Crazy Baldhead aka Agent Jay, guitarist from The Slackers, is at it again, releasing a double A-sided vinyl featuring two different singers on his indie label, Old Neighborhood.
On the A-side, Crazy Baldhead brings us back to the late 60s/early 70s with a ska-tinged cover of The Stooges classic tune, “No Fun.” Maintaining the essence of Iggy Pop’s iconic garage-rock band’s version with that fuzzy guitar, this track features the tough, edgy voice of Dani Tute (pronounced “Too-tay”).
On the AA-side of the vinyl, “Love on Loop” has a rocksteady dancehall ambiance. It features the vocals of Ali Presses of the ska band Stop the Presses, originally out of Miami but now embedded in Brooklyn. Stop the Presses sound has evolved over their 13 years and three albums together, but what certainly remains consistent is their steadfast ska foundation and the awesome vocals of Ali Presses. Now, she lends her talents to this catchy number from the genius of Crazy Baldhead.
Throughout the years, Crazy Baldhead has called upon the voices of a diverse mix of singers. Each collaboration has its own style and vibe while at the same time staying true to his eclectic signature sound that fuses pop, punk, ska, reggae and garage-rock.
Rootfire connected with the NYC-based artist while on tour with his band, The Slackers, to get some insight about these latest singles.
RF: How did you choose to work with Dani Tute for the Stooges cover?
Dani has been my partner for nearly 5 years. She sang in a power pop band in Buenos Aires, where she spent half her life. “No Fun” is a classic by the Stooges, and I thought it would be a perfect tune to cover during the pandemic when everything was closed and canceled because there was NO FUN to be had. I first put it out digitally in 2020. We got a good reaction, so I felt confident about doing a vinyl release.
RF: The song also has not one but two videos, one of which shows her walking in the heart of the city, on a mission it seems. Tell us what inspired this creation?
We needed some kind of video content for the digital release a few months ago, so we just ran around the corner from our place to Broadway, here in Brooklyn, and just shot some footage of her walking down the street to the beat. I then superimposed me playing guitar over it. We didn’t think too much about it.
RF: Crazy Baldhead (feat. Ali Presses) “Love on the Loop” has a lot of swagger and toughness to it! Can you tell us how this track came to life?
I initiated the track by building the rhythm. I wanted something that sounded like late 70s Studio 1, when they were “versioning” or remixing their 60s and early 70s rhythms for the burgeoning dancehall scene at the time. I wanted to make something with a classic rocksteady foundation, but that people who weren’t necessarily into Jamaican music could dance to in a modern club. I used an old Korg analog drum machine to make that beat, then overdubbed real instruments on top. The clincher was soprano saxophone, à la the rocksteady classic “Swing Easy.”
I knew Ali from playing with her band, Stop the Presses, in Miami, then producing a couple records with them in New York. She’s the best kept secret in ska songwriting right now. She has a real pop sensibility and a solid foundation for melody, arrangement, harmony, and taste. She demo’ed the tune for me after I sent her the rhythm and it hit right away. “Love on Loop,” the analogy between attraction and a song on repeat.
RF: Did you create this in Brooklyn and is Ali from there as well?
We did this all in Brooklyn, where we both live. I am from Queens, and she’s from Miami originally.
RF: Does your personal life experiences and struggles give your music the ammunition?
Sometimes, of course, I have something personal to say. Making it work melodically is the hard part. I may have lyrics that I think really hit the feeling on the head, but they just don’t land with a listener, and they may not have the right ring to it when it’s on ‘tape.’ Often a meaningless but catchy hook does the trick, but it’s a good feeling when you can write from the heart, or gut, and still get people dancing. I’ve been more honest with myself these days about admitting when I don’t really have anything else compelling and I will reach out to another songwriter, like Ali, to finish a tune.
RF: I have such an appreciation for authenticity! Does the city influence your songwriting and help keep those creative juices flowing?
If anything, I would say the street influences my rhythmic backing-track sensibilities and mix aesthetic. As I mentioned, I live right off Broadway in Brooklyn (different than the famous Broadway in Manhattan) and ride my bike up and back every day into Manhattan for exercise. It’s a busy working-class artery through this part of Brooklyn.
I rely on my daily bike route as a palate cleanser from whatever I am working on. Hearing music, thumping from cars and speakers along Broadway is a reality check to what a tune should sound like in the street at a distance. The street fills my ears and keeps me rooted outside the mainstream traditional or third-wave pop-ska sound. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse, if I don’t execute well. When I’m on Broadway in particular, but almost anywhere on the street, I hear lots of trap and reggaeton and classic rap, salsa/bachata/merengue, modern dancehall, and classic reggae, being in a West Indian neighborhood, and EDM now, of course. It’s much like other cities that way, but very concentrated, and the Domini-Rican and West Indian vibes flavor the neighborhoods considerably. People forget that Jamaican and Jamaican influence music is primarily dance music. But if we want people to dance, if we want our music to break out of genre shackles the way reggae did in the 70s, it has to stay true to where it comes from, but also appeal to regular people. It must sound street.
RF: You mentioned briefly something that impacted your life doing music with an unfortunate accident a while back. Did this shake your core to break out and do everything over the top and out of the box?
In 2015, I was in a bad cycle accident, and my right arm was badly broken and paralyzed for a few months. I couldn’t play guitar and had to stop touring for a while. This definitely lit a fire under my ass to work harder on music and practice a lot more. I got serious about my little home studio and my production work. I started my little record label, Old Neighborhood Music, and in general started taking more musical chances.
RF: What is next on tap for Crazy Baldhead?
I have a bunch of tunes in the can and ready to go for release, either digitally or 7-inch vinyl. I think the next Crazy Baldhead single will be “Houston” (originally by Dean Martin) featuring Jesse Wagner of the Aggrolites, with an original B-side, “You Don’t hate Monday,” featuring Jah Point, a local singer I’ve worked with a bunch.
It’s just a matter of spacing and the releases, so each one gets their moments and doesn’t get lost in the clutter of all the other music coming out constantly, even just on the ska/reggae scene.
We’ve done live gigs in the past but haven’t had anything like a regular singer in years, so I’ve kept Crazy Baldhead a studio band for a while. I say “band” but it’s just me with whichever musicians or gear is right for the sound I’m going for at that moment.
I had a full-length record I was working on starting in 2020 of mostly oldies ska and early reggae, but I lost enthusiasm for it seeing how much authentic Jamaican sounding music was coming out and how little (relatively) excitement it was generating. Don’t get me wrong, the scene has been into it, but it doesn’t seem like the “traditional” (for lack of a better word) scene has been growing, but aging. I still love that music most of all, but it’s not the 60s or 70s and most of us are not Jamaican. It’s the 2020s, and we have to make our own music, influenced by the foundational Jamaican sounds but with our own stories, our own twist.
You can purchase Crazy Baldhead’s “No Fun b/w Love On Loop” here and/or enter to win a copy of the vinyl below.
Contest ends Friday November 17th @ 11:59 pm PT.
Winner will be notified via email from [email protected]. Winner may be responsible for import duties in your country if applicable.