Jason Carson of the Supertones 
Judson College, Elgin, Illinois
October 18, 1997
By Linda T. Stonehocker
Pictures by Shari Lloyd

The Orange County Supertones were setting up for a much-anticipated Chicagoland show when The Phantom Tollbooth introduced themselves to Jason Carson, leader and drummer. The sound check was over, and it was three hours until they needed to be onstage. Plenty of time to talk, but first things first. Three hours was also enough time for "a load of whites." Jason sent all seven band members out to the RV to collect their trademark white shirts for a quick laundry run so they wouldn't be skanky for the
first of two evening shows. As the leader of the first Christian ska band to distribute a record, bursting onto the national scene only fourteen months ago, Jason knew the shows would be another aerobic workout for both the Supertones and their fans. With the load of whites on its way to a volunteer laundress, Linda Stonehocker and Shari Lloyd sat down with Carson for a mid-tour update.

Tollbooth-Tell me about this tour you're on right now. We've been hearing about extra shows being added everywhere you go.

Jason-It's been pretty crazy. We've been averaging probably 1,200 people a night, which is beyond our wildest dreams. We've had some shows double up like this where you have two shows in one night because the venues they booked aren't big enough. We've been playing every night. This is our eighteenth show in a row. We've got a day off coming up in like five to six days, but until then, we're just pushing hard. That's really hard on the band, but some kids tell us that they've been waiting all year to see us. If the averages keep up, out of forty dates that we're playing, for this tour, we'll play in front of over 70,000 people. 

Tollbooth-Why is ska so popular? What has happened?

Jason- For Christians just recently coming on to this, I think it's just something new and exciting to everyone. People realize how much fun it can be just to dance, and to see the horns.  It's new and exciting, and hopefully we're creating new boundaries in some way for Christian music.

Of course, it all started in the secular scene back in the sixties, so it's nothing new. Ska has evolved, just like any form of music.

Tollbooth-Sure. It has a long history, but what's happened recently to make it so popular?

Jason-People added in punk and all kinds of styles. What I like about our band so much is just that we're not limited in what we create. We can do whatever we want with it. Our singer was really influenced by hip-hop rap, and he does a lot of rap vocals. We add in cool and slammin' bouncy stuff. It's fun because music certainly doesn't need to have rules, although we are trying to stick to our style. 

Tollbooth-Why do you think the Supertones are so popular?

Jason-There are a lot of factors. We attribute everything to God. He's the creator of our talents and our thoughts, and he's just such a good God; and He's blessed us beyond our wildest dreams. It's always been the same band through about six or seven years, but we've only been the Supertones, with horns and everything, and going ska three of those years. 

Before those three years, we used to be a band called "Saved." Same band without the horns, and we played in front of fifty kids a night, at the most, and those were all our friends coming to the show because they knew us, not because they liked the music. There was one show we played, where there were fifty kids, but all our kids weren't at that show because it was over an hour away. We saw eleven kids get saved that night for the very first time ever, and we saw almost twenty or thirty of them recommit their lives to the Lord. No one knew our music, we didn't have a CD out, and they weren't there because of our band or anything like that. It was just a show. We were just some crummy, dumb band that no one really cared about. But we saw lives get saved and people recommit their lives to the Lord, and, to me, that's success. 

I don't see our numbers or our album sales, or popularity, or anything as success, I see those as nice blessings. I see them as, wow, God's giving us a real opportunity to reach a lot of people. But as far as success, I think it was just as successful back in the day when no one even cared, because God was even using that in a mighty way to bring people into the kingdom. It's nothing we do, that's for sure!  If it ever depended on us we'd be a joke! We're seven crummy guys. We pray that even to the Lord's face:  God, we're just seven crummy guys, use us in any way you can, and God just smiles down on His kids, and somehow uses us crummy sinners. I attribute everything to Him.

Tollbooth-How has success changed you? 

Jason-Well, it's been really hard because a lot of us are called to ministry. This is ministry, but I just graduated from Bible college in May, and Darren Mettler, our trumpet player, did too. He was a junior high director. I was running the college group at my church. A lot of other guys in the band are also involved in ministry. So I think that's the hardest thing for us --having to leave that to be on the road full time. As much as possible, when we're back, we plug right back into those churches. My church has made it so I can always lead worship whenever I'm back there for the high school group. The kids that I've been discipling since they were in sixth grade are now seniors in high school; they are actually the ones leading worship when I'm gone. There are a hundred and fifty high schoolers back at my home church that I just miss and long for, and love to disciple. That was hard leaving that, it really was. It's a blessing to be out serving God, but it's hard a lot.

Tollbooth-How so? How is it hard?

Jason-Well, like this tour. We play every night and go a lot of sleepless nights. We drive through the night almost every night, then set up a big P. A. system that fills the largest Ryder truck they rent, set up, tear down, get to bed at four o'clock every morning, hit the road. If we do get to go to a hotel that night, we hit the road by seven or eight, on three or four hours sleep, drive all day, get into a place at two, and do the whole thing over again.

Tollbooth-Maybe fit some ministry in there.

Jason-Yeah, of course. So that's really hard. Eating is ridiculous--a lot of dinners at gas stations, Twinkies, and a 20 oz. Mountain Dew. I'm sure that gets pretty wearing on our bodies. A lot of days, because of the schedule I just told you, we don't eat one bite until six in the evening just because we can't. We don't have time, or we're driving, or trying to relate. 

Tollbooth-When thirteen, fourteen, fifteen-year-old fans approach you, what do they want to know about the Supertones?

Jason-They want a free drumstick.

Tollbooth-Why?

Jason-I don't know why. I don't know if they just stick 'em in their drawers at home and throw them away later. I don't know why they want it, but I don't think people realize how expensive drum sticks are. They're like seven bucks a pair, so I only give 'em away if they're broken. If they're not, I tell 'em, tough luck.

Tollbooth-Are you a wild drummer? Do you break a lot of sticks?

Jason-I break an average number. I'm not a wild drummer. I jump off my seat at the end of the show, up in the air, and land on the cymbals. It's kind of fun.

Tollbooth-Do you break a lot of cymbals?

Jason-Ah, yeah, recently I have, actually. The more you play, the more you break.

Tollbooth--You've changed record labels. You were on Tooth'n Nail, now you're on BEC.

Jason-Sort of. It's the same company with a different name. It's just better distribution. Diamante, which used to be our old distributors, are great people and do a great job, but they distribute less than one percent of the entire music industry. EMI, which is the distributor for the new label, distributes forty-nine percent of the entire industry. The same people that ship Smashing Pumpkins and Janet Jackson ship us.

Tollbooth-Nice coattails to ride.

Jason-Our album gets into every store in America. It's in Wal-Mart, Target, Best Buy, Tower Records, Warehouse, it's pretty amazing.

Tollbooth-What has this done for you, being in so many more outlets? Are people buying it there on the strength of the cover?

Jason-I don't know if people buy it off the strength of the cover. Brandon Eble, the guy who owns Tooth 'n Nail and BEC, pushed this record so hard. He got it into the listening centers. When you walk into a record store, you'll see ten big poster things, and they'll have headphones you can just pop on. He got us featured on those.

Tollbooth-It was released on time, too.

Jason-That's the thing. It's sitting in stores a week before the release date. When the release day hits, that really is the day it comes out, everywhere in the nation. They're on the ball.

Tollbooth-Has this broadened your audience?

Jason-Oh, yeah, definitely. We've been on MTV a couple times, on 120 Minutes, and on the show Oddville. 

Tollbooth-Oddville is quite a show. What does it do for a Christian band to show up there?
 
Jason-Well, you never know. Our album sales did jump after it was on that week. We try to present the Gospel on the record. You never know. It sure could've helped our Christian witness.

Tollbooth-Do you ever get hassled in those kinds of environments for your message? 

Jason-The people on Oddsville weren't Christians, and they said we were the best band they'd ever worked with. We were the most polite and respectful, which kind of shocks me, because I know we're not that way, and we weren't even trying to be. I know we can be really rude.

Tollbooth-Crummy guys.

Jason-Yeah, exactly. We weren't really hassled in that situation, but some of the secular shows we play we get yelled at sometimes, cussed at, and the finger points, a few of those. We just tell them, "Hey, that's ok if you do that. We still love you, and more importantly, God still loves you; and nothing you can do can get away from that." If you have proper perspective, which is always hard to do, you just realize that God said if you're persecuted for bearing My name, you're blessed. We just keep that in focus.

Tollbooth-That's all the questions I have. Is there anything else you want to tell the world?

Jason-That Jesus loves them! I want to tell the whole world that.

Copyright© 1997 The Phantom Tollbooth