INTERVIEW: Melbourne Ska Orchestra

Embracing the unique energy that music can deliver, Melbourne Ska Orchestra are showing listeners what a fresh perspective can sound like through their captivating ska lens. 

Their recent Aria Award winning album ‘One Year Of Ska’ was a project that stemmed from them releasing a new song every Friday for one year. Compiling a collection of 52 tracks, they brought some originals along with some re-envisioned covers of popular themes and songs that people didn’t expect to ever hear through this ska injected lens. 

The 25 piece band covered famous themes from the likes of Star Wars, Game Of Thrones, Austin Powers, Al Capone, Frankenstein, James Bond, Doctor Who, Family Guy and Monty Python. As well as delivering their original favourite and recent single ‘Good Days And Bad Days’.

The musical collective will be hitting the road throughout February – May with an exciting new live show that combines all of their energy with a polished performance of musical brilliance. 

I recently chatted to Nicky Bomba from Melbourne Ska Orchestra about finding the right sonical and lyrical balance in their new single ‘Good Days Bad Days’, discussed the difficulties surrounding the creation of their Star Wars covers and reflected on the hurdles they’ve faced touring such a big and dynamic band. Check it out HERE; 

TB: Your new single ‘Good Days Bad Days’ is out now and is a upbeat track about finding a confidence within the balance of good and bad days. So how did this song creatively come together? 

NB: It started with a title. Songwriters generally keep a little book of titles for potential songs. Usually words that evoke a feeling and this one just had a really universal theme. 

Ska is all about mixing the chill factor but still being on the edge, and then the opposing sentiments inspire us to find a sweet spot. I call it “keeping the gold”. 

Barry Deenick and I spent half a day workshopping the feel, tempo and the classic minor/major,  happy and sad applications and it just grew organically. 

When you can start to imagine how it would translate to the big orchestra sound with a great horn arrangement, you kinda get tingles. 

TB: With the rhythmic groove and the SKA flow of this song, what is your favourite production breakdown from the track or your favourite lyric? 

NB: Well it’s practically autobiographical as far as the lyric goes. The second verse tells the tale of trying to put on a gig. Its a door deal and there is a stress that comes with being self employed musicians hoping punters will turn up. But there is a comedy to it too with the curveballs of life. So that verse is closest to home.

One of my favourite parts of the song is the floating breakdown with the classic reggae double tap on the toms. It’s a signature rhythm that’s all over the Jamaican roots-reggae records. An earthy pick me up. 

We knew there had to be a simplicity to it while keeping the integrity of the genre. The drum groove is the first drumbeat I teach to students. I call it “The Universal”. It can apply to nearly all genres depending on the application and sound.

TB: What advice do you have for someone who may be experiencing too many bad days in a row and are losing strength within the mantra of the balance of positivity in light and shade?

NB: The essential energy of the orchestra and why it exists so beautifully, is an energy of friendship, love and a real acknowledgement of the joy of life. I have experienced the power of that and how it can inspire you to just do the best work you can creatively. 

And that’s the advice I suppose; get creative!

Empty your head. Write it out. Touch the Earth. Plant something. Sit in Silence. Just stop and breathe and smile. Be with the Mother. Nature will embrace you. Shower or Swim with the gift of Water. Healing. 

Generally I just think we get disconnected from our true connection to spirit. My Mantra is “Jah In Every Moment”. When I’m truly in that zone its euphoria. I get that a lot on stage with the orchestra and the audience becoming one electrified human loop.

TB: Reflecting on the creative process of ‘One Year Of Ska’, what was one of the hardest themes to re-create and why? 

NB: The Star Wars theme would win that guernsey. We combined three themes for the price of one. What a bargain! It starts with Imperial March then hyperspeeds into the Majestic Celestial Main theme. Going deeper into the galaxy with Leia’s theme. Then before you can say “Holy Skywalker”, the Cantina Band plugs in and transmits a gypsy tainted horn laden rendition that makes you wanna wail like Chewbakka.

TB: When you are approaching to do a version of a theme song like Game Of Thrones or Star Wars, which is so iconic in their own right, how do you approach it to make sure you have an original take while still delivering the essence of it tastefully? 

NB: This was an important consideration when we were doing these themes. The answer is a good horn arrangement and a rhythm section that has one foot kept in the ska language.

We had 3-4 arrangers working around the clock with constant updates and rewrites. We learnt a lot about how to create the right inversions, making it sound expansive but not muddy

TB: With your original material how does a writing and jam session usually unfold with a band that has 25 musicians, because I can imagine it could get pretty chaotic?

NB: This is one unique band with so many gifted musicians that it’s not a matter of what we come up with, but what ideas to develop. 

A balance of tempos, moods, explorations, classic ska and joy inducement would direct us into where we next ventured. Ideas for the songs were accepted in all formats from napkin notations to cheesy keyboard midi files! I then organised a smaller committee to make it a shortlist, then it was game on. 

We have had all in think tank sessions where I expected unbridles chaos but the result was a bucketload of ideas. The possibilities are endless with this band really.

TB: Over the years what has been one of the biggest hurdles you’ve had to face with touring with such a big band, and a show that needs specific requirements and venue sizes to excel? 

NB: To be honest it’s just finances. We have had so many ideas and offers that we couldn’t implement or accept because of lack of funds. We don’t seem to have much luck with grant applications to the point that I had to dip heavily into my mortgage on the first world tour. We try to be philosophical about it and accept the nature of the beast but some kind of ongoing funding would be an amazing thing. 

All other transport, accomodation and logistics issues are like running a soccer team and pale in comparison to the subconscious stress of trying to keep the boat afloat. Four Four, our record label, have been fantastic with the recording process and steering the boat per se, otherwise we still might skating in the shallows without their help.

TB: Melbourne Ska Orchestra will be hitting the road in February for a massive Australian tour, so what can fans expect from this run of shows compared to previous runs? 

NB: We’ll be playing lots of new tunes from the One Year of Ska Box set as well as bringing a couple of extra crowd participation tricks to the stage. We love connecting with an audience and creating this electronic human loop between the band and crowd. Magic happens when that frequency is buzzing. The orchestra is truly a spectacle to behold. And as always dancing and smiles are compulsory

TB: Your tours around Australia always seem to be met with energetic and passionate crowds, so what has been one of your favourite touring memories from your time on the road?

NB: I still have fond memories of our first overseas tour to Canada playing to over 50,000 people in Montreal. I had to take a moment to make sure I was transmitting our energy clearly and powerful. 

TB: Let’s play a little game of rapid fire questions. Just answer these little questions with the first thing that comes to your mind. Okay?

NB: Okay!

TB: The emoji that best describes our new single ‘Good Days Bad Days’ is… 

NB: The happy face and the sad face

TB: Our pre-show ritual involves… 

NB: Freaking out over the setlist

TB: What ska music means to us is… 

NB: Danger and fun!

TB: If Melbourne Ska Orchestra were to have a drink inspired by them it would be called the… 

NB: The Tripper

TB: Pineapple on pizza is… 

NB: A necessity!

‘One Year Of Ska’ is out now!

Melbourne Ska Orchestra Australian Tour

Friday 28 February – Mullumbimby Civic Hall, Mullumbimby 

Saturday 29 February – The Triffid, Brisbane 

Sunday 1 March – Sol Bar, Maroochydore 

Thursday 12 March – Cambridge Hotel, Newcastle

Friday 13 March – Manning Bar, Sydney

Saturday 14 March – Anita’s Theatre, Wollongong

Sunday 15 March – UC Refactory, Canberra 

Friday 17 April – Freo Social, Fremantle 

Saturday 18 April – Fairbridge Festival, Pinjarra

Friday 1 May – The Forum, Melbourne 

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