When life gives you lemons, make a band. That’s the expression, right? Anyway, that’s exactly what local singer Ashlie Long did after bouncing from band to band, “trying to find something that was me, but couldn’t,” she says at her home and practice space in South Salt Lake. By putting ads on KSL, Craiglist and even grocery-store bulletin boards, she put out the call for the group of musicians that would eventually become ska/punk band Bombshell Academy, which reached its first anniversary in August and has a new album in the works.
The first musician to answer Long’s ska signal was guitarist Brian Mackay, who was similarly unsatisfied with the bands he’d been auditioning with since moving to Eagle Mountain from the Bay Area. “When I moved out here, I looked forever for a band to play with,” he says. “I tried out with a few other bands, but they [weren’t] my thing.”
When Long and Mackay met, their musical interests and what they wanted out of a band meshed instantaneously. “I found [Brian], and he’s like, ‘Dude, I’ve been looking for you my whole life,’ ” Long says. They received overwhelming attention when they advertised for musicians to fill out the rest of the band lineup. “We had so many people that were interested that I couldn’t even keep people straight,” Long says. The band members now laugh about the awkwardness that came with finding one another online.
“I was worried when I was driving out to Eagle Mountain [to audition],” says drummer Tyler Smith, who eventually joined Bombshell Academy. “I was like, ‘Are they gonna kill me and take my drums?’ ” The lineup was completed with the addition of Chris Larson (bass), Erik Vorkink (trumpet) and Matt Boyle (saxophone).
With their powers combined, the Bombshell Academy team plays bouncy, upbeat, punked-up ska that’s influenced by the fact that Long, Mackay and Vorkink all grew up in or spent extended periods of time in California—“during like, the golden age of ska,” Mackay says—a ska hotspot that produced well-known outfits Operation Ivy, No Doubt, Dance Hall Crashers, Reel Big Fish and Save Ferris in the late ’80s and throughout the ’90s.
Bombshell Academy continues Utah’s own strong ska tradition, which got its start in Provo in the ’90s through legends Stretch Armstrong and Swim Herschel Swim. And even though “we still feel like we’re the newbies” in the scene, Smith says, the band has received support from seasoned local ska bands, including 2 1/2 White Guys and Sturgeon General.
On the band’s debut album, Skaholics Anonymous—recorded with Bruce Kirby at Spirit West Studios and set to be released sometime this fall—Bombshell Academy pays tribute to those good old days when they were first all introduced to ska, and that nostalgia factor is what they believe will ensure ska’s continued underground popularity. “When people think about ska they never think, ‘Oh, ska, that was so crappy, I hated that stuff,’ ” Mackay says. “Usually, it’s like a nostalgia thing. Like, ‘I remember ska, that was fun.’ ”
“It’s fun music,” Long adds. “Like anything with horns in it—the second I hear a trumpet, I’m like, ‘Woohoo!’ ”
Songs from the upcoming album are skank-till-you-drop numbers about “life, just experiences in general,” Mackay says. The titular track is about “our obsession with ska,” Long says. “Zombies in Salt Lake” is “a reference to society almost, because it’s like people are walking around totally into media, TMZ,” she says. “They’re all on their phones, they walk into fountains.” The song “My Life” revolves around the theme of growing up and discovering who you are and what you like, and being your own person despite what people tell you to do. But don’t go searching for any deep emotion in these songs; the album is lighthearted music for people to forget their troubles to.
“I write music to be fun, energetic; it’s gotta be triple beats per minute,” Mackay says. “It’s gotta be fast and upbeat; it has to have a catchy chorus. Other than that, who cares about emotion or meaning?”
Utah State Fair
South Plaza Stage
Utah State Fairpark, 155 N. 1000 West
Saturday, Sept. 7, 7:30 p.m.
Free with $7 fair admission