& the Saskatchewan ska legacy
by Alyssa Robinson
July 31, 2009
Rick Gelsinger, founder of the sizzling Saskatchewan ska band Skavenjah, testifies that it takes more than just talent and hard work to keep a band alive.
Having played in a number of amateur New Wave bands in high school and university, Rick finally decided to take the plunge and start his own ska band from the ground up in 1992.
"I put up an ad in the music stores seeking musicians who wanted to revive the (ska) musical style," explains Rick, a mild-mannered teacher by day and passionate musician and producer by night. "I ended up getting calls from two guys who each brought two of their friends."
Twelve years, four albums and over thirty musicians later, Skavenjah has become one of Canada's top independent bands, revered on the Prairies and worldwide for their traditional, yet punked-up ska/ reggae/soul sound.
"It has definitely been an advantage to be ska band on the Prairies because no one else here really does what we do," explains lead singer and co-producer of the new album, Chad Guy. "The downside is that the scene suffers because that genre diversity just isn't as deep as it is in larger markets."
Currently the band is based out of Regina and comprised of eight members, including: Chad Guy, lead vocalist; drummer Andre Boehm; Darcy Johnstone on bass; Melinda Guy, tenor sax and keyboardist; Terry Quinney on alto sax; trumpet player Doogie Taylor; Colin Neufeld on trombone; and Rick Gelsinger, background vocalist and guitarist.
"Although band members have come and gone over the years, some of them have been with us for ten years," Rick says with pride. "We're like a family now. We have a good time just being with each other on stage and traveling on the road."
On behalf of the rest of the band, Chad thoroughly concurs. "I love being on tour with my best friends," Chad grins. "Those are the best times."
As the band's musicianship and relationships with each other have matured and developed over the years, Skavenjah has been able to create a unique and thriving musical style, gaining them a top showcase spot at this year's Western Canadian Music Awards in Calgary.
"I love this music," Rick earnestly exclaims. "I think it's the greatest music ever created, and playing it makes me so emotional."
It is this passionate dedication and philosophy that Skavenjah members share that has enabled them to successfully record and produce their latest album themselves, with Chad sponsoring the recording sessions in his basement.
"It was actually the best recording experience of my life," says Chad. "It was great having the time to do things right and get (our songs) to the point where we were happy with the end product, without feeling the budgetary pinch and watching the clock all the time."
Rick agrees. "Everything was pretty much a group decision. The odd time there was hard feelings, but we basically trusted everyone's opinions and instincts," he said.
While Rick, Chad and Colin co-produced Light it Up, Rick and Chad were responsible for writing nearly all the songs.
"For a lot of the songs I would write the first half and then Chad would finish things up," describes Rick. "That's kind of what we're all about being each other's inspiration."
In this sense, although Rick's band members refer to him as the heart and soul of the band, Rick prefers to just call himself the 'inspirational leader'.
"I am, by far, the least talented musician in the band," Rick says humbly. "I taught myself how to play and write because I want this thing to keep going. I just go with my instincts and do what feels natural."
This philosophy is thought to be the secret to their success, leaving crowds screaming, and causing media outlets such as Billboard Magazine to say that Skavenjah is 'Canada's most beloved ska band'.
While the past four albums (among a diverse selection of fashionable Skavenjah swag) are still hot sellers online and at live shows, the band will put all their efforts into releasing their fifth album in spring 2005.
"We already have six to eight songs recorded, and a stack of other ideas ready to work with," Rick enthusiastically comments.
In fact, the band has already been performing a number of their new songs in concerts, which crowds have been receptively requesting and applauding in anxious anticipation of things to come.
This is the legacy of Skavenjah - the Saskatchewan ska pioneers. They had the heart, the will and the perseverance to make their mark and become key players amongst a complex and competitive music industry.
But what do they suggest for rookies, wanting to break the barrier and enter the Saskatchewan music scene?
"Show your fans that you appreciate and respect them," Rick says with conviction. "It's your fans that keep motivating you to keep going."
Chad concludes in agreement, "Love what you do and always learn as much as you can from those who went before you."
For more on Skavenjah, please visit their website at www.skavenjah.com.