Green Day might wax poetic about nice guys finishing last, but when it comes to local six-piece band The Wicked Bees, we’re sticking with the original platitude: nice guys really do finish first.
Comprised of many original members of Ska-Skank Redemption, a popular local band that performed widely in the 2010s, The Wicked Bees is officially back after a four-year hiatus.
The reggae/ska group is set to perform at The Aquarium at Dempsey’s on July 28 to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of their self-titled EP, “Wicked Bees,” which was recorded in the Ska-Skank Redemption days, but laid the foundation for their evolution. They’ll be playing alongside fellow bands Rootz Within and The God Damn Band.
“The band is excited to start playing, writing and bringing ska/reggae music back to our region,” frontman Dan Christianson said.
And so they have. Once word got out they were playing again, band members’ phones dinged for days. This summer alone, they’ve been performing across the region on weekends and weeknights.
Plus, they also have plans for a new EP. As a 2023 Individual Arts Partnership grant recipient, The band received $1,500 in funding to hire a producer/engineer and record a five-song EP of original ska/reggae music in a professional studio.
Current band members are Dan Christianson, Andrew Ochoa, Andrew Danielson, Clyde Schuman, Dorian Walker and Isaac Homuth.
A hive’s delicate formation
The 6-piece ska/reggae group has origins dating back to 2011 when Christianson was looking for people to jam with.
The Wicked Bees drummer and also a founding member of Ska-Skank Redemption, Andrew Ochoa, recalls the sweet serendipity of meeting Christianson and other bandmates shortly after attending a Green Day concert at The Fargodome back in 2009.
“They (Green Day) do this thing where they pull a kid on stage,” Andrew Ochoa said. “At that show back in 2009, that kid was Dan Christianson.”
Green Day frontman elected Christianson to play along to “Jesus of Suburbia,” a nine-minute song.
“After seeing Dan on stage at that concert, I had to get a hold of him,” Ochoa said. “It all kind of came together.”
Bass player and sound technician Clyde Schuman, another founding member of Ska-Skank Redemption and The Wicked Bees, was checking out instruments in the music section at Best Buy. At that time, the store had a practice room he often took advantage of because nobody ever used it.
“I saw Dan walk in with another dude and was like, ‘Oh man, this kid is going to start playing a bunch of noodles for the next 45 minutes or so,” Schuman said. “Admittedly, I was like ‘I gotta get this guy out of here, so I started playing (Red Hot) Chili Peppers ‘Around the World.’ ”
Much to his surprise, Christianson picked up a guitar and started playing right along with him.
“Then I asked this kid, ‘Do you play ska?,’ and when Dan said, ‘Yeah, I play ska,’ I knew we had to jam together sometime,” Schuman said.
Other band members came along shortly afterwards, including Dorian Walker, horn, who’s also now a member of The Wicked Bees. Influenced by third-wave music like Sublime, as well as classics like The Police and The Beatles, they got on covering popular songs but eventually felt drawn to creating their own music.
“I think collectively, we have a lot of jazz and r&b in the style of George Clinton and the Parliamentary Funk—anything that’s got really well done horn lines with a very in-your-face ‘we don’t care they’re there’ feel,” Schuman said.
In 2011, Ska-Skank Redemption released “Wicked Bees,” a move that landed them bigger gigs at Vans Warped Tour in Shakopee, Minn., and Sonshine Music Festival in Willmar, Minn. When they were just three weeks old as a band, they opened for popular band Fishbone, and also played a 311 show in Minneapolis.
“I don’t know if that would have been an option if we’d been from a larger city,” Christianson said. “There are some benefits living in the place most bands consider a stopover on their way to Seattle.”
Even with their success, after seven years and countless gigs, it was time for a break.
Breaks are good for the soul
Ska-Skank Redemption played their last show together in 2018, but band members have continued to circle around one another in unexpected ways.
“We all left on good terms,” Ochoa said. “Some of us got married, had kids, you know, we grew up a little.”
During that time, Ochoa recalls feeling a sense of pride in his fellow bandmates. Christianson is now a high school band director in West Fargo. Ochoa is an electrician. Schuman works sound at music venues such as Dempseys and The Aquarium. New member Andrew Danielson is also a band teacher in the area.
“Even though we weren’t playing, it was cool to see all of us still grow. Time went on and the demand was still kind of there. And as soon as we got back … we were just happy to get back to playing. We still have a lot of the same stuff we used to do that people love, but we’ve learned a lot more too.”
Alongside creating music and performing, The Wicked Bees band members tag team promotional efforts among themselves.
It’s an unfortunate but necessary extra job for local artists and musicians to put in time building social media campaigns, organizing events, creating videos and other content that keeps listeners tuned into their music.
“It’s like a continual push and pull kind of balance between like your craft and the self promotion,” Christianson said.
Newcomer Danielson likes to keep things focused on the long-term. “I’m in this for the long haul as long as these guys are making good music,” he said. “We’re releasing that new EP within the year here. It’ll be really exciting for us.”
It seems the feeling is mutual for other band members, too.
“It’s exhilarating,” Schuman said. “I don’t know how else to put it.”
About the author
Lonna Whiting is a freelance writer and owner of lonna.co, a content marketing and communications agency located in Fargo, North Dakota. She is a frequent contributor to The Arts Partnership and also provides strategic communications consultation to the organization.