Flying Raccoon Suit deliver genre-defying ska on upcoming LP (new video + Q&A)
Mississippi genre-blurring ska band Flying Raccoon Suit have releases dating back to 2012, but they didn't solidify their current lineup until 2016, and the very unique sound they have now really started coming together on their 2019 "Static Home" / "Nothing's Changed" single. They're now gearing up to release a new album, Afterglow (due March 19 via self-release), featuring re-recordings of both of those songs plus ten new ones, and guitarist/vocalist/trombonist Andrew Heaton calls it "the clearest depiction of what Flying Raccoon Suit is."
Ska is a driving force on Afterglow, but there's so much more than that, including elements of punk, metal, hardcore, jazz, indie rock, and more, and FRS blend all this stuff together in a totally natural way. A good example of this is lead single "Driftwood," which also throws a little surf rock in the mix, and which casually defies genre while keeping things catchy and concise. The production is better than anything Flying Raccoon Suit had done previously, the choruses are bigger, and the horn arrangements are sharper. It's a great introduction to Afterglow, and it comes with a green-screen-powered video that premieres in this post.
"The song concept is really just about feeling like you’re alone and trapped inside your own mind," vocalist/melodica player Jessica Jeansonne says, "for example, the lyrics 'you can’t float when the baggage weighs you down and the shore is all you want to see.' I wanted the video to really capture what the inside of your head can feel like when you’re stuck indoors with nothing but your worst thoughts to keep you company. I feel like the video is our not-quite-comedic take on that concept because we really are just a group of anxious goobers. If it seems like an insane amalgamation of bullshit sometimes, it’s because that’s what it can be like sometimes."
Drummer/producer Derek Kerley, who directed the video, adds, "Like with the album, we knew going in that we wanted to do the video ourselves. With Jessica’s concept in mind, along with wanting to capture everyone’s ridiculous personality and imagination, green screens were the clear approach."
The band launched a Kickstarter campaign for the vinyl pressing (which comes in two different colored variants), and there are some Kickstarter-exclusive rewards and merch including an instant download of the title track. Check that campaign out here and head below for the "Driftwood" video and a Q&A with the band about the new album...
BV: I feel like this your biggest-sounding album yet - the production, the horn arrangements, the choruses, everything just feels big. What was different this time around?
Jessica Jeansonne (vocals, melodica): We’ve had some of these ideas swirling around in our heads for a while now. This is our first album with a solidified lineup since the band restarted in 2016, and it’s truly a group effort where all of our influences shine. We really let all of our creative roots come together to form this beautiful album tree.
Andrew Heaton (guitar, vocals, trombone): Agreed. This album and this lineup is the clearest depiction of what FRS is, I think. Plus, our drummer Kerley records and mixes all of our music, and his skills have only gotten better over time. This time around we got James Whitten from Hightower Recording to master the songs, but other than that we record/mix our music and make all of our music videos in house.
Derek Kerley (drums, percussion): I definitely felt more confident as a producer this time around. Rather than just thinking about drum parts and running the boards, I tried to see the bigger picture throughout the entire process. The record was more collaborative with every aspect and I think it shows.
The album also incorporates so many different styles of music - ska, indie rock, metal, jazz, punk, hardcore, etc. Can you talk a little bit about your approach to that - did you kind of set out to make a multi-genre album, or is it just a natural byproduct of how this band writes songs?
Kerley: One of my favorite things about being a part of this band is that there is a feeling of musical freedom. Everyone is open minded when it comes to genres we listen to or play. A lot of the mixing of styles happen organically. When you pull people in that live and breathe ska or indie and have a progressive rock obsessed drummer/producer- something interesting is going to come out of it.
On a similar note, what would you say are some of the major musical influences on this album?
Andrew: We all contributed different parts to different songs, and with us all having pretty different musical backgrounds like you mentioned, I think the songwriting shows these individual influences in different areas. Also like you mentioned, we’ve cumulatively got some ska, indie, metal, jazz, and punk in our past. Our paths have crossed through a lot of different genres - Josh, Kerley, and I all used to be in an indie band together and we’d play shows with Jessica’s indie and ska bands. Kerley also fronted a metal band. I’ve been in a funk band with Brandon and Nevin, and Guillermo’s an original FRS member from our high school days. Plus, we all love ska and some of us have been around that scene for a while. The indie background Jessica and I share probably lent itself to a lot of our lyric writing. Kerley being our metalhead means you’ll hear way more double kick than you normally would in ska. Our horn players have really impressive jazz chops which were utilized really well on this album. “Don’t Wait” is actually one of [cornet player] Brandon [Kenyon]’s tunes, and I think you can really hear that.
I know it's a weird time to be a band in a year without concerts. In what ways has the pandemic affected Flying Raccoon Suit and/or the making of this album in particular?
Kerley: Regarding playing live, 2020 was looking to be our most exciting year as a band yet. Then things obviously took an unexpected turn. What happened (and is still happening) is extremely tragic in so many ways, one of those being the livelihood of live music in general. We decided to try and turn it into an opportunity to really buckle down on the album. As a silver lining, we were able to focus and work a lot harder on it than if we had been busier with our normal lives or playing all the shows lined up for the year.
In general, what messages would you say you were trying to get across with Afterglow/what do you most hope people take away from this album?
Andrew: I feel like the prevalent themes are probably mental health, environmentalism, and rallying against the sort of Trump cult hive mind of xenophobia.
Jessica: Andrew is correct in all of that, but also, it’s been a tough time and it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling. “If we knew what lies ahead, would we still toss and turn?”
Ska obviously never went away, but it seems like it's having more of a moment right now than it has in a while. Has all this current ska excitement affected Flying Raccoon Suit in any way?
Jessica: We’ve always been passionate about the music we make but it’s definitely been invigorating to have so much positive energy surrounding this type of music recently. We don’t feel like the black sheep of the family as much anymore, like we used to in our local scene sometimes. In fact, with the greater sense of community over the internet and social media we feel more like we’re part of a giant family full of love and inclusivity these days.
Andrew: We’ve definitely seen more interest in what we’re doing recently. We were set to be on a bunch of cool new festivals in 2020 too, so hopefully soon! It’s been great having little positive surprises every once in a while too – our music showing up in articles, playlists, podcasts, things we had no idea about until we see them.
Kerley: It feels great to be a small part of something so amazing. It definitely feels like it is having a moment. I hope it continues to grow and spread both positivity and well-needed awareness to current ongoing issues. Other bands and people in the ska community are so embracing, and everyone wants to see each other happy and successful.
One thing I love about this current era of ska is the politics are really back in the forefront. I know FRS is very vocal about this stuff on social media/etc, can you talk about the importance of being a band that pushes against racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc?
Andrew: I love that about this current era of ska as well. I think it’s important to be vocal about these things, because not only is being actively anti-racist, anti-transphobic, etc part of a really baseline level of decency, it can be disheartening and unwelcoming to see larger bands, especially in a genre like ska with its rich history, stay silent. It has been great to see and be a part of all of the charity and community organizing work that ska bands have done in 2020, and continue to do, and it’s always important to remember that this work isn’t finished.
Favorite current ska bands?
Jessica: Grey Matter, Joystick, We Are the Union. Omnigone, now more than ever. I love Stuck Lucky too, we played with them before the pandemic and I got to tell Will he looks like Mark Hoppus and honestly that was the highlight of my year.
Andrew: I’ve had that new Bad Operation album on repeat recently. JER’s originals that have been coming out are incredible, lots of love for that new Kill Lincoln album too! There’s been too much good new stuff to choose from recently, it’s a good problem to have. Catbite, Half Past Two, and Poindexter are great ones. Mike Park also has a ton of great new stuff, in pretty much all of his projects.
Kerley: I don’t even hate stealing their answers haha. Joystick, We Are the Union, JER, oh man honestly anything Skatune Network, but that cover album of the Undertale soundtrack has been on repeat for weeks now. I’m a huge video game music fan, and I just ordered The Holophonics' Banjo-Skazooie cover album, and I can’t freaking wait for that to come in!
Anything else you'd like to add about this album (or anything else) that I haven't asked?
Kerley: The album feels like such an accomplishment to me. I’m so proud of myself and my best friends for what we created, and I hope that it resonates with people even at the tiniest percentage of how much it has resonated with me… because that would still be a whole lot.
Andrew: As a testament to how home-grown this album is, if you listen closely at the end of "Red Herring" you can hear the electronic keypad on my front door going off because I got home right as Kerley finished recording a drum track haha. Hope we can see everyone at a show soon!
2. Hive Mnd
4. Bleed Me Dry
6. Canary in the Coal Mine
7. Static Home
8. Red Herring
9. Everyone Else
10. Nothing's Changed
11. Don't Wait
12. Toss and Turn