The Hi-Lites didn't play their scheduled Warped Tour kickoff show at the Pomona Fairgrounds last Friday. Five members of the eight-piece ska band left the group due to a falling out with bassist James Trent, who also writes the band's original tunes.
"He just marginalized us," says trombone player Keith Duncan. "I have never gotten paid a dime, and I've been with the band for a year and a half."
Though Duncan and everyone else agreed that all income earned from gigs would be invested in the band, he says Trent would not give a full accounting of receipts.
"Since December, nobody in the band has had any clue of what was going on with the band's money. He never let us look at a contract."
Trent counters, "I've also never gotten a dime." He says no one ever brought up the accounting issue and that their gigs were arranged without written contracts.
Percussionist Chris Wise says he co-founded the Hi-Lites with Trent in 2004, "but he took sole proprietorship of the band in February [of this year]. Until January we were co-leaders."
Trent maintains that his bandmates didn't practice individually, as he had asked. "I met with a ton of resistance. Everyone wanted to call the shots without doing the work.... It took two years to learn 14 songs."
Wise says he was outraged with the final product of their Hi-Altitude CD, which cost $6000 to record.
"James controlled the final mix," says Wise. "Essentially, all you can hear is his vocals and his bass. I told him that he was the only one happy with his mix."
Regarding the disc's mix, Trent says a prominent bass is common on early ska records. Besides, says Trent, "I had to mix it in one evening."
On June 24, Trent gave his bandmates a letter stating he would assume "full control" of music repertoire, booking, promotion, and "all other areas of band function."
Wise says, "I felt the letter was directed at me.... I threw a cup of iced tea on him, spit in his face, and punched him."
Trent says if Wise were to hit him again he would file charges. "I'm sad he's become so emotional.... I just want to go on and be happy and them to go on and be happy."
Wise says the five members who recently bolted and two other former Hi-Lites have formed a ska cover band named the Amalgamated. Trent says he is auditioning replacement members.
The Amalgamated appears July 16 at the Casbah.