During Billy Kottage’s travels as the trombone player for Southern California-based ska band Reel Big Fish, he often performed with another legendary ska-punk band: Less Than Jake. Kottage built a friendship with Less Than Jake’s bassist, Roger Lima, and when Lima heard that Kottage’s Dover-based side project, The Feel Goods, was recording an album, he jumped at the chance to be a part of it.
“(Lima) pestered me for months to put it out, but I never did because of the lack of resources, really,” Kottage said. “Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore and decided to put it out himself on his own label.”
That label, Moathouse Records, released The Feel Goods’ debut album, “Running Out of Time,” on April 7.
The songs on the album came from several years of occasional band practices and rough ideas that were eventually developed into concrete tunes. The band members’ busy schedules made it a slow process. In addition to Kottage being on the road fulltime with Reel Big Fish, bassist Nick Minicucci and saxophonist Andrew Riordan are consistently on tour with Roots of Creation, singer and guitarist Nick Murray plays trumpet for hometown heroes Harsh Armadillo, and there is a “rumor” that drummer Alex Brander is going to start playing shows with Boston-based ska-punk band Big D and the Kids Table, Kottage said.
“This is definitely a side project. All of us are wicked involved with a lot of other things that occupy most of our time,” said Kottage. “The funniest part about this band being a side project is that we started and have had this band longer than anyone has been in anything else.”
Originally known as the All Good :: Feel Good Collective, the band spent several years experimenting with slower, more carefully-paced reggae and rocksteady music, which they recorded on the album “Don’t Shoot the Messenger.” But, after a few personnel changes, the band realized that faster, dance-friendly ska music felt more true to their identity.
“We started to feel a disconnect with some of the songs on ‘Don’t Shoot the Messenger’ and wanted to change our message as a band,” said Minicucci. “We started to see a clearer and more rewarding progression forward within the ska scene. Not only did we change personnel, we changed songwriters, which brought forth a lot of new musical influences.”
For The Feel Goods’ debut, the band members spent time reworking early songs, such as “Rules of Revolution,” and building upon fractured ideas they had been playing for years during their live shows, tweaking tempos and working in melodies for different instruments. The result is a collection of 11 airtight ska arrangements with the precise songwriting of trained musicians. The album leads off with the eponymous track, a move that Minicucci said best represents the band’s rebirth.
“‘Running Out of Time’ was the first song I brought to the table for The Feel Goods,” said Minicucci. “I think, in a lot of ways, it marks our shift in style and message. Ever since then, I feel like it has held a special place within our repertoire. I also really believe it is one of (the strongest), if not our strongest arrangement. It was a natural choice to name the album after that track.”
The Feel Goods have clear influences from ska legends like The Specials and Hepcat, but their ear for melody and talent for harmony draws from many different artists. “Can’t Break The Ice” has the party-friendly, skank-worthy energy of a Toasters deep cut. “Jillian” employs the sweet vocal interplay of Sam Cooke classics. The deep grooves and soulful singing of The Slackers comes out in songs like “Cold Runs Deep.”
Lyrically, the album is across the board. Though ska tends to boast an upbeat, bright sound, the words and stories that frame those anthemic choruses are often close to the darker edge. Songs like “Shoes” and “French Girl” touch on relationship insecurities, while the title track, according to Minicucci, is about “breaking out into a world full of people who seemingly want to bring you down.”
“As long as you truly feel that it’s a story worth telling, you should tell it how you want.” — Nick Minicucci
“I strongly believe in authenticity when writing songs,” he said. “If you are able to deeply explore actual feelings, opinions, and events happening around you, then combine that with a style that feels right or good — no pun intended — you can create amazing music.”
“As long as you truly feel that it’s a story worth telling,” he continued, “you should tell it how you want.”
The band recorded most of the album at 1130 ft studio in Rollinsford. Kottage and Riordan produced the album, while the latter served as the engineer, which gave them more time to craft the sound they wanted. Kottage and keyboardist Tal Pearson tracked the organ and clavinet at the 9b Studio in Milford, Mass., with the help of “the beautiful human that is Toft Willingham of Spiritual Rez,” said guitarist and singer Murray.
After the album was finished, Lima mixed and mastered the record with some outside help, fronting the cost of the remastering.
“This speaks volumes of the kind of guy he is,” said Kottage. “No ego, always seeking the best result.”
Though still a side project, The Feel Goods are making waves on the Seacoast. They’ll host an album release party on Friday, May 5, at Fury’s Publick House in their hometown of Dover.
The Feel Goods have also already written another album. According to Kottage, Lima was very happy with “Running Out of Time” and feels connected to it, and he is planning to record the next album at his studio in Gainesville, Fla.