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Happy, hardcore: (l-r) Jordan, Bonafide, Borthscheller and Watson of Public Access (Elia not pictured).

PHOTO: Chris Shields

Spunk Rock

So what if there are two saxophones—Public Access are more than just a ska band

By Erik Hage

The members of Public Access are sitting around in a student-union cafeteria at SUNY Oneonta before a show. Students are stretched in a long line, double deep upstairs, waiting for entry into the ballroom. Chris Jordan, Jay Bonafide, Bob Watson, Matt Elia and Joe Borthscheller are all sprawled on soft furniture, politely facing down the indignity of categorizing their sound to a music journalist.

Jordan makes a semi-ironic point and then leaves it alone: “We’re somewhere between Between the Buried and Me and Dr. Dre. We don’t limit ourselves, and we’re not above anything. . . . Since all of us come from different musical ideologies, we just kind of smashed it all together.”

The music of Public Access is a flurry of aggression, melding old-school hardcore punk to bouncy ska passages. It’s two (yes, two) saxophones waging musical war with a punk trio; brazen blasts and a searing vocal attack suddenly giving way to a bright ska groove, like a breathe-easy, rolling ascent after a fierce rollercoaster dive.

All are quick to point out that they are often, and not quite accurately, lumped into more purist ska genres. (In fact, they are opening for well-known ska-punk bands Voodoo Glow Skulls and Mustard Plug on Oct. 18 at Valentine’s.)

Singer and baritone sax player Jordan is like a feral cat: lean, corded and sharp, with inked musical notes and stanzas curling around his forearms. (He comes off like just the kind of guy you’d want in your punk band—or foxhole.) Guitarist Bonafide is mellower, sort of tall, thin and thoughtful. Both are whip-smart and articulate. Bassist Watson would be the “cute one” in the olden days, a mere kid who’s been with the group since he was just 15 and who exudes a sort of wide-eyed benignity. Vocalist and tenor sax player Elia has a sort of bohemian ease to him, curled into his big chair with an air (I imagine) much like that of Robert Downey on a spliff. Drummer Borthscheller seems like the band’s libido: kind of untamed and shaggy and prying a dark plug of dip into his lip. (He’s also the professed metalhead of the band.)

The band started chasing their sound nearly seven years ago while in high school in Ravena. Bonafide, the group’s founder, and Jordan and Elia further nurtured the group while students at the College of Saint Rose. Around that time, Watson, himself just a high-school kid, appeared and solved their “bass player woes.” The most recent addition was Borthscheller. Found in the Internet ether, he IM’d Bonafide at 4 PM and was at practice an hour later, running through all the songs.

With Borthscheller on board, says Jordan, “It took a darker and more aggressive turn.”

In recent years, the group have undertaken three “moderately successful” tours across a good portion of the United States and into Canada. Along the way, they’ve found some solid fan-base pockets. “We do really well in Syracuse and Buffalo . . . even Connecticut,” claims Bonafide. The group released a 2005 CD, Fleeced, and they are currently mixing down more releases, including a CD EP and a split 7-inch single with Stuck Lucky, from Nashville, with whom they are playing a basement show tonight (Thursday) in Albany. (You’ll have to ask the band where to find the basement.) Both releases are slated for November.

Locally, public Access have seen ups and downs. “Being around for as long as we have,” says Bonafide, “the people change so much. I don’t think there’s a single person who was going to our shows five years ago who’s still going to our shows. It cycles out.”

Locally, they are often forced into the punk ethos of the aforementioned “basement show,” which, says Bonafide, is “just sort of us with no venues trying to hook up with friends of ours. It’s gotten to the point where you just can’t afford to put on an all-ages show. There’s no place to do shows that are affordable.”

Jordan has a more concise rationale for basement shows: “That’s just . . . punk.”

Jordan is hesitant to champion the cyber-DIY of the MySpace culture; in his mind it leads to a saturated market and rank amateurism. “It seems to me that people getting into music [have] shifted from supporting the bands and going to shows to just looking them up on MySpace and writing a comment. And that’s ‘being a fan’ nowadays.”

Borthscheller adds, “A lot of big bands now out there got their start on MySpace.” But, Jordan points out, “Many didn’t get signed for touring and working hard but for recording three songs” and uploading them.

As to “where next?”: Jordan wants to make a one last big push to make something even more of the band, noting that real life and full-time jobs are beginning to get in the way.

Bonafide takes a more positive slant, noting that playing “is a lot more fun to me,” now that it stands in stark relief to his 40-hour-a-week desk job.

As for the group’s newest recordings, Elia sees them as a worthy culmination of all the years and collective talent. “It’s everything that we could have striven toward,” he says happily.

The more practical Borthscheller, sunken back into the cushions and taking it all in with animal wariness (dip still in lip), has more immediate concerns, regarding me and this very article. When I tell him it will be a “feature,” he gets a little wide-eyed. “Does that mean we’re going to be, like, on a page?”

“No,” quips Jordan, “We’re going to just be in people’s minds.”

This all gives Joe Borthscheller an idea, and he lights up for the first time. “Get tour stories from us before you leave!”

Jordan swoops in: “Long story short: We smoked a lot of pot and Joe slept with a lot of girls. . . . You can print that if you want.” (This seems to give Borthscheller great satisfaction.)

As the laughter subsides and the air slowly leaves the conversation, there is business afoot. There is that loud crowd upstairs, for one, and as we separate, the band members amble toward the staircase that leads to the airy ballroom and the audible throngs of college students waiting for a punk show. Last week, it was a show at Simon’s Rock College in the Berkshires; next week, it will be back to the basement and Albany.


ROUGH MIX

 

Let us know about local-music news and happenings for inclusion in Rough Mix: E-mail John Brodeur at jbrodeur@metro land.net or call (518) 463-2500 ext. 145.



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