Interviews

Three Bad Jacks on South Florida as "the Wild West," Its DIY Ethic, and Staying Indie

Three Bad Jacks is a rarity in music. The band's been together for almost two decades, touring since it formed in Los Angeles in 1995, and members still manage it themselves.

Even after performing with such music legends as Joe Strummer and Dwight Yoakam, along with creating a springboard for the West Coast sound, guitarist and lead singer Elvis Suissa still books every gig.

"We've survived. Most bands are together for three years and then they're done," he says. "Being significant and still being able to headline theaters is sort of a miracle."

The rockabilly-psychobilly trio will be bringing its raucous sounds to the Kreepy Tiki Lounge in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday night, alongside South Florida locals the Riot Act and Jangle Leg.

The band typically performs 250 shows a year and has sold out venues from Hollywood to New York, according to the band's website. Suissa credits the band's loyal fan base with keeping Three Bad Jacks alive. Its song "Hellbound Train" ended up landing in a Season 2 episode of the HBO series True Blood because one of the band's fans wrote to the producers about getting its music on the show.

Despite being featured in major media outlets as an independent band, Suissa says going it alone occasionally has its downsides. "Although we can still headline theaters in many markets, it's hard to sell yourself," he says. However, they're still happy keeping things DIY.

"Major labels don't invest in off-the-wall shit; they keep it safe, and we learned it firsthand," he reveals. "We had to ask ourselves, 'Do we want to stay indie or not?' Thank God we didn't. Indie is a powerful tool. If you go out and do your thing, people will notice."

In honor of the band's 20th anniversary next year, its first album, Made of Stone, will be released in limited-edition vinyl and is being remastered by Howie Weinberg, who has worked with the Smashing Pumpkins and Spoon. They're hoping to begin on a new album in January.

Every Three Bad Jacks show is different; on some occasions the band has even lit its upright bass on fire. Another kicker: It never uses a set list. "If the show doesn't work out, I don't care. I just came to play anyway," Suissa says. "I don't have any grand delusions; I just want to play rock 'n' roll."

If a venue has a lighter crowd, Suissa will give a show with a more acoustic feel. If it's more punk rock, "I'll melt the room," he says. "It depends on the crowd or how I feel."

All three bands at this week's Kreepy Tiki on Sunday night are required to perform three Elvis Presley songs for the show, which also includes a car show and pinup contest -- the winner of which will be chosen by the audience.

Three Bad Jacks enjoys playing in South Florida because Suissa sees it is an untapped market, not dedicated to one style of music. The guys are excited to return. "[South Floridians] really appreciate what we do. It's like the Wild West; there are no rules out there."

Three Bad Jacks with the Riot Act and Jangle Leg, October 19, at Kreepy Tiki Lounge, 2608 S Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $10. Doors open at 8 p.m. Visit kreepytikitattoos.com.

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Olivia Feldman
Contact: Olivia Feldman