Fishbone may be the most under-rated and hyphenated band in the world. The pioneering L.A. punk-rock-ska-funk-jazz ensemble came straight outta South Central by way of Hollywood to break down the walls between musical genres starting in 1979. As Everyday Sunshine, a new documentary about the band, puts it: "Fishbone made it okay for black kids to slam dance and brought the funk to the punk."
At their peak the band was signed to Columbia Records with great expectations of following contemporaries like Red Hot Chili Peppers to official “Rock Star Status.” But much like fellow black punk pioneers Bad Brains, they never managed to achieve the success for which they seemed destined.
This week Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, Lev Anderson and Chris Metzler's hard-hitting new documentary about the band opens nationwide. Fishbone is also dropping a new EP called Crazy Glue and the band is currently touring across the United States. So the time is ripe for a rediscovery of these slept-on giants of the punk rock movement who also toured with The Beastie Boys and Schooly D while winning the appreciation of forward-thinking producers like Dr. Dre and Dallas Austin.
One of many Fishbone fans who recently expressed his appreciation for the new film via Twitter was the Trill O.G. himself, Bun B. Complex reached out to Bun and so he could do the knowledge with vocalist/saxophonist Angelo Moore and bassist John Norwood Fisher, two founding members of Fishbone. Click through as they talk about the shared struggles of hip-hop and punk rock, their battles to stay true to their outside-the-box vision in the mainstream music industry, and the joy of seeing racist skinheads get their ass kicked.
Interview by Bun B (@BunBTrillOG)
Moderated by Rob Kenner (@Boomshots)
Bun B: It’s an honor to be a part of this dialog. And i think it’s important to have these dialogs. I’m a Fishbone fan myself. As a matter of fact, we shouted out Fishbone on Ridin' Dirty. It wasn’t in a verse, it was a shout-out in the liner notes.
Angelo: What’s good Mr. Bun B?
Norwood: Bun B what’s happening man?
Bun B: Hey, It’s a pleasure. I’ve been into punk music for a while. If you listened punk, and L.A. punk, you know Black Flag and Suicidal Tendencies and that type of shit, eventually you’re gonna make it over to Fishbone. And I like ska too. And when I researched ska, it always came back to y’all.
Angelo: Right on.
Bun B: I met you guys a long time ago with Gipp and Joi in Atlanta. Back when Mr. George was doing a lot of recording in Atlanta. But it’s a pleasure to talk to you brothers.
Angelo: Yeah man we still hanging in there dude.
Bun B: I know that’s right.
Angelo: So are you gonna come to the movie tonight?
Norwood: No, he’s in Texas. So how did you hear about the Fishbone documentary?
Bun B: I saw the trailer and I saw a couple people writing about it, and I thought it looked incredible. So what are y’all doin’ today?
Angelo: I was just outside trying to learn this solo man. [Plays a riff on his sax] What floor are we on? We’re on the 12th floor, I’m sitting on the edge of the balcony, just overlooking New York City, doing a little sax playing.
Bun B: That’s player. Now that’s a vibe, my brother. When you really look in the music industry, the best practitioners are usually the best students. Practice makes perfect in everything in life and music is no exception.
The best guitar players are the guys that sit in their rooms and play guitar for 12-14 hours, by themselves—that’s their life. The same way that the best basketball players are the kids who stay out on the court longer than everybody. It’s that kind of dedication and focus to what you want to do. Especially when people are telling you that you can’t do it. You’re even more motivated and more focused sometimes.
Angelo: Yeah, that’s right. “I’ll show them.”
Norwood: Just the willingness to do that which no one else would do. Wake up earlier in the morning to get it cracking. Whatever.
Bun B: Absolutely. Walking to the park if you can’t get a ride. Taking a bus or whatever. Just to make sure that you can get there and do what you need to do. You can’t sit still and wait for someone to help you. You gotta do it yourself.
Angelo: You gotta do it yourself. Exactly man, exactly. Well it seem like that’s what we’ve been doing the whole time. Shit. You know we’re going to be coming through Texas on tour. What part of Texas are you in?
Bun B: I live in Houston. I’m from Port Arthur, a small town about an hour and a half outside Houston. But we had to come to Houston to make our bones, to really work in the music scene where we were. But we’re from the same town as Janis Joplin. So we knew it was possible. You know what I’m sayin? History had already been made from our small town.
So it’s just a matter of us never losing sight of that. It’s already happened. A lot of people come up thinking, well, nobody from where I’m from ever really done anything like that. Well we had one success story. We vowed to be the second one.
Norwood: And actually sometimes that’s what makes the story really interesting. If no one’s done it before, then you become that anomaly that shines bright—that stood out and came from somewhere that was obscure, or just never had anybody rise up. We need more of that.
Bun B: Well in our case, [Janis Joplin] was a white person. But no one of color had really done anything musically. It was sports or nothing. Now when y’all were starting Fishbone in Los Angeles, did you have any contact with the L.A. hip-hop scene?
Angelo: Not in a conscious way.
Norwood: Not so much in a collaborative sense. But we grew up going to like… There was this crew called Uncle Jam’s Army, right? And there was this club called the Playpen. You might hear Ice T talking about the Playpen in a couple old-ass tracks. But we used to go to those places. Uncle Jam’s Army got huge to where they used to throw these sets in the Los Angeles Sports Arena, which was where the Lakers used to play at the time.
So Angelo was a street dancer. Angelo used to pop-lock. He created a whole lot of those moves that people are still doing today.
Angelo: A lot of Tuts and shit. The Sinbad, the Bugs Bunny. Some of that stuff that Michael Jackson was doing man, where they got their Hand Tuts. They start with their hands together in a praying position, and they start Tuttin’ to where it opens up in a box.
Norwood: So Angelo creating all of those, right? He actually had more fame in the streets. I didn’t realize until later. We was kicking it with the Boo-Ya Tribe, and they was like “Yo we remember y’all from Uncle Jam’s Army. Yeah! Angelo used to dance.” And they all pop-locked and did all that stuff. The Sugar Pop. But that was all a part of us just growing up in L.A. We did the punk rock thing, but we did the thing that everybody else in the neighborhood was doing too.
And as we were beginning, Lyor Cohen had a club called the Mix Club. And Lyor Cohen—who was at Def Jam for a long time—he put us on in his club. He loved Fishbone and he put us on with all these hip-hop artists that were popular at the time. Like Run-DMC’s first time playing Hollywood, Fishbone opened. Fishbone opened for Ice T. Fishbone opened for Whodini. Fishbone opened for Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
Bun B: That’s a real musical kinship. People don’t even realize that you’re probably you’re third of fourth cousin—you know what I’m sayin?—in this industry. They have no idea. I’ve always found that they’ve always tried to box y’all in. Y’all are this, or y’all are that, or y’all are this with that.
Angelo: Well that’s the American way, man. The American way is to categorize and separate.
Bun B: You know? But they never could really—I don’t think they ever could really box it in that way.
Norwood: About the only things that are missing… what would be awesome would be like… As we were coming up and you see Puff Daddy doing tracks with these rock bands and Jay-Z doing tracks with rock bands. Sometimes I wonder why none of them cats reached back and just said, ‘Hey Fishbone should be our live band.’ You know?
Angelo: Yeah that’s the part that… Actually, you know what? The only person that has done anything like that has been Dallas Austin.
Norwood: Dallas Austin reached out and grabbed us and put us in the studio with Joi.
Bun B: That’s where I met y’all. At DARP Studios.
Norwood: Right. See that was an awesome time of our careers.
Angelo: Now what did DARP stand for?
Norwood: Dallas Austin Recording Process or something.
Angelo: Ohhh. Okay. I never knew that.
Bun B: Were you aware that UGK shouted you out in the liner notes?
Norwood: Actually I really was not.
Bun B: Pimp was the one that wanted to shout y’all out. Because you know, Pimp C was a very big student of music. And Pimp was like, “These dudes helped a lot of dudes in the game. And it seems like nobody is giving them any love back. You know I’m saying?” At the same time, we shouted out Larry Hoover.
Everything that people were telling him you could not do or should not do, or he was seeing people not doing, he felt he wanted to stand up for that. And he was just like “They may never see it or may never know it, but I know I did it.”
We used to sit at home, we used to watch all the old-school videos on MTV and Friday Night Videos and all that. We saw Fishbone and—you know I’m sayin?—and as we got older we started wanting to incorporate more music into our albums.
So we went from just sampling music in the beginning to adding live instrumentation throughout our entire recording process. And a lot of that was just based on the people that we saw that we looked up to, and really could feel like, “You know what? Them boys ain’t scared to do them. We shouldn’t be afraid to do us.” And Fishbone one was one of those images man.
Bun B: You know, way before Andre 3000 got to wearing crazy hair, man, Angelo was out there going at it! You know?
Angelo: Yeaaah goddammit! Ha ha ha. Shit.
Bun B: Nobody ever wants to give credit where credit is due nowadays. Cause a lot of people—either consciously or subconsciously—want that credit.
Angelo: Because they want it. That’s right. You’ve got haters man. Haters and stealers.
Bun B: Dallas was a big influence on us too cause he was another guy who was like, you gotta open your eyes and broaden yourself. You just gotta want to make good music. We would see how Dallas was doing R&B and rap and he was doing rock music and he was successful at all of it. And he was a young black dude from the hood. The limits is all in you. The world can’t limit you. Only you can limit you.
Angelo: Yeah. And plus man, our situation is a lot different overseas. Because over there eclectic music is more accepted it seems. In France and Japan and stuff like that, it’s not as categorized over there.
Bun B: Well those countries don’t want you to be an automaton. They want you to be an individual. They want you to be different. Over here, like you said, it’s all about, they wanna box you in a nice little category and know exactly where you are and what you doing. You know, you go overseas, people wanna be surprised.
People want to be intrigued about something. They want to go home and talk about it. But in America, we always wanna act like, “Aw I seen that before. So-and-so did that.” They always wanna be so cool and nonchalant about shit. They don’t wanna give it up to motherfuckers.
Angelo: Yeah they need to give it up, cause it might be the last day. [Laughs.]
Norwood: Actually, in the social realm, as in music, as in politics, really the respect is in your ability to fight in America. You can’t just be a beautiful artist. You have to be an artist that is willing to fight and die or something.
Bun B: People wanna see your passion, and also they wanna see your pain. They wanna see your struggle. They don’t wanna just hear about it. They actually wanna see you go through it, to make themselves feel better about their situation. And that’s where we are. As musicians, we the band on The Titanic, playing while the boat go down.
Angelo: [Laughs.] Right? That’s a pretty good analogy right there.
Bun B: That’s our job. You know? We leave our families to entertain yours.
Angelo: Yep, and that’s what we’ve done—unfortunately. But God bless though man. Shit, when we come that way you gon’ come up onstage and bust a little rhyme with us?
Bun B: Oh yeah man, I’d be honored.
Angelo: Yeah, yeah… That should definitely happen when we come out there. Cause we gonna be coming out there end of the month.
Bun B: If you’re in Austin or Houston, let me know and I’ll fly through there man. It’ll make my day. What made y’all decide to get back on the road?
Norwood: We actually never stopped touring.
Angelo: You just don’t hear about it is all.
Norwood: The last five years we did a lot of Europe, but we hit the States as well. We went out with Slightly Stoopid several times, we did tours with the English Beat. Maybe less headlining stuff, but we’ve got a new documentary coming out. We’ve gotr a new EP coming out. So it’s a reason to celebrate.
Bun B: I love how technology is opening up people to things that, had the mainstream outlets given them a chance to hear, people would’ve loved it. I heard some cats talking about Death the other day. And I was like “What y’all know about Death?” You know what I’m saying? The internet is opening people up to a lot of things.
And people who the game chose not to let pop, who the industry said “We can’t support this cause everybody’s gonna wanna be original. It’s gonna throw off the framework—we need the industry to be set up in a certain way for the majors to continue selling bullshit to people.” You know what I’m sayin? So they kinda strand certain people.
We were outside of the mainstream for years. Until somebody kinda came in and really cosigned our movement. You know, we worked very hard and we had a strong movement. The people that loved us loved us. But for years, people were like, “Man, if the radio stations and TV and people put you out there—if everybody woulda seen y’all everybody woulda loved y’all.”
Norwood: Right, and had the internet been around… [Laughs.] We came up in a time when you didn’t have the ability to do social media. And actually one of the more frustrating parts of our ride in the music industry was—it was a blessing and a curse—when we were on Columbia Records, one of the biggest labels on the planet.
But those people didn’t understand the language of street marketing. We were of the people. We were those kids and fans of music. And so we got to see how punk rock and then hip-hop was beginning to actually promote directly to the fans. You know, mixtapes with hip-hop changed the game for everybody.
Bun B: Right.
Norwood: You know? And punk rock people giving away snippet tapes and free stickers to kids, like in the ’80s. And we were asking for those things but the record company didn’t understand us. So we sat around frustrated ’cause we could see it happening. Like Brett Horowitz at Epitaph Records, he had NoFX. And we were friends with NoFX and Fat Mike was always like, “Yeah, this is how it it‘s being done.” I’d turn around and ask Columbia Records. They couldn’t hear me though.
We used to tell the label all the time, People wanna see us in our world. We can’t just go to the Universal studio lot and shoot a video. We need to bring the cameras to the hood. And they couldn’t understand that. They thought people would take the cameras. It’s like, “Nah you comin’ to my hood.”
Norwood: That’s an absolutely future kinda way of thinking. Because like really with the advent of the DVD, you could have visuals with your music. And now somebody can have it in their computer. Jimi Hendrix actually said—I read an interview where he said, one day in the future albums will come with like a video for every song. So from Jimi Hendrix to Pimp C to now, it took that long for us to get there.
Bun B: The thought was always there. A wise man told me that great ideas are flying around in the air. And some people catch ’em, can’t execute ’em, and have to throw ’em back up.
Angelo: Damn, that’s a good analogy right there.
Norwood: That’s the idea of the meme.
Angelo: Oh shit—this heat is killin’ me. I gotta get outta the sun...
Bun B: They say it ain’t nothing new under the sun.
Angelo: Except for my ass baking up underneath it.
Norwood: So how did you hear Fishbone’s music in Port Arthur Texas?
Bun B: Well for us the main outlet was television. Our main outlet was cable TV and we would stay up all night. And you had to watch eight or ten rock videos until they would play maybe “Christmas in Hollis.” You know I’m saying? Cause they wouldn’t play that many rap videos.
So you might get “Rock Box” or they even they used to count Herbie Hancock “Rockit” as a rap video. You know what I’m sayin? But then you would see records from people that you didn’t really know.
And then when MTV really started doing these different types of shows—you know, not just playing videos but they started having a rap show, and they had Head Bangers and all of that—we used to sit and watch MTV all night.
Henry Rollins would always talk about a lot of different punk rock groups and y’all name always came up. I was like “I need to do my research on this kind of thing.” And it always came back to y’all. Like everybody would always say “You like punk rock?” I’m like, Yeah I like this and that. “Well you need to fuck with Fishbone.” And I was like, Yeah I think I do.
And I think everybody kinda remembers the affiliation with you guys and the Chili Peppers back in those days. Sittin’ there watching you guys and Uncle George and these young white cats and shit, it was very ill. It was ill to me on both sides: The fact that they understood who y’all were and what y’all were doing, and Uncle George. And the fact that there was a mutual respect. And I’m like, you know what? If you really trying to be good and the best at what you’re at, motherfuckers should appreciate you.
And I’m telling you, Pimp C’s kinda thing would be like “Man, that’s why we gotta do this. We gotta do this man. Cause boys is changing the game right now.” That was all he would say. “Boys is changing the game.” And to actually see you all, and realize—just cause you like rock music you ain’t gotta be white.
In the black community we have this thing like if you accept or embrace certain things you’re quote “acting white.” But y’all was black. You mighta not have looked like every other black man looked but shit… We sat there and see y’all, like, “They’re just like us. They just make different music.”
And it’s a different world we’re living in now too. They were as afraid of your black faces in rock music as they were with Chuck D and rap music. They didn’t want worlds coming together. And y’all were people who were in a position to bridge gaps.
Norwood: I used to say—half jokingly—but like really, they didn’t want their daughters with your picture on the wall talking about “I love you.” And they held it back as long as they could.
Bun B: They’ve been holding it back since the ’50s.
Norwood: Exactly. But now the floodgates are open. Now Snoop Dogg is on every little white girl’s wall. Or he was the guy, and now it might be Lil Wayne or Drake on every 15-year-old girl’s wall.
Bun B: The Internet has torn down every wall that society tried to put up. The internet has pulled the curtain back on everything. They realize that it ain’t this big party all the time. They see what it takes to actually make an album. People understand and appreciate shit a lot more.
Norwood: And we’re also fortunate to live in a time where we’re able to see… Like without the internet you couldn’t have the political movements that started in the Middle East. And actually the media blackout on Occupy Wall Street enabled the internet to be the catalyst for Occupy L.A., Occupy Houston, Occupy Seattle and whatever other cities people are doing it in.
Bun B: Absolutely.
Norwood: So it’s the same with music as it is with social and political movements.
Bun B: When you look at pictures of Bambaataa he looked like a punk rock dude.
Norwood: Yeah, I mean Bambaataa got with Johnny Rotten. They did the “World Destruction.” You know what I mean? And in my opinion, really punk rock and hip-hop came up at about the same time. It’s a mid ’70s creation. You know?
Bun B: They both come from different levels of frustration with the world, too.
Norwood: Exactly, and both of them said… Actually the ethic at the root of both of them was, if you apply yourself, almost anybody could do this. And with punk rock in the UK, it was the broke and the penniless. You know those weren’t rich kids that created that. And it came out of the ghettos in the United States.
Bun B: Yeah both of them were started by the kids that were told, “You’ll never gonna be anybody.” Both of them, the general theme was “You can’t tell me who to be. You can’t tell me what to do. I’m gonna do me regardless.” To me, that’s what I get from punk rock. And both genres were geared to giving the oppressor the finger. You feel me?
Norwood: Exactly. And so Afrika Bambaataa and Johnny Rotten—they are equals. They’re absolutely equals. There was somebody before Bam, just like The Ramones were actually before Johnny Rotten. But them coming together, that was inspirational.
Fishbone, when we began to gain steam and momentum, like on one of our early tours we took out Schooly D. You know? Schooly D had a live band, he came out with Fishbone, we did the entire United States.
Bun B: How did you pick him?
Norwood: You know what? We were looking for people to tour. Somebody said Schooly D’s looking to tour. We were like Hell yeah, let’s ride. That’s a no brainer. That’s a hip-hop original. Let’s go. So we took out Schooly D. Later on we took out Bytches With Problems from New York. But actually The Beastie Boys brought Fishbone out on their Licensed to Ill tour. They actually were our first major tour. They put us in front of so many people and allowed us to impact their audience—us and Murphy’s Law.
Bun B: You guys have probably done as many hip-hop tours as you have rock tours.
Norwood: As far as combining with bands, pretty much.
Bun B: I mean Fishbone is… To me, you guys are the living walking fusion that so many different people are trying to create. Like, you guys are that naturally. I think that’s why you guys move so seamlessly between all these worlds. Because I don’t think it was ever that you said, “We’re gonna put this with that and that.” You guys are just as much punk as you are hip-hop.
Norwood: One day I got caught off-guard because one of the guys from the Pharcyde caught me walkin’ in the parking lot of the House of Blues in Los Angeles. I think it was Fat Lip and he stopped me and was like, “Fishbone—L.A. hip-hop.” Cause he was there when we opened for Ice T. I was like, “Oh man….” At that point I never thought about Fishbone impacting L.A. hip-hop.
Bun B: It seems like Cube would’ve been a fan of Fishbone.
Norwood: Well Dr. Dre has actually said that. Dr Dre. is down with Fishbone. Angelo actually talked to him when we were recording once. Him and Snoop were downstairs record at the same time we were doing a recording in the same studio. We didn’t really intermingle with the N.W.A. posse. I did go to see them very early on—me and Walt went together to go see them—they played in a skating rink. Walt still roller skates to this day. [Laughs.]
Bun B: Well you guys had a militant vibe to y’all. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, y’all music addressed racism and what was going on in the inner cities in the same way an NWA or a Public Enemy did.
Norwood: From the beginning we had a political stance. It was a political satire. And as we went on through the Reagan years we started to get more worried. In my opinion he seemed like a lunatic who might take us to that nuclear war. As a youth I was frightened. So we put that in our music.
Bun B: “Party at Ground Zero.”
Norwood: Yeah, and “Ugly” was actually—we chose to say Mr. Wilson, and be kind of funny with it like Dennace the Menace. But Ronald Wilson Reagan. That was the subtext. But yeah we had that kind of stance. It was important for us to really voice those kinds of opinions. Kendall our original guitar player who wrote a ton of that material, he was a political science major in high school. So we had those angles that we wanted to voice.
Bun B: Do you think that had something to do with the fact that you guys were so… I think back to Maze and Frankie Beverly, who was like one of the greatest recording groups of all time. But as soon as they let their political views be known, they were blacklisted—which is almost never even discussed any more.
But back then black people in the music industry was a very real thing. The powers that be had a lot of ability to block interviews, to stop radio stations and all of that. Do y’all feel like you caught the brunt of that based on your political views?
Norwood: Absoluetly. We knew that that was—at a certain point that was a part of the problem with us entering further into the mainstream. But our counterparts were not so vocal. You know, like The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s Addiction or any of them. They actually had political stances on a certain level, but they were not as clearly spelled out as some of the stuff that Fishbone was saying in interviews and putting in our music.
And the further along that we got in the music industry, people began to see, like, “Yo these guys are black from a neighborhood. They’re not Hollywood kids.” We were from the hood but we were of the world. We weren’t doing it the white way. We were doing it like black kids do it, because we liked it. We were doing things that we enjoyed, but we didn’t take on Valley Guy accents when we talked.
Bun B: I was always curious man—cause you guys have been there from the early inception. Did you guys have any friction with the skinheads? Cause there’s always been this skinhead element in punk, and not all skinheads are anti-minority, but I know that element existed for a while. Did y’all ever have issues with that shit?
Norwood: We personally never had much of a problem with racist skinheads. Really the SHARP skins—the Skinheads Against Racism. They made up a large portion of our audience at any given time coming up and it really wasn’t much of a problem. The only time… we took out Biohazard. And the racist skingheads, they liked Biohazard. And what they didn’t know was that the drummer was as Jewish as it gets—his father was a rabbi.
Bun B: Wow.
Norwood: And I believe the lead singer was Jewish as well. Evan, I believe he was Jewish. And the coolest thing was, security guards would come backstage and they would say, “There’s some racist skinheads and they’re congregating outside and they wanna come in.” And every single member of Biohazard would go outside and they would fight. Any time there was an alert that there was a racist skinhead group in the vicinity they went out and they fought. Now the drummer was adept in Kung Fu. [Laughs.] and the rest of them had these secret weapons they would carry with them. [Laughs.] They never lost a battle. That was one of my favorite tours I ever did.
Bun B: And Biohazard, they’ve always embraced hip-hop. They did the “Slam” remix with Onyx back in the day. And it didn’t seem forced. You know I’m sayin?
Norwood: No, that was a beautiful congregation of music right there.
Bun B: And that was the beginning for a lot more stuff. People started making albums and putting people together. But I don’t think it really jumped off fully because it wasn’t always natural. There had to be a mutual appreciation. Sometimes the rocker didn’t appreciate the rapper or the rapper didn’t appreciate the rocker.
Norwood: Right, or actually sometimes maybe they just needed a little more time to mature the process.
Bun B: Right, to get to know each other.
Norwood: Cause Onyx was wild as hell. I just met those guys finally. I ran into them in a studio in Los Angeles. But fortunately we live in a time where the internet allows for a lot of things to happen. Like I personally reached out to Mr. Liff and was like let’s do something. It hasn’t happened but it will. I’m into the collaboration and the exchange of ideas and actually trying to mine deeply into our subconscious to find the future and expand the conversation.
Bun B: I think we just did that today.
Norwood: We are an evolving species. But we’re in a culture where you’ve gotta fight to get yourself expressed. Maybe it’s always been like that. I don’t know. You know how they train fleas? Have you ever heard about that?
Bun B: No, no, how do they train fleas?
Norwood: Well they take fleas and they put em in a container, and they put a piece of plastic like Saran Wrap over the top and tie it down. So the fleas jump, and as they jump they keep hitting their head on the Saran Wrap, like a glass ceiling. And eventually they take the Saran Wrap off and the fleas will only jump as high as the top of the cup. They never jump out.
So this is how culture does us—the matrix, or whatever you wanna call it. And it’s those of us who actually will look up and say “Wait a minute—there’s no ceiling there” and jump out. We’re the ones who get what we want out of life.
Bun B: Man, that’s real. I don’t know if we’re gonna get any deeper than that today.