In the mid-’90s, Orange County ska punk was very much the in thing. Bands like No Doubt, Reel Big Fish and the Aquabats took a third-wave ska scene from cities like Anaheim and Huntington Beach into the upper reaches of the Billboard charts. Forming in 1995 and taking its name from the John Hughes movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Save Ferris was one of the big players on the local scene, even if it didn’t have the same impact in terms of national and international sales. Still, talk about ’90s OC ska-punk, and Save Ferris will be one of the first names tripping off the tongue.
The band put out two albums in the ’90s, plus a number of singles and EPs, but there hasn’t been anything released in seventeen years. In fact, until the group reappeared in 2013, the last tour had been in 2003. About four years ago, charismatic singer Monique Powell resurfaced with a new lineup — an all-new Save Ferris. With many of the former members now playing in Starpool (another OC ska-punk band), it was left to Powell to carry the torch.
Not that she didn’t have to fight for it. The inevitable bitter legal drama, with Powell and other ex-members battling for control of the name, prevented any band action for a couple of years, but in 2015, that whole unsavory episode was resolved. This month, Save Ferris released its first studio output in seventeen years, a five-song EP called Checkered Past (including the song "New Sound," guest-starring Neville Staple from the Specials). Naturally, Powell says that it feels great to be able to put out some new Save Ferris material after so long and after going through so much. The effort was worth it, and now she can just get on with her musical life, along with her new-old band.
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“Everything just feels easier on so many levels,” Powell says. “The musicians that I’m playing with are really amazing at what they do, and we’re all very close. Then, also, on a completely different note, technologically, everything is easier as well. With social media, PR is so much easier. Even recording was easier and cheaper because technology has obviously changed.”
The name of the new EP seems entirely appropriate, considering Save Ferris's recent troubles. However, Powell says that the record’s name refers to the lifetime of turbulence that she’s lived through up to now, rather than just the past few years.
It's all settled down, though. Powell’s a strong, talented musician and an excellent, energetic performer, and that carries through the whole band to this day. And while comparisons to the old band are inevitable, Powell believes that this current incarnation is the best version of Save Ferris up to now.
“I can tell you from the overall response from the fans and people coming to the shows, they really enjoy the show, and old fans are saying they think this is the best Save Ferris that they’ve ever seen,” she says. “I mean, I’m sure if someone had a problem with us, they wouldn’t just come right up to my face and be like, ‘You guys sound like shit.’ So it’s really hard for me. I’m biased, too, because with this band, we all chose each other, and we have worked our asses off for the last three years, almost four years, to be able to bring this show to the fans. We’ve refined it, and we’ve worked it, and we’ve rehearsed it.”
It helps that Powell’s new bandmates love the old Save Ferris tunes and have tons of fun playing them live. That allows Powell to look ahead to a bright future while keeping a fond eye on the past.
“In my heart and in my mind, our scene will live forever,” she says. “There are bands from our scene that are still touring and doing great things. So a lot of great stuff came out of that scene, and it’s still alive.”
Of course, the real proof of just how valid this new Save Ferris is will be the ongoing reaction from the crowds and, with the band on tour right now and about to hit Denver, Powell says that the fans are once again going several shades of crazy, night after night.
“It’s weird, because just about every night, I say, ‘Who has seen Save Ferris before?’” Powell says. “We probably only get about ten people raising their hands. The remainder of the audience are first-time Save Ferris concert-goers. I’m surprised every night when I see that. They don’t really care about the other [legal] stuff. They just finally want to see the band that they’ve been listening to for all this time.”
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As for this show, Powell says that she hasn’t performed in Colorado for a long time, so she’s looking forward to a triumphant return, though she admits she’ll have to get acclimated to the altitude again. As for the set, expect surprises.
“There are some showy, fun things that happen on stage that Save Ferris never did before,” she says. “I think it’s a much more polished set than it ever was. We involved the audience so much in what we do that anybody that comes to the show will get their money’s worth.”
After that, Save Ferris will be writing a new full-length album and touring in the summer. Apparently, they’re going to stick around a while longer this time.
Save Ferris plays with Sorry Sweetheart, Vista Kicks and the Nasty Bunch of Bitches at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, March 14, at the Bluebird Theater; 3317 East Colfax Avenue, 303-377-1666.