Vic Ruggiero: Michigan Favorite Celebrates 20 Years with The Slackers

The bar is full when Vic Ruggiero plays. Those who have seen Vic before are comfortably anxious – as if waiting for a favorite part of a film they’ve seen a million times. The experience is an interactive one. Vic encourages the wild calls from the crowd.

With more than 20 albums bearing his name, Ruggiero’s understanding of love, humor, songwriting and lightheartedness are impossible to miss.

Victor “Vic” Ruggiero (Bad Vic, Lord Sluggo) is a musician, songwriter, and producer, who this year is celebrating two decades with one of his many acts – The Slackers.

Vic Ruggiero with The Slackers April 19, 2010, at The Blind Pig, Ann Arbor, MI. (Video: James Droze)

Vic, a New York native, has had a lengthy career not only with The Slackers – but also with Rancid, The Transplants, The SKAndalous All-Stars, and even playing organ for a Pink track (Try This, 2003). Yes, Pink.

Vic’s work has bounced between punk, ska, reggae, blues, beat-poetry, nonsense songs, and even a one-man-band act – which must be experienced to believe. Instruments cower to Vic’s masterful manipulation of anything capable of producing sound.

April 17, 2009, at Club Divine, Ypsilanti, MI. A fire alarm is pulled during Vic’s set — Vic’s true ingenuity is showcased when he turns a nuisance into an accompaniment. (Video: James Droze)

Known for versatility, Vic’s multi-tasking skills are not limited to music. The following exclusive interview with GCM spotlights Vic’s ‘fill my plate’ attitude. Apparently, Sears is an ideal atmosphere in which to discuss a brimming career.

GCM: Vic, how are you?

VIC: Good man. I’m in Sears.

GCM: Fantastic. Thanks for taking some time to chat.

VIC: No sweat.

GCM: I’ve been to several of your shows and they have all been in Michigan. Is Michigan just like any other place for you, or is there something special you find here? Tell me a little about your experience in Michigan, not just with the Slackers, but solo gigs as well.

VIC: Michigan is definitely a hot spot for me. That greater Detroit area, whatever you call Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, and the rest of those. I like Michigan, you know? Michigan does well for me.

GCM: Take a small venue such as the Elbow Room in Ypsilanti. As far as venues are concerned, is that your style? Do you get more pumped up for a show like that, or a bigger stage/ setup?

VIC: No, those kinds of shows are my kind of shows. You know, those are my favorites. Even for the Slackers, all around, I think everybody agrees the smaller rooms are the ones we like the best – even though sometimes it’s a drag ‘cause everybody’s squashed in there. You know, you want everyone to have fun. It’s tough sometimes. We played this show in Brooklyn last night – half the Slackers (Drums, guitar and bass). That place got pretty packed, but it was a party man. The whole night it was a party. I wanted to ask, ‘is this okay? Aren’t you people squashed in here?’

GCM: As far as your one-man-band performances are concerned, how does your preparation differ from your rehearsal with a group?

VIC: Honestly, it’s pretty intuitive. If I practice it, I practice it by playing it. I realized that when I was playing half the time I’m tapping my feet, and I’m bouncing around anyway. I might as well put a drum under my feet. Might as well.

GCM: It’s quite a show. People are drawn to it.

VIC: Well, I wanted to do solo stuff from way back. You know, it’s… it’s good for the soul. It’s good for your heart. It’s good not to hold on to that shit ‘cause otherwise it eats you up. You get pissed off that you’re not playing everything you’ve got. You start to get an attitude. The more I do it the better. It keeps everything in balance. That’s what I’ve learned.

GCM: Absolutely.

VIC:  When you find yourself saying, ‘man, I’m not doing this thing I want to do’, that’s when you go do it, and get it over with.

GCM: Just have to let it out. Is that it?

VIC: Like, I have this buddy. He was saying ‘do you ever drive yourself crazy about some girl?’ You know. He’s like, ‘you should just kiss her and get it over with. You’ll probably find that you don’t like her anyway.’ [Laughing] Well yea. That’s kind of my attitude towards playing. Might as well do it.

GCM: Is it safe to say that John Lennon and Jack Kerouac are big influences for you?

VIC: Oh yeah. I mean, I don’t think there’s any way to get around that. I think everybody, whether they admit to it or not, they’re reaping the rewards of those guys – and the guys you don’t know – the guys that they were inspired by. Everybody has a part. You know, there are probably 100 people that contribute to the guy that we know as John Lennon.

GCM: That makes sense, yeah.

VIC: I feel the same way. If I weren’t surrounded by so many cool-ass people and weirdoes…I wouldn’t have shit to say.

GCM: You play so many instruments. If someone made you say whether you were an organist, or a guitar player, or whatever else. What would you tell them?

VIC: I’m a musician. I believe in the song, you know. You got a song? ‘Cause I’m the guy that helps get the song out. Whether it’s my song or someone else’s song, I’ll play whatever’s necessary. If my hands don’t keep up, I’ll just play slide guitar. [Laughing]

GCM: You’ve worked with so many artists. Specific to punk, what was it like working in the studio, and performing live, with Rancid?

VIC: They’re a very talented band. It was never perfect. Actually it was pretty imperfect, but they really know how to communicate with each other.  They have no charm. Boring to watch. (Sarcasm) [Laughing] Hold on.

[Vic speaks to store clerk.]

GCM: What are you buying?

VIC: A humidifier. The air is so dry. It’s killing me man. I was going to put new tires on my van, but the line was so long. I forget that places are busy on a Saturday. I live so opposite to the world – like, everybody has to do errands on the weekend. Saturday is their day. [Laughing]

GCM: What is it that makes Ska music so much fun? Every time.

VIC: Well, you know, it’s dance music. Dare I say this… the fact that it never had a ‘great’ success, may have saved it. Every kind of music that has had huge success has lost the dancing. Rock made it to stadiums, and now you can’t dance to rock. Jazz made it to the philharmonic, and now you can’t dance to bee-bop. You know, but that shit was all dance music man. Reggae and Ska never lost its ‘dance-ability.’

GCM: Thankfully.

VIC: You know? You can dance with a girl to it. You can’t do that in the mosh-pit, you know. I met one of my old girlfriends that way. She was a punk chick and I wondered, like, ‘how would I have ever met this girl if it weren’t for me dancing next to her?’

GCM: You’ve got your own Wikipedia page. That’s really cool, isn’t it?

VIC: [Laughing] Yeah.

GCM: As journalists, we work with a lot of online profiles similar to this. What is your take on new media, and the way we are choosing to share ourselves now?

VIC: You know, back in the 80s they had dossiers. Like the CIA might have a dossier file on someone. They got smart. Now people make their own dossiers on MySpace and Facebook and that. It’s like, ‘who are your friends? Where do you go? What are your interests? Any recent pictures? You got pictures?’ It’s powerful stuff man. It’s all about what you choose to put out there. Like my Facebook page is a fan page. Nobody from my high school is going to get a hold of me. [Laughing] But now when we play a show, you can bet there was someone that filmed it. I figure it’s got to be good. It’s got to be good.

GCM: Is there anything upcoming that people should know about?

VIC: Well, the Slackers are 20 years old this year. We put out a compiled greatest hits, and we took polls from our fans to ask what they thought would be our top-20 songs.

GCM: Yeah, Congratulations on the accomplishment. Is that usually how artists decide what to include?

VIC: See, we just didn’t know how else to do it. We just had a questionnaire of about 1000 people. We had a good idea, but some of the poll results were a surprise.

GCM: Can we expect any Vic on vinyl?

VIC: That is actually one of my 2011 new year’s resolutions. I’m working on that.

GCM: Well thank you again for your time. Good luck with the shopping, and try to stay warm. I bet it’s cold out there too.

VIC: Oh yeah, it’s freezing. Hey, thank you for the interest. You caught me at the most convenient time possible.

You can find more Vic Online: (Official Site) (Digital Records/Releases) (Facebook Fan Page)