By Alan Brostoff
For those of you who have not had the good fortune to see a Voodoo Glow Skulls' live show, you have missed out on one of the greatest adventures in concert. This band connects with its audience in a way that most bands only wish they could.
VGS formed in 1988 in Riverside, California, by brothers Eddie, Frank, and Jorge Casillas and longtime friend Jerry O'Neill. While going back to their days of listening to Heavy Metal and the big hair bands of the 1980s, the band also incorporated the punk and ska flair (among other indie greats) into their music. In 2017, Frank announced he was quitting Voodoo Glow Skulls while performing live onstage in Long Beach, California. Soon after, Efrem Schulz from Death by Stereo filled in on vocals. And they have now returned to their first record label, Dr Strange Records, to release 2021's Livin’ the Apocalypse.
Founding member Eddie Casillas sat down with Goldmine to talk about the past and the future of the Voodoo Glow Skulls.
Goldmine: Where did you guys come up with a name Voodoo Glow Skulls?
Eddie Casillas: The name was actually suggested by a friend of ours that brought home a little toy skull, like a necklace thing, that you used to be able to buy at The Pirates of the Caribbean store at Disneyland. He bought a little ceramic necklace that was packaged like a little Hot Wheels car and it had fire on it and said Voodoo Glowing Skull. We just thought it was a cool name and it did not give away what kind of style of music we were. The name sounded interesting, and it was from local So Cal stuff.
GM: When the band started in 1988, what got you into playing this style of music?
EC: I guess we were influenced by what was going on; it was mostly the L.A. bands that were going on in the mid- to late-'80s, bands like Fishbone, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction. That was the trifecta of the late-'80s. They were a big deal for us, I mean, because we were starting to become a band and play little backyard parties and try to find our niche. Those were the bands that were the shit. I mean, those are the bands that were the scene and being from around here, being from about an hour away, from Riverside, we were able to soak it all in. When the albums started coming out, it was really big for us, as these bands were all big influences on us. I would say that Fishbone and the 2 Tone era of Ska, all the British stuff, that was a big deal. My older brother would bring home that stuff — he is four years older than me —all the 2 Tone stuff and the New Wave stuff, along with bands like Fishbone and Oingo Boingo. We heard the horns, but we also love metal. We grew up in the '80s metal era. We were all about (MTV) Headbangers Ball, and Iron Maiden is probably the biggest influence, even though the band ended up being a ska punk band, or whatever you call it. We always wanted to have a live show like theirs, even if we were a DIY band. Bringing banners and lights and fire-breathing characters out on stage even if you are not doing dual guitar solos or hearing a guy who can sing opera. We also loved the British/European heavy metal. The Scorpions are another one of my top five bands, and AC/DC; we were so into those bands. We were kind of a bastardization of everything we liked.
Our records were a big deal to us growing up. My first records were those funny classics. Being born in ’71 some of the first records were Funny Bone Favorites. It was an LP comp with all these funny songs like “Yakity Yak" and stuff like that. We were very big in the '50s and '60s style music, kind of campy, kind of vaudeville, almost like Ska. A big influence are The Coasters, as a matter of fact, that they were a big deal. They were kind of like the Fishbone of the '50s. We just latched onto that stuff. It was cool songs with cool voices, the baritone voice, and then the high voice and the middle. That is how we ended up kind of doing our sound. It is a mixture of all that stuff man and then part stand-up comedy, too. That was a big part. Richard Pryor and Gilda Radner. All this stuff that we had when we were little kids somehow, we always wanted to use examples from Cheech & Chong very early on in our records. We were not comedians, but punk rock lyrics are kind of funny so we figured out that’s a good angle, we could get in there with Ska and punk and kind of try to be funny but also have some social stuff to sing about. As you get older it’s inevitable to kind of get a little bit smarter and start thinking about different stuff, it’s just the way it is.
GM: You must have had the world's greatest parents, who were supportive and understanding about three boys in the house playing loud music all the time?
EC: Yes, they were. It was a testament to them, no pun intended, they are big time Catholics. I had to go to Catechism and then get confirmed and do all that stuff. We used to have albums like Motley Crue's Shout at the Devil gatefold and Kiss Alive II with Gene Simmons and all the blood, and my mom would come in and just flip the records over so she would not have to see the cover. To be fair to them they were super cool and they even paid for guitar lessons for quite a bit of time. They were very, very, very supportive. They were not necessarily excited to hear the F-word and lyrics and stuff like that. I think the first few times they came and saw us at the House of Blues in Anaheim and they heard Hoodoo Voodoo chants, that was the last thing she latched on to and did not pay attention to anything else, but the crowd yelling “Fuck You” back to us. That was like a joke we started back in high-school and it’s stuck with us this whole time.
GM: Do you remember where you were or what that feeling was like the first time, you heard one of your songs on the radio?
EC: Yeah, man. Realize that did not happen too much. I guess the first time was on a local radio show around here on KQCR at the University of Riverside. There was a show, and this guy named David Amoto would have a local show where he would play local bands and we just started getting played one day. He found our demo at the local shop, this 4-song demo cassette. We heard about it and started tuning in to this college radio station. We would hear ourselves and that is what kind of started us, even in the smallest way. Our high school friends would call in, and it was like a Monday thing or something, and it turned into a “Oh, you're the No. 1 song.” It was kind of funny, but it was cool, man. I mean, to be a 18-year-old kid and you're the No. 1 band on KQCR! We played at backyard parties and then clubs. The first real radio play was on KRock in '95. They started playing the single for "Fat Randy" off the Firme album which was the first Epitaph album and that was a trip, because at that time being in my mid- to late-20s and then hearing yourself on radio and you are going to bars downtown and this local band is making a name for itself. We were charting on the furious five-at-nine thing that they did each night during the week. It was so cool. We would go to a bar and people would go, “Dude, you have the No. 1 song!” It was so cool, and it was a dream come true type of thing. But, back to the original question: The first time I actually heard the song on the radio was when we were driving downtown to go to a bar and we heard it. That is when we first learned that it had been charting for a week on this radio show. It much more than we could have expected from a group being indie and playing Ska/Punk. We expected this from No Doubt, not us. It was always about our peers that we thought were going to become millionaires, like Sublime. We were playing at shows of 200 people or less in little clubs or even swap shows. Their record was blowing up, we knew they were the next big thing. For us it was great to get a little taste, but it was totally unexpected. It was a big deal.
GM: The new album, Livin’ the Apocalypse, finds you back with Dr. Strange records, the label you released your first release for. Is it weird to come full circle?
EC: It is great! It almost feels like we should have never left. Bill is just 20 years older. He is the same dude that tells dick and fart jokes and he is a funny dude. He knows the business. He is the punk rock indie guy, he is the vinyl guy and the record store guy. I’ve always respected that about him. He has been through it all and he is still here. We all saw it come and go, and he was still there, he still had a store, and it's cool to be back on there. It's kind of back the same way, except the band's been through the ringer and we are totally well known, I guess, somewhat now, so it helps a lot. It makes sense now just because the way the world is. I do not think a major could do much for us, or anything like that. We're just following the steps that we would normally do. We are still pushing everything out the same way we would have, and we will have the same press. People have been reaching out to us, which is great because we did not know what to expect. We did not know if people were going to touch it at all, and it's been cool. I mean, only the single has only been out for a few days and people are reaching out. The circumstances with the band have changed pretty drastically. We did not know what was gonna happen. The world's not even really open right now but we decided to continue anyway. So, it is just good to throw something out there and great to be back.
GM: Livin’ the Apocalypse came out May 14. It checks in at 28 minutes. 11 songs of horns, guitars and fury and some humor. I love "The Karen Song."
EC: Thank you, man. That's the one I was wondering about. We got to the point where that was supposed to be like the "Fat Randy" of now. We wanted to throw some funny stuff on the record. We know some people may get bent about it, but we are from the L.A. area and that's what we wanted to sing about.
GM: I recently saw one of your quotes on Twitter. It said, “If the band's politics confused you, you’re definitely in the wrong place.” Can you expand on that?
EC: Yeah, that was a collective thought, as soon as we released that song we started to get some weird stuff posted. I make a point of not reading it. I am not much of a social media guy. We had a major personnel change in the last 3 ½ years. Immediately, we got tag along with Fat Mike getting tagged says stuff, They were judging us off of just the one song I guess. I think sometimes people take the songs the wrong way, they make assumptions. If a song says “Mask up” are they telling me I have to wear a mask, or wait, are they telling me not to wear a mask? Heck we ruffled some feathers from just some artwork on one song. Although we may sound like we're being one-sided or something, you really get both sides of the opinion in a lot of the lyrics, they are kind of schizo. First, we are kind of singing like this side, or the other side or like the middle or like just the observation, but naturally people think it's going to be “Oh, this is about me,” so I guess a lot of the posts are because people think it’s just about them. They don’t get that it’s just general opinion or observation. It is just our observations with some music attached to it. I don’t necessarily think this makes us Rage Against the Machine or Woody Guthrie.
GM: People need to listen to the whole album and take it all in. It is really good. I loved "All in My Head." The song "Rise Up" is great and refers to PMA. I hope our younger generations understand what that is all about. Maybe we all need to learn a little more about PMA.
EC: We were just going back to what we love and all that stuff and trying to bring it all back in. That stuff influenced us so much. Throw a little of that into the song. It made sense with that song as it is the poppiest song on the album. I always thought that for a band we have always done a little bit of pop punk sensibilities to no matter what. We might be funny, but we love The Descendants. We grew up on that stuff, all the melodic punk rock stuff. We love to incorporate some of that kind of stuff.
GM: This is Efrem Schulz’s first album with the band, correct?
EC: This is his first album and the bands 10th.
GM: If someone were just going to get in Voodoo Glow Skulls now, what album would you suggest they start with?
EC: Well, of course they should buy the new one, which I wrote a lot of this with my younger brother, so I am a little biased. But to me the new one holds right up there with the one I would tell everyone to listen to, which is Firme. That is the one that put us on the map worldwide. I mean the first one on Dr. Strange Records is a close tie to it, but production wise, I would say Firme, produced by Garth Richardson who produced the first Rage Against the Machine and Motley Crue. I think he engineered Mother’s Milk from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, so he’s legit. For that time period, those songs are good. I would say listen to Firme and then listen to the new album. The new album is so good, dealing with the lineup change and all the stuff that was going on — and for what my little brother and I had to do to to basically survive as a band or just basically sink or swim, man. I mean, we could have stopped and packed it up three and a half years ago, when our brother, basically, you know, quit on stage. He retired on stage in a bad way ... you know, it sucks to repeat it, but that's what went down. We didn't think we were going to recover from it at first from the mental issues and the family capacity to deal with it. From a business standpoint just being guys in a band that have been touring so long and doing this, it becomes your job. Especially when you commit yourself to go on the road and putting out records every 2-3 years. We kind of slowed down because of all these factors, and now it seems like we are recharged because of that. We just changed the batteries, a little bit. My little brother and I wrote 75-90% of the lyrics. This is the stuff we would write in our bedroom every day. Thankfully, Efrem is just a positive dude and just stepped in and was like, “I’ll ignore the noise. I have my own career already with my own bands, let's just go and try this. I'll do my best.” He got us to this point where we can put this record out. If this were the last thing we did, if Covid destroyed the world or the world blew up or a meteor hit it, I’d be stoked that we put this record out. I am really proud of this record.
GM: Tell me about your record collection?
EC: I got a very small record collection right now, but I'm staring at an awesome one that my girl has. It has all the classic '50s records. She is a connoisseur, but I sort of messed up and sold all my classic heavy metal albums from when I was a kid at the time that Voodoo was starting to go out on the road and vinyl was starting to go away. I had all these first pressings of this cool stuff back then. I had the WASP picture disc and other cool stuff that I could probably look for and buy again. My vinyl collection is pretty small, consisting now of stuff given to me or stuff I recorded. Actually, I have a really nice studio in the backyard with a Trident console and every type of mic you would want, but the one thing we need to get is a better turntable. Right now we just have that rinky dink little suitecase one that you can buy for $100.
GM: Any favorite record stores you like to visit?
EC: Dr. Strange Records is the man! We used to have Mad Platter in town but they closed down and that was totally sad. I think the pandemic took them out. First records I bought were from Mad Platter, Slayer's Haunting the Chapel. Now, it’s Dr. Strange and I have been there a few times in the last month.
GM: Any record out there that you would love to have in your collection:
EC: Wow, the one gem I would like to have, I think that would have to be a Leathür Records copy of Motley Crue's Too Fast For Love. I used to have that when it came out and I saw them open for Kiss at Irvine Meadows right before the record was going to come out on Elektra.