When Omnigone dropped the album ‘No Faith’ in 2019, it was one of the most welcome arrivals for a new band in the ska scene. Their mix of ska with harder edged punk may have been prominent in the late 1990s but was fairly dormant throughout most of the 2000s. In a very short period of time both ska and punk scenes have embraced Omnigone very warmly. I had a chance to ask Adam Davis some questions about how he got into Link 80, his musical evolution, and a story, almost 20 years old, that I needed some clarity on.
When did you first get exposed to ska and punk? When did you start playing in bands of those genres?
The first ska punk bands I heard were Flat Planet, from Gilroy where I grew up, Skankin’ Pickle, and Janitors Against Apartheid. My friend Jay Solis played me the Operation Ivy album & I figured they were huge like Nirvana. I had no gauge of what music was underground & what was mainstream at the time. Growing up in Gilroy, I may have well have been growing up on the moon. We were only 70 miles south of where I am now, but everything was out of reach for a kid with no car and no job. There was no way to find out about the origin of ska, everything was passed down from older kids via dubbed cassette tapes. I also was only drawn to the more aggressive styles of music at the time, so something like Desmond Dekker or Toots & the Maytals wouldn’t have gotten me excited back then.
How did you originally get involved with Link 80?
I joined Flat Planet for a few months toward the end of the band and we played two shows with Link 80. They were younger than me by a few years and they played way more aggressively than anyone else I’d seen. A few months later I answered an ad in the back of BAM magazine that Nick had placed looking for a new guitarist and horn player. Seth from Flat Planet and I answered the ad.
After the dissolution of Link 80, where were you at musically? What drove your subsequent bands?
We had all gotten burned out on our tour cycle. We probably should have just taken a break to record. Instead we started a new band called DESA and did that from 2002-2008. We toured a lot less, spent some time recording, and trying to figure out living on our own. DESA never really figured out where we fit in. We were trying to figure out how to take our music to a larger audience and we never cracked the code. We were also too weird for the pop punk crowd, not heavy enough for the hardcore crowd, and too straightforward for the math rock crowd. After spending the last of my 20s on DESA, I was frustrated by music. Gnarboots was a reaction to that. The whole point of the band was to get banned from venues, bum people out, and make everyone else hate music. It wound up coming full circle & eventually being a very positive life-affirming experience. Gnarboots helped lay the foundation to want to do a band like Omnigone.
I’m going to break journalistic integrity and tell you that I listened to your album a ton when it came out last year. How was the response upon its release?
Thanks! I’m glad you dig it! The reaction was really overwhelmingly positive! It feels like a lot of people wanted an album like this. People are still finding out about it, so that’s cool!
In the late 1990s, there were some great bands that blended harder edge punk rock with ska. Do you think fans were craving the sound of a band like yours?
I have no idea. All I know is that I missed playing music like this, to the point where I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Most creative ideas are like that for me. They stick like a splinter in my mind until I follow through with them.
The band is known to have a rotating line-up. What are the pros and cons of that approach?
The pros far outweigh the cons! Since the only constant members are Barry and I, making decisions is a lot easier. Most of the time I can just decide things on my own since Barry trusts me. We only have to practice when it’s time for a show. We get to play with lots of different friends and since everyone has other bands they play in, no one gets jealous or feels weird. It’s super low maintenance. We don’t have to pay for a van or a practice space, although there are times I miss both of those things. The only cons are that band photos end up looking weird. Sometimes it’s just a picture of me, or a picture of Barry and I, or a picture of Barry and I with two different drummers. I’m mostly joking though, that’s a sort of funny problem to have.
How has songwriting evolved for you? Are there still influences you cite or do you have a more established sound that you’re looking to grow and evolve?
When I was working on the songs for the album, I did think a lot about how Link 80 would have approached a song. There are a few nods to different Link 80 & DESA songs on the album.
When we went into the studio to record, I mostly just had a bunch of riffs with no words. I figured out the words after the music was recorded. Riffs are easy, writing words I won’t hate singing takes a lot longer. I’ve been taking a slightly different approach to writing songs currently. I’m trying to make sure the song works with just voice & guitar before it gets the full band treatment. Barry has been writing a lot of songs too. Whenever we can head back to the studio we will have a lot of new songs. We currently have 13 songs recorded that no one has heard.
Having been in this game for over 20 years, what newer bands are you digging?
Vantana Row & Quentel The Cryptid represent where I think music is headed, they are the most forward thinking new bands. They aren’t ska but they are amazing and absolutely worth everyone’s attention. In the ska scene: Catbite, Still Alive, Stuck Lucky, Matamoska, The Best of the Worst, the Fad, Kill Lincoln, Thirsty Guys, Grey Matter, We Are The Union, the Upfux, Corrupt Vision, Noise Complaint… I’m probably going to forget someone and some of these bands have been around nearly 20 years. It just takes me a while to get around to listening sometimes, ya know? Time is a flat circle.
What stands out to you about younger bands vs. when you were in younger bands?
Link 80 was the youngest of the “3rd wave” era bands. Some of us were still teenagers touring with bands entering their 30s. Now I’m on the old end of things, but I still feel young. It’s a weird place to be in, I simultaneously feel like a peer of younger musicians while worrying about their well being like a father. You know what freaks me out more than anything about the music industry? The value put on youth. Youth slips away from all of us at the same rate, and every artist has an expiration date stamped on them. Not only by labels, but by consumers. I often see the age of younger artists mentioned before their skill. I find it disconcerting that their age gets mentioned at all.
This is going a way back and I’m not sure if you remember but here goes. Link 80 were supposed to play Club Laga in Pittsburgh back in the late 90s/early 2000s. There was a rumor that the promoter, who was somewhat notorious, got into an argument with the band. Do you remember this at all or have any details?
I think this was the show with Edna’s Goldfish, Buck O Nine, & the Berlin Project. Everyone was loaded in & soundchecked, I was standing back stage with the Berlin Project when I heard the bassist for Buck O Nine had collapsed. Here’s the story as written on their Wikipedia entry:
Unfortunately, Buck-O-Nine’s last national tour almost ended in tragedy when (John) Bell fell ill with severe stomach pain. After soundchecking for a gig in Pittsburgh, PA, Bell collapsed back-stage and had to be rushed to the hospital, where doctors discovered he was suffering from Meckel’s Diverticulum. Surgery followed, and eventually, the band headed straight home for San Diego, while Bell recovered with his parents by his side. Longtime associated Andy Platfoot filled in on bass for the ailing Bell before becoming a full-time member of the band.
After that, the show was cancelled. I wasn’t involved in it, but a few of our guys probably got in an argument with the promoter because there was a massive line outside but they wanted to cancel. There were still a bunch of people there to see the other bands but I believe the promoter freaked out thinking they’d lose money. We wound up taking our merch downstairs so we could sell a few shirts to the crowd outside. The rest of the tour was hard, a bunch of the shows got cancelled & we had to trade off playing last with Edna’s Goldfish. The tour ended the day before Thanksgiving. We stayed in Southern California with Edna’s Goldfish & had one of the best Thanksgivings ever.
First Favorite Ska Band
Capdown. They were called Soap the first time I saw them. They were amazing. I’m glad they changed their name.
Favorite Album When You Were 16
Gentlemen by the Afghan Whigs. Lyrically it has not aged well but the guitar parts are fucking insane.
First Show You Attended
Blah Blah Blah and the Chant at the Morgan Hill Playhouse. Blah Blah Blah was a weird two piece industrial band & the Chant were what I can best describe as hippie goth. It was a great show. Another band played but they weren’t memorable apparently.
Last Show You Attended (not counting your own shows)
Quentel The Cryptid at Ale Industries in Oakland. I really only go see Vantana Row & Quentel The Cryptid, I don’t like attending shows unless I’m playing.
Favorite East Bay Band (other than Op Ivy)
Link 80. I was a fan before I joined.
Favorite Op Ivy Song
‘I Got No’, I always forget this song exists.
You Can Go On Tour With 3 Artists of Any Era
I’m only going to pick broken up bands no one got to see: Crack from San Jose, No Regard from Sacramento & Turdus Musicus from Norway.
On June 5th, Catbite/Omnigone will be releasing a split 7″ on Bad Time Records. Check it out!