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Fishbone Back on Its Mission

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As a youth from South-Central Los Angeles who was bused to school in the San Fernando Valley, Fishbone’s bassist Norwood Fisher had high hopes for society.

“I grew up thinking that everything was getting better,” says Fisher, 34. “In the very early Fishbone interviews, I remember just coming out and saying that.”

Nowadays, he isn’t so sure. “A lot of people constantly do things to try and make a change, but a lot will never understand. People admire Hitler, you know?”

So maybe this is a good time for Fishbone--which has just released its first album in four years--to rise again.

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The band burst onto the L.A. scene in the mid-'80s with a politically charged party music that was equal parts ska, funk, punk, metal, soul and reggae. It was a blend that somehow made it easy to imagine society’s color lines one day being similarly erased.

Fishbone became a critical and fan favorite in the city’s rock scene, and went on to release four albums for Columbia Records. Its top seller: “The Reality of My Surroundings,” which made the Top 50 in 1991 and included Fishbone’s best-known songs, “Everyday Sunshine” and “Sunless Saturday.”

Group Was Dropped After ’93 Release

But the musicians soon became frustrated by what they viewed as the label’s failure to promote the next album, 1993’s “Give a Monkey a Brain . . . And He’ll Swear He’s the Center of the Universe.” Their anger intensified when Fishbone was subsequently dropped from the label due to poor sales.

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“The record was out, and we were on the road,” Fisher says. “And our hard-core fans didn’t know we had a new record. I called my mother from the road, and she was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you had a record out.’ ”

Now having gained some distance and perspective on their past travails, Fisher says, “We can come back with a more upbeat thing.”

Indeed, the sprawling new collection, “Fishbone & the Familyhood Nextperience Presents the Psychotic Friends Nuttwerx,” on Hollywood Records, is noticeably less caustic than its 1996 predecessor, “Chim Chim’s Badass Revenge.”

Fisher calls that album “a temper tantrum” following Fishbone’s departure from Columbia. Flashing his wide grin, lead singer Angelo Moore adds, “That was when our heads just exploded with anger and fury at the music business.”

Fishbone is back, but the period had its casualties. Of the original sextet, only Moore, Fisher and trumpeter Walter “Dirty Walt” Kibby II remain. They are joined by fresh recruits Spacey T (guitar), John McKnight (trumpet, organ) and John Steward (drums).

Lineup changes or no, Fishbone isn’t about to give up its mandate to make people think while shakin’ their booties.

Moore notes that the concept of “familyhood” is central to such tracks on the new album as “One Planet People” and the Sly & the Family Stone song “Everybody Is a Star.”

“They’re about everybody coming together,” he says. “We’re all one people on one planet, and we ain’t goin’ nowhere, so let’s get along.”

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On the album, the band drives home messages of unity, karma, heartbreak and lust with help from a wide variety of guests, including George Clinton, Rick James, Perry Farrell, Gwen Stefani (Fishbone will appear April 14 at the Universal Amphitheatre with her band No Doubt), Donny Osmond (!) and members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

It was easy lining up celebrity pals, but it was tougher finding a drummer to replace Dion Murdock, who departed for Macy Gray’s band after sessions began. (Five players, including Moore, ended up filling the role.) “Fishbone material always seemed easy to me,” says Fisher, laughing. “But once we started auditioning drummers, we kept hearing how difficult, musically, we had made it for people.”

It used to be similarly difficult for label executives and record-store clerks to categorize Fishbone, but the duo thinks two decades of genre-blending in pop will make new listeners more likely to connect. Still, given the chance to start all over, Fisher and Moore say they’d still choose to lead the stylistic charge, rather than follow it.

“There’s only one thing I would change,” Fisher says. “I went to LACC [L.A. City College] briefly, and now I would take a business class instead of that philosophy class.”

BE THERE

Fishbone, Friday at the Galaxy Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. 8 p.m. $17.50. (714) 957-0600. Also April 14 with No Doubt at the Universal Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, 8:15 p.m. Sold out. (818) 622-4440.


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