An Interview with PICK IT UP! Director Taylor Morden
The feature-length documentary Pick it Up! Ska In The 90's explores the third-wave ska explosion of the 1990's while giving a brief history on the genre and showing how ska has turned into what it is today from a wide variety of points of view, including dozens of the key figures who lived and breathed the scene with members of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, No Doubt, and Sublime all while being narrated by Tim Armstrong of Rancid.
A "love letter" to third-wave ska, the film delves deep into how the genre of ska evolved from its original Jamaican form, through British "two-tone" in the 80s, into an entirely new global sensation in the 90's, when it became wildly popular for an all too brief moment in music history. From the early years of bands like No Doubt, Fishbone, The Toasters, Let's Go Bowling and Skankin' Pickle, to the massive radio success of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, Sublime and Save Ferris.
Late in 2018 a KickStarter began for the project with a projection of $40,000 for the entire documentary. In less than a year the project blew away its expected projection, doubling its KickStarter asking price with nearly 2000 backers, further proving that ska definitely "is not dead."
The movie premiered and sold out at the Newport Beach Music Festival in April of 2019 just a few miles from where the 2nd Annual Back to the Beach Fest was being held that same weekend in Huntington Beach CA which featured many of the bands featured on the film. I met director Taylor Morden that weekend at the Back to the Beach Fest and couldn't wait to talk to him about the film. A few months later and here we are.
- TPPD: First of all, I want to say that I met you out in LA at the 2nd annual Back to the Beach Fest where you were first promoting the movie. You invited me to the premiere that was going on the following Monday but I had to fly back home to Pittsburgh. Really glad we can finally talk!
TM: Rad, I remember that, crazy time!
- TPPD: Where did your love for ska music start and what band got you into it?
TM: I heard ska for the first time in 1995 when I was 14 years old, it was 'Time Bomb' by Rancid, and around the same time, whatever little tidbits of ska were on No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom. But, at the time I didn't know what it was or why I liked it so much.
Fast forward a couple of years to high school science class, and I was sitting next to a friend of mine who was only allowed to listen to christian music, we were swapping CDs to listen to on our Discmans, and I borrowed Five Iron Frenzy's Upbeats and Beatdowns.
I was immediately hooked. I was already a trumpet player in the school band and into punk rock music, but this was the first time I really connected those things. From there I made the connection that the band on the Clueless soundtrack that I loved so much was one of these 'ska' bands too, and I looked through the columbia house 12 CDs for $0.01 ad and picked up a couple of older Bosstones records (let's face it was not quite out yet). Within a year of hearing that Five Iron CD, I was playing trumpet in a local ska band.
- TPPD: What was the first ska show you ever went to?
TM: The first real ska show I ever went to, I was actually playing in the opening band. It was a band I was in called Double-o-Seven and we were opening for The Mad Caddies at the WOW Hall in Eugene Oregon. I had only really listened to the music on CDs before that and had no idea how much fun a ska show could be! It was awesome.
- TPPD: Where did the idea for Pick It Up come from?
TM: My good friend and former bandmate Rei Mastrogiovanni suggested it on Facebook. I had just finished my first movie (Here's To Life! the story of the Refreshments) and was looking for a topic for my next one. Rei suggested 90's ska, and I thought it was a great idea. I had played in several ska bands over the years and knew there was a story to tell there. So I told Rei I would do it, if he helped. He agreed, and we were off and running.
- TPPD: How long did the movie take to make? (Film, edit, all of that.)
TM: That first idea came about in late summer 2017, and the movie is available to buy as of 11/18/19 so just over 2 years. Filming took a while because we had to work around the bands' schedules, and editing took a long time because we had way too much footage :)
- TPPD: How did you go about deciding what bands would be in the movie since
TM: There were so many that blew up at the same time in the 90s.
We had a 'wish list' when we started, and we actually ended up getting someone from every band on that list in the movie... But we started out with people we knew. Rei knew Angelo from Fishbone, and T-bone from Save Ferris so we started out with them and it kept expanding as word of mouth got out that we were making this thing. We asked several other bands to be in the movie and a few declined, but mostly we included everyone we could. We really wanted to tell the story from a variety of points of view, not just the 'big bands'
- TPPD: How forthcoming were the bands about being on the documentary?
TM: It was a mix, some were eager from the get go, and some people wanted to see what we were up to before they agreed. Some people took some convincing.... but we had some help in that area. Leanor (Jeff the Girl) from Five Iron Frenzy helped produce the movie and she had a lot of long standing relationships with bands in the scene, so when she reached out to people it went a lot more smoothly than when I did.
- TPPD: Tim Armstrong from Rancid/ Operation Ivy narrated Pick It Up. How did that relationship come about?
TM: I believe we got connected via the MC Bat Commander from the Aquabats. I got a phone call one day from Tim and he wanted to chat about the project and although he didn't want to be interviewed for it, he asked if we had our narrator yet, and offered to audition for the role... we were like, 'audition?' no way, you got the job! He's such an iconic figure in the world of ska-punk, with Operation Ivy and Rancid being at the forefront of the 90s ska movement, looking back we couldnt think of anyone better for the role. But at the time we were talking with hollywood actors and comedians about narrating, this worked out a lot better.
- TPPD: I first heard of Pick It Up through the Kickstarter that you had started for the documentary. In less than a few months it was funded with nearly 2000 backers and doubled over the amount that you were pledging. What was your initial reaction to it doing so well?
TM: I was blown away by the support of the ska community! The bands and the fans really came together to support what we were trying to do. It was a surreal feeling, we hit our initial goal in the first week. Then it just kept growing and growing.
- TPPD: What has the response to the movie been at the theatre premieres from fans?
TM: We have had sold-out screenings all around the world. I think 8 countries and 20+ states.. The audiences have been fantastic and the vibe in the theater is always super rad! People applaud for their favorite bands and laugh at all the 'jokes' and there's a real sense of community too. I love seeing the people lined up for the movie in their ska outfits and band t-shirts. At the Orange County premiere instead of a 'red carpet' we put out a checkered floor. It's been a lot of fun!
- TPPD: With modern technology and bands being able to reach a global audience through an online presence, do you think there will be another wave of ska in the future?
TM: I think ska has never gone away, but we probably won't have any more huge 'waves'. I think it's all connected and if you look at ska right now, there are bands from the 50s are still playing, bands from the 70s are still playing, bands from the 90s are still playing, and tons of great new bands!
Thats the beauty of the genre, there's so much of it, and we just keep adding to it! you can go to something like the Supernova ska fest next year and see bands that represent almost every era of ska in one place. We just keep building on the scene. Its really great! So, while I don't think we can really call it a 4th wave, I do see a rise in popularity again with bands like the Interrupters hitting the radio and festivals like Back to the Beach happening. It's not quite mainstream, but it's a lot more 'accepted' as a genre than it was in the early 2000s.
- TPPD: If you were to do another documentary on another music genre what would it be?
TM: I don't know if I have another one in me!
Right now I'm finishing up a doc on the world's last remaining Blockbuster video (nostalgia much?) here in Bend, Oregon that should be out next year www.lastblockbustermovie.com and after that? who knows....
But if I had a 2nd favorite genre after ska, it would be punk rock, and that gets a bit blurry... I already have a doc with members of Rancid, The Suicide Machines, and Less Than Jake in it, not sure I need to make another one. There's a great doc out there called a Fat Wreck about Fat Wreck Chords, check it out if you haven't. It has puppets!
Pick It Up! Ska In The 90's Documentary is OUT NOW on Blu-Ray and DVD.
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