There is no ska scene in Bend. In fact, there's probably not a ska scene in most U.S. cities. That's because it is currently 2010, more than a decade after the horn-friendly, dance-happy sub-genre disappeared from a brief stay in the mainstream before enjoying some niche success and finally finding itself relegated to a shady corner somewhere deep in the underground.
The members of Necktie Killer are aware that ska - the island-inspired, but punk adopted upbeat precursor to reggae - is not huge here. And that's why they're doing something to change that. First off, they used the musical chops learned in Redmond High School's music programs to form their seven-member band and have spent the past two years playing local shows. Now, vocalist and trumpeter Ben Mann, along with help from the rest of the band, are bringing the biggest names in ska to Bend.
They already helped book a Mad Caddies show at Mountain's Edge, the south Bend bar once known as Timber's South, and are bringing in Florida ska punks The SuperVillains this weekend to the same venue. But there's more. In February they've booked The Toasters - arguably the first ska band in the US - and in March another legendary ska band arrives in the form of the legendary Slackers.
Mann and company have no delusions of ska grandeur, even with these high-profile bookings - for which they'll serve as the opening act - and are aware that most folks in their hometown have never heard of their favorite bands.
"If you go out on the street in Redmond, you'd have to talk to 20 people before finding someone who has heard of Reel Big Fish," says Mann, who since a youngster has been crossing over to Portland to see his favorite ska bands and is a defender of the genre.
"If I put in a ska CD, people would be into it, but they're not being exposed to it," he says.
Necktie Killer isn't exclusively a ska band. Sometimes they're funky and on occasion they goof around with hip-hop conventions, and they always employ a rock edge. But they were meant to be a ska band upon their formation - when baritone saxophonist Katie Edwards ran into Mann at a party and floated the idea of starting not just a band, but a "ska band."
And so they did, practicing for almost a year before playing a gig, which they eventually did with the sort of musical exactness one should expect from a septet that with the exception of guitarist Buck Shearer, are all veterans of the Redmond High School band program, graduating between 1996 and 2003.
"When we played our first show at Players [Bar and Grill], we had music stands. That first year we were definitely writing it all out," says trumpeter Peter Coughlin, sitting next to Mann at a downtown Bend coffee shop.
Since then, the band has loosened up on stage but tightened up their songs, with a couple cuts finding some local airplay on 92/7 FM. And Necktie Killer has jumped on the fact that they very well may be the only band of their style within a 100-mile radius by turning Central Oregon ska enthusiasts, even the closeted ones, into fans.
Whether it's with their own performances or the shows they're assisting in bringing to town, it's quite obvious that these guys (and gal) are having fun. Which seems natural - ska music, even if it annoys the pants off ya - is fun stuff.
"But hey," says Mann with a smile, "We can genuinely say that we play music that we like."
The Supervillains, Necktie Killer
8pm Saturday, January 23. Mountain's Edge Bar.
61131 S. Hwy 97.
7pm Sunday, January 24. Timber's Redmond, 3315 Hwy 97, Redmond. Both nights: $10/advance, $15/door.