Beginning six years ago as a two-piece acoustic set, On Display has blossomed into a nine-member band that blends a trio of horns, well-written lyrics and an up-tempo rhythm, creating its distinct, ska-influenced sound.
With the majority of the members holding down full-time jobs, On Display has been forced to find ways to work around everyone’s diversions as they continue to play a vital part in Philadelphia’s ska music scene.
Band co-founder Tom Rice, a 2008 Temple alumnus, said the band isn’t naive enough to think breaking through in the music industry is easy, which is why the members retain their day jobs. In turn, he said the facet of working a job with daytime hours makes it easier to be a part of the band, which usually practices at night.
Last year, On Display released its second full-length album, “Spotlight on Nothing,” and won Radio 104.5’s Battle of the Garage Bands competition. The group plans to head back to the studio this summer to record its second EP. After a southern tour featuring stops in Washington, D.C., and North Carolina, the band will find its way back home for an April 2 show at the Trocadero. Before beginning the tour, Rice took time to catch up with The Temple News.
The Temple News: How much of a do-it-yourself attitude does On Display employ?
Tom Rice: We’re pretty much all DIY. We don’t have a manager [and] we don’t have a record level or anything like that. To be honest with you, I’d love to have someone take some of that responsibility, but I think that with a band like this – with so many different people, opinions and personalities – you kind of have to let everyone get their voice heard. So just having that mentality of, “This is our band, we’re going to do it our way,” makes sure that everyone’s voice is included. It’s very important for us to maintain that.
TTN: How did your time at Temple help you with your music career?
TR: With any college campus there’s a lot of artists that are really getting their foothold in music and things like that. Just going out at night and going around Temple let me hear people who were honing their skills. That’s the time that you develop as an artist and really find your voice. I think Temple has a great mix of all different genres.
TTN: How is it to play in front of audiences that have never heard your music before?
TR: We just want to play in front of as many people as possible. We’ve been doing this for long enough that we can kind of know whether a show is going to be good or not. We’ve played shows in front of hundreds of people; we’ve played in front of five people. But the way we look at it is, if we can get one or two people to check us out after the show then it’s not a complete loss.
TTN: Are you nervous to be playing in front of a crowd?
TR: It’s not really nervousness, as much as frustration when you get up on stage and the crowd isn’t really into it or anything, but you just go with it. Not all of your shows are going to be perfect. Just take it as it comes.
TTN: What’s the energy level usually like at a Philly show?
TR: We’re all from Philly, and it usually is just the pride that comes from being from a city like this. Trust me, there are shows in Philly where you know that people just don’t like you. But, that’s just Philadelphia. When they’re into you, it’s awesome, one of the best audiences you can play for.
TTN: What’s happens when they don’t like you?
TR: Being a ska band, people don’t know what to make of us. We’re somewhere between pop-punk and reggae and other stuff, so it gets a little weird sometimes. The worst thing is when people just sit there and watch you with no reaction. I’d rather have someone jump up and tell us that we’re terrible than sit there with arms folded and don’t move.
Matthew Breen can be reached at email@example.com.