Reggae on the Rocks 2015 is almost here, with a lineup like no other. On Saturday, August 22nd, Sublime with Rome, Pepper, Third World, Wailing Souls, Mighty Diamond, Judge Roughneck and a hidden gem, John Brown’s Body will preform under the stars, nestled in the Rocky Mountains. John Brown’s Body is a future roots, reggae and dub group that formed around 1996 and 1997. This will be JBB’s second time preforming at Red Rocks, but will feel like the first time playing since the band regrouped around 2000, as a few members left and new musicians joined. JBB is a major player in the modern American reggae scene, defining, developing and pushing the genre of future roots. They’re serious about releasing records; they have ten official albums to this date. Most recently, they rereleased one of their albums, Kings & Queens (2013) with dub remixes- Kings & Queens in Dub. Check it out here.
Recently, Bass Feeds The Soul interviewed Tommy Benedetti, JBB’s drummer and one of the original members. Check it out below!
BFS: Hi Tommy!
Tommy: Hey! What’s happening?
BFS: Nothing much. My name’s Sami and I work for the music blog, Bass Feeds The Soul, based in Boulder, Colorado. How are you doing?
Tommy: Right on. I’m good Sami, how’s it going today?
BFS: Great! Just starting off the day.
Tommy: Where are you at?
BFS: I’m in New Jersey. Where are you?
Tommy: Oh, New Jersey, all right cool. I’m in Boston.
BFS: Nice nice. I’m going to ask you some questions today about your band, John Brown’s Body. Ready?
Tommy: Sounds good.
BFS: Can you give me some backstory on your bands name? I know it’s in connection with abolitionist John Brown, but I want to hear a little more.
Tommy: Yeah, that’s correct. We are named for John Brown, the abolitionist. We were named by one of our old singers and founding member, Kevin Kinsella. He was really interested in the story, the history and what Brown stood for. It’s kind of an untold story; at least I don’t remember being taught about what Brown stood for when I was growing up in school. It’s just a fascinating story and piece of the country’s history. We look at the body as not just a physical form, but a group, a mass of people. And back then, during the early days of our band, we were a minority in doing what we were doing. There wasn’t the kind of American reggae scene that exists today. We thought it was a name that would allow us to carve out our own sound. It wasn’t a cliché reggae group name, so it stuck.
BFS: That’s really interesting. I really love American history, so I totally vibe with the name. It’s very unique.
BFS: You guys have been together for a long time and you’re still getting a lot of albums out. Do you think your sound is different today compared to when the band was incarnated?
Tommy: I think our sound has definitely changed. If you listen to our first couple of songs and then listen to our newer music, you can definitely hear a progression in the sound and in the instrumental talent. I think we’ve gotten a lot better and have developed our unique sound, which has always been the goal of the band. We’ve always wanted to have our own sound and our own approach. Our band started off as a traditional roots band, compositionally, and even lyric wise, with Kevin, the old lead singer. And somewhere around 2000, Elliot Martin the other singer at the time (the lead singer in our band today), started writing more and the sound started modernizing. Our music was harder, edgier, a lot more creative in terms of groove and rhythm. Our music got a lot deeper. We got deeper into the bass sound, deeper into textures, and that’s kind of where the band is at today. We just recorded another half dozen songs in Boston that we’re going to release sometime soon. I think that the songs Elliot writes are as good as the older group, and that’s important to us; we want to write good music. We want to be creative, push the genre and ourselves.
BFS: So this upcoming year, the band will celebrate it’s twentieth year together, correct?
Tommy: We’re getting there. It’s a little blurry because we started around ‘96/’97. I think it was ’96. Coming up on 2016, we’ll be going into our twentieth year as a band. Of course over the years, there have been many changes with the band- people leaving, new people joining. I’ve been with the band since day 1, so I’m the old guy haha.
BFS: Haha. Do you have any special plans for celebrating 20 years?
Tommy: Ya know, it’s a little early to say. Our team is working on some stuff. We’re excited to drop new music for sure. In the past couple of years, we kind of refocused ourselves. We did tour still as all bands have to, but we really honed in on recording and releasing music because in the past, we had long spaces between records. We’ve been paying more attention to releasing music instead of flogging away on the road 150 days a year. Now, we generally do more select and strategic touring and really concentrate on recording. We just put out a dub record, which I think is really super cool. We’re going to try to keep fresh, keep music coming for the fans and ourselves and I’m sure there’ll be some special shows and exciting things coming up in 2016, but it’s a little early to say exactly what’s going to happen.
BFS: I gotcha. I’m excited for the new music!
BFS: Reggae on the rocks is coming up. Is this going to be the band’s first time preforming at Red Rocks?
Tommy: It’s almost like our first time preforming there. We did play Reggae on the Rocks… I think it was 2000. That was obviously a pretty long time ago; it was a hell of a different band. It was a lifetime ago haha. It’ll be our second time officially there, but it’ll feel like the first with this line up and the vibe and music that we’re going to bring. It’s going to be exciting. We’re all super stoked.
BFS: The lineup is definitely awesome. I cannot wait. Do you think this performance is going to greatly impact the popularity of John Brown’s Body, today? Playing at Red Rocks is a right of pass for all music groups.
Tommy: Colorado has arguably some of the best venues in the country, between Denver and Boulder. And we’re lucky to have played at pretty much all of them. Of course this performance is special, but is this going to be impactful? I can’t say. We’re going to go and do what we do. We’re going to try to be comfortable and play the best show we can play, which is what we do every time, regardless if it’s a 200 capacity room or 5,000 capacity room. And we’ll leave the rest to follow as it will. I remember when The Amplify came out in 2008 and it debuted #1 on the Billboard Reggae chart, everybody was like, “holy shit! This is it! This is it!” But it really wasn’t. We were in Sante Fe, New Mexico and woke up the next day and the same kind of thing happened and we went to the next venue and did the next show. The business is strange man. It’s about the hype machine, the smoke, mirrors and bullshit sometimes, but we’re just going to keep doing our thing and try to be the best we can at it.
BFS: It’s really interesting how the band rereleased the album Kings & Queens. How was your experience creating Kings & Queens in Dub?
Tommy: It was fantastic. I think it was a feather in our cap in a way to release the record in this manner. We did it top to bottom, every song is dubbed out. If you’re familiar with some of the classics from the 70s and 80s, that’s what the heavy hitters used to do back in the day, they would release records and then there would be a companion record in dub, like LKJ in Dub. For us to be able to do that, it was really important to be able to present it the way we did. There were concerns whether or not it would be disjointed, with different producers doing different tracks, but I think it came together seamlessly. Drew our saxophone player really spearheaded the entire project, and was key in getting it going and pushing it through. We were able to get one of our heroes, Dennis Bovell, who is a legendary producer and bass player from the UK, to do a tune. We also had some of our good friends work on this album. We wanted to get people we really respect, with work we love. We’re not getting people who are the flavor of the week, so we can just throw their names on and sell a hundred more copies. We wanted it to be the best it could be. That’s how we operate.
BFS: Who was your favorite produce to work with on the album?
Tommy: Well yah know, we didn’t really have direct contact with any of them. These days, you send people the tracks and it’s all back-and-forth through e-mails and everything else. But, we know all of these people personally like Lord Echo, from The Black Seeds. The Black Seeds are one of our favorite bands. We’ve spent countless hours with them on the road in New Zealand and in the States. A lot of other people worked on the album as well, like Dubfader and Dubmatix. Jesse (Dubmatix) is from Toronto. He did some work for us before. The one person that we didn’t really know was Dennis. He really dug the band and dug the sound and actually even offered up his services to us, it’s fucking mind-blowing. There’s a lot of back-and-forth that goes down. We knew when we picked these guys that it was going to be top-notch stuff.
BFS: Do you think there’s a benefit to having music reproduced without the original band there?
Tommy: To be clear, they used the same tracks from Kings & Queens, obviously John Brown’s Body was all together when we created it and recorded it together. What they were working from was still the original vibes, sounds and tracks. With remixes and dub mixes, that’s just the way it goes. It’s rare that a band member is going to be there in the studio with the dub guy recording. The coolest thing about this method of production is that these people are from London, New Zealand, Brooklyn and other places. Logistically, it’s not possible to all be in all of those places at once. I think having people from many different parts of the world lends a really cool story to the record.
BFS: Yeah that makes complete sense. Thank you for clarifying! I think those are all of the questions I have for today. Thanks Tommy for talking with us. Do you have any questions for me?
Tommy: I appreciate your time. I don’t think I do, but I’m glad that we could work this out.
BFS: Thank you so much. Have a good one.
Tommy: Have a great day.
Dig John Brown's Body? Find out more about them here:
Click here for ticket information for Reggae on the Rocks 2015.
Interview by Samantha Elkan