Gregory Lee

Classy Gregory

Our guest in this special issue is a part of the ska movement in America. Together with the spirit-inducing outfit, Hepcat is one of the special colors in the ska repertoire in America who succeeded to infiltrate the Punk Rock scene through their jazz, latin and soul music combination. The frontman, Greg Lee, our special guest this time, with his silky, smooth and charismatic voice was able to amplify more the power of this outfit. Apart from, of course, through the songs that he produced for this California based band’s discography. Here’s our Q&A session with him via email.

What and who inspired you the most to play ska? When was that?

Music has always been an integral part of my family’s culture. When I was a child, I thought the music I would sometimes hear around the house was “fun circus music”. Turned out that the music I heard was Ska. Later, when I was a bit older, some friends convinced me to go see a band I would probably like.. that band was Fishbone. From that point, the search was on to find more Ska. Soon after that, I found an audio tape of The Skatalites at a bookstore. For a long time that tape was the ONLY thing I played until the idea hit me to make a band to play like this, as no one was playing this type of music.

Was the Hepcat your first band? Did you sing for another outfit before?

Before Hepcat, Deston Berry, Lino Trujillo, and I were in a band called “The Sharpsville Step. In this band we were trying to play the more popular (at the time) 2Tone style of Ska.

Do you still remember about Hepcat early days with other fellow Californian ska units? Got names that you like to recommend to us from that time?

Yes. At the time there was The Upbeat from Carpinteria, CA, Let’s Go Bowling from Fresno, The Liquidator from San Francisco, Fishbone from Los Angeles, etc. Later came See Spot, Ocean 11, The Debonairs, and many, many, more.

Who’s your all time Ska Heroes?

Toots Hibbert, The Skatalites, The Selecter, Fishbone and all my friends and acquaintances who were playing the music pre internet who really had to search hard to find and learn to play what was not the most popular music to find. 

As the son of a sound engineer, did he involve a lot in your musical career? What kind of a lesson that you’ve learned?

I learned that oftentimes “schooled” musicians can lose sight of the childlike creativity of the “unschooled” versions. Since I was a kid, one thing has been undeniable over and over again. Many times new and creative aspects of music have the “unschooled” musician listed as it’s creator.

You have your very own style in singing, what’s your favourite music that you think has shaped your singing style? And how do you keep this shaped up very well?

The cartoons I watched as a kid

With so many and wide music infusions in Hepcat, who really led Hepcat to give birth to a lot of good songs?

Every member ( past and present ) have contributed in different ways. We all come from different musical backgrounds. I believe this has always been the key to every song.

What’s your favourite theme in most of your works, who’s your brainstorm partner?

Favorite theme overall is that Hepcat has always and nearly exclusively sung about the politics between people through their love or need to connect with one another or to society as a whole. We’ve never made our message about politics leaning to one side ( left or right ) or the other.

Alex Désert seems like your eternal “partner in crime” with you, can you tell us what you see from him?

Back when we were close, we saw ourselves in each other even though our life paths had been very different leading up to the time of our meeting.

Was “Rudies All Around” your fav song so that you did your own rendition on “Right On Time”?

I never heard any single song on a Hepcat record as a favorite. It has only been the entire album played though I could say I liked it. Our goal has always been to create a single song that people liked… it has always been about the record in its entirety. 

Do a lot of line up exchanges in hepcat affect your musical creative process?

It does. We have only a few hard standards to what must be in every song, so everyone who comes in is allowed to express their own musical flavor.

Hepcat once listed as one of the roster from one of the biggest music imprints, Epitaph. But then went on hiatus, it’s about ups and downs in music. Isn’t it? Can you share with us your thoughts about what keeps your musical spirit alive?

It has become who I am to create things that make people feel the joy that I have when I see or hear them.

Do you have a new talent in ska that might interest you? Who and why? 

The Capsouls from Bakersfield. The best. And that is all

You guys once teamed up with The Aggrolites, if you do know about Indonesian ska bands, will you open your door to do a collaboration with one of them? What should they do to make you say YES?

Send me something and let’s do it!

You may not agree with us, but all of us here think that you and Hepcat are legends. If we may have a request, then it’s about your upcoming release. Any secret news about this that we can hear?

Because of Covid, these plans have been set back. When we get back on track, kultur will be the first to know  🙂

We’re really grateful and feel honoured to be able to do this Q&A interview. You may not know that Hepcat has a very massive fanbase here. “Dance Wid Me” is the most top song that has been covered in many gigs, lots of bands from Indonesia published it online as well. We wonder, do you specifically have anything to say to the bands and your big fans here?

I’ve seen and have heard quite a few of these bands and their covers of our songs on YouTube. All I can say IS WOW!! It is extremely humbling to be respected in such a way as this. Imagine starting a band you knew would be as unpopular as the music they’d hoped to play at the time was… We used to play shows and would have no one dance or acknowledge us. But playing the music made us happy. That’s all we needed to keep going and to stay happy. Years and years later… I look at YouTube to see people beautifully covering those very songs we had written at that time.

Sometimes it moves me to tears.

Thank You. Pura Vida always my friends.

(Reporter: Keyko, Transcript: Sam, Translation Supervision: Yedi)

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