Though being on Victory Records helped his band sell millions of records and tour the world, Frank Casillas, singer for ska-punk band Voodoo Glow Skulls, says the band doesn't have any hard feelings about its split with the label.
"It just kind of seemed like we were in the wrong place in that whole Victory Records era," said Casillas. "So we weren't disappointed. We were just in limbo. We didn't know what direction the music business was going to go in general."
And while many bands might see leaving a genre-focused label that has moved millions of albums by marquee bands like Refused, Earth Crisis and Atreyu as a step back, the Riverside, Calif.-based VGS viewed its new independence as a chance to do things over. But this time, the band is armed with 23 years of accumulated knowledge about the music industry.
"It's hard for bands to take steps back and go back to the way they were before they were even signed," said Casillas. "And for us, we've always had that DIY mentality, so we're kind of in a good spot."
VGS made its ninth album, Break the Spell, in a home studio on its own schedule and terms.
"We took four years to do this album," said Casillas. "We took our time and figured, 'Hey, there's no pressure. Music is changing. Record labels are changing. And retail music is changing. Let's just write an album for ourselves first and then put it out there when we're ready.'"
On Jan. 18 it unleashed a 14-track powder keg of ska horns and snarling hardcore guitar riffs iced with Casillas' signature gruff and bi-lingual vocal style on the Internet.
And though the band's success on Victory and its previous label, Epitaph, would likely have been enough to snag a lucrative deal for Break the Spell, VGS chose to let its friend Elvis Cortez market the album through Smelvis Records, a label he runs out of his bedroom.
"It's somebody that we trust," said Casillas. "Somebody who is in another band; someone who is a friend. So we decided let's just give it to someone like that, give them the opportunity, someone who is a little more passionate."
But the decision wasn't based entirely on the romantic DIY ethic.
"[Cortez has] got his routine down," said Casillas. "He's got his resources. For us, it's a little bit easier to keep tabs. It's more independent."
Formed in 1988, VGS has endured the demise of the cassette, the rise and fall of the CD, and the birth of the download and digital streaming era--a retail cycle that has left many bands reliant on the record industry out in the cold.
Casillas speaks of friends' bands who played to crowds of thousands a few years ago, who are now struggling to fill nightclubs, something they perceive as failure. VGS isn't one of those bands.
"The way we perceive it is that things have changed, times are tough, and from our standards, that's a good show playing in front of a couple hundred," said Casillas. "Instead of selling a couple million records, selling 5,000-10,000 is amazing nowadays for our standards."
But Casillas' optimism doesn't come without caveats.
"The scene is a little different now," said Casillas. "It used to be more close-knit when people had to rely on snail mail."
And VGS is a band that understands close ties. Beneath Casillas' vocals are his two brothers, Eddie and Jorge. The horns didn't come along until 1991, three years after the band formed.
"We grew up picking on each other, but I think at the same time, that's the secret to our longevity," said Casillas. "We can get in an argument or a squabble or whatever and the next day it's all good."
However, the sibling connection can occasionally be odd for the non-Casillas members of the band.
"We've had guys in the band express that they're not too happy about it," said Casillas. "When you're on a long tour and you're in confined quarters with everybody like a bus or a van, and you see the same person day in and day out, people are going to get on your nerves. But they got their issues on the outside that we got to learn to tolerate, too."
Another thing that matters to VGS is its So-Cal heritage--something that's present in its sound, lyrical content and even its linguistic choices. The band routinely switches between Spanish and English and has recorded albums in both languages, which has aided its international touring efforts immensely.
"We didn't start singing in Spanish and English as a gimmick for the band. It just came natural to us," said Casillas. "It's just part of our Southern California culture. Whether you're of Latino descent or not, you're just raised around that sort of culture in your face."
One song on Break the Spell even breaks the wall down altogether.
"On this one, we have a song called 'Puro Desmadre,' which is like all hell breaks loose in Spanish," Casillas said. "It's in Spanglish, where one line is in Spanish and the next is in English. It's the first time we've done something like that."
Casillas is also particularly proud of some of the vocal harmonies he worked out for Break the Spell.
"It's just a more mature album," said Casillas. "We're not 19 and 20 years old like when we started the band. We're all middle-aged men with jobs and responsibilities."
But he quickly corrects himself.
"Well, not jobs, this is our job," he laughed.
And that's a job Voodoo Glow Skulls have no plans of giving up anytime soon.
"As long as everybody's healthy and the demand is still somewhat there and the music is still alive, this is just what we do," Casillas said.