David McWane has been in Big D and the Kids Table for a real long time. For that matter, he’s been the Boston-based ska punk band’s vocalist and stabilizing force for longer than he hasn’t. The past 26 years of the 44 year old’s life have been dedicated to singing, shouting, and songwriting, and a month before the band’s latest album, Do Your Art (October 22 via SideOneDummy Records), he’s ready to recommit to it all over again.
While they’ve never been the biggest band in the world — nor are they trying to be — Big D’s decades of existence are a testament to the enduring connection that McWane has built both with fans and musicians around him. Nine Big D albums into his career, the frontman, author and Northeastern University professor has pretty much seen every wrinkle the music industry has to show. He’s lived the Warped Tour life and hit the festival circuit. He’s headlined shows around the world while backed by a label. He’s launched his own label and published his own books. Hell, he’s even seen the ska scene come and go more times than he can count at this point — particularly when it disappeared right after they broke through at the very end of the ‘90s and into the 2000s.
“The best way to look at Big D and [ska’s popularity] is that it was like one of those movies from the ‘80s or ‘90s where there’s a big party — but Big D walked into the party when the cops had just shown up and everyone left,” McWane says. “We got there and it was an empty house, but everyone was saying ‘If you went to that party, you’re terrible.’ We lived through ska’s very bad years, and we had to prove ourselves the whole time. We had to play ska songs better than traditional ska bands and punk songs better than the punk people. But I like that whole heavy metal mentality of ‘Wait until they get a load of this… They’re going to hate it!’ It’s more fun than hoping everybody sings along. There’s nothing like being an outcast and being given a mic. It’s beautiful.”
McWane compares the ska scene to the hardcore community or any number of other genres that fall well outside of the mainstream. Even when it’s not popular, it’s still going to happen because there will always be an audience for it. Sometimes that crowd is bigger than others, but those who’ve seen the ups and downs of the decades realize that playing to a half-empty bar can mean just as much and be just as fun as playing to a sold out amphitheater. Of course, Big D may be looking at slightly larger venues for Do Your Art than they did when 2013’s double serving of Stomp and Stroll came out. If their immediately pre-pandemic tour was any indication, the demand for ska punk is higher than they’ve ever seen before. But unlike the last time ska was big, McWane and his band are a known commodity these days.
After putting out some of their finest albums during the genre’s dark period (like 2004’s How It Goes and 2007’s Strictly Rude, which reached No. 41 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chat on the back of their biggest hit, “Noise Complaint”), Big D’s ready to show the new generation of ska fans how they roll — even if Do Your Art had to be created and recorded in two very different sessions due to the pandemic.
“We’d already recorded the bass, drums, and guitar, but then we went on tour with Reel Big Fish,” McWane recalls. “It was just like the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, when Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow steps off his boat and onto the dock — and right when he steps onto it, it sinks. We got off tour on Sunday, and on Monday everything was locked down. We had to cancel all our horns and other recording dates, but it really helped the album in a way because it brought us together. We all started Zooming, and it really felt like we were 14 or 15 years old having a sleepover to just get away, hang out and talk about music.”
With what McWane thinks could be the best Big D album ever, Do Your Art is all about encouraging people to follow their creative dreams, even if they’re not going to be the next Top 40 star. As a lifelong Massachusettsan, he’s heard more than his fair share of New England parents complaining about their children wanting to be an artist or musician rather than pursuing a white collar job — and frankly, he’s sick of it. And as a dyslexic guy who started writing books just to challenge himself, McWane wants himself and Big D to be a reminder to others that just because you didn’t grow up with a silver spoon or you’re not going to be the next Beyoncé, you don’t need to give up on your creativity.
“I just want everyone to know that if you have to put another pot of coffee on, do it,” McWane says. “Batman fights crime, right? He’s super popular and he’s from a rich family. Superman was born into it. But what if all of our other favorite characters like Deadpool, Wolverine and Rogue decided they were going to give up because Batman and Superman are globally solving the world’s problems while they’re just in the streets taking care of nickel and dimers? We don’t want these characters to hang up their suits. These characters are so important. I’m just trying to let artists know that even if they feel like they’re not valued, just please keep going, because you do mean a lot to people.”
Check out the track being released this Friday (September 17), “Toyed,” from Do Your Art below.