Interview Backyard Superheroes

Written by Laura Curry

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Backyard Superheroes, a Central Jersey-based band, has been bringing “Nerd Wave Ska” music to fans since 2012. The seven-piece band combines catchy horn lines, sing-along choruses and non-stop energy that keeps the fans moving. Come out to Wonder Bar tonight to see Backyard Superheroes give it their all and turn the show into a full-on party!

Who Are Backyard Superheroes?

Josh Hershkovitz – Guitar, Vocals // Matt Angarone – Guitar // Greg Gecik Jr – Bass // Ryan Weil  – Drums, Vocals, Producer, Engineer // Bruce Krywinski Jr – Trumpet, Vocals, Social Media & Web Design // Gary Mastriano  – Saxophone, Cowbell, Aerobics Instructor // Brian Rechter  – Trombone

What’s the inspiration behind your band name? 

We’re all still kids at heart (and mind) and we’re all total geeks. It just seemed like a perfect fit. Also it was better than “The Snowball Effect.”

Who has your sound been likened to?

We’ve been told Mustard Plug, Less than Jake, Reel Big Fish and the Aquabats most of the time. Lord Skoochie of Hub City Stompers likened us to Mighty Mighty Bosstones, which I will happily accept.

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Can you describe “Nerd Wave Ska?” 

Gary: Ska has always been defined by “waves” for some reason. The late 50s to late 60s was the “first wave” based in Jamaica. The late 70s to early 80s was the two-tone/second wave ska movement. Since then, most bands have fallen into the third wave label (ska/punk etc…).

I define the term NERD as a way to describe how someone embraces all the things that they love. You can love sports, or movies, or music and as long as you are passionate about those things, that makes you a nerd. Our band is about all those things—embracing your past, being passionate about whatever you want and following your heart.

Have you performed in bands before Backyard Superheroes? If so, what are the names of those bands and did they have any influence on the sound of Backyard Superheroes?

Josh: I was in a punk band in college called The Bandits that introduced me to Rancid and Suicide Machines. I was also in Unbearable Slackers with Greg, which was another ska band. We had our own sound in mind and left to branch out.

Gary: Too many to count—chances are, if you were in a ska band in Central Jersey, I have played with you. I was lucky enough to play sax in Inspecter 7- NJ Ska legends. I used to go see them all the time, so playing sax with them was a dream come true.

Bruce: While BYSH was my first band (aside from TCNJ, drum corps and high school), it has opened doors for me to join other bands (Fun While You Wait, Princeton Brass Band, Waiting on Mongo, and Souper Groove All-Stars). All of these, as well as the hundreds of recordings I’ve listened to, have influenced how I play. Maynard Ferguson and drum corps influence the dog-whistle high notes; Reel Big Fish inspires my stage performance; Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard inspire a meticulously carefree (irony intended) solo style; the list goes on.

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Matt: I was in a metal band called Unawakened.

Brian: I was in Crash the Owl while in school at UMass.

Greg: Nobody’s Mustard, Midnight Society and I was with Josh in Unbearable Slackers.

Have you been working on any new music since the release of Let’s Get Dangerous in 2015? 

Gary: We are currently in the process of writing a follow-up record to Let’s Get Dangerous. It will be a ton of fun to see where we can go to top that record. In my 15 years of listening to ska music, Let’s Get Dangerous is honestly one of the most fun ska records I’ve ever heard—and I am not just saying that because it’s my own band. From what we’ve written so far, I can tell you that this follow-up record will be an absolute blast!

Do you have a favorite song from that album? If so, what is it and why did you choose that one? 

Josh: My favorite is definitely “Face It.” The entire song is basically my life in a nutshell—wake up late, spend an hour in traffic to work in a cubicle. We’re ska, so at least it sounds happy.

Gary: That’s like picking a favorite child! I would say “Running in Place” or “Arcade Girl.” “Running in Place” features one of my best friends, Michele Wentzheimer, on female vocals. I have always loved female singers in ska bands. Michele was actually the singer in my very first ska band called Beam Me Up Skatty (yay ska puns!). “Arcade Girl” is a perfect representation of who we are as a band—a mix of danceable ska, rocking guitars, catchy horns, and geek-tinged lyrics. Plus it’s a song that a lot of people can relate to.

Bruce: I really like “Average Guy,” due to its relatively subdued feel, but it still has energy. “Arcade Girl” is my favorite of the “ska punch-in-the-face” type.

Greg: “Face It.”

What’s been your proudest accomplishment overall as a band? 

Josh: We’ve played massive festivals and huge shows, but my favorite moment was a weekend of 24 local bands we put together with all of our friends called the Backyard Campout. Just seeing all the bands and fans in one place supporting each other while partying made for a great experience.

Gary: This one is personal for me. This past holiday season we organized a benefit album and show. The album, Arose Such A Clatter, featured all of my favorite local bands. We threw a huge album release show, which even included Santa Claus joining us on stage. And best of all, the proceeds from the album and show went to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation, which is a group near and dear to my heart. I LOVE toys, and love that there is an organization out there that provides toys to kids during the holidays. I have always wanted to do a show like this, so pulling it off – to great success – is the proudest I have ever been of this band.

 Bruce: We’ve been on tour through most of the Eastern US, opened for almost every major ska band in the country, and we’ve stayed together for four years. #truelove

Greg: Just getting to play music with my best friends.

What’s the best part about being in Backyard Superheroes? 

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Josh: Honestly it’s just a great outlet. Yeah, we argue and yell at each other but it’s just like any other family. It’s all worth it when we get on stage and see someone we’ve never met shouting our lyrics back at us.

Gary: The people that I have met. Band members, fans, and other bands, that have all become close friends.

Bruce: Making music. I love making music, and this band is one of the bigger parts of my success as a musician. They’re my #rideordie, and the only thing that would stop me from playing with them is work.

In terms of your stage presence and crowd interaction, what are you trying to convey to listeners with your music and performance style?

Josh:  Just get up and have fun. If a bunch of nerds can get on a small stage in front of a drunk crowd and give it their all, we hope you can join us (even if you get on stage with us).

Gary: I always wanted to be in the type of band that I wanted to see live. A kick-ass fun ska band with the energy of an arena rock band—think KISS with a horn section. I saw that to varying degrees growing up, and told myself that if I ever had the opportunity, I would just do it myself.

Bruce: Life’s a party, let’s have fun with it—Let’s Get Dangerous. </pun>

It looks like you guys have as much fun as possible on stage. What are you going for with your stage presence? Just finding ways to maximize crowd interaction and get people moving? 

Josh: Again, we just wanna have fun. If we’re not enjoying it and the crowd isn’t into it, why do it?

Gary: There are so many great bands out there. I want everyone who comes to see us to have an awesome time for 30 minutes or so. Non-stop energy, so that when they go home, they always remember the band that gave them something they never saw before.

When you think about all the bands in the Asbury Park scene right now — what makes Backyard Superheroes stand out?

Josh: We play every show like it’s to a big crowd. We have fit seven people on stages made for three and still find ways to run around, usually involving Gary getting on the bar or somewhere else he shouldn’t be.

Gary: Quite honestly- we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Too many bands seem to think what they do is über important. We are all about having a good time. We just want to rock out, have a really fun time for a half hour, and then talk about comic books after. If you are into that, cool, if not, that’s cool too. No judgment.

Bruce: We’re really one of the only ska bands in the shore area. We’ve played Skate and Surf for the last three years, and in a sea of pop-punk and heavier bands, there was us. There is a cultural shift towards machined music and cookie-cutter formula songs (check out many of the top-40 artists and you’ll start to see patterns), and we are defiantly fighting that, working to bring ska back, even if our effort is futile. We’re in it for the fun, so come on out, be friends, and have a good time!

If someone has never heard your band before, what song would you recommend they check out in order to fully grasp what Backyard Superheroes is about, and why? 

Josh: “Face It” and “My Fault” are probably the best when it comes to finding songs that really encompass our sound. Upbeat verses paired with in-your-face punk choruses with gang vocals and horns.

Gary: “So Much More,” one of our oldest songs, but IMO, our best. Catchy horn lines, sing-along chorus, crunchy guitars mixed with a healthy dose of ska. Lyrically, the song is about a really earnest guy pining for a girl he may never get. Something easily to relate to.

Bruce: I’m gonna cheat and say two tracks: “Let’s Get Dangerous” and “Face It,” which really dovetails one into the other. It really captures the energy that we convey, the bombastic horn section, and the frank writing style that we use in our music.

What are your plans for the rest of 2016? 

We’ve got some big shows coming up, including the Atlantic City Beer and Music Festival and the Local Legends Fest, and we’re hoping to put together another tour this summer. We’re writing some new tunes as well, so be on the lookout for some new recorded material before the end of the year!

Backyard Superheroes perform at Happy Mondays at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park along with Bobby Mahoney and the Seventh Son, Desir Decir, and Victory Boulevard.