Buster Shuffle’s Jet Baker Speaks To Our Times And The Updated World Of ‘Go Steady’

British Ska Punk band Buster Shuffle are current out on a European tour which they’ve been much anticipating and are keeping their fingers crossed that they’ll be able to bring their new album, Go Steady, to fans throughout their route without any bumps in the road. During the pandemic, with touring cancelled, they nevertheless celebrated the tenth anniversary of their debut album, Our Night Out, with a deluxe edition, created a charity single by rallying fellow musicians to raise money for the World Health Organization, and fit in a few live shows where and when they could.

The rest of the time they observed the rather dismal global situation, particularly in their home country, and got writing and recording their new album, tucking some details in that speak to our times. However, without touring on the table yet, they tried out the newer approach of crowdfunding to cover the costs of recording, making videos, promotion, and more. They had a very reassuring and welcome outcome, quickly raising the funds they needed. Go Steady recently arrived in shops, but with this album you may hear even more of their daily life experiences in their music, whether its artists losing their jobs or just going for a pleasant sunny London walk with the dog.

I spoke with Buster Shuffle frontman Jet Baker about becoming more outspoken on this new album and reaching out via crowdfunding for the first time.

Hannah Means-Shannon: I’ve spoken with you previously about the 10th anniversary of Our Night Out, and though I haven’t caught up with you in the year or so since then, I gather from listening to the new album that things have not all been sunshine and roses.

Jet Baker: [Laughs] No. A year on, there’s been a little of writing, or at least time to write. With the new album, there are certainly bits of writing influenced by lockdown and what we’ve seen and witnessed. It’s been a testing couple of years and we’re really thankful, fingers crossed, to be coming out of it.

HMS: I see you have a number of performances starting soon across Europe. I know that the band has been used to touring Europe in the past.

JB: Yes, though now we have this crazy situation with Putin. It’s not the people of Russia, it’s Putin. Are people going to want to go out to gigs and party when they know their neighbors are being bombed? But in terms of writing the tunes for this record, there’s been a bit of everything, from drinking in the pub, to being sick in the pub, people having to do crap jobs because they’ve lost their jobs as musicians and artists.

We touch on various subjects, including the zero-hour contract thing in the UK where people can employ you and sack you at any time. It means that guys and girls who work for Amazon or as delivery drivers have these crazy days with deadline after deadline and if they can’t keep up, they get laid off. There are lots of different things influencing this record, that’s for sure.

HMS: While the pandemic has been a global situation, and while the album does address that in terms of how it impacts Britain, I also get the sense that some of these songs talk about some of Britain’s own problems that are making the whole situation worse.

JB: I think the current government, which we’ve had for a long time now, is just draining the life out of the good people. It’s hard to keep fighting when you know there’s so much corruption and double standards right at the top of the chain. With or without the pandemic, there are still pretty bad people making decisions.

HMS: I was getting that a little bit in the song “Go Steady”. As an American, I’m not going to understand all the details, but I have been aware of how things have been going I the UK.

JB: Yes, and it’s something that I’m sure that you guys experienced a lot under your previous president. We’re just fed up with it.

HMS: I don’t think you all have ever shied away from bringing themes from the real world into your music, but were you at all concerned about how much to bring in at the moment, or was it more a matter of accurately reflecting the times?

JB: That’s a good question. We don’t view ourselves as a very political band, but over the last few years, we have started writing a few things that are a bit more than social commentary. There has been a sketch quality to it in the past, but now we’re speaking a bit louder, and drawing our picture a little more precisely about what’s making us unhappy. You want to write about the light-hearted stuff, too. There’s a song on the album that’s just about me going out and walking my dog on a sunny day in London and enjoying myself, “The Hood”. There’s also a song about getting barred from a pub from getting sick, which I’m far too old for, but has happened. So there is the lighter stuff with day-to-day storytelling from the band. But then there’s other stuff, like, “What do we do if we aren’t musicians? We go drive vans for Amazon.”

That was the reality for musicians in some countries, and in our country, though some countries have done a great job of supporting their artists. On the radio, there was a professional ballet dancer talking about how she’d spent her life training to do this, and the minister from the government told her, “Just go and get a job at Tesco.” Which is like Walmart. Just throwing all the arts under the bus. But the funny thing is, can you imagine lockdown without music, film, or the arts? But that’s the worth of the people in the arts, so it was hard for us not to say something on this album.

HMS: When you look at how the world has changed since your last album, I feel like the temperature of the whole world’s frustration has increased so much that it’s now basically normal to talk openly about it. So this album’s outspokenness doesn’t seem odd at all in context. Maybe that’s a good thing, that people are now used to speaking more openly.

JB: Yes, maybe we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about it for that reason. It’s been a steady decline of decency and well-being in the world, and it’s gone the other way for people just spouting nonsense. People aren’t even following the facts anymore, so you’re naturally going to shout a bit louder.

HMS: Also, your fans have a handle on this, because the first song you put out from this album was “Sucker Punch” and that got a very big reaction even though it’s the most direct of these more socially-minded songs. Did that encourage you to write more songs like that?

JB: Some of the songs were unfinished at that time, so it probably gave us a bit of confidence to say what we wanted to say, for sure, because it was well received. The way we record is writing and demoing, and then when we get into the studio, we do that over a period of time rather than in one or two weeks. So the lyrics are the last thing to go down and we can change things at the last minute. But we did stick to our guns on these lyrics as best we could.

HMS: Do you see other British musicians taking a more strident approach lately, too?

JB: No, I felt a bit bummed out about that. The problem is, when something really divides a country, like the Brexit thing here, or Donald Trump with you guys, you can’t half like Trump, you’re either with him or against him. It’s like Star Wars. The problem with speaking out against Brexit, where fifty percent went one way, and fifty percent went the other way, is if you ask, “What the fuck are you doing?”, you’ve alienated fifty percent of your audience.

So I think a lot of bands shut the fuck up and should’ve come out a little bit more because it affects us as an industry of touring bands. But I think they were more concerned about their crowd and bank balance. That’s sensible but we wanted to say, “This is a stupid idea.”, and write a song about it since it was a stupid idea and there have been no benefits to it.

HMS: The bigger situation here led for you all to crowdfund this new album, I know. That took the form of a pre-order. Would you normally have used touring to support that instead?

JB: Yes, pretty much. We’ve crowdfunded on our own label and we’ve used a distributor to get it into record stores, which is quite important if you can do it. So we’ve used some traditional industry channels while crowdfunding it ourselves. We could have done a record deal, but it’s the classic situation of very little money to cover the record and making videos, and then you don’t own the record. You’ve given away your creation.

We did that with our first three albums, which we sold to a record label. Then they sold them all, without our permission, as a back catalog to Sony. Now Sony own our three albums and we haven’t recouped and never will. It’s a classic story of small band getting screwed over and it’s been happening since record deals have been around. It still happens now.

So with the crowdfunding, we were hesitant to do it, but we have a good friend who’s done it very successfully who convinced us to do it. He suggested we offer extra things, like handwritten lyrics, drum lessons, and cool extra perks. We knew what we needed to fund the recording, mixing, mastering, and videos as well as promotion. Manufacturing’s also a big expense. Because we wanted this to be more of a pre-order, we did a video, and asked fans to support us, and they certainly did. We saw that more than on any other pre-order we’ve done on previous albums, and it happened quickly. It was such a nice feeling.

HMS: There are some animated videos for this album, which are very funny, including “Sucker Punch Blues” and “New Badge for My Uniform”.  

JB: What happened was we worked with Ben Satchel, and we liked working with him so much that we did another one. And you don’t have to stand in the cold and pretend you’re rocking out like in music videos. Ben just sits at home and draws it all and we say, “Thank you!” We had little ideas, but in terms of how he animated us, we just had faith and he really delivered both times.

HMS: It’s really impressive that the animation does not make the songs seem lighter, since these are some heavier songs in some ways. He really punctuates that fact with visual details, like the concert cancelled posters. In some ways, he makes it all more Punk. Even the facial expressions contribute.

JB: There’s a lot of detail and thought, which is awesome. I agree. We did a monkey t-shirt for “Sucker Punch Blues”. The monkey character is me, which was his artistic license.

HMS: Do you have any feelings about the fact that he interpreted you as a chimpanzee?

JB: I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole because of what it might do to my mental health! Especially the fact that everyone else is in human form and I’m not.

HMS: You did go freeze yourselves making the video for “Go Steady”, though, right?

JB: We did! Friggin’ hell that was a windy day. It was under a pier in a seaside town called Southend. Obviously, we had to time it right with the tides. The tide could have really swamped us. We also had to get there before the council or anyone would tell us that we needed a license. We only had a really small crew. The only thing we didn’t anticipate was how cold and how windy that morning was. We were getting blown around. It was so loud we could barely hear the playback.

HMS: So that fighting spirit we see in the video was real?

JB: Yes! My friend told me that I looked really pissed off in that video. I was trying to give it a bit of a wallop, but it was also that we were freezing. But when there’s a band playing in a music video, you want a different setting. We wanted to capture the energy with the structural setting of the video and the black and white. I think it came off well.

HMS: I wanted to ask about the phrase “go steady” in British English versus American English. Based on the song, I think you mean it as “hold on”, or “not so much”, “don’t go so far”. But then when I looked at the album art, it did make me think a little about the American use of the phrase.

JB: Yes, it’s “chill out”. You’re spot on. It’s the panic of covid, the mayhem of life, the zero-hour contracts, and all the stuff that’s just ratcheting up. It’s reassuring yourself to just “go steady”. That could be the front cover, where the girl and the boy are having a kiss. I just liked that sort of vibe. Then there’s the Ska thing of “go steady” and “Rocksteady”. How would an American interpret that? Does it have a different meaning?

HMS: I don’t think it has to have a different meaning, because the word “steady” has certain associations to calm someone down. But the old phrase “to go steady” is to be in a serious relationship with someone. I thought both actually worked with the album cover.

JB: For me, I’ll just go steady with all the idiots and the noise.

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