If you can’t believe it’s been 20 years since the Mad Caddies’ inception, well, neither can they. “I look in the mirror some days, and I think, ‘Wow, I look like I’m 36 years old,’” laughed Caddies frontman Chuck Robertson. “But I still feel 19 sometimes.” Since meeting in the halls of Santa Ynez High School in the mid-’90s, Robertson and bandmates Sascha Lazor, Todd Rosenberg, Keith Douglas, and Eduardo Hernandez have toured the world countless times over with their hybridized mix of ska, punk, reggae, and pop and sold more than 400,000 records in the process. This week, the Solvang-born ska punkers release Dirty Rice, their sixth full-length studio album — and first in seven years — on Fat Wreck Chords.
Like its predecessors, Dirty Rice thrives on fearless eclecticism. Lead track “Brand New Scar” is a laid-back, head-nod-worthy slice of Cali-bred reggae pop, and it’s followed immediately by mosh pit anthem “Love Myself.”
“Making people dance has always been one of the mission statements of the band,” Robertson shared from a San Antonio tour stop this past April. “We’ve always wanted to put on a show where it’s diverse, where people from a lot of different genre backgrounds would enjoy it, and the most important part of that is the rhythmic aspect.”
But finding a rhythm for Dirty Rice proved to be a difficult task, at least at the start. Following a two-year-long hiatus, the band regrouped at Fat Wreck Chords’ Motor Studios in 2011 with the intention of writing and recording a new album. “We spent three weeks up there and really hit a wall,” Robertson recalled. “We realized pretty quickly that we’re not a band that can just write a record in a studio in a month. It’s just not the way we operate.”
Discouraged, the band returned home with no real plan for what happened next. Years passed, and mini tours popped up here and there, but it wasn’t until early 2013 that the guys finally decided to give it another go. Their meeting place of choice: Rosenberg’s family’s Santa Ynez ranch in the barn-turned-studio space that the Caddies had practiced in as high schoolers.
“It was interesting to come back full circle to where the band had its origins,” said Robertson. “A lot of bands pay big money to go record in these destination studios, where you can sleep there and it’s out in the country. We were just really lucky to have that at our disposal. Over the course of those 14 months, we were able to demo 40 or 50 ideas out for the new record — but we cycled through close to 100 ideas.”
After years of rotating-door lineup changes, the current Caddies are boasting all of the band’s original members, as well as a number of longtime players, who helped contribute to much of what would become Dirty Rice. Instead of resting solely on Lazor and Robertson’s writing, the band opened up the table to Rosenberg, who had spent his time off from the band penning commercial jingles. Keyboardist Dustin Lanker and bassist Graham Palmer also offered up songs to the band.
“This was the most collaborative Mad Caddies record to date,” said Robertson. “There were a lot of cooks in the kitchen, and sometimes it was a little frustrating, but I think the end result kind of showed the maturity of us getting together and writing a little more collectively.”
Mature, sure. But the Caddies were not interested in making their “dad record” and made a concerted effort to set the tone for their big return. “We really wanted to make it a cohesive body of work,” said Robertson. “It’s definitely more mid-tempo [than our other albums]. There are a few fast tunes, but it’s a lot harder to write four-on-the-floor slam punk songs when you’re in your thirties,” he laughed. “Your neck gets sore and you’re like, ‘Let’s just write something that we can kind of groove to.’”
And groove it does. Over the course of Dirty Rice’s 13 tracks, the band offers up numerous takes on the chilled-out ska they’ve long championed. A prime example comes by way of “Shot in the Dark,” a Dixieland-imbued mid-album highlight cowritten by NOFX frontman (and Fat Wreck owner) Fat Mike, who visited the band in Santa Ynez last September to lend some guidance.
“He came down right before we started tracking for the final cuts and just kind of helped us sort through songs. We produced the record ourselves, so to have an outside source come in was really crucial,” recalled Robertson. “He’s kind of always done that with our records, though — thrown in his two cents. He’s a great musician, lyricist, a cultural icon,” Robertson laughed. “But he’s also always been a friend of ours. All of us feel really comfortable around Mike, but we also respect his opinion very highly.”
It’s that same friendly reverence that’s helped bond the Caddies for close to two decades, too. And now, with a new record in their hands and a world tour already in the works, it’s no surprise to hear that the band is reflecting and even getting a little nostalgic.
“There’s been a lot of talk about the 20-year anniversary, which is next year,” said Robertson. “What do we do? Do we play a show and try to have every band member who’s ever been in the Caddies play a song? I don’t know. We’re going to do something fun, just because I don’t think any of us ever imagined that we’d still be doing it after 20 years.”
As for what he thinks it is that’s kept the Caddies going, well, that all comes down to good old-fashioned fun — and a bit of a willful spirit. “I’m just a stubborn, stubborn guy. I don’t want to give it up,” laughed Robertson. “But we all have so much fun when we get together. And the crowds are still there. We have multigenerational fans now. We have teenagers coming out to shows with their parents, who have been watching us for 18 years. If the crowds aren’t going away and people are there and having a good time, we’re just kind of like, ‘Why give up? Why stop?’”
Dirty Rice comes out Tuesday, May 13, on Fat Wreck Chords. For more on the band, visit madcaddies.com.