Recently, L4LM writer Mark McGwin was fortunate to get an exclusive interview with John Brown’s Body saxophonist Drew Sayers regarding the band’s newest “dub album” Kings and Queens in Dub which will hit stores April 7th.  The two talked in great detail about the project, the band’s influences, the upcoming 3rd Annual Record Release Show at Brooklyn Bowl on 4/20 and a new album of original songs currently in the works.

L4LM:  Hey Drew.  Thank you for taking the time to talk with L4LM today.  First off, congrats on Kings and Queens in Dub – it sounds awesome!  I’m a big fan of the original record, so I was really looking forward to hearing all of these songs dubbed out.  That being said, why did the band choose Kings and Queens to dub out in its entirety?  Can you elaborate on what went into that decision and how you specifically came to spearhead the project?

Drew Sayers:  Absolutely.  I think it dates back to JBB in Dub, which is an EP that we put out before we put out Kings and Queens.  [JBB in Dub] wasn’t really a traditional “dub album”, but was more of the band going in and recording some of the tunes that we do live that were instrumentals that we let our front-of-house engineer go wild on with the dubs.  When we finished Kings and Queens, I was really motivated to try and get more out of the record.  I thought we should try to almost create this series of “in dub” albums where we get our favorite producers; the people we look up to, the people that we are inspired by, especially Dennis Bovell on this record.  Reaching out to him and getting him to do a track on the record is like a dream come true for us.  He’s one of our favorite producers of all time.  It was really just a natural thing.  For me, Kings and Queens is my favorite JBB album.  Obviously, I’m a member of the band, but dating back to their earlier years, I think Elliot (Martin, lead vocalist of JBB)’s songwriting is at its peak on this record and it’s great that we got the opportunity to hear each producer have their own take on the music. 

L4LM:  I see that you worked closely with Eric Smith and Lem Oppenheimer of Easy Star Records on this album.  How did that collaboration come about?

Sayers:  I live in Brooklyn myself and Eric is based here in New York and the main Easy Star offices are here.  I’ve kind of just became friends with him over the years through playing with JBB, but also going to see Easy Star All Stars shows.  We’re always going to see live music and whenever I see Eric we always end up staying out super late and talking about music, about things we want to do, things we want to achieve with the band.  He’s really been a spring board and an inspiration for me in terms of exploring new projects and new possibilities for JBB and he’s always been open to that (Lem as well).  They’re great people and they’ve always been huge supporters of JBB going back to Pressure Points, and it’s a really special relationship with them.  The label has been around for a long time too.  They did Dub Side of the Moon and RadioDread and all those albums, but JBB has also been on the label quite a long time as well, and it feels like a relationship that’s going to last for I hope the rest of JBB’s career.  To have this catalogue of music on their record label is an honor for us. 

L4LM:  For sure.  I feel like Easy Star Records has kind of a family vibe and they are really able to maintain those close relationships with their artists.

Sayers:  Yeah, they do.  They’re really pushing hard these days, signing more bands and releasing more albums that are kind of the next reggae circuit like Black Seeds.  They’re doing a great job over there.

L4LM:  On Kings and Queens in Dub, the band worked with a lot of notable artists and producers that are huge in the reggae/dub scene such as Ticklah, Dubmatix, Dubfader (of 10ft. Ganja Plant) and UK legendary musician/dub producer Dennis Bovell.  What was it like working with some of the most respected artists in the scene today and how did the band decide to work with these artists in particular?

Sayers:  Well, I can talk first about Craig Welsch (Dubfader) who was the original front of house sound engineer for JBB going back to the inception of the band.  Elliot and Craig have been very good  friends for a very long time, going back to the Tribulations area, which was a band that came before JBB but had a lot of the same guys (Kevin Kinsella, Elliot).  So, he was a natural fit because he’s been a part of the JBB family forever and of course, with the 10ft Ganja Plant records he’s achieved a lot of success.   He’s kind of the mastermind behind that- he was one of the first people I asked.  He actually produced JBB IN Dub as well.  We recorded that album with him so I was like we gotta get him on this record. 

Some of the other guys I can mention like Ticklah, Axelrod and Antibalis (who plays with Charles Bradley now) is one of my favorite artists.  He’s based here in New York, born and raised in NYC, and I’m a huge fan of his keyboarding playing and his production.  He’s one of the first people I reached out to as well.  He actually released an album on Easy Star before, Ticklah vs. Axelrod, and he’s kind of been involved in the Easy Star All Stars team.  Same goes for Lord Echo (Mike Fabulous from Black Seeds) who has released one or two albums with Easy Star Records.  Those are great, great albums; one of the best modern reggae bands coming out of New Zealand and Mike Fabulous wrote most of the music for the Black Seeds and he’s also a great producer as well.  Michael Goldwasser who did “Sweet Undertow Dub” is the mastermind behind the Easy Star All Stars remix albums (Dub Side of the Moon, etc.)  There’s a lot of great people on this record.  I’m really proud to have gotten all of these artists together on one record.

L4LM:  It sounds like this all kind of came together organically; like you already had all of these people in the Easy Star “family tree” that you could reach out to for this album.  

Sayers:  Yes, absolutely. 

L4LM:  Could you briefly talk about how the decision came about for a particular producer to choose which song(s) they would work on?

Sayers:  Sure.  We kind of gave free range to Craig (Welsch) and Victor (Axlerod) like, “whatever song you like, go for it.”  So they listened to the album a bunch and they decided which songs best fit their style.  I feel like Craig is definitely more in the King Tubby school as far as the sounds that he gets, the drop-outs, the bass-and-drum heaviness.  I think he’s kind of out of that school.  Ticklah has more of a modern, cutting style and I think that’s why he chose “Starver” because that one has a very digi-electro kind of vibe.  That one we actually never play live because it’s hard to get the vibe of that song in the live show…  From there, we kind of let them choose until there were a few tracks left.  I just wanted to make sure that the producers were really vibing with the music and that they felt that it would reflect their style in the right way, and ultimately, I think that we were really successful in making that happen. 

L4LM:   How did the collaboration with Dennis Bovell come about?

Sayers:  Well, we started off with a list of people that we really wanted to work with; like you mentioned before, it was kind of organic.  When we were on tour, we would sit around in the green room or wherever and think about people that we always wanted to work with.  From there, I kind of made a list to myself of the guys that I was going to reach out to first; the ones that I really wanted to be a part of the project.  For example, with Dennis Bovell, that was basically just a cold-call type of thing.  I think he’s done some releases or re-issues on the record label Pressure Sounds, a label out of the UK that is one of JBB’s favorite record labels because they re-issue some of the best music.  They’ve done two Dennis Bovell’s in particular; one’s called Decibel and one’s called Make it One which came out more recently.  I just emailed a general contact on their website and said that Dennis is one of my favorite artists of all time and asked for his email to see if he’d be interested in doing it.  He got back to me right away and that was a big moment for me because it’s like getting a chance to work with one of your heroes.  He was really cool and open to the music and very appreciative that we reached out to him and that we really wanted him to be a part of the project. 

L4LM:  Did you have a specific track that you wanted him to work on?

Sayers:  I wanted him to do “Old John Brown” because one of my favorite things about Dennis is what he does with horns on his dub mixes is some of my favorite.  Plus, all of the LKJ (Linton Kwesi Johnson) stuff he did; I loved all of that horn stuff.  For me, “Old John Brown” has that kind of heavy wave horn line and its almost got a jazz thing to it, and I just felt that song would fit his style really well and it just kind of worked out that way.

L4LM:  Did the band themselves lay down any additional instrumentation on this album, or was all of the manipulation on the songs handled solely by the producer?

Sayers:  We had previously released an album called Re-Amplify which was like a “remixed EP” of Amplify.  On that record, I think we wanted it to be more of a modern thing, like “blow-up” the song and restructure it if you want to.  Take the drums out, record new drums, record guitar, sample a new one over it; and we had already done that and we didn’t want to do the same thing again.  So, the idea for this one was for the producers to not add anything; to really take a “classic dub” mixing approach to it, ya know?  Getting in front of the mixing console, dropping in and out, riding faders; really taking a more organic approach to it and a more kind of classic dub style.  If you’re going to call an album “…in Dub”, you kind of need to give the nod to like Slum (In Dub) by Gregory Issacs and Aswad’s New Chapter.  We wanted this album to take a classic dub approach more than a remix approach.  I think when you put restrictions like that, you can get great results. 

L4LM:  How specifically did the band try to incorporate older techniques from those artists and stay true to the form while still remaining true to the future roots/progressive reggae sound that JBB has consistently put forth? 

Sayers:  Well that’s kind of built into Elliot (Martin)’s music.  No matter what you do with it, the foundation is there.  Elliot’s songs don’t really sound like any other kind of reggae or any other kind of music.  He has a unique set of influences and I think his songwriting style sticks out from a lot of the other songwriters in the genre today because he brings this interesting mix of influences into his music.  So, for example, if you listen to Ticklah’s song on …in Dub (“Starver”), he’s taking a traditional dub technique but he’s doing it in his own modern way.  The sound might sound “classic”, but the foundation that JBB lays is already modern and then these are modern producers putting their own take on it.  I think this album achieves what JBB is all about, which is that we have a heavy nod to the roots, to the classics, to the foundation of the music, but we stay true to who we are.  We’re from North America.  We need to incorporate the parts of our culture, the music that we grew up playing and listening to.  That all gets put into the pot.  We’re not trying to copy Jamaican music from the ‘70’s and ‘80’s.  We’re trying to use that foundation, give massive respect to the music, but we need to still do our own thing.  I think that this album definitely reflects the vision that we chose to use and the songs and styles that are there represents it well. 

L4LM:  Finishing up here, does the band plan to incorporate any of these new remixes into their upcoming live shows?  If so, does this present a challenge for the band, especially since many of the songs feature intricate studio effects/drop-outs/etc. that could be difficult to replicate live?

Sayers:  Well we do a little bit of that already.  For example, Dubmatix did a remix of our song “The Gold” which was off Amplify.  We changed that song so that now we play it live like his remix.  Also, we always try to highlight the band in at least two songs of every live show in which it’s just completely instrumental.  I think it would be cool to do that.  We have no strict plans to do a dub instrumental version of one of these new songs, but I think it’s actually a really good idea.  So yeah, we’ll see about that. 

L4LM:  Speaking of live shows, I see that the band will be playing a big record-release show on 4/20 at Brooklyn Bowl with Ticklah.  What can fans expect to see at this show? 

Sayers:  We’re going to bring our best show.  We actually have a ton of new music right now and are currently recording at Craig Welsch (Dubfader)’s studio.  We’re already trying to lay a foundation for the next album and we have a bunch of new tunes which we’ll be playing at the show.  We’ve actually done Brooklyn Bowl on April 20th for 3 years in a row now.  They’ve been really successful for us.  The last two have been two of my favorite shows I’ve played with JBB I’d say.  We’re really just trying to continue on that annual event, kind of like what Soulive does with their “Bowlive” event every year. 

L4LM: Last question.  I’ve heard that JBB has some new original material in the works tentatively scheduled for a release in the fall.  Can you possibly speak to that and maybe give us some insight as to what these new songs might sound like? 

Sayers:  Sure.  Well, Jay Spaker (Double Tiger) our guitar player who did the second track on …in Dub is a great singer and a long-time friend of JBB and The Tribulations (pre-JBB) crew.  He has been writing a lot of his own tunes and has actually already recorded a few of those and they’re already mixed and mastered and sound incredible.  We are definitely looking towards a release that has a couple of his songs, a couple of Elliot’s and a couple of collaborations.  We’re kind of trying to start a new chapter in terms of our approach; our songwriting, how the band plays live, how Elliot and Jay are going to be collaborating together.  We always try to keep it moving, ya know?  We try to keep our eyes set on a new goal, a new approach, a new style of playing music.  That’s how you keep it fresh.  We’re not going to rest on our laurels with releasing music.  That’s one thing I’ve said a lot with the band, with the label.  Something I have in my own mind is that it’s important that we keep releasing music because that’s really the legacy of John Brown’s Body to me.  It’s putting music out there and letting people sit with it for 6 months, a year, 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, and like I feel like there are JBB albums that have become kind of classics now.  I just want to make sure that we are continuously putting out new music for our fans who are really dedicated and love when new records come out- I just want to keep that cycle going.  There is definitely going to be another release coming not too far down the road.  In the mean-time, we’re going to let this one get out there and let people enjoy it.  I think people are really gonna like this one. 

L4LM:  Thanks so much for the time today Drew.  Best of luck with the new album(s) and with the upcoming show at Brooklyn Bowl!


Check out John Brown Body’s website to see upcoming tour dates and to get more info on Kings and Queens in Dub and their upcoming 3rd Annual Record Release Show at Brooklyn Bowl on 4/20.

-Mark McGwin 4/3/15 @markmcgwin