Voodoo Glow Skulls keep going where few ska-punk bands have gone before. While others have gotten together, broken up and reunited when the time seemed right, the bilingual outfit has been at it more-or-less constantly, ever since they first got together in Southern California back in 1988. During that time, they've toured relentlessly, and released nine albums, a few of which have gone gold or platinum.
Frontman Frank Casillas — along with his brothers Eddie and Jorge, who handle guitar and bass duties, respectively — all hail from Riverside, California, a part of the Inland Empire infamous for receiving much of the pollution from the LA basin. Their blending of hardcore punk, ska, Mexican ranchera ballads and a slight touch of metal, has given them a distinctive edge, one that many fans consider more vibrant than the later ska-core acts who've eclipsed them in fame, such as Reel Big Fish and Mighty Mighty Bosstones.
Three years after releasing their last album, Break the Spell, the group is currently at work on the follow-up on its own Smelvis Records label. Frank, who's also lead singer and one of three founding brothers, says that current sales are driven in large part by the group's tireless tour itinerary. Japan and Mexico are among the nations where Voodoo Glow Skulls have developed a more-than-devoted fan base.
"A lot of American bands are accustomed to heading overseas every summer to play the festival circuit," says Casillas. "Festivals like Coachella have brought that whole vibe to the U.S., where it's finally catching on. That can't be a bad thing for live music."
Casillas says it should just be taken for granted that bands have to get on the road to get new music into the hands of fans, and keep loyal fans in the loop. Nothing less than that will allow a band to stay afloat.
The six-piece band has gone through some changes along the way, mostly in the drummer department. The Casillas brothers' close friend and drummer Jerry O'Neill left the band and became a cabbie in 2010. His role was filled first by Chris Dalley, then by A.J. Condosta. Mark Bush on trumpet and Dan Albert on trombone round out a brass section that has always been a critical part of Voodoo Glow Skulls' high-energy music.
The ongoing resurgences of ska, meanwhile, have had a big impact in North American border communities and in Mexico itself, with a sound that grows ever-closer to punk. Yet Voodoo Glow Skulls have still managed to stand out from the pack, their horn players delivering a musical punch and sonic depth that mere guitars and drums rarely achieve.
A fixture on the Warped Tour, Voodoo Glow Skulls have unquestionable expertise when it comes to what fans are looking for on the festival circuit. As for My Morning Jacket's Jim James and his recent criticism of festivals that rely heavily on band reunions to get older fans though the gates, Casillas isn't worried about that at all.
"I definitely think that the sudden resurgence of reunited bands has created a lot of excitement," he says. "It's put a spark in the live music scene again."