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Dubbest: round table discussion + new live album

DUBBEST_BANDIf you haven’t had a chance to check out Dubbest, now is the time to rectify that. The five-piece balances classic analog tone with a distinctly 21st century edge to create their brand of melody-driven roots music. Last year marked the release of Light Flashes, their second collaboration with engineer, producer, and all around reggae guru Craig “Dubfader” Welsch, who’s album credits include modern reggae classics like 10ft. Ganja Plant’s Hillside Airstrip and John Brown’s Body’s All Time. Dubbest recently relocated from Boston to American reggae hotspot San Diego, where the crew is preparing the release of their first live album, Live at the Belly Up. I caught up with the boys last month to chat about working with your heroes, the album making process, and what’s next for the new comers to the SoCal scene.

Brian Nelson: Let’s start by talking about your most recent studio album, Light Flashes, recorded with Craig Welsch. How did you guys first meet Craig?

Sean (bass): We were opening up for the Itals and after our set Andrew recognized Craig in the crowd and was like “dude, that’s the drummer for 10 ft.” and gave him our demo.

BN: And after you tossed him your demo, did he approach you?

Ryan (vocals): Yea, he hit us up and encouraged us to record with him sooner than later. We decided to record a single with him in September of 2011 and chose an unfinished song called “Heat and Water.” He helped us condense a fairly chaotic song into something more meditative and unified.

Sean: We were extremely happy with his creative touch, especially on the dub version of the song.

BN: Take us from there to recording your 2015 release Light Flashes, also done with Craig.

Andrew (guitar): In the time between the single and the release of Light Flashes, we talked a lot with Craig about the next record. We polished our songs and took the advice he gave us based on live recordings and demos of the new tracks that we sent him.

BN: What’s it like working with Craig in the studio? What’s that interaction like? Is he running the show?

Ryan: In a good way, yea.

BN: Was he playing a producer role in addition to engineering?

Ryan: Yea. He was definitely pointing us in the right direction, as far as sounds and parts we maybe weren’t playing. But I think a lot of it was just being in that studio with all the equipment he has available. It had such a huge impact.

Cory (guitar): We’d all go in there with our own guitars and stuff and end up not using our own equipment for any tracks. You’re like a kid in a candy store.

BN: Working with Craig, did he dish you guys any advice that was just a hard pill to swallow? You look up to this guy, you know that he’s probably right, but…

Andrew: Definitely, definitely. There were certain songs and certain ideas that we wanted to get across on the album that he kind of made us realize weren’t the best. One of the things that was tough, we had a lot of songs with all sorts of different feels expanding the whole reggae genre. He helped us to take an era and say let’s make this album sound like it came out of a certain time. That it’s not just a compilation of songs but an album. And that’s tough.

Ryan: But it was also just certain subtle things, little personal things that we wanted to get on the songs that he said he didn’t like. It’s hard to see when you’re so involved in it whether or not something works, and having someone that can tell you if it works or not can really help, even if you don’t want to hear it.

BN: Let’s switch gears for a minute and talk about the new live album you have coming out. What made you chose to do a live release?

Ryan: We’ve wanted to put out a live album for a while, for sure, but we’ve never had a proper collection of really good quality recordings. This live album is going to be all from one show, all from the Belly Up opening for the Wailers. And it’s a lot of songs that, a lot of newer songs for us that we’ve been wanting to release for a little while.

BN: Had you guys decided going in to that show that you were going to release it as an album?

Sean: No. Well, we had heard that they recorded, and then we found out when we got there that you can get a really legit recording there if you want to pay for it so we opted for that and kind of knew that once we heard you can get a nice album quality recording that we’d probably try to make that our album as long as the show went as we planned. It was pretty spontaneous.

BN: I’m wondering, you know, it seemed like working with Craig that he had a really big influence on your take on arranging and songwriting and stuff like that, and I’m curious how, having gone through the experience of putting the time into doing the studio album with Craig, how that has affected your live show.

Ryan: When we first met Craig we were in the process of writing these songs that had like all these complex chord changes and stuff, and we were never really settling on a specific groove or motif, and that was one of the things that Craig taught us with Heat and Water that we did with him. You know, making reggae music is a meditative kind of thing, so just having like those pounding bass lines, and consistency in the grooves…it sounds like just common sense, but at the time we didn’t really think of that. And then eventually that influenced our later writing that we’re doing now and that’s a big part of why this live album is so crucial, so people can hear the more current state that we’re in. It’s much more solid sounding. You know [Craig] is like the reggae encyclopedia as we call him…anything you think you can know about reggae he knows.

BN: He takes whatever you know and just multiplies it.

Sean: Yea, yea. Any time you have a question about reggae he is the one to ask. He really helped us tighten up as a band, and knowing him and everyone else in the scene, like John Brown’s Body, and having Elliot sing on our album…we really look up to those guys. Having listened to 10ft. back in the day and being like “holy shit, these guys sound like Jamaicans back in the 70’s,” and then to find out they’re a bunch of white guys in Boston, and then having hooked up with them…it’s pretty surreal.

BN: You guys have Elliot Martin singing background vocals on the Light Flashes record. Did Craig set that up, or did you approach Elliot? How did that come about?

Cory: You know, at first we thought we’d just do the harmonies ourselves, but that was the first time [everyone but lead singer Ryan] had ever really recorded vocals. We don’t really consider ourselves to be singers, you know, we sing the harmonies now [when we play live] but we’d never really sung in a studio setting before. So like after a couple minutes of trying to take a crack at harmony vocals Craig was like you know you could just hire a professional.


BN: There’s people that do that for a living!

[more laughter]

Sean: That’s when we were like well, who would we want, and it seemed so easy once we came up with Elliot, it seemed so easy it was just impossible to say no.

BN: You guys moved recently from Boston to San Diego. Give me your synopsis on the Northeast vs. SoCal. Different sides of the country, but both are two of the healthiest spots for reggae in this country.

Sean: You know like dog years vs. human years? How one year for us equals like 7 dog years or whatever? Being out here, it basically speeds up the process. It took us seven years out east, just working so hard to get opportunities and what not. But out here, and I mean I’m sure it’s because we’ve come from all that, you know, and it’s hard to explain, but it’s just a stronger reggae scene over all out here. It seems like the Northeast is more focused on the jam scene and all that, where as on the west coast people are all about the reggae and not so much the electronic jam bands that are taking over the Northeast.

Andrew: And there’s nothing against any of that, but that’s the big difference between here and there really. [Reggae is] just much stronger out here.

BN: What’s the hot album in the van right now?

Cory: We’ve been listening to a lot of the new JBB album, the new Pandas that just dropped. Other than that, just always digging in to the old roots stuff. A lot of Revolutionaries, Gregory Isaacs, always Gregory Isaacs.

BN: Is there anything else y’all want to get out to the people?

Ryan: We’d like to be getting out to the East Coast, hopefully sometime next year to do a tour of at least the whole East Coast. We’ve been missing that hard.

Dubbest’s new live album, Live at the Belly Up, is hitting the airwaves Friday, November 25th but you can stream “Foolish Man” right here. Pre-order the album on iTunes now:

For more info on Craig “Dubfader” Welsch, check out Rear Window Recording Studio in Brookline, MA.

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Brian Nelson a.k.a. Red Ninja is passionate about making music, making friends, experiencing life and living to tell the tale. Whether dropping heavy dub beats, cruising untouched Rocky Mountain powder, or talking shop about the music biz, Nelson’s approach is pure ninja.

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