MICHEL MARTIN, host:
Metal, or just straight-up party music - there's no one-way to describe Fishbone.
(Soundbite of song, "Sunless Saturday")
FISHBONE (Rock Band): Chase these clouds away. I hate this sunless Saturday. Freedom come. Freedom Come.
MARTIN: That's Fishbone performing "Sunless Saturday," on their current tour supporting their new album, "Still Stuck in Your Throat". It's their first release in more than six years. We were able to meet the band recently when they stopped in Baltimore. We met the band backstage at Rams Head Live.
BIG C (Trumpet Player and Vocalist, Fishbone): I'm Big C from Fishbone, trumpet player and vocal.
Mr. JOHN McKNIGHT (Guitarist, Trombone Player, Vocals, Fishbone): John McKnight - guitar, trombone and vocals.
Mr. SAM BELAFONTE(ph) (Keyboard player, Fishbone): Sam Belafonte. I play keyboards.
Mr. JOHN NORWOOD FISHER (Bassist, Fishbone): Fishbone soldiers missing in action: on guitar, Rocky George, and on drums, John "Wet daddy" Steward.
MARTIN: The last voice you heard was John Norwood Fisher. He and Angelo Moore are the only two original members of the L.A. band that started back in 1979. Over the years, the band scored some hits, like their 1988 cover of Curtis Mayfield's "Freddie's Dead".
(Soundbite of song, "Freddie's Dead")
FISHBONE: (Singing) Freddie's dead. That's what I said.
MARTIN: When I sat down with Angelo Moore and Norwood Fisher, Norwood told me they take their cues from everywhere.
Mr. FISHER: We actually explore all avenues, you know. So if something that we see on the news makes us angry, or something that we experienced in the street makes us happy. If, you know, I look around and I see my mother having a hard time or, you know, I'm rolling down the street and, you know, I'm in a traffic jam and my mind begins to wander into possibilities, you know, all of that comes into play into what we bring to the people.
Mr. MOORE: The social events that we live, that we see and that we live ourselves, because we as people just living, we are social event ourselves.
MARTIN: I'm wondering about something like "Party With Saddam," and what were your thoughts at that time?
Mr. MOORE: Well, that song is like a plea for peace. You know, it's like something that ridiculous like your enemy, you know, that you never thought you would get along with or be partying with. You know, you're partying with that person as if the war or the evil was never there.
(Soundbite of song, "Party With Saddam")
FISHBONE: (Singing) We won't see the end if we party till our colors blend, party till Saddam's your friend. Never drop a bomb again. All right? We can break the chains if we party like our blood's the same. Party till we lose our aim. Never shoot a gun again.
MARTIN: It's songs like "Party With Saddam" that probably best characterize the Fishbone ethos: say what you want, not necessarily what the record companies want to hear. It's an attitude that the band admits may have limited their commercial success. There's another factor, too: it's race, says Angelo Moore.
Mr. MOORE: Fishbone, as far as I'm concerned, we got blackballed for a long time. But that still didn't stop us because…
MARTIN: Why? Why do you think you were blackballed?
Mr. MOORE: Well, because we speak our reality, which is in America, it's racist. The music business is racist. It's all over the damned place. You know what I'm saying? What are you going to do? Keep your mouth shut about it?
MARTIN: Why do you think the music business is racist?
Mr. MOORE: Well, it's been like that ever since Chuck Berry and Little Richard, ever since rock was stole from the blues singer, ever since that happened. And it's been like that ever since. I mean, you really don't see too many black rock and roll bands still in existence now.
MARTIN: Yeah. Why do you think that is?
Mr. MOORE: They - as far as I'm concerned, the they meaning the white majority or white privileged - they don't want black people in the public eye or in the mainstream…
Mr. FISHER: Influencing their little tender kid's years.
Mr. MOORE: They won't send their white kids to go see the black people playing rock and roll, and it's still like that now.
MARTIN: But white people are the most - are the majority buyers of hip-hop.
Mr. MOORE: Yeah, but that's hip-hop.
Mr. FISHER: And they…
Mr. MOORE: White people can do anything they want to do. They got their face on the money. They can do anything they want to do.
Mr. FISHER: If it was possible to stop hip-hop, it would have been stopped. It was just - it actually was not built with anything in mind but its own people. And then it expanded out. So it had its roots in its own community and it could not be stopped.
MARTIN: Is that why you think that contemporaries of yours like the Red Hot Chili Peppers and No Doubt are considered sort of top of the charts and you're still considered underground even though you have a rabid fan base the follow you wherever you are? Do you think that's partly - what sounds so different of race?
Mr. FISHER: It's part of - there again, you know, we are a outspoken band. Maybe none of them are as outspoken as us.
Mr. MOORE: Yeah. We're not safe, you know. We're a little threatening because we got the truth right there in front of your face, even if it's dirty. There.
Mr. FISHER: We made a conscious choice to say what's on our minds the way that we want to say it. And maybe some of those people don't. You know, their race is a factor - we had a long career. We made mistakes as well, and we feel like we've been (censored) over by businesspeople close to us as well.
MARTIN: You're the only two of the original six. Have you ever thought of - now, don't get mad - but have you ever thought of for commercial reasons, maybe adding a little cream to your coffee, you know? Maybe adding light band members to make yourself more appealing?
Mr. MOORE: We had a white band member before. Her name was Elizabeth.
Mr. FISHER: Well, it's just - she wasn't a band member. She came through…
Mr. MOORE: She played with us for a while.
Mr. FISHER: But she came through - it was not like she made a record with us. But - and that was - I would never do that for those reasons. It's just - I just wouldn't. When I look at Fishbone, I'm like, one, it's a black band. And if we ever went to that length, it would have nothing to do with that. It would be like, okay, this person is doing the job to the level that they deserve to be in this band. But otherwise, you know, for all intents and purposes, Fishbone is a black band from the beginning. It will end that way, as a black experience and a black expression, you know, doing black music that maybe is not embraced by most of the black community.
MARTIN: Does that bother you?
Mr. MOORE: You know, it used to. But then, I said to myself, well, it's too bad for them - too bad for the black people who have to horse blinders on and they want to call rock 'n' roll white boy music, when black people invented blues and then rock 'n' roll and the jazz and all of that. So a lot of black people will choose to stay ignorant, especially when the tempo changes. It's not gospel.
(Soundbite of music)
FISHBONE: (Singing) Technical man, out of control. Technical man, out of control. Technical man, out of control. Technical man…
MARTIN: These days, Fishbone seems to thrive on its outsider status - not that they don't notice their cramped RV. Angelo took us on a tour to be sure we noticed how they were roughing it in contrast to the luxury tour buses bigger acts enjoy. Or that they're not even the headliners at a small venue like the Ram's Head. But they don't seem bitter - maybe because they have survived all these years because they have learned some bitter lessons.
Who do you hold most responsible for keeping you in the box?
Mr. FISHER: I bring it back to us, still, in the fact that, again, it's like - you know what? Lenny Kravitz - he's doing his thing, and he made choices that allowed his doors to be wide open. Lenny Kravitz ain't standing on a soap box talking about the war on Iraq. Yeah, but we do.
Mr. MOORE: We do…
Mr. FISHER: So, you know…
Mr. MOORE: …we get up there and say the war in Iraq. We say kill whitey. Hey would say all that kind of (censored) when we feel like it is affecting us enough to where we have to say, hey, man. This is how we feel. How about you?
MARTIN: I've never heard you say kill whitey.
Mr. FISHER: We never…
Mr. MOORE: Oh, we said that in a song - what "Riot" on "Chim Chim's Badass Revenge"…
Mr. FISHER: Yeah, "Riot" on "Chim Chim's Badass Revenge".
MARTIN: Well, isn't that what - you know, and you've got most of your audience…
Mr. FISHER: But it's tongue in cheek.
MARTIN: …you know, you're in Baltimore tonight. You got a big crowd coming. I happen to, you know, expecting a big ole crowd, and it's going to be mostly white.
Mr. FISHER: It's tongue in cheek.
(Soundbite of song, "Skank 'n Go Nuttz")
FISHBONE: (Singing) Yeah! Kill whitey! You ain't got (censored)…
MARTIN: Pushing buttons and being tongue and cheek is one thing, but I also talked with them about whether they feel any sense of responsibility about their use of language. It's a big debate in hip-hop right now. It wasn't clear where they actually stand. On "Still Stuck in Your Throat," they cover "Date Rape," originally recorded by Sublime, which calls for a bad end for rapists. But they also have a track called "Let Dem Ho's Fight". Angelo tried to explain that one.
Mr. MOORE: Well, "Let Dem Ho's Fight" was an experience that we witnessed, me and Norwood witnessed in Atlanta. It was a booty shake bar. And it was - what? Foxy boxer night, "Let Dem Ho's Fight," and all the…
MARTIN: Is that how they titled it? That was the…
Mr. MOORE: Well, that's what the guy said.
Mr. FISHER: That's what the audience said.
MARTIN: But does that make it okay?
Mr. MOORE: And there all pimps and the players inside there. Player's ball, that's what they looked like when we saw it.
Mr. FISHER: We say in the lyric, it was like it was wrong but seemed right when they said, "Let Dem Ho's Fight," you know what I mean?
Mr. MOORE: Yeah, it was a majority vote.
Mr. FISHER: We put that in the lyrics.
(Soundbite of song, Let Dem Ho's Fight)
FISHBONE: (Singing) In the middle of the night, it was wrong but seemed right when they say, let dem ho's fight - dem ho's they fought. A (censored) flew flop out singing knock the (censored) out. Left right and a hook, a blubber glut shook. We all bet our dollars, everybody screamed and hollered let dem ho's fight. Let dem ho's fight.
MARTIN: So you're reporting.
Mr. FISHER: Yeah, it's like reporting. But honestly, it's the way people talk. I talk like that. (Censored), man, I mean, on the real, you know. And most of the people I know talk like that, you know, like…
MARTIN: But should they? I mean, especially since part of what you're about is the way the world should be as opposed to the way it is.
Mr. MOORE: But should we kill each other?
Mr. FISHER: No.
Mr. MOORE: Should we - yes, no. We shouldn't, right? Should we rob from each other?
Mr. FISHER: No.
Mr. MOORE: But we do it.
MARTIN: But the argument is that there's a certain coarsening of the culture, there's a certain abusiveness to the language that has now become okay because a lot of artists like nowadays…
Mr. MOORE: Like the word (censored) become okay now. It's become - because hip-hop has put it out there. Okay, I'll figure it like this, right. Use the word (censored) as long as you're joking. But to use it in a serious matter, you know, then that's like actually like demeaning somebody when you use it in a sentence. And there's also a thin line - there's a real thin line, too. All right, so what do you do? Like, you know, like what you do? Hey, man, at the end of it, I say everybody, love one another.
MARTIN: But the question is as a black band with a largely white following, the question for you is are you making it okay for white people to use that word and other such words? What do you all think?
Mr. FISHER: I don't know what the end-all, be-all answer to that should be because, you know what? Eventually, you know - it's like this. I see white people calling each other (censored). You know, I know plenty of Mexicans, they call each other (censored). They don't cross - most of them don't cross the line and call them black person (censored).
Mr. MOORE: Call us (censored), call black people (censored).
Mr. FISHER: But I hear them saying (censored) on each other (censored)…
Mr. MOORE: So that (censored) taking on a different meaning and form, like maybe, like, (censored) oh, that's my homie. That's my (censored) right there. You know what I'm saying?
MARTIN: Is that okay with you?
Mr. MOORE: Well, I'll tell you. It's going to have to be okay. What am I going to do? Try to stop it?
Mr. FISHER: It's all going somewhere. I don't know where it's going to end, but it might one day just take this sting out of it, and maybe that's about as much - because the word ain't going away.
Mr. MOORE: But we know the origin of it. We know where it came from. We know that in the beginning, it's a bad word.
Mr. FISHER: You can't outlaw a word. I'm against policing our language overall.
MARTIN: But what Angelo or Norwood stressed the most is that words can be whatever they want. It all depends on the context.
(Soundbite of song, "Forever Moore")
FISHBONE: (Singing) Well, here I am, like a sardine…
MARTIN: Angry, funny, tender, silly - Fishbone still does it all.
You've got something called "Forever Moore".
Mr. MOORE: "Forever Moore," that's about a dad misses their daughter.
Mr. MOORE: You know, far away, you're on a tour - you miss your kids.
MARTIN: Would that be you?
Mr. MOORE: You know, I wrote that about my daughter, but it's for all dads who miss their kids, and they're far away traveling forward and they can't see their kids.
Mr. MOORE: That's what that's about.
(Soundbite of song, "Forever Moore")
FISHBONE: (Singing) I just want to be with my kids at night. Cheyenne Star forever Moore. Hey…
MARTIN: Angelo Moore, John Norwood Fisher - latest album is "Still Stuck in Your Throat".
Mr. MOORE: That's right.
MARTIN: Thank you all so much.
Mr. FISHER: Thank you.
Mr. MOORE: You're welcome.
MARTIN: For more on Fishbone, check out our Web site at npr.org/tellmemore, where the conversation never ends.
(Soundbite of song, "Forever Moore")
FISHBONE: (Singing) Cheyenne Star, Cheyenne Star.
MARTIN: I'm Michel Martin. You're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.