it, it’s just impossible to put my finger on. I think it is pretty diversified, it all falls within a sound where you could flow, that’s what it is. Because even on this record I feel like we are incorporating the sort of wild and eclectic draw of influences. I hope that it all meshes together at least in a somewhat classy way, you know. It’s tough sometimes to sort of transition ragtime to reggae back to rock or something, you know?
Rabbits Black: Not to scare you but it’s been almost 20 years of the Mad Caddies. Pretty crazy, right?
Keith Douglas: You know, at first, I’ve heard it enough now where it doesn’t like slap me in the face like it would before. It’s kind of surprising still. It doesn’t feel like 20 years! Technically that means for me… well it’ll be 20 years in the summer of 2015. Which means that as of this year, because I joined the band in ’97, if my math is correct that means I’ve been touring in the Mad Caddies for half of my life on this earth. Pretty fucking wild! That doesn’t feel right either you know. I mean for us it’s sort of as adults or whatever we are, it’s kind of all we’ve known. It’s the reality that we’ve come to accept and expect- it doesn’t feel like work. It’s just been for the most part a lot of amazing memories- 20 years sounds like a point in which a lot of bands and sane people would probably hang it up but I think as long we can find a way to stay innovative then I think we’re doing good enough staying friends and there won’t be any major issues there. We’ve got this far, I think we’ve got that part figured out. Finally got the new record out so I feel that creatively that’s coming back around. I don’t see why we wouldn’t continue to keep creating music and traveling. I feel like having just gone to Brazil and finding some new opportunities like that, working with good people, there’s something to be said for longevity and I hope we can keep that going in a positive way for sure.
Rabbits Black: Before we wrap it up, you recently went on tour with Get Dead. We love those guys and know them personally. Any good incriminating stories from the road about those guys?
Keith Douglas: Well, they’re nuts! They just won album of the year in some magazine, so they’re awesome! I played trumpet on some of their new recordings. Sam King is a maniac. Tim Mehaw… god we did Paris, a couple of Belgium shows, some were in Germany.
Rabbits Black: Amsterdam as well.
Keith Douglas: Oh yeah, no wonder it was fuzzy! But yeah, I don’t recall which day it was, I think it was Paris (pauses)… I don’t want to spill much dirt on the guy because he’s got more on me!
Rabbits Black: Alright, let’s end with this. Which band member gets hit on the most?!
Keith Douglas: Well, you know there’s something to be said for being the lead singer, right? Certainly I think Chuck gets it, whether or not it’s being hit on or just punished or swarmed, I’d say it’s Chuck.
Rabbits Black: Don’t be modest.
Keith Douglas: The trumpet player? Come on!
You can catch the Mad Caddies on tour this spring in North America. Pre-orders are available now at Fat Wreck Chords for Dirty Rice. Stay tuned to Rabbits Black for more Mad Caddies exclusive content including interviews, ticket giveaways, and contests!
Interview conducted by Mikey