NJ ska-core band The Best of the Worst have been around for 14 years but they've only released one full-length during that time (2013's Perspectives), alongside a series of EPs. That finally changes with their second proper full-length, Better Medicine, due February 19 via Bad Time Records and TBOTW drummer Joe Scala's own Choke Artist label.

"It sort of just came down to 'go big or go home,'" Joe told us, regarding the decision to finally do another full-length. "We’ve been a band for 14 years and it didn’t feel right to only have one LP out for all that time. We usually just bang out a 5-7 song release and call it a day."

"Personally I wanted 2020 to be the year where we doubled down on ska," Joe continued. "It only made sense with all the momentum Mike has had with Bad Time Records. The idea was a new album from TBOTW, a new album from our ska-punk side project band Thirsty Guys, and a reunion show from Cheech and Stiffy’s old band Awful Waffle - they were super important to the NJ ska scene in the mid-late 2000s. The pandemic pushed everything to 2021, but the silver lining is that people seem receptive to ska-punk now more than any other time in our existence as a band."

The album is a noticeable step forward for TBOTW, with cleaner, warmer production than they've had in the past, and an increasingly natural blend of the many different styles of music they've experimented with over the years (ska, hardcore, metalcore, poppier punk/indie stuff, etc). "The idea with Better Medicine was to purposefully jump the shark," Joe said. "Our last EP Painted Fools is pretty slick and mature sounding...but who really needs mature ska-core? The appeal of ska/punk/hardcore music is the visceral gut-wrenching feeling you get when you hear it. With the writing I tried to capture some of that catharsis through the music instead of being too married to brainiac stuff like weird chord progressions or mathy parts."

They recently released lead single "Counterfeit Smiles," and we're now premiering the title track, which closes the album, along with its video. This one gives you a great idea of what to expect from the album, with a seamless fusion of Earth Crisis-worthy chugs, light/clean ska passages, a pit-opening early 2000s metalcore breakdown, and just a few grindy blast beats thrown in for good measure. As for its lyrical content, Joe tells us:

Better Medicine is the next step lyrically for our band. For a lot of our 20s we wrote songs about being complacent/falling out of touch with friends/feeling detached from society. It’s easy to wallow in woe-is-me pity-party type shit lyrically...but if there’s no growth then what’s the point?

Eventually it becomes a kinda indulgent pattern. Better Medicine as a whole deals with recognizing those patterns, dealing with the bullshit, and taking the next steps to fix things.

This title track in particular was the one song lyrically that was written during the March lockdown. It’s about not letting the world dictate how you should live your life. As long as your friends have your back, then who cares? We’ve always felt like a misfit band, but I’m not sure if we ever really cared about fitting in anyway.

“Better medicine / the life you project / don’t mean much to me / cause I’ve got my friends.”

The video is very quarantine-era, and it also has a sense of humor, starring the band alongside a suited-up record exec who thinks they're doing it all wrong. Check it out, and read on for more of my chat with Joe, guitarist/vocalist Jason Selvaggio, guitarist Garrett "Cheech" Weber, and vocalist/trombonist/keyboardist Liz Fackelman...

The album feels like a clear step forward - cleaner production, a noticeable progression in the songwriting. What was different about how you approached this one vs your previous releases?

Joe - So for TBOTW all the songs start on a tablature program called Guitar Pro. I’ll write the skeleton of a song and we’ll all workshop it from there. I was really picky about what I kept this time around and was constantly scrapping/refining stuff. This release was also the most collaboration we’ve had on an album; I think everyone in the band really played to their strengths and it shows.

Jason - We usually get too excited after having 5-7 songs that we just want to put them out, but like Joe said it felt like the time was right to go big and do a full length. Thanks for the compliment on the production, this is the first release we have tracked a good portion ourselves. We tracked drums, bass, and one guitar at Exeter Recordings with Joe Dell'Aquila who did all of Painted Fools, and the rest was done in our houses. We then sent it off to Jeremy Cimino who we have worked with since we started, and he killed it on the mix.

There are a lot of different styles of music on this album. Which artists/albums/songs would you say were a few of the major influences? And how specifically did they impact the album?

Jason - It's a weird question for us because I know everyone in the band listens to a bunch of different stuff. Ideologically The Flaming Tsunamis have alway been an influence to me (and i think most of us). They really pushed DIY ethics while making completely insane music. We played with them a bunch when we were younger and it was a lot of fun. Not sure if anyone asked for a clash of all these genres, but it's what we like and is pretty much a culmination of all our tastes.

Cheech - I wanna be Mick Ronson playing Robert Smith riffs in Slow Gherkin.

It's obviously a weird time to be making music - what kind of impact did the pandemic have on the writing and recording of this album?

Jason - Well one obvious impact is that we were never all in the same room for any part of tracking this record. Luckily we had done a lot of demoing in the months before the pandemic and had a good idea where most of the songs were going, but once we got to tracking, Joe, Kozak, and I tracked live together then everyone else did their parts without the rest of the band there. It was certainly a different experience because usually in the studio we are on the clock and feel some sort of pressure to make use of the time. But i think it allowed us to take a step back and really push all these songs to a place where they would not have gone otherwise. There is a lot more baritone guitar, acoustic, organ, synth, percussion, and vocal layering on this record that would not have happened if we didn't have the freedom to explore on our own time.

Liz - Like Jay said, we were never all together for any part of tracking. And that even extended to tracking horns. I personally prefer to track trombone and sax all together in the same room so we can get a good blend, and be able to play off of each other in the moment. I was real worried about how the horns would turn out considering this was the first time we’ve ever tracked like this, but I’m really quite happy with the results. Shout out to Joe for facetiming me into sax tracking sessions!

Cheech - Funny story - like Jay was saying, we were fortunate enough to have 80% of the album demoed before quarantine. The last two tracks on the album, we never really played as a full band and were basically going off the guitar pro files for recording. I show up to record, and I totally learned a song we scrapped. I had to go home that night and learn what would end up being the title track. My head was definitely going kinda “Scanners” at that point.

The Best of the Worst have long been outspoken on social/political issues and the lyrics on this album sound as strong-minded and powerful as TBOTW fans would expect. What kinds of messages were you hoping to get across with these songs, and what do you most hope that listeners take away from them?

Liz - You don’t have to accept the status quo. If something isn’t sitting right with you, dive into it and find your role in changing it. You may feel alone in the process, but you’ll find your people.

When we last spoke, you said that once Bad Time Records "grabbed the reins and really pushed for a lot of us," you started to feel a big difference in the attention the ska scene was getting. This is your first album for Bad Time - have you noticed a difference in how people have been reacting since you announced/released the first single?

Liz - Mike helped get our music out to more people than we ever could have on our own and we are so thankful for his support! It seems like more people are open to listening to heavy ska, I think that speaks to the type of community Mike has built. Also, BIG shoutout to Jeremy from Skatune Network for sharing our music as well. It’s been overwhelming to see so much hype, in the best way possible.

When Mike announced the record on the Bad Time newsletter, he talked about how TBOTW embodies the NJ punk/DIY scene and its lack of genre boundaries. The NJ scene has launched so many great bands over the years and it feels just as legendary now as it did 20 years ago. How would you say coming up in that scene shaped this band? What are some ideals/values you picked up from going to NJ basement shows that you still carry with you today?

Jason - Starting in the mid 2000s we actually kind of missed this big wave of local ska that had just happened which included Awful Waffle but we definitely all grew up going to these ska shows. Missing that era kinda pushed us to play with other types of bands and that is certainly reflected in the basement scene, especially in New Brunswick where we have played a bunch. Most shows aren't confined to a genre and it's better that way. It also pushed us to branch out and play places away from home which eventually led to touring and finding like minded people around the country.

Liz - Stick around for every band, breakdown your hardware off stage and don’t forget why you started a band in the first place.

Cheech - Learn from your mistakes. Help rad artists. Make friends. Go out of your way to break the idea of “I could never do that." Your job is to inspire.

I know it's hard to predict the future during a pandemic, but any 2021 plans you can share? Any livestreams or other virtual stuff in the works?

Jason - There are some fun things planned for when the album gets closer to the release date. other than that, we plan to get right back to working on some new songs until we get to a point where playing live can be a reality again.

Anything else you'd like people to know about Better Medicine that I haven't asked?

Cheech - This album couldn’t have been made in any other time than now. For anyone who has their fingerprints on this. I don’t think any of us will ever have an experience like this ever again.

Pre-order Better Medicine from Bad Time Records / Choke Artist.

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