Florida punk-ska band Victims of Circumstance have made a name for themselves over the years with their blend of pop hooks and unique ska style. Founded in 2005 in Clearwater, Florida, the band is comprised of Michael Smyth (vocals/guitar), Glen Stewart (drums), Lindsey Pittard (bass), Jason Atheney (saxophone) and Devin Johnson (trumpet). Dubbed the VOC by their loyal fan base, the band steadily built a following early on by performing in their home state and through an invitation to perform at the Mighty Mighty Bosstones tenth Hometown Throwdown in Boston in 2007. They have performed with a variety of national acts that include Less Than Jake, Big D & The Kids Table, The Pietasters, The Aquabats and Mustard Plug and have completed many tours, both domestic and international, as well as numerous festival appearances. The band released their fifth studio album FIVE on January 24th, an album that saw them take a different sonic direction. The album defies genres, including sounds of ska, reggae, pop-punk, swing and pop-rock, rather than focusing primarily on ska. Focusing early in their career on being a punk and ska band, they no longer had that desire with this album. “When it came time to write the fifth album, we didn’t want to do that. There wasn’t any specific direction. In the end, we all feel like we’ve achieved a bigger, more mature sound that still has that great VOC flavor”, says Stewart. “Our sound has evolved over the years and we’re drifting more into becoming a band that just plays kickass music with ska elements,” adds Atheney. “This new album definitely sounds like us, but we didn’t set out to ‘make a ska album’ and I think that shows.” The band will be celebrating their 15th anniversary as a band this year and hope to have some fun tours planned, so make sure to follow them to stay up-to date on all upcoming tour, band and music news, as well as stream and purchase their music, via the following links:
You will soon be releasing your fifth studio album ‘FIVE’! You have said that early on as a band, you were trying to be one thing-a punk and ska band. With this album, though, you wanted to do something different. What can you tell me about the process of making this album and what led to the change in sonic direction?
I don’t think this album started off so much as wanting to do something different as much as it was heading into it with no preconception of a specific style. Yes, we are a punk/ska band, but this was the first time we went into creating songs for the album without the thought of having to make it sound exactly like a punk and ska record. Of course there are still a lot of ska elements to this album, but we also incorporated some swing, reggae and pop rock on this record. One of the songs – ” Never Have I Ever” is probably the most straight forward pop song we’ve ever recorded and has been a favorite at our live shows. Basically when putting this album together we just went with any idea or sound that we came up with. Don’t get me wrong, it still has that great VOC flavor, but there are a lot more variations to the music and in the end a much more mature sound to this album.
Although your album won’t be released until later this month, you had your album release show in Tampa on November 9th, at which you sold your album ahead of the official release! What led you to have the show so far ahead of the release? What were some highlights of the show?
Well, we actually didn’t sell the album at that show, we gave it away to everyone that attended. A few of the reasons this album is called “FIVE” is because there are five of us in the band, this is our fifth original album, and it took us five years to put out. The five years was kind of the reason we decided to do the album release show back in November. Our fans had waited five long years to hear the new VOC record and we kind of felt like we owed it to our hometown fans to put it out.
You guys have always operated the band in a very DIY way, running your own studio, your own label and cultivating a very grassroots fan base. What can you tell me about the studio and label that you run? Do you record for other artists, well?
Back when we built our studio and started our label in 2006 we were very active in the local music scene. We were recording local bands and putting out compilations and sponsoring a lot of music festivals, Summer Free For All, Skanksgiving, and the Super Size Summer Ska Spectacular. In the earlier years, 2005 – 2012, there were a lot more ska bands in our area and we did whatever we could to help promote the scene. Whether it be hosting shows or recording bands for little to no cost. Unfortunately the local ska scene in the Tampa Bay area has definitely dried up in the last 7 or 8 years. When we started, Tampa was the Goth Capital of the World, and it may still be, so we were always fighting a bit of an uphill battle here. As far as the recording studios history, that’s a whole other interview of how the industry has changed.
You will be celebrating your 15 year anniversary as a band this year! Having started out as a band right around the start of Facebook, what has it been like to follow the rise in social media and the connection it now has with music. What role has social media played for you guys?
We always joke that we started the band at just about the worst time possible in the music business. When we stared in 2005, Ska had pretty much run its course as far as being a commercially viable style of music. As you mentioned it was also when social media was really blowing up and when people were downloading music for free. So we started with an outdated style of music during a time when it was almost impossible to actually sell your music and stay afloat. Social Media has definitely been a great promotional tool for us as a way to reach areas we never thought possible, but it also has created a huge glut of anyone who ever thought of putting a shitty garage band together. Not to discourage anyone who is trying to start a band, but there’s just so much music to sift through, it sometimes makes it tough to reach your target audience. And yes, I will come out and say it, My Space was a much better platform for bands before Facebook took over!! HaHa!!
How do you feel you have evolved, both personally and artistically, over the past 15 years? Do you feel that your approach to music or operation within an ever changing music industry has changed?
Wow!! Anytime the music industry is mentioned in a question, I feel like I could write a book to answer that. Artistically I think we are always evolving. Tastes and styles always change within the band itself. Our approach has definitely changed over the years. We have always been a band playing punk and ska music because that is the music that we love, but I think the motivation has changed in the last 6 or 7 years. We used to tour a lot more and always had that hope for more exposure, a wider audience and “making it big”!!. But I think because the industry has changed so much in the last 15 years or so, it has made it extremely difficult for bands to develop. Nobody wants to work with you unless you’re already a proven entity, there’s no such thing as band development anymore. Our outlook now is to do what makes us happy. We play the shows and events we want to play and have been extremely fortunate to play alongside some of our favorite bands. We are very lucky that we are all such good friends in the band and we have always lived to play the live shows. The shows are what it’s all about at this point. I always joke that if we started a band to make money, we would have quit 14 1/2 years ago!!
You have been very active in the local Tampa scene since starting out as a band! How has the music scene changed there over the years?
I kind of touched on this in an earlier question, but the music scene has changed greatly over the years. When we first started as a band in 2005, I think we were one of about 2or 3 ska bands in the Tampa Bay area. Goth and metal were and still are very big in this area. A majority of our shows early on were us and 3 metal bands. Around 2008 there was a bit of a resurgence of ska bands in our area. For about 5 years or so we had a pretty decent Ska scene. Unfortunately, like so many bands, they come and go. Of the dozens and dozens of bands that were around when we started, there may be 1 or 2 still around today, and that includes all genres.
In the past, you guys financed and promoted shows in Tampa area nightclubs and theatres. Do you still work to finance and promote shows locally?
I also kind of touched on this during an earlier question where I was rambling on and on. We haven’t put anything together in a while just because the bands have dried up so much. But, we still occasionally put together shows with bands we like, just not on as large of a scale as before.
In 2007, you guys sponsored and hosted the successful outdoor music festival “Summer Free-For-All” that highlighted local acts. What can you tell me about the festival and what inspired you to do it? Do you think you will host another festival in the future?
Shows like “The Summer Free For All” were specifically designed to create exposure for the local punk and ska scene. We have hosted a few of those events over the years. The inspiration was really just our love of the music. We were so happy and excited that a music scene was developing at the time and we had a way to promote and be a part of it. You never know what the future holds, but I think it would have to be a very unique situation for us to host another festival.
There has been an emergence in recent years of what’s being called the fourth wave of ska. How do you feel that this new generation has built off of the sounds of previous ska artists? What are your views on the evolution of ska over the years and what direction do you see it taking in the future? Who are some bands you are currently listening to and inspired by?
This could also be a book of an answer. Word of a “fourth wave” has been thrown around for about 2 years now and I have yet to see it. I think it’s a lot of wishful thinking, but I would love for it to happen!! As far as new ska artists, I think with the exception of “The Interrupters”, very few Ska bands have made any noticeable impact on the music industry. Let’s face it, 95% of the Punk/Ska bands that are still popular today, were the bands that became popular during the third wave of ska. Bosstones, Rancid, Less Than Jake, Reel Big Fish, Goldfinger, The Aquabats, Big D, Mustard Plug, Mad Caddies, Planet Smashers, Suicide Machines, etc, etc. The list goes on and on. Unfortunately in the last 20 years, there hasn’t been too many bands to make an impact in the Ska genre. Most of the guys in the band come from more of a punk or pop punk background. It was my doing (evil wringing of the hands) that led us towards the ska genre. I was definitely a fan of all the third wave ska bands, and still am. I have been listening to a lot of Teenage Bottle Rocket lately. We will be playing with them for the first time in February. We were originally supposed to play with them in Belgium back in 2015 when we were on tour in Europe, but our tour bus broke down on the way to the Festival!! I’m still very angry about that!!
In 2012, you released a 6 song EP of cover songs entitled ‘Decades’, with volume 2 being released in 2017! What inspired you to make 2 cover albums and how did you go about picking songs to cover? Do you have a favorite cover that you have done?
Well, volume 3 might not be too far off in the distance!! I think the desire to make some cover albums came from us just screwing around with cover songs at practice. We would just have fun doing some really crazy interpretations of songs. Picking songs always starts with songs that we personally like, but also we have to take into consideration what elements we can change to fit our style of music. Nothing drives me crazier than hearing somebody’s cover of a song on the radio and they basically recorded it exactly like the original. It’s like, “Why did you even waste your time”?!? We want to record these songs with a new twist (obviously having horns makes it easier to add a new twist). The songs have to sound familiar enough so people know what it is, but different enough for them to take notice. As far as a favorite cover, I think that’s always changing. I think a fan favorite and one we have finished our shows with sometimes is the Four Non Blondes song “What’s Up” That cover was one we had screwed around playing at practice back in 2005 or 2006, but we never really put it all together. We ended up working it out and putting it on Volume 2 more as an inside joke to ourselves, but I guess the jokes on us, because it’s definitely a favorite at our shows.
You will be joining Teenage Bottlerocket for a show in Tampa on February 8th! Do you have any other shows or tours in the works? What’s next for you?
We have a few shows lined up in February, March and April which can all be found on our social media pages, etc. And believe me, if there’s a charity show going on, we’re always on it. We are trying to put together a several week summer tour to promote the new album, which may also include a return to the UK and Europe to celebrate our 15 year anniversary.