Mephiskapheles is a ska band based in New York. Their name is a portmanteau of "ska" and "Mephistopheles", of Goethe's Faust. As their name suggests, their lyrics are often playfully satanic in nature.
The band began when New York hardcore band The Shaved Pigs split up, and guitarist Brendan Tween and roommate Mikal Reich decided to start a ska band. After recruiting several friends, including keyboardist Brian "Underpants" Martin, the band was formed under the name Skatterbrains. It was changed to Mephiskapheles once the band realized that another band had already taken the name.
On January 3, 1991, the band made its first public appearance, at a bar in Valley Stream, Long Island. After a small lineup shuffle that saw Andre A. Worrell (as The Nubian Nightmare) emerge as lead singer and frontman, the band recorded its demo tape titled The DEMOn. Mid-1991, trombonist Greg Robinson joined alto saxophonist Alexander McCabe and trumpeter Osho Endo in the horn section, completing the lineup known informally as The Satanic Horns. The band continued to play live, winning the Brooklyn Lager Band Search in the World Beat category, in 1992, and building a devoted fan base throughout the Northeast.
In 1993, bass player Michael Bitz joined, replacing Vattel Cherry, who had taken over from Victor Rice in early 1991, and who left the band to tour with Charles Gayle. In late 1994, Mephiskapheles released its debut album, God Bless Satan, produced by Bill Laswell and Robert Musso. Originally released on the band's own label Pass The Virgin, it saw wider release after being licensed by Moon Ska Records, starting in 1995. A video the band produced for the song "Doomsday" began receiving airplay on MTV around this time. Earlier, in its demo form, the song had been widely heard on television in New York as the soundtrack to a fitness-center commercial. Mephiskapheles was among the bands that regularly attracted capacity crowds to Wetlands during the New York City nightclub's golden era in the mid-1990s.
The band toured extensively throughout the U.S. and Europe in 1996, including making a triumphant trip to Honolulu, Hawaii to celebrate a string of three hit singles on the Hawaiian Island Charts: "Doomsday," "Saba," and "Bumble Bee Tuna." Mephiskapheles began playing frequent shows with the Blue Meanies, from Chicago, and Inspecter 7, from New Brunswick, New Jersey, during this time. Soon after Mephiskapheles' first European tour, in late 1996, drummer and creative force in the early phase, Mikal Reich, left the band to pursue a career outside of music. He was replaced by Wayne Dunton who recorded on the band's 1997 album, Maximum Perversion, and all subsequent releases. With support from Moon Ska Records, a video was filmed for the track "Break Your Ankle Punk," which featured hip-hop DJ Lyvio G.
As the band's profile continued to rise, the band embarked on a national tour with British pop-punk icons the Buzzcocks in the spring of 1997. Although McCabe, one of Mephiskapheles' main composers during the fertile mid-1990s period, had ceased touring with the band prior to the recording of Maximum Perversion, he, Endo, and Robinson were again reunited when they recorded on pop musician Moby's version of John Barry's "James Bond Theme" for the soundtrack of the film Tomorrow Never Dies. With its various remixes, "James Bond Theme (Moby's Re-Version)" was an international success, and it appeared on Moby's compilation albums I Like to Score and Go - The Very Best of Moby. In late 1998, Mephiskapheles shocked some fans' sensibilities by touring the U.S. opening for heavy-metal shock rockers Gwar.
By 1999, the band had gone through a major lineup change with Tween, Bitz, and Endo all leaving the band, for various reasons. New members, bassist Dan Jeselsohn, guitarists Bill McKinney and Dave Hahn and saxophonist Ian Hendrickson-Smith were brought in to record an album, Might-Ay White-Ay, that fused reggae, hardcore, and metal with some straight-ahead ska included for contrast. Former Skatalites trumpeter Nathan Breedlove also played on the album, but he did not tour with Mephiskapheles. After continuing to play live performances for two more years, the band stopped playing shows without any official announcement of a breakup.
After Mephiskapheles, Worrell, McKinney, Robinson, and Bitz played in the band Skull-A-Ball, although Robinson played guitar in this project. The band recorded one demo and played several shows before disbanding. Worrell also appeared with Bitz and Jeselsohn in the band Burn Guitars. The band featured three bass players, a drummer, and no guitars. This band also played numerous shows, but disbanded after recording one demo. A third band, named Tirade, spun off from Mephiskapheles and featured McKinney, Jeselsohn, and future Bouncing Souls drummer Michael McDermott, performing more heavy-metal-based material. This band also recorded one demo.
In Spring of 2012, Tween and Worrell led separate Mephiskapheles reunion shows. Worrell's lineup resurrected the 8 Iron Men-era band of 2000-01, and consisted of Worrell, Dunton, Hahn, McKinney, Jeselsohn, and Robinson, plus saxophonists Bourbon Zeigler Jr., who had toured with Mephiskapheles in the late 1990s, and Neil Johnson, who the band knew from his having been a member of The Planet Smashers and The Toasters. Tween's group, Doomsday: The Ultimate Mephiskapheles Tribute, boasted a lineup of Tween, Reich, Jeselsohn, Endo, Robinson, and McCabe, plus keyboardist Jerica Rosenblum, and performed one night in April 2012, thrilling the small crowd in an Upper West Side bar with a recital of Mephiskapheles classics. Subsequent "Doomsday" shows have included Tween, Reich, and Rosenblum with new members, and have featured other music besides Mephiskapheles songs.
Since regrouping, Mephiskapheles has continued to stay active both on tour and in the studio. Notable appearances in 2013 included featured sets at the Apple Stomp ska festival in New York and at Riot Fest in Chicago, where the band preceded T.S.O.L., Rancid, and Blink-182 on the Riot Stage. Bassist Michael Bitz returned to the band in 2013, replacing Jeselsohn who left to focus on the Brooklyn Attractors, a band he cofounded with members of Westbound Train. Guitarist Bill McKinney also departed the band in 2013, going on to found The West Kensingtons, a Philadelphia-based ska band with former members of Inspecter 7. Mephiskapheles rounded out an eventful year with gigs in support of the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and the Bouncing Souls, in addition to being the headliner for several shows.
In late 2013, founding keyboardist Brian Martin rejoined Mephiskapheles. The band played in Honolulu in February 2014 and also made tours through the Southeast and Midwest. Mephiskapheles entered the recording studio in mid-2014 to begin recording its fourth album, a self-titled EP featuring music composed by Hahn, Bitz, Worrell, and Robinson, with lyrics by Worrell. The band was joined in the studio and subsequently onstage by former Burning Spear trumpet player James K. Smith. Mephiskapheles finished 2014 with a holiday tour supporting the Slackers.
Mephiskapheles has continued to tour in 2015, mainly in the Northeast, however the band traveled to Denver, Colorado to perform along with Hepcat at Skalorado Fest. In April, Mephiskapheles recorded two new songs as part of the Converse Rubber Tracks project, at Rubber Tracks studio in Brooklyn. In June 2015, Mephiskapheles released its eponymous EP on Meph Records, in 12-inch vinyl and online digital formats. The EP was produced by Mephiskapheles, mixed by Gabe Kirchheimer, and mastered by Stephen Egerton, and can be downloaded from Bandcamp. Additional U.S. tour dates for 2015 have been announced on the band's official website.