Trenchtown in the 'Trose

Talking ska with Ryan Scroggins

Scroggins stayed with that band for about a year. "There were so many people in the band and we were so young — I think a few of the guys weren't really into it, you know? Meanwhile, Felipe saw that I was getting better and then he asked me to join ­Skarnales."

Scroggins was fresh off a breakup with an ex-girlfriend, and Skarnales had a full slate of upcoming shows. "I was like, 'Fuck yeah.' I joined the band and right after that [former 30footFALL guitarist] Chris LaForge joined. And then we learned about 30 or 40 songs in two weeks."

There followed two years of touring along both coasts and a few shows in Monterrey and Mexico City. In 2006, Skarnales suddenly imploded in the aftermath of a band meeting gone awry, and Scroggins quickly formed the Trenchtown Texans in order to fulfill the gigs Skarnales already had on their slate — a West Coast tour with East Coast ska lords the Hub City Stompers.

Scroggins and one of his roommates, a Pac-Man frog
Daniel Kramer
Scroggins and one of his roommates, a Pac-Man frog

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Ryan Scroggins and the Trenchtown Texans perform Thursday, November 22, at the Continental Club, 3700 Main. Call 713-533-9525 for more info.

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Scroggins enlisted several ex-Skarnales, including drummer Patrick "Beans" Wheeler and guitarist Jeremy Peña, as well as Skarnales associate Nathan Smith, a saxophonist. Guitarist Thomas Dowda, a buddy of Wheeler's, was drafted in to play bass, and his development has come as a pleasant surprise to Scroggins, going from reggae/ska neophyte to "badass" seemingly overnight.

The Trenchtown Texans were not certain they would continue as a band beyond fulfilling the Skarnales dates, but the success of those dates took care of that. "We got such a big buzz, there was shit all over the Internet about us," Scroggins says. "So we just figured, 'Fuck it, let's book some more shows.'"

"Especially with me, Jeremy and Beans, we were still so on the go from Skarnales, we just pretended like Skarnales never broke up," he adds. "We are just playing different songs now. We didn't want to slow down. We just wanted to play this music and throw it in people's face and let them know that we were still playing music if they want to hear it."

Scroggins says that those people are out there, in scattered pockets all over America. "We have a lot of friends on both coasts, so I know that once we get there, we're fine," he says. "It's in between that kills us."

Ska has had such a cyclical ride. It first seeped into the Anglo-American consciousness in the late '60s, mainly via Jamaicans living in England. Roughly ten years later, ska erupted in England again, as bands like the Specials, the Selecter and the Beat brought their Two Tone sound to the then-declining, multiethnic West Midlands metropolis of Birmingham. Ten years after that, third-wave ska came kicking and screaming out of Southern ­California.

For Scroggins, each wave of ska has been a step down from the previous one. To him, the original Jamaican stuff was best, while the Two Tone stuff ranges from tolerable to pretty good. As for the SoCal stuff of the pop-punk-tinged bands that ruled the charts in the 1990s — he thinks it's not even really ska.

"When a lot of that shit came out, kids that were like 14 or 15 and just getting into music, they still think that's what ska is," Scroggins says. "People ask me what kind of band I'm in and I don't say ska, because if you do, they are like, 'Oh, like No Doubt? Goldfinger?'"

Like as not, those kids have never even heard of Scroggins's true heroes, bands like the Upsetters and people like Jackie Mittoo, the founding keyboardist in the Skatalites. And many don't know that there is a small but growing traditional ska movement in America, one of the thousand little scenes in this fractured, relentlessly niched culture.

Scroggins doesn't believe that ignorance to be much of a hindrance for his band. "If people like mellow, positive stuff, and they hear us, they like us," he says. "If people come in for a tattoo and they start talking about music, I'll play my CD and they will usually buy it from me right there.

"Ska's not angry music," he continues. "Even when it is angry, it sounds happy. There's a song by the Pioneers called 'Time Hard,' and lyricwise it's the most depressing song ever: 'Every day, things are getting worse.' But musically it's the happiest song. My buddy [former Skarnales bassist] Nick [Gaitan] says what he likes about real reggae and ska is that 'You can walk to it.' And Beans, my drummer, he'll get drunk, and he says, 'Man, I love this music because it has a heartbeat.'"

john.lomax@houstonpress.com

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