Jonas Kleiner still remembers the dark days, after the world turned on ska music. They were, after all, not so long ago.
“It was tough,” the Buck-O-Nine guitarist recalls. “You get people telling you you’re a sellout and throwing shit at you. You have to believe in yourself at the end of the day.”
Buck-O-Nine always did believe in themselves. Now in their 31st year as a band, the San Diego ska group toured hard long before they landed a radio hit in the late ’90s, and then long after ska left the airwaves and became a punchline on shows like Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Recent years, however, have seen the genre finally undergo a long-needed critical reevaluation, thanks in part to a new generation of dedicated ska artists like Catbite, JER, Eichlers and We Are the Union, as well as to books like the recent In Defense of Ska, which worked to edify what seemed to some like a flash in the pan in the late ’90s.
This Monday, Buck-O-Nine comes to San Jose as part of the In Defense of Ska tour, joined by Michigan ska-punks Mustard Plug, Oakland’s Omnigone and author of the book In Defense of Ska, Metro contributor Aaron Carnes. While Buck-O-Nine played a few shows in 2021, Kleiner says that, throughout the pandemic, their main focus has been writing new music.
“Since 2020, we’re mostly just writing songs and trying to cope. The creative juices were flowing and it was a good release—both a creative release and a stress release—to have this project where we’re constantly writing songs and working on ideas remotely, talking through lyrics, chords, horn lines, all that stuff.”
During the ’90s, Buck-O-Nine distinguished themselves from their more cynical ska peers like Reel Big Fish and Less Than Jake with sincere and uplifting lyrics about everyday life, a lyrical direction singer Jon Pebsworth took with him from his days singing in hardcore bands.
“Pebs had a lot of influence from positive hardcore,” Kleiner says. “I think if you listen to any of our songs throughout the history of the band there’s a lot of positive references, and a lot of songs based in reality.”
Buck-O-Nine’s 1997 breakout single “My Town” is a perfect example. In it, a relaxed Pebsworth croons about how time keeps passing, “but it doesn’t concern me.” His soul, he sings, “is sound when I’m in my hometown, no place I’d rather be.”
At its height, “My Town” reached 190 on the Billboard Top 200 charts. The song’s success was driven in part by its incredible warmth. Opening with a clean, surfy riff from Kleiner, horns soon shine through like sunbeams alongside mellow images of tape decks and rolling skateboards.
“My Town” appeared on Buck-O-Nine’s third album, Twenty-Eight Teeth, their first on TVT Records. Recorded over a span of four months at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley, the album was produced by Neill King, a British recording engineer and producer with a staggering list of credits, working with everyone from The Smiths and Elvis Costello, to Joe Satriani and En Vouge.
“He engineered Green Day’s Dookie,” Kleiner says. “Just an amazing person. And also brilliant as an engineer and producer that didn’t force bands into a certain path. He’s used to working with bands that want 100% creative control.”
In the mid-2000s, Buck-O-Nine released their fifth full-length, Sustain, on South Bay label Asian Man Records. After touring the album, they went relatively silent for almost a dozen years. In 2019, they came back with Fun Day Mental, their first full-length since Twenty-Eight Teeth to feature the band’s original drummer, Steve Bauer.
“When Steve came back in the fold it was like, ‘oh yeah, there’s that feeling,’” Kleiner recalls. “It reminded us of the early days, and inspired us.”
Even since, the band has been riding their new wave of inspiration. The timing couldn’t have been more fortuitous. With a new generation of ska fans eager for music, and an entire generation of longtime listeners finally ready to step back out of the shadows, the time to pick it up again has arrived.
“This has been the love of my life,” Kleiner says. “It’s been everything. It’s amazing to be in Buck-O-Nine.”
Mon, 7pm, $20
The Ritz, San Jose