What started out as a group of college students playing music at packed basement parties blossomed into the six-record, internationally touring band known as the Pietasters.
The ska outfit is made up of self-proclaimed Anglophiles from Washington D.C. who formed as a band while they were in college at Virginia Tech, “avoiding doing actual studying,” joked vocalist Steve Jackson.
“We started playing in 1990 and our version of ska was very influenced by the Two-Tone sound from the UK in the 1980s,” Jackson said. “Think Specials, Selecter, Bad Manners, English Beat, etc. Being Anglophiles we chose the name based on a chant some British friends would sing when we came to visit. Where they are from, ‘pietaster’ is slang for ‘fat guy’ which is fitting for some of us.”
This crew has changed lineups many times over the years, playing shows with anywhere from eight to twelve people on stage at once with instruments varying from the traditional guitar, bass and drums to organs, trumpets, saxophones and trombones. Some band members, like bassist Dave Vermillion, grew up listening to the Pietasters before eventually joining the group.
“Band members come and go periodically due to a variety of reasons, but for most, the band is an extended family,” guitarist Joe Ross said. “As long as we keep having fun and keep respecting one another, we’ll keep on rockin’.”
With influences ranging from The Toasters and Scofflaws, to The Clash, The Jam, Blur, Willie Nelson and The Police, the guys in the band have no qualms about crossing over genres with their music.
“Some of our songs are collaborative and grow from jamming at practice,” Jackson explained. “Some songs are brought to the band almost complete, written by one member. Guess that’s a symptom of having so many members in the band.”
After playing as an established group for 26 years, the band has a number of accomplishments to be proud of, from touring in the states, Canada and Europe, as well as working alongside major artists like Joe Strummer and James Brown.
“We’ve been very fortunate over the years to have worked hard and been in the right place at the right time,” Jackson said. “From the big moments like backing up James Brown, touring North America with Joe Strummer or The Bosstones, to seeing the world with your friends and being paid in beer we’ve had a pretty fun time. Meeting so many nice folks and making new friends all around the world is a nice side bonus.”
But through all of the cold cut sandwiches and failed equipment in the early days, The Pietasters have found their perfect rock ‘n’ soul niche that people dig. For the band members, it’s the little moments during touring that end up being the best for them.
“Hanging out with band, seeing and meeting friends all over the place,” Vermillion said. “(And) getting to play and have people dance their hearts out for these songs that I grew up with.”
“Nowadays it’s catching up with old friends and maybe getting a good meal or some local cuisine,” Jackson said. “It used to be seeing new places but I feel like we’ve seen most of North America and Europe by now. We’re more familiar with the truck stops and truck stop employees in the US than I ever thought we’d be.”