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The Red Stripes

Interview: The Red Stripes’ Paul Thompson

Hong Kong’s favourite ska outfit tells us about their amazing 2017 and finally dropping their debut album in December

Written by
Graham Turner
We’ve been huge fans of local ska outfit The Red Stripes ever since they emerged from the local musical wilderness five years ago. They’ve consistently been one of the most energetic, fun live acts in the city, so we’re over the moon that they’re finally set to release their debut album, In the Ska East. This surely punctuates what’s been the band’s biggest year, something we’re all too happy to talk about with bassist and all-round legend, Paul Thompson.

Hi Paul! How’s the year worked out?
It’s been amazing. It seems like the culmination of five years since we began working together. The band has worked hard to bring these sounds to Hong Kong and we were fortunate enough to spread our vibes even further with the huge Kuala Lumpur Ska Festival in May. After touring at big ska events in Indonesia, Taiwan, Singapore and Tokyo, it inspired us to work on Hong Kong’s reggae ska festival [Endless Summer]. We were really excited to work with one of the legends of 2 Tone Ska, Neville Staple, during the summer – he also featured on a track on our album with a really cool take on his stay in the city. To finish the year with the release of our debut album and playing the main stage at this year’s Clockenflap will be hard to top!
How does it feel to release your first album?
This album has been in our mind for a long time. The songs came together a while ago and we’ve been dying to get them down, recorded and released. I would say it’s a sense of achievement and pride in the quality of original music that we laid down that strikes the most. Maybe with a hint of relief that we have something we can be proud of and that captures the vibe and essence of first and second wave ska.
You guys have been doing your thing for ages, how come the long wait for the album?
The main reason is that we were waiting for the right producer, studio and engineers to make it happen. Each track was laid down independently and with 11 musicians plus overdubs over 10 tracks, it has taken around a year from arranging to release. We also wanted to make sure the material was right and we had an album that had different approaches to the genre and in some ways, told a story. 
The Red Stripes have been flying the flag for ska in the city for years. How has the scene changed and the scope for ska in the city evolved?
Growing up in the UK, ska and reggae were always a big part of the music scene and an important subculture. In Asia, especially Malaysia, Japan and Indonesia this scene is thriving and has some wonderful festivals and bands that attract tens of thousands of fans. The genre is fairly new to Hong Kong and it has been great to see people dress up more and learn how to skank as the band has played more and more shows across the city. What has been heartening is that people who don’t know the genre get in to the spirit and vibe of the big band sounds and then begin to follow the scene.  
Take us through the album... How was the process in bringing it all together? What are some highlights for you?
We were chatting to Cavo [Sean Dinsmore, formally of famed New York ska band The Toasters], who has a label and production company in Hong Kong. He has a long heritage with third wave Ska in New York from the 80s and asked us to record with him at Billboard. We began deciding which tracks to work on and started the process of laying each instrument individually over the year. Cavo mixed with Abe Lau and we sent it to the UK for mastering at the brilliant 360 Studios. I think having a producer work us through the whole process really took away the pressures of getting it done ourselves and we could focus on playing well and the quality of the musicianship. In terms of highlights, I am particularly fond of Julia Posh, a very quirky take on the class system in the UK and of course, Hong Kong Special, where Neville Staple tells his story of the problems getting a taxi in the city, something we can all relate to!

Where can people get the new album?
We will have copies at our release party at Grappa’s Cellar on Saturday December 9 and will also begin digital downloads through various online platforms and our website after that. The release party will be a great celebration of the record and our five years together. We’re also bringing over one of our favourite Asian ska bands, Skaraoke from Taiwan – two great sets of first and second wave ska. It’s also free entry, so everyone can come, grab a T-shirt, CD and skank the night away!
Big thanks to Time Out Hong Kong and the local press for supporting us over the last five years and we look forward to sharing a drink with you all on December 9!
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