The Seatbelts are not really a ska band, nor are they even a proper band that tours and performs live. In fact, they were formed by composer Yoko Kanno in order to produce the soundtrack for the anime Cowboy Bebop. When a friend had me watch the show back in high school, I wasn’t drawn to the animation or much to the story, but the soundtrack was the coolest bunch of music I’d ever heard.
Cowboy Bebop was made by Shinichiro Watanabe, a director known for his incredibly stylistic anime centered around a particular genre of music. I liked Cowboy Bebop [a series about space bounty hunters set to mostly jazz and funk] and his next series, Samurai Champloo [about three travelers during feudal times in Japan, set exclusively to hip hop]. As a result, if I ever see spaceships dueling in a film noir sort of way, I’m sure I will hear The Seatbelts in the back of my head.
I classified them under ‘ska’ because some of the stuff they play is ska and it’s the closest to what their band configuration looks like. The Seatbelts had more than 35 musicians working all over the world, in Tokyo, Paris, New York and elsewhere. The New York crew had their music produced, recorded and mixed by none other than the jazz recording legend Rudy Van Gelder, who handled the bulk of Blue Note Records’ bebop sessions in the ’50s and ’60s. So how did they deal with bebop? Here’s the opening titles of the show, to Tank!:
I really like their work there, but I most appreciate the really ‘big band’ tunes they did. Yoko Kanno is a genius composer and set up The Seatbelts with a repertoire of lighter combo music, big band swingers at breakneck speed and some funky tunes with the full complement. When I started listening to The Seatbelts back in high school, I was getting into the jazz improvisation thing and I did take some licks from tracks like Rush:
Because the anime, Cowboy Bebop, was all about action and fight sequences, there was a lot of contrast in the tunes the band played. About half are low-key, cool and slow. The other half are up-tempo, high-energy and ready to bite your head off. On occasion they really give off a sort of ‘Tower of Power’ vibe. What Planet Is This?!:
That vamp at 3:25 gets me every time.
Unfortunately, The Seatbelts disbanded after providing the soundtrack for the last Cowboy Bebop project back in 2004. They only played a handful of live shows, mostly for Japanese fans of the anime, and that’s it. If you ever want to hear more of The Seatbelts, I suggest checking out the anime — there are only 26 episodes, and while I usually dislike anime, I was pretty down with this one.