AD: How did you all start playing reggae and who are your influences? JBB: The band was formed in the mid to late 90’s. It was born out of a group called Tribulations, which was also a seventies beats reggae band with more of a rock twist. Kevin Kinsella formed Tribulations in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Sort of at the time of Sublime and Long Beach Dub All-Stars, sort of more of that vein. And Tribulations came out of it. They toured nationally and internationally for a number of years, and then broke up in 1994. After a couple of years of hiatus, Kevin reformed John Brown’s Body as a five piece wanting to get back to a little bit rootsier of a sound in lieu of some of the rock edge that had been incorporated into Tribulations. Everyone in the band has been influenced by Caribbean music and reggae at different points in their lives. I sort of came across it in high school and gradually started listening to more and more artists. I started playing music later in life when I was 20, but I was listening to a lot of early Jamaican music sort of before reggae. Personally, people like Count Ossie and The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, Ras Michael, Cedric Brooks are my main influences. Those are sort of Caribbean and Rasta drumming styles fused with horns and upright bass, kind of a jazz influence, so it’s more of a Caribbean jazz style, but it’s very much integrated into reggae.
AD: Can you explain this statement that has come from the band: ” ‘Reggae is not meant to be commercial music. Maybe God got displeased. Maybe this music is cursed,’ said Kinsella.”
JBB: I don’t know if I can comment on that. You might have to go to Kevin for that. I’ll do my best here. Reggae was really black sufferers’ music. It was the real ghetto music from Jamaica. It was a fusion of a lot of different musical styles. It came from ska and then it came to rock steady and then reggae. There was no money in it for many, many years. It really was revolutionary music. Lyrically, it was social commentary and political commentary. People looking for a better way of life. And obviously religious. There is a very spiritual element to reggae. Especially reggae and not so much ska and rock steady. But by the time reggae came around, it really was the voice of Rasta culture and Rastafarians and their outlook on life and their take on God and creation and so on. Obviously, it was well liked all over the world, or we wouldn’t be talking now. So there’s something that stuck with people around the world. But there’s only a handful of artists that I think the average person can name who are reggae artists, and specifically Jamaican reggae artists, those being Bob Marley, Toots and the Maytalls, Jimmy Cliff and possibly Burning Spear. Those are probably the mainstream icons of Jamaican reggae. In fact, commercial success by people like Big Mountain you know doing a cover song or UB40, those were “commercially successful” artists, as Bob Marley is now. Though in his day, he wasn’t. Since his passing, he’s become very commercially successful. In the scheme of the music industry, reggae now is dance hall. To people my age in Jamaica, reggae for them is Capleton, it’s Kevin Lyttle, it’s Sizzla, Elephant Man, Bounty Killa, Beenie Man. They don’t really care about culture. They don’t really care about Burning Spear. It’s a thing of the past. I think reggae today is very commercialized in the sense that any urban radio station is playing dance hall reggae, they’re playing Beenie Man, they’re playing Bounty Killa. It’s a very polished kind of music and it’s very far from what I mentioned earlier, which was what reggae was about at the outset. The lyrical content of reggae today is more akin to hip-hop and promoting that kind of life style rather than sending a spiritual or political message. It’s very commercial. It’s very well liked. Those guys sell a lot of records.
AD: Going back to reggae as spiritual music, what message are you all trying to send out with your music?
JBB: Kevin and Elliott are the main lyrical writers for our songs. And Kevin I think really comes from a spiritual place. He really likes to promote positivity and respect and tolerance and those kinds of things. I think that’s become a hallmark of John Brown’s Body and I think that’s something people have become attracted to. And attracted to it because it’s not forced down your throat. It’s not done in a preaching manner or a boastful manner. As contemporary American music, it’s something we saw as a necessary message.
We’re not out there trying to convert anybody and we don’t necessarily come with an agenda to our shows. We love to play music together. We love to have people on the dance floor. We’ve been very blessed to be able to do it for a living for a number of years and be successful at it. Our music speaks for itself and the lyrics do as well. I don’t think that we come with really a political agenda or such as that. I think anybody who knows John Brown’s Body knows that we are about a positive way of living and making the best
with what we have.
AD: So how has your band put its mark on reggae music?
JBB: We’ve been one of the more successful acts to come out of America that play reggae. We play original music. We don’t play cover songs. We write our own music. We’ve been respected for that by many different artists and been able to share the stage with many artists. I think that our contribution is that we’re trying to make a contribution. We’re not looking to emulate anybody or anything. We love the music and we want to take it to another level. We want to see where this music can go. And I think, unfortunately, there’s a lot of reggae out there that’s really just rehashing something that’s already been said and done. And I don’t think John Brown’s Body is interested in that. Also, in our stage show, we carry an eight-piece band. We carry three horns. We carry a Hammond B3 organ and a Leslie. It’s a real eight-piece live band that’s on stage and moving and dancing and I think that’s very unique. I don’t think you see that very much. I know most of our contemporaries have shed the horn section in trade for a synthesizer. So we just try to keep it real with everything that we do. That’s what’s gotten us to this point and gotten us to be able to share the stage with Burning Spear and Toots and the Maytals and to befriend these people. And record with Justin Hinds and the Meditations. And to share the stage with Dave Mathews and Jurassic 5 and other kinds of bands. We’re very rich in what we’re doing.
AD: Tell us about the band name?
JBB: John Brown was an abolitionist. He was the strongest voice to eventually stand up against slavery. He was a white person living in Kansas at the time who was a very spiritual man. And reading scriptures and so forth, he saw slavery as the greatest evil of mankind. While he was relatively unaffected because he was in the Midwest and could
have gone on and lived a simple life farming, he decided to stand up for the African slaves. So he led a revolt, which culminated at Harpers Ferry and him being hung. It was really the precursor to the Civil War. There’s a hymn, “John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave,” which was an inspirational song for the North during the civil war. He was a
figure that went out of his way to stand up for something he saw was just and right. I think he’s a very important historical figure in our time and somebody who in some books is portrayed as a madman and a terrorist, and in some places he’s really arevered figure. A real revolutionary.
AD: What can we expect from the new album, “Pressure Points?”
JBB: What can you expect from “Pressure Points?” You can expect the next generation of reggae music with the John Brown’s Body sound. You can expect that John Brown’s Body is pushing the envelope and always keeping creativity at the forefront. We’re always
trying to evolve musically and personally as a group. I think “Pressure Points” is really a natural progression in our catalog of records, from “All Time,” “Among Them,” “This Day” “Spirits All Around Us” and now “Pressure Points.” I think you hear a real steady progression of a band that’s evolving and using its influences and has an original sound that is theirs. I think in some ways it’s a more diverse record than we’ve put out. It’s our most diverse record. One different thing is Elliot Martin is singing more songs on this record than in pastrecords, which is a marked distinction for “Pressure Points.” But you can expect twelve well-crafted and thoughtful songs. It’s been received well so far. We
sometimes dub our music future-rhythm or future-roots. We think of that name as us having a foot in the future and also being present and drawing from the past as well. I think you can expect a very contemporary album. A very modern record that holds it’s own with any records coming out these days, whether it’s hip-hop or reggae or R & B.
AD: Last question here. What do you think about Austin?
JBB: I love Austin. It’s a vibrant city. It’s a very forward thinking city. I honestly haven’t seen too much of it, but I’ll give you my impression from what I’ve seen. I’ve met fantastic people there. It’s second to none in terms of a real vibrant music scene. It’s got great people and a nice attitude there. I’ve got nothing but nice things to say about Austin.