Vocalist Caz Gardiner has been fronting D.C. ska bands for years, and her latest project, Caz and The Day Laborers, will make its debut on Friday at the Rock & Roll Hotel. The group includes longtime members of D.C. ska mainstays The Pietasters—-guitarist Jorge Pezzimenti,  keyboardist/guitarist Dan Schneider, and drummer Curtis Reaves Jr.—-as well as bassist Jorge E. Bañales (The Ambitions), and keyboardist Teddy “Dos Dedos” García (Los Granadians). They’ll also play a few songs from Pezzimenti’s other side project, Jorge and the Landladies.

Caz and the Day Laborers plan to release an EP next year; it’s being mixed now by Victor Rice, who is known for his work with New York’s Moon Records. (Scroll down for a video of Rice creating a fantastic dub version of the song “You Got It.”)  I talked to Gardiner (whose resume includes The Checkered Cabs, the New York Ska Jazz Ensemble, The Victor Rice Octet, The Pressure Sounds, Caz and The Commotions, The Ambitions and the Bandhouse Gigs) earlier this week about the new band and why it seems different from anything she’s done before:

City Paper: “Caz and the Day Laborers” is one of the more tongue-in-cheek band names that I’ve heard in awhile. Explain how you chose it.

Caz Gardiner: Actually the band chose it … the majority of the guys in the band are either of Latin American or Spanish descent. We were sitting there, just trying to go through names, and it just sort of became apparent that it was humorous [laughs], so we decided to go with that name as opposed to any of the others that were thrown out on the table that day.

CP: Has anybody given you trouble about the name yet?

CG: No, not at all … I’ve notice that when we first say it, they go like, “oh, OK,” and I think they’re just busy thinking that there’s a new band. They’re not thinking of the name yet.

CP: The joke hasn’t quite sunk in.

CG: No … you have to almost explain it.

CP: This is your first official show together, right?

CG: Yes.

CP: How did you land the Rock & Roll Hotel as the venue?

CG: I was looking for shows that the band could do, especially within our time frame, because so many people in the band are in so many other bands, and originally I was trying to get on a bill, and that wasn’t quite working out, so I ended up talking to [booking manager] Steve Lambert at some point … he wrote me back with this date, saying that it was open, and that I could just basically set it up however I wanted to do it … so immediately I had to track down the bands that I thought would be great with it, and I talked to the The Evokatones and The Scotch Bonnets.

CP: Where are those other two bands from? And why did you pick them, particularly?

CG: They’re both from Baltimore, and they’re ska bands that have been in the area … and I knew that it was our debut, but we’ve all been doing this for so long in other bands that I just figured it was a good mix of styles and local feeling—-or as local as you can get in D.C., because you don’t have too many local [ska] bands. Although there will be more soon.

CP: The ska scene has started to slow down, I guess.

CG: Well, it’s starting to pick back up. That’s definitely becoming apparent. … And, y’know, the ska scene stays underground—-even when it’s doing well, it’s doing quietly well. There’s always some band that you can find somewhere to play a gig.

CP: For you, why ska music? Why bother? Why stick with it? What is it that keeps pulling you back to it?

CG: This band, actually, isn’t as “ska” as bands I’ve been in, in the past. This is probably the most rocksteady/reggae band I’ve ever been with … the Pressure Sounds was the closest to what’s going on right now. To me, this is closer to reggae, it’s much more serious.

CP: When you say “serious,” what do you mean?

CG: Well, the other bands, I would say, were a lot more lighthearted, the subject matter was lighthearted, the style of playing was more fun/friendly. This is more thoughtful, it’s more sensitive … and it’s kind of angry, actually.

CP: In what way?

CG: The subject matter … one of the songs I wrote, I was sick last year, and I got this condition which has luckily subsided, and it was extremely painful, and there was no way to gauge how long it was going to last. I did MRIs, I did all these things, and it was very painful. It’s this condition that they actually dub as “the suicide disease.” Y’know, as I was going through it, I was like, “yeah, I could see that.” It’s this very isolated illness, nobody could actually see it, it affects your nerves in your face. … I just remember, whenever you’re really sick, there’s always something you could be sicker with. Y’know, people always say, “well, you could have this” … and I would think that: It could be worse. And so I wrote this song called “Grateful,” but part of it is angry. I say things like, “Everybody says to calm down.” Y’know, that’s what they say, but if they only knew what I’m going through. Because you can’t see it, you have no idea.

CP: “If they only knew what I’m going through” is sort of a universal reggae theme, in a lot of ways.

CG: Yeah … I was thinking that I’m making this about this condition, but I never say that’s what it is. So there’s that, and there’s this other song called “Intentions,” where I’m asking somebody, “Why are you smiling at me when you mean to harm me?” [She laughs.] I didn’t write things like that before, I wrote about like, y’know, love, and being happy, and this is a totally different subject matter. And the musicians in the band … even though we’re playing reggae, rocksteady … there’s aggression in it. There’s a kind of like, heaviness to it.

CP: It’s a controlled aggression, from what I’ve heard, though.

CG: Yes. … To me, this is different. It may not be different to others, but to me, it’s very different.

CP: So what’s next for this band? You’ve been in quite a few already … every time you get involved with a new band, do you wonder if this one is going to break through? Or is this band one where you decided to make music and see where it goes from here?

CG: Almost every band I’m in, I decide that. … I’ve never thought that I’m gonna make it big or anything like that. I just try to do what I love to do, and be good at it, and enjoy it. Because in the end, even if you’re extremely successful, you still want to love it. I’m excited about this band because I really hope that we get to play out … for me, I just really love performing. It’s my top priority … ultimately I just love being onstage and getting that energy from a crowd.

CP: So what should people expect Friday night?

CG: It think it’s going to be really surprising. … I think that Jorge Pezzimenti and I, our voices when we sing together at various times, it’s just like the coolest thing ever. I’m surprised by the way we sound. And I’m hoping that people are equally surprised and exicted by it.

Caz and the Day Laborers play with The Scotch Bonnets and The Evokatones on Friday at the Rock & Roll Hotel.