Suicide Victim isn't exactly what you want to see as the title for a solo project. But local musician Josh Jacka never meant the one-man band he started two years ago to be a cry for help. He just needed a way to make music during a hiatus between playing with other bands.
"I was bored and wasn't playing with anyone," says Jacka, who has played in Missoula bands such as Joey Buttafuoco and the Fuctones, Jack Top Town and Heiress Pilton "I wanted to keep mentally and physically active, so I started this project. I played all the instruments, though I'm not that good of a drummer anymore."
With only a MySpace page and two instrumental songs posted for public consumption, Suicide Victim might have stayed in complete, local obscurity if it wasn't for a couple of bands—some on the other side of the Atlantic—who took an interest in Jacka's fusion of ska and hardcore.
In spring 2009, Jacka got a message from a French ska band called Beng Beng Cocktail that wanted to record a vocal track on one of his instrumental songs originally called "Song 1." Jacka agreed and the band wrote lyrics for it, renaming the track "Waves of Death." The lyrics riff on predictable punk themes like climate change, disease and religious strife, but the song ended up being a little different from what you might get from your average North American socio-political ska punk anthem. For one thing, Beng Beng Cocktail's lyrics are delivered in French-accented gang vocals. For another, the song is overflowing with strange, lost-in-translationg lines like, "We are all on the same wave; the wave of death, covering our belongings by the blood of the raped-infancy silliness."
A few months after Jacka put "Waves of Death" on his MySpace page, two other ska bands from Canada contacted him about recording on his other MySpace track. Ska musicians Chris Hardcore from Charlotte Swallows in Newmarket, Ontario, and "Crowley" from the band Ghetto Blaster out of Toronto joined forces to record vocals on "Song 2," which became a song called "Your Victim."
"I don't know how all this happened," Jacka says. "It's a little overwhelming. These are all bands that I really enjoy listening to, and they were messaging me and asking to sing on my songs. It started to feel like a trend—and I liked it."
In fall 2009, Jacka plucked himself from his solitary realm and began playing in a full-fledged band again. At first the group called itself This Band Kills Fascists, but eventually Suicide Victim resurfaced as a solid name.
"A lot of promoters in town—I'm not going to say any names—said they wouldn't put us on the bill because This Band Kills Fascists was over the top," laughs drummer Bryan Gardner. "It kind of surprises me because Suicide Victim is out there too."
Besides Gardner on drums and Jacka on guitar, the band includes bassist Reggie Herbert and lead singer and guitarist Ryan Bilunka, who also writes the band's lyrics. The band has played only one show so far under the name Suicide Victim, but that hasn't stopped them from continuing to gain a small following overseas and in Canada, despite never touring in either place. So far, they've been on two different skacore compilations: Fuck Yourself World Wide Vol. 1, from Unknown Records out of Ontario, and Silence Equals Crisis, from Riot Ska Records out of Bristol. It's had more requests for collaboration, too, including from a band called The Infested out of Leeds, England, who wants to back them up on a newer song titled, "Til the Bleeding Stops Up." Recently, a couple of ska fans, also from Leeds, posted themselves on the band's MySpace page sporting unofficial band T-shirts with Suicide Victim silk-screened on them in bright red.
Jacka says the cross-country attention they're getting is partly due to the fact there's a strong underground following in Europe and Canada of what's called "crack rock steady"—a combination of hardcore, rocksteady and ska—that Suicide Victim fits into well.
"Hopefully next summer we can tour Europe," says Gardner. "Honestly, we might do a lot better over there, have a bigger following. I've never been in another band that's picked up so much publicity in other countries, so it's crazy. We get random comments from a fan that says, 'I can't wait for your CD to come out.'"
Still, Suicide Victim is looking for some domestic support. The band has a couple of local shows booked in the next few months. The most recent will be at the upcoming two-day festival Static Fest, put on by local musician David Johnson of Bridgebuilder. The event takes place at the 44 Bar in Ravalli and features 26 noise, metal and punk bands, most from western Montana.
In the meantime, the band is about to release its debut album, tentatively titled All We Want Is for You to Die, which will feature a few of their overseas collaborators. The band is also set to release a 7-inch split record with Army of Ants from the U.K. and another record with a German band called No Choice Left.
No Choice Left is one of the band's personal favorites, says Jacka. While finding a Montana following is certainly a goal, he says working on a cross-cultural level will always be one of the band's favorite things to do, even if it sometimes makes them feel a little isolated from the local scene.
"We're really excited to keep working with those bands," says Jacka. "Even if it is all the way across the world."
Suicide Victim plays Static Fest at the 44 Bar in Ravalli Saturday, July 24, and Sunday, July 25. Check staticfest.blogspot.com for schedule details.