Mad Caddies – ‘There were never two Mad Caddies’ records that are the same’

Words: Miljan Milekić

Not many bands in the last three decades were flying the flag of ska punk and reggae punk as highly and proudly as Mad Caddies. After a few setbacks in recent years, the band is once again firing at all cylinders, with a new lineup, but still fronted by mastermind Chuck Robertson. With a brand new album ‘Arrows Room 117’ on the way, and a Canadian tour starting in less than three weeks, it was a perfect time to jump on a call with Chuck and have him tell us all about it. Check it out below!

Hi Chuck! Welcome to Great White North! So who tricked you into coming to Canada in the middle of the winter?
We love it! My girlfriend lives in Saskatchewan – we’ve been together for almost three years now, so I’m spending a lot of time there. I’ve always loved Canada – I left home when I was 17 and moved to the British Columbia area. The band started touring Canada in 1998, on the East Coast. Then we did a tour opening for Strung Out across the whole country in 1999 and continued to keep opening for big Fat Wreck Chords bands. Eventually, we headlined our own Fat Tour in 2003, and funny enough, Rise Against opened for us. (laughs) And we all know what happened to those guys! Awesome! So, we have a long history with Canada. I love the people, and it’s one of the most beautiful countries in the world. There’s not a lot of people, which I also really like. (laughs) I live rurally in the middle of nowhere – I don’t like big cities.

Your new record comes just after the tour, however, the fans already had a first taste of it with ‘Palm Trees and Pines’ and ‘Baby.’ Can we expect any other surprises on these shows?
Chuck: But I have secret news though! We are gonna have the new record for sale at the Saskatoon show, on vinyl. We’re getting it shipped out a couple of weeks early for the tour, so people in Canada will be the first to be able to buy it. We had to make some special arrangements, and I don’t even know if I’m supposed to say it, but it’ll be there. (laughs)

So we will definitely hear some new songs. (laughs)
Chuck: Oh yeah, for sure. We finished the record in May, so we’ve been playing like three new songs every night since the Summer. We play about 24 or 25 songs for close to two hours. So, we’ll be playing new songs, all the old classics, and then, in the middle of the set, we do the Dad Caddies rock block for parents,” where we play like five songs in a row without stopping. All from before the year 2000 or something. (laughs). Something for everybody. And it’s really fun seeing all the people our age – I’m 46 – coming out with their kids, the second generation of fans. (laughs) Kids from 12 to 16 years old – the whole families hang out together at the show. We joke that the name should be the Dad Caddies now ’cause we’re all fathers. It’s like a whole new thing. (laughs)

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Speaking of new music, ‘Arrows Room 117’ will be your first record with a new lineup. Can you tell me more about the record and how it came together?
Well, it was great. You know, we didn’t tour for two years because of Covid; the band just went their separate ways, and I decided to keep it going. The new lineup just came naturally. On bass, it’s Jon Gazi, my stage manager and percussion player, hiding behind the bass amp and playing percussion for the last 12 years. So it was pretty natural for him to just walk to the front. Then, I’ve known Sean Sellers, our drummer, longer than anybody, for like 30 years. He was in a ska band called Sparker in Santa Barbara that I saw when I was 15, and that got me into ska music. So, we’ve known each other forever, we’re really good friends, and there had always been talk of him taking over drums into Mad Caddies eventually. Then, we brought Brandon [Landelius] from Authority Zero on guitar, who’s just a fucking shredder! And Jason [Lichau], our trumpet player, has been in the band on and off since 2015. He found Stephane [Montigny] on trombone in France for us last year.

It’s just the most talent I’ve ever been on stage with, musically. Every single guy is like a fuckin’ Grade-A ripper. I’m the worst musician in the band by far, but I write the song, so hey! (laughs) But I can’t play like these guys. It’s incredible. So, it was really fun recording the record. They were all my songs, but then they got to add their magic and come up with accompaniments with horns and different parts, so it’s our record. It was a seamless process. It was super professional and just really fun. We made the record over about six to eight weeks, but we were in the studio for about three weeks. We were proud of being very efficient, getting everything done, and having a really good time doing it.

You know, after playing in a band with some of those guys – the past members, for 25 years – I love them, they are family, but it wasn’t fun in the end. I mean, everybody just fought like brothers, you know? And there are no hard feelings, just people choosing to move on. They have kids, and they want to do different things. I kept the band going, and I got their blessing. I’m doing the name proud with these guys. I think this is the best way we sounded in like ten years. The last time the Mad Caddies were at their highest was around 2014. And now you can feel the love and the energy on stage. When you watch the show, you can see how much fun we all have together, individually and collectively.

I would imagine that such drastic changes bring different kinds of challenges, but it seems like you were able to strike the right balance between the classic Mad Caddies sound, while also embracing all the new members and what they can bring to the table. What did it take to make it all happen?
Chuck: I mean, there were challenges after the actual album was done, with record labels and trying to get it out. But musically, no. It was seamless and fun. I got to produce the record for the first time, whereas, in the past, I took a backseat to that. So, not only did I write the songs, but I got to produce the record, and it was very fulfilling for me to finally do a project like this and see it all the way from the start. And the artwork. My girlfriend and I came up with the concept for the artwork, and then she did a rough draft of it. We were doing it together at the studio, and I was seeing the album artwork come to life at the same time the songs were being finished. And then, our friend Katie Jacobson did the final artwork. She’s a fine artist and did a great job on the album cover. It felt like it was the most organic, peaceful, easy recording session I’ve ever had in my life. Sometimes, it’s taken us like a year to make a record, and we did this in three weeks. (laughs)

I think part of it is ’cause I had just recorded two records the year prior. I did a Chuck Robertson and Friends, solo record called ‘All Out of Dreams,’ that’s out everywhere streaming. I wrote and recorded that during Covid at my friend’s house with my buddies – like dads and old guys. It was awesome. (laughs) And then, after we’d finished the first record, we realized we had a whole another album worth of music. So we went up to Prairie Sun, this famous studio in Petaluma, California. It sucks that it’s gone now, but it was there since I was born – since 1978. We spent three weeks living on the farm and recording the second Chuck Robertson and Friends album, which is done, but not out. I’m gonna wait to put it out ‘till the Fall. But that studio was so famous. Everyone recorded there, from The Who to The Killers to Faith No More and Primus. I had Pete Townshend’s analog board in there, and we recorded the record on it. My son got to play Tom Wait’s piano. It was incredible. About six months after we recorded the record, the place got sold, and all the gear got ripped out after 45 years.

So, I think producing those two records for the first time by myself, with all my songs, I got to put the captain’s hat on. It gave me the practice and experience I needed to take those skills I had learned over Covid and then take them to the new Mad Caddies record. I felt comfortable in the driver’s seat and wasn’t stressed, ’cause I knew exactly what I wanted. I could hear the parts in my head that I wanted done, and then I was totally open to guys coming up with other parts. You know – “Let’s hear this horn line. Let’s hear this guitar riff. Oh, that’s sick, dude! Do that again. Yeah, yeah! Wait, no, no, no! That’s not what you played. You’re playing it differently now. Do what you did originally! See what he did originally. Yeah, do that!” (laughs) That is the funest fucking thing in music, to be creating the thing in the place with cool people that are all working really well together.

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I was lucky enough to hear the new record, and I already love it. But the thing that I like, possibly the most, is how well it flows, and how different songs slide into one another. It still has all the different influences and quirks we would expect from the Caddies’ record, but it seems that reggae and ska were the dominant force driving this one, adding to that familiarity and cohesiveness. Was that a conscious decision, something you wanted to do from the very beginning, or something that just happened naturally during the process?
I mean, I’m a huge fan of reggae and ska music. I listen to a lot of the new reggae artists, like The Elevators, who are a great band, I think, from Boston. And some of these newer bands – it’s positive, fun music with sweet melodies, and it just brightens up your day. And then, I’m a huge fan of country music. Well, whatever we call it, alternative country or Americana. But yeah, I always wanna write ska and reggae songs. I love it – it’s fun, and it just comes naturally to me. And then, by listening to a lot of country music over the last three, four years – that’s where three or four songs on the album lean. I wanted to sneak that in and then do the quirky stuff, too. I don’t think there’s ever been a Mad Caddies record that’s the same. I think it changes every time, but we always keep the ethos of the band, you know? I’m proud of the record, and I think people are gonna really like it.

It was mentioned earlier that this is a very personal record for you, and that it reflects some dark times, which is clear in the lyrics. However, not all is dark on the record – I love ‘Everywhere You Go,’ which might be one of the best feel-good songs I’ve heard in a while. How hard was it to pour all the thoughts and feelings on tape like this?
Chuck: Each song is very different as far as where I was emotionally when writing it, you know? ‘Everywhere You Go’  was actually commissioned – I wrote that for a girl in Canada. I am doing this thing called, so if someone wants me to write them a song, I’ll write them a song. It’s a platform like Cameo, but for songwriters and bands. You get an acoustic song for like $400, or a full band song for $800, ’cause I do the drums and everything electronically. It really helped me through the Pandemic. I did it for like a year, and I wrote 17 or 18 songs for people. And that was the only song that made the record. Mostly, I did stuff like birthdays and anniversaries – “Write me a song like ‘Drinking For 11’ for my wife’s and mine 15th anniversary.” I had so much fun, and I was busy. I was doing one or two a week for months. 

But that song, I remember this girl wrote – “Hey, I’m actually buying this song for myself. I’m going through cancer, and I’m gonna beat its ass. I’m gonna be all right, but I just want something uplifting. Write me a poppy reggae song that’s just with a positive message.” So I wrote that song for her. It’s really special, and it was literally inspired by one person. But I’ve been lost and lonely, too. I’ve almost walked off the ledge before. So, it’s very personal. It’s really hard to just sit down and write a song, but if someone gives you a theme and a style, you’re like – “Oh, okay, now I have something to go on. Now I have my homework.” It was much easier for me to write when given, like – “Hey, this is how I’m feeling. This is what I wanna feel like.” Okay, great! Tell me more! (laughs) For a lot of the songs, all they wrote is like – “Here’s the bar we met at. Here’s our dog’s name. Here’s our kid’s name.” So I’d write the fun stuff, the cheesiest shit that I would never put in a Mad Caddies song, but people loved it because it was just for them.

Being originally from Europe, I am in love with SBÄM Records and what they do for the scene across the pond, so I was happy to see you guys working with them for this record. How did it all come together, and how happy are you with your new home so far?
Chuck: It’s great. Stefan’s been a friend for a long time. He was doing artwork for Mad Caddies for many years, for tour posters in Europe, and booked club shows for us in Austria as a promoter. He just became a friend, and then we watched what he was doing, and we were excited about it. We didn’t have a contract with Fat in 20 years, so when SBÄM approached us, we were free to go anywhere we wanted.

I had a private conversation with Fat Mike, and it was the better opportunity. We needed a fresh start. New band – new label, and they have the energy that Fat Wreck had 20 years ago. Fat Mike and I are personal friends, and he’s always wanted the best for the Mad Caddies. He thought it was a great idea and told me to go for it. But yeah, it’s super cool being on a European label. Half of our fans are in Europe, so it’s nice to have them be the voice of the band. We’ve spent half of our career touring in Europe and the other half touring in the US and Canada. 

And it’s amazing having a big, strong label in Europe.
Chuck: Yeah, I think the closest thing was maybe Burning Heart in the nineties, but it faded away. They were from Scandinavia? Sweden? I think they did Millencolin and stuff, but I don’t know if they are even around anymore. And Stefan is doing cool things. We were happy for a change. I mean, Mad Caddies put out every single record on Fat Wreck Chords for 28 years. You gotta try something new! (laughs)

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Ever since I know of the band, and that’s quite some time now, you had a big following in the skateboarding and surfing community, and I know this love was a two-way street. Are you guys still involved in the scene?
There’s my Pabst Blue Ribbon x Santa Cruz board! (laughs and turns his camera to the skateboard on the wall) I mean growing up in our village, and I’m from a village of around 1000 people – there were four more villages around which we shared the same high school – skateboarding was pretty tough. It was illegal to skate. Solvang, which is the Danish capital of America, is a tourist town, so they didn’t want any skateboarders messing with the tourists buying Danish history. (laughs) So, when we were kids skateboarding WAS a crime. We had skateboards, but the only place we could go skate was the basketball court at the school. We were in a country, so there’s no sidewalks, it’s just dirt.

So we all got into BMX, and I raced in BMX from five or six years old ‘till about 13 or 14. I did it for about eight years and went all over the west up to Oregon, Washington, or Arizona to do national races. I was really into it. I was never good at skating – I just kept up with the guys. When we were in our twenties, we would just drink beer at night in the neighborhoods in Santa Barbara, and we’d have a guy wait at the bottom of the hill who would be like – “Alright, no cars!” And we would just bomb down the hill. (laughs) That kind of skateboarding. I was never good at tricks. And then, of course, surfing my whole life. Snowboarding, I’m OK. I love wakeboarding – anything on a board. It’s fun. It’s the heel-to-toe, heel-to-toe. (laughs)

But my son Charlie, he’s gonna turn nine years old on February 24th, and he just made it on the US National Ski and Snowboard team. He is skiing in Tahoe, and I’m moving up there soon. He’s been there for a few years, and it’s like an eight-hour drive from here. It’s just too much to do it once a month or every six weeks, and I want to be near my son. I miss my kid. But I’m so excited I get to go next weekend and watch him ski for the first time as an official member of the US Ski and Snowboard team. Very, very proud father. (laughs) The instructor told me last year that he expects him to be in the Olympics one day, so I was like – “Oh, shit!” (laughs) We grew up doing that, but we could only go for the weekend. And I always wanted to live in Tahoe. So, my son is living my childhood dream of getting to do that every weekend, all winter long.

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*Interview edited for length and clarity

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