Easy Star All-Stars' Mission Is to Bring Reggae "to the Masses" With Dub Side of the Moon
Since the 1970s, rock bands have feverishly plundered the reggae springing out of the islands of the Caribbean and the West Indian neighborhoods of London and New York. Clapton, Blondie, and Led Zeppelin all either covered or lovingly entwined their own sound with the bass-heavy grooves of everything from dub to dancehall. Some have worked -- check the Clash's cover of "Police and Thieves" -- some not so much -- see Bryan Adams' "Reggae Christmas."
Photo by Jammi York
New York-based dub collective Easy Star All-Stars flipped this phenomenon a decade ago when they playfully spat back a reggae reworking of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon. The aptly titled Dub Side of the Moon expertly applied the trippy mysticism of dub to the prog-rock behemoth and has become a bona fide classic in its own right. Since then, the collective has refurnished Radiohead's OK Computer and the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with their own distinctive brand of spaced-out dub with startling results, as well as recording a well-received album of their own compositions, 2011's First Light.
Now ten years on from Dub Side..., the Easy Star All-Stars return to South Florida to play Fort Lauderdale's Culture Room as part of their tour of the U.S. celebrating the album's big 1-0 birthday. Easy Star's own "Queen of Dub" Kirsty Rock took time between shows to speak with us.
New Times: You're in Vermont at the moment, not the kind of place immediately associated with reggae.
Kirsty Rock: Vermont is a place to retreat, when you're on the road and you're super saturated with people all the time, it's nice to recharge, be creative again. I'm an extreme introvert and an extreme extrovert as well!
Why do you think this album still sounds as fresh as it did a decade back?
I think that it's the timelessness of reggae music. You can put those old classic reggae albums on and there's something about the quality of the recordings that makes you want to listen to them over and over again. Our producer, Michael G captured that on Dub Star... and with the guest artists that we had on there we had these timeless vocalists as well.
What are your memories about the recording of the album?
Well this was the first big production that Easy Star records had done in terms of conceptualizing and recording. It was all done in a low budget, really rootsy way and that is captured in the recording. I was in Victor Axelrod's (Easy Star's founding member) basement recording the vocals, crouching under pipes in this shanty little basement studio in Brooklyn. All that grittiness of us just starting out was definitely captured.
Did members of Pink Floyd like what you created?
We got the thumbs up, we got the seal of approval.
The collective has reggaed up albums by Radiohead and the Beatles. How do you select an album to reimagine?
Well, I think it's a combination of a few things, the band puts in their opinion, the label sources what the fans are looking at, and then we look at the appeal of the project in terms of reaching people, bring reggae music to a larger audience. It's always kind of been a mission statement of Easy Star records to bring this music to the masses. They've done an amazing job of that.
Are you surprised by the success the albums you've done with Easy Star have had?
Absolutely, I never in a million years thought that Easy Star would be taking me to Russia, Thailand, South America, and Africa. Even in my own experience, just showing up in a country and hearing Dub Side on a beach in Mexico -- it's been such a rootsy spread of the music. Remember, Easy Star is an independent label and run by people who really care about keeping the roots of reggae music alive, I'm really proud to be a part of that.
Any places that stand out?
So many places. In Thailand it was amazing to the reggae culture saturated and accepted. There's so many places I never thought we would go, where people are taking the music and singing it in their own languages. It's great to arrive in a country and see the local bands playing their own reggae in a language I don't understand, but it's all with the same intention, the same positivity with the movement in mind.
What can we expect to see at the show at Culture Room on April 27?
You're definitely going to get a full Dub Side, and we've created a whole new beginning and ending to the show, people are going to be surprised. We've got some original material and we'll obviously do some requests from people. It's a real combination of everything from Easy Star; from stuff that we've reconstructed and our original material.
I was going to ask, can we expect a follow up to First Light, Easy Star's first album of original material?
Absolutely. I'm personally working on a solo project and so are the other members, as well as collaborating together. Once that material has been organized, we'll figure out if it's going to be released as individual releases or a full Easy Star original album.
We're on the road too, so you write in hotel rooms, on the road, car, train, even running. It's a combination of trying to keep the music organic and also trying to get stuff done. We don't do a lot of recording when touring, but sometimes we get to jump in the studio on the road if people want us to record.
After this, are you playing any festivals over the summer?
We're playing Jazz Fest in New Orleans, a festival in Austin, and then once we hit Europe it's all festivals. The U.K. is one of the best places for us, they've always been so supportive of us. We love going there! We over indulge in fish 'n' chips... The English know how to throw a festival.
We've been down to Florida quite a bit - unfortunately last time we were here, Mother Nature didn't really cooperate. We are friends with Mother Nature, but she's not always friends with us. We get to Florida when the weather is cooperating, hopefully she will this time!
Easy Star All-Stars ten-year anniversary of Dub Side of the Moon tour. 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 27, at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $15 plus fees. It's an all-ages show.