“I write every record for that car ride,” he admits. “They were some of the happiest times of my life. I can still see me and my best friends in middle school driving around and putting on. There are some records that you put in and the first sound allows you, before the music starts, to go, ‘I know what you just put on!’ So this one, I hope the breaking of the bottle lets people go ‘Oh, the fuse has been lit!’ And I hope that somebody in that car is going to put it in and it’s just going to make some night awesome.”
It shouldn’t be too much of a tall order. The band’s ninth album of original material, DO YOUR ART is yet another blast of the energetic, uplifting ska-punk that Big D and the Kids Table has been making since McWane himself was still a teenager. These days, he might be older—and he now shares his life with a wife and two children—but the effusive and determined spirit that drove and inspired him to do this at the beginning is just as powerful now. In fact, McWane suggests—despite the success that the band has enjoyed over years all around the world, from the U.S. to the UK and Europe, Asia, Southeast Asia and Australia—that this collection of songs (the fifth for SideOneDummy) is the culmination of all those years and all those dreams.
“Now that this record is on SideOneDummy and now that I’m in my 40s,” he says, “this is the first moment where I can look back at the young 17-year old me from [1997’s split LP with Drexel] Shot by Lammi and go ‘Just to let you know, we do it. We
If anything, it’s that sense of accomplishment that the frontman wants to impart with this record. DO YOUR ART, you see, isn’t just an album title, but an inherently political mission statement delivered with gusto and enthusiasm to anyone creative to remind them to keep going, even if the odds are increasingly stacked against them in this hyper-capitalistic society.
“I wanted to instill in young artists—or old artists, or whoever—to keep doing it,” says McWane. “Meaning even though life might pull you away with its demands, and life’s tough and there’s no middle class anymore and it’s just work, work, work, work, work, don’t give up. It’s a hard fact to hear but it’s true that fortunate Americans with connected parents or relatives are going to get all the things first. They’re going to be in a famous band first, they’re going to be a famous artist first, but I don’t want artists who aren’t connected to ever feel like they weren’t good enough. Every musician, artist and dancer needs to realize that that’s magic inside of them that other people don’t have.”
More than just a critique of America’s power structure, this also serves as a resistance against the very American expectation of working ourselves slowly and
obediently into our graves. “Always use that magic,” continues McWane. “Realize you have it, and never put it away. Do your art, even if the current American system right now is limiting us, because no-one has time after an eight hour shift and an hour-and-a-half commute both ways, and you have to eat breakfast and you have to make dinner – there’s no time. But don’t let that stop you from doing your art.”
Given that it’s been eight years since Big D released original music (2013’s double whammy of Stomp and Stroll), you might wonder if McWane hadn’t been heeding his own advice. He has. The band’s members have still been putting music out every couple years as per usual, but with The Doped Up Dollies (co-fronted by McWane’s wife Brianne) and CUIDADO instead. In fact, they were so busy, the fact they were overdue a record almost escaped them.
“The years just went by because we were just doing other things,” chuckles McWane. “Then people started saying ‘You haven’t put out a record in five, six, seven years’ and we went ‘Oh!’ We didn’t realize!’ Because we were all still together, still touring, still writing. When you’re all in your 20s and living in the same house, it’s very convenient, but when you’re older and some people live in different states, it’s more like ‘Oh dang, let’s all get together and write a record!’”
The result of that realization is a band that sounds as fresh and inspired as ever. A mixture of punk, ska and dub-reggae songs, plus a number of tracks filled with samples from McWane’s favorite ‘60s B-films cut up to make creative musical compositions, DO YOUR ART—which was produced and engineered by Reel Big Fish’s Matt Appleton— comprises 20 tracks that offer up a cross-section of the band’s versatile talents. There’s the boisterous, breakneck party-starting “Dead Bottle”, the bitter black humor of “Sociopath” and the frenzied fun of “Metal in the Microwave” (the latter two, says McWane, are “to remind people of the simple things!”). Then there’s the politically-charged stomp of “Dispirit”, and “Med Her Lazy”, a song which ethically challenges that medications should be for the well-being of a child, not over-prescribed for the convenience of those around them such as teachers and parents. Elsewhere, the jaunty “New Day” turns heartbreak into a positive new opportunity, while the laid-back melancholy of “Beautiful Way” finds defiance, hope and acceptance in oblivion.
“At the time I wrote that song,” remembers the singer about the latter, “I was very worried about everything. It was America’s worry time, so I just broke it down in my head: ‘Well, what’s the worst thing that can happen?’ And the worst thing is they drop the bomb that we’re all worried about. But if they drop it, they drop it—as long as you’re with someone, that’s the story. It’s almost like in Pompeii, where they found the remnants of a couple hugging. Which is just beautiful.”
That attitude is the heart of DO YOUR ART. It’s a reminder to make the most of life—even when at its lowest points—and also to not be dissuaded from creating what you want to create. It’s an album that will make you think and feel, but also make you dance and laugh. It’s a surge of positivity in a crappy world where it’s all too easy to feel equally crappy, and a much-needed jolt of perspective about everything that’s
“I definitely want this record to be helpful for people mentally,” says McWane. “It’s somewhere for them to go and laugh. That’s why it starts with everyone cheering, so that after lockdown there’s a sense of a place where everyone is. Yes, there are problems going on all over the world, but I’m not holding my stomach to keep my intestines in France wishing I was with my mother, as so many were during World War II. Compared to that, we’re so damn lucky. So, listeners—consider recognizing all the good things in your lives—all the beauty, and all the people who love them—and make sure you enjoy your life and DO YOUR ART!”