Mustard had the pleasure of speaking with Esteban Flores. Together we discussed when they first began playing music, being in three notable ska bands, Skacore Cartel, the current ska scene, and so much more!

1. Mustard is thankful to have you join them at Music Shelf. How are you doing today?

I’m doing pretty ok today, I’m a little tired from this past weekend. I had a holiday party at work Saturday and I played with JER; opening up for Fishbone yesterday in Portland. Today I’m going to take it slow lol.

2. Mustard wonders when you first began playing music. What are some of your earliest music memories?

I began playing music pretty late.Most kids start at like 5/6 years old but I didn’t touch an instrument til maybe 13? Or 14. I was in choir which was just something I tried to do so I can get credits for high school but it wasn’t serious at all. Probably learning to play little melodies on piano in my room was my earliest memory, I started twinkle twinkle little star and got as far as the super Mario theme – thanks to guitar pro.

3. Is there a song or album that had a significant impact on you? Could you share more?

Man, The Doors in general is what got me going as a keyboardist. Jim Morrison is charismatic but Ray Manzarek was the brain of the operation. I think I’d have to go with a song like Spanish Caravan that captivated me with a great solo or even the gentleness of Crystal Ship which left me in a trace with as somber tone. Ray’s keyboard playing demanded a lot of the bands moment too since he was the most musically learned in the group. I aim to compliment yet direct with my keys when it comes to contributing towards a bands sound.

4. You helped found The Skacore Cartel along with Lucas Jakaboi. Can you recall when the idea of The Skacore Cartel first came about? Does Skacore Cartel have anything new coming up?

Actually the cartel was way before my time. Matamoska members, Jose Padilla, Hector Rivera, and Richard Sanchez founded the cartel as a medium to put their music on a platform back in the early 2000s. Matamoska didn’t use that pseudonym for a while until I came into the picture. I had previously thrown shows but took a break to pursuit college and when I was finishing up I decided to let go of my old moniker and adopt the cartel with Jose to help mata fund with touring and recording.

Jose got too busy and I started using the Cartel as my own medium to release creative endeavors whether by recording audio and visual or helping with booking. Lucas was a great addition because his intention was also pure, he didn’t seek money or clout. He just wanted to help the scene in which he did so much backbone work too. Most notably, the quarantine for a cause series he helped edit the videos while I mixed. Currently I had established a family and Lucas is playing with Matamoska almost most of the year. So the cartel is in the back burner til I can spitball an idea and run it past him.

5. Skacore Cartel’s mission is to bring music and community together. What are some events that Skacore Cortel have done in their community? How can someone get involved?

We did quarantine for a cause which was a good distraction from the pandemic because no one was playing so I offered a space to create while all proceeds of the stream go for a just cause. We did it local first then we went international with some of my favorite bands playing. We also did Music for Minneapolis which was a digital comp I established with Lucas to helps fund for Act Blue which helped out the George Floyd incident and its protesters. Big shout outs to Catbite for that one, they started the idea and I just followed suit.

6. You play in three bands: Catbite, Matamoska!, and The Bandulus each influenced in ska with different sounds. Mustard wonders how you discovered each. How do you prepare for each? 

Oh wow, its a long story but to cut it as short as I can. Matamoska I joined when I was 17 – I previously asked Jose if I can join but he half-hearted denied me because of my age (theres a 10 year age gap between me and the originals of the band) but soon had a change in option when he saw me play with one of my old bands. He probably saw the potential and rolled with it lol .

Bandulus -I met through my buddy Curtis and Morgan who play drum and bass in the band. I had met those dudes in a previous recording session and later had gotten an offer to play as their touring guy for a few runs. When I moved up to Oregon, naturally I went with them since they were the closest band to base myself in.

Catbite – I can kind of say I was in Catbite since day 1? (Is that a hot take?) I was definitely in the first recording session which was also Chris’s first session as their drummer in general. I was on a small vacation since I just graduated college, drove to Vegas to play PRB with The Steady 45s and then jumped on a plane to play supernova ska fest with Matamoska and Steady 45s. When all of that was over my wife and I took extra days to explore the coast. Brit asked me if I can lend my keyboard and she recorded the first Catbite demo with that. I drunkenly recorded rhythm and a solo for their Miss Ann cover and that was sort of my first “in” with the band. They’ve been family ever since!

7. Would you say the ska scene is different now than when you first started? What are some differences? What has remained the same?

Yeah! Now a days some may say I’m an “OG” in my native ska scene in LA. I’ve been going to ska shows since I was 13 back in 2005. I seen a lot of chance in bands, venues, demographic and all. Most notably for me, I noticed the differences in worlds between my ska scene and the scene outside of it. We are sort of like out own little ecosphere and we produce and flourish our own crops (bands and fans).

When I was 14 I went to this festival called “Skacore Invasion” and it was the first of its kind where a stacked line up of local ska bands united kids. I would say the turn out was maybe 500-800 kids that time, all diverse in their own background and POCs. Looking just like me with brown skin, punk wear, colored hair and everything…and about every 4 years the turn outs got bigger from 800 to 1200 to 1500 and so on. Now a days a sold out show in an LA ska festival would be 2500-3000 and the line up of bands would be astronomical…making it an all day bash. Its like seeing your little brother grow right before your eyes, its crazy and something I’m very prideful for.

8. Who or what influences you?

There’s tons of things and the list gets bigger now. Life wise – My singer and my best friend Jose Padilla taught me so much about resilience and self preservation which facing hardship such as life, school, and love. My brothers and sisters still show me to be in touch with my inner child, never take things too seriously and always have fun. My mom and wife teaches me so much about courage and strength in facing adversity and they’re my foundation whenever things get shaken. My daughter is my source of strength too where I want to be a better person for her. Music wise? – there’s so many but Armando Vasquez, Oki from TSPO, Tony Media, Vic and Roger are my mains in inspiration for keys. No one does it better than those dudes and probably die on that hill

9. Besides ska, what are other genres of music do you like to listen too? Who do you recommend humans check out?

CUMBIA! A LOT AND A LOT OF CUMBIA, I keep telling my brother whom I talk to almost daily now that if I wasn’t playing ska or reggae, I’d definitely get into Cumbia and Afro Latino. Its such an other worldly groove, nothing can compare and in some sense theres a “ska” element with the offbeats. Anything within the world of Latin music is amicable for all styles. (Listen to Juanecho y Su Combo, Chicha Libre, La Sonora Dinamita, Banda Macho, Grupo Kual) I listen to a ton of hip hop now a days, I find beats that are catchy or soothing or something appealing and I just dig into it (listen to People under the stairs, Murs, Gangstarr, Nujabes, MCylopedia) Then there’s rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and things in that realm.

10. What is next for Esteban Flores?

Right now I’m cooling down for the last few weeks of the year.I have one more show this weekend with Matamoska and then no shows til 1/14 with Bandulus!

2023 looks promising with several tours and some recording with all these bands 🙂

11. Where can readers listen to your music?

Spotify, Apple music, Soundcloud, Youtube, Bandcamp! Just look up my name Esteban Flores Valenzuela, or my bands Matamoska, Catbite, or The Bandulus. 


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