click to return to main
A Conversation With Dave Hilliard
Alex Rud
August 2, 2001

Dave Hilliard

Alex: For the record, could you state your name and the instruments you play.

Dave Hilliard: David Hillyard. Tenor and Soprano Saxophones. Bass Clarinet. Shanai.

Alex: How long have you been playing ska music, or music in general, for that matter?

Dave: i've been playing ska music for 16 years or so.

Alex: How did you get your start playing sax?

Dave: I first started on Alto. I got my parents to get me a student model on the rent to own plan. I was turned on to the sax by the guy from the english beat. i then got ahold of a tenor from the school music department and i've played that ever since.

Alex: Who are your influences?

Dave: some saxophone players i like; roland alphonso, tommy mccook, john coltrane, charlie parker, lester young, coleman hawkins, ben webster, don byas, jimmy forrest

some other influences; rico rodriguez, lee perry, the skatalites, curtis mayfield, t-bone walker, count ossie.

Alex: Have you been in any band that played music other than ska, reggae, or rocksteady?

Dave: yeah, on and off. i've played with rock bands and a few jazz projects.. right now i have a jazz/blues project with simon chardiet. i play the same stuff i always play, its just over different rhythms. the more I listen to music, the more similar different styles become.

Alex: You have been in a lot of bands. How do you manage to be so successful in each one? Also, how do you juggle the commitments to each band?

Dave: Well, remember Im successful in the sense that I've been in a couple of bands who've put out records and have a little notorierity in a small circle of people. Im not successful compared to many of the other bands out there in the world. I focus on the Slackers, everything else comes secondary. That's how I deal with my other committments.

Alex: What is your take on the ska scene right now? Name a few flaws and a few good things that are going on.

Dave: Flaws? Most bands are lazy they don't try to advance themselves. They just ride on the coatails of other bands and other sounds and never amount to much. They go? Oh its too hard to get a gig by ourselves, so we'll just wallow in self-pity and try to do something trendy.

There are several younger bands coming around who I like; Irie Beats, the Vessels, New Reggae Review, Westbound Train, Heavy Step

Alex: What do you think of those bands who label themselves "ska," but don't necessarily play the genre of music? Do you think there will be a 4th wave soon?

Dave: I never really subscribed to the wave theory. cause the periods don't really compare. In the 60's, Ska was in jamaica and came around the time the country came independent. in the late 70's/early 80's it was in England. Ska has been going on in the states since the early 80's (part of a worldwide scene including europe and japan and a lot of other countries). First the bands were 2-Tone tribute bands, but by the mid-80's you have american bands that have original sounds that incorporate Ska like Fishbone. By the late 80s, all the sounds of the "3rd wave" were already together through bands like Fishbone, the Untouchables, Bimskalabim, No Doubt, Operation Ivy, The Toasters, Mighty Mighty Bosstones etc etc. A lot of the early bands actually crested in the late 80s and broke up. In the 90's, you had my crew who felt like what we were listening to was corny rock, there was almost no ska in the "ska" bands and we went back and listened to skatalites and then started doing our own thing from there. At the same time, a lot of bands like Reel Big Fish, Save Ferris, Goldfinger, and Less Than Jake, who basically took the "3rd Wave Sound" and ran with it for varying degrees of commercial success. I was not really much a part of that scene, nor did I reap huge financial benefits from it. I was out in left field playing ska. Basically, stuff that mixed jamaican stuff with jazz, latin, rnb etc. When it was popular, people said "you're not playing ska!", now when its not they go "you're playing ska!" what a joke. im just trying to make myself and my bands successful in the best way I can. Trends are a waste of time.

Alex: What advice would you give to ska bands just starting out today?

Dave: practice. get yourself tight. listen to something other than the popular music of this time. its fine to listen to that too, but listen to something else as well. if you want to play ska you gotta listen to the skatalites, if you don't you're not going to really get the beat. Its sort of like trying to play the blues without listening to Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, BB king....just listening to Korn. You're not going to get it. Its like trying to cook but only eating at McDonalds.

Alex: Is Rocksteady 7 gonna release any new material anytime soon?

Dave: yes. We are working on a new album. we're about half done. I've just got the financial backing to finish it, so I plan on doing that in the next 4 months.

Alex: What was the best show you have ever played? Which band, other than your own, would you say was the best with which to play?

Dave: Too many to remember. Some fave bands I've seen live; skatalites, buju banton, parliament funkadelic, the Beat

Alex: What Ska/Reggae artist, dead or alive, would you like to meet?

Dave: Dead. Don Drummond. He was amazing.

Alex: For a while there, in 2000, the Slackers and Rocksteady 7, only played 18 or 21+ shows, why is that? Were all-ages shows not available?

Dave: The short answer is yes. All ages shows are a dying species in many cities (Boston, New York). We play a lot of all ages shows in many parts of the country (Ohio, Suburbs in general) Its usually about half our shows. A lot of people in power see all ages shows plus a bar plus live music as something close to satan worship.

Alex: With clubs closing down left and right, and now Wetlands is closing down too, where do you think ska bands can play if they want an all-ages show? ...What do you think will become of the scene, especially for fans not necessarily older than 18?

Dave: You're pretty fucked. The powers that be don't want all ages shows. Plus an all ages venue can't compete for office space or condominiums for rich people. New York Real Estates is ridiculous. There will be small d.y.i shows but they don't make the money that you can make from selling liquor. The only way all ages shows will survive is kids taking it into their own hands and having shows in vfw posts and firehouses and places like that. That's what i was doing when I was 16 cause I grew up in a town that didn't allow all ages shows (San Diego). Guess what? San Diego's music scene is incredibly lame and derivative. So beware, NYC.

Alex: On the new Slackers' album, there's a song called "Dave's Friend." can you tell me more about the story behind the song?"

Dave: Not really. Its about someone I know who has a drug problem. Who fucked me over really good. I was pissed for a while. Then I wrote the song and mellowed out. Then he pissed me off again. So now we don't speak much. Im still waiting for him to get his mind back.

Alex: Which Slackers' song means the most to you, and why?

Dave: Probably, and I wonder. thats the most personal.

Alex: Is playing music your sole occupation or do you have another one? Any hobbies you'd like to divulge?

Dave: I try to do music full time. You can make more money at any crappy office job or working at a McDonalds but I like music. My hobbies are sleeping and cooking.

Alex: List your 5 fave albums of all time.

Dave: I'll give you 5 things im listening to right now..... Arnett Cobb - Black Velvet
T-Bone Walker - the United Years
Roland Kirk - We Free Kings
Various - The Snake Charmer of North India
Glen Brown - King Tubby Produces.....

Alex: Is there anything you'd like to say to your fans?

Dave: THANK YOU!!! I hope you enjoy the most recent stuff Ive put out.

Alex Rud is a Staff Columnist. Contact him at

Are we right? What do you think? USE YOUR VOICE!

Copyright 1997-2001,, All resources are used with exclusive permission from their owners. Any form of reproduction other than for promotional and personal use is expressly prohibited without consent from the author and