Denver, Colorado’s Death By Dub is what happens when you have a city full of talented musicians who realize they have this secret love affair with a style of music. Maybe it’s not the most popular kind of music, and maybe the kings of the genre aren’t household names, but for those who are in the know, these niches of music are sonic gold. In this case, as the name implies, the music is dub, and the musicians are some of the current heavyweights, playing with bands like Thievery Corporation, John Brown’s Body and Odesza.
Death By Dub is the brainchild of two long time friends and bandmates, Dan Africano and Scott Flynn. But while these two may be the driving force behind the initial compositions, the project is a collaborative effort with all members giving their input, typically on-site within the studio sessions themselves. And the studio itself is an integral part of the DBD project; Color Red is a beacon of creativity that has emerged from the Denver scene, providing label services and a recording space for the talent of the mile-high city to flourish within.
Today, Rootfire premieres the third single from Death By Dub, “Dub the Line.” This bouncy, uplifting track transports the listener into the warm, vintage land of classic dub reggae. Rootfire chatted with Africano and Flynn about Death By Dub, Color Red and the growing Denver reggae scene. Give this latest single a spin and read what these two bandmates have to say below.
Rootfire: First off, talk to me about the name Death By Dub, because I think it’s awesome. How did that became the title for the project?
Dan Africano: There’s a couple of meanings to me. One, with a style of music, specifically reggae, a lot of musicians these days say like, ‘oh, that was killing, that was murderous’ or whatever, in describing really good, heavy music. For some reason that has stuck. I think the weight of reggae music specifically kind of contributes to that heaviness, that gravity that might be associated with those sayings.
Second is to the fact that instrumental music isn’t exactly, uh, you know, mainstream, is not really well known for having a commercial success. To me the name kind of represents this. It’s a declaration of the fact that we’ll make this music whether it brings any sort of longevity or not. We’re all professional musicians, so playing music is a way of life for us. And we do this because we love it, but, you know, you gotta make a living. We all do gigs that earn our bread, that we have to do and that we love doing. But this is one of those styles of music, and one of these projects, that we will do no matter what. It doesn’t matter. Like I’ll do the dub music until I die. That’s kind of the, the more meaningful representation for me.
RF: I like that a lot. That’s rad. So this is very likely the first that people will be hearing of Death By Dub. It’s a fresh project. Can you give us a rundown of what DBD is all about?
DA: We have basically a tight-knit rhythm section, with a couple of horn players playing melodies. The inspiration comes a lot from all the dub records, and I can’t speak for everybody, but what I’ve listened to over the many years and I’ve been obsessed with. King Tubby and Lee Perry, you know, there’s one classic Lee Perry record called Musical Bones and Vin Gordon is all over that record and there’s all these really cool trombone melodies kind of weaved throughout these rhythms.
Although the dub aspect isn’t there on that record, I kind of wanted to take something that was similar and create these reggae riddims with some of the best players I know. Have these nice, melodic horn lines over top and have that be the focus alongside the dub production, which, you know, comes along the lines of King Tubby and Scientist and all those. It’s an experiment of basically usage of effects that you hear in that style of music, pairing those things together on the foundation of a solid reggae rhythm section.
RF: And how did it come about?
Scott Flynn: I think Dan was maybe a reggae fan earlier than I was, but when I went to Berklee, I became a big reggae fan. And then joining John Brown’s Body, reggae has just been seeping more and more into my heart, soul, music, life… So then fast forward to Dan and I both living in Colorado and having had a love of reggae and dub music for a long time. Dan had actually already started the Denver Reggae Social Club, which was kind of a formula that he had from Ithaca. And then, at around the same time or shortly thereafter, Color Red came into being and it was all, you know, homies and friends and colleagues. And we had talked about doing a dub thing kind of loosely before that, but then it was like, oh, we can just go into this dope Color Red studio and just record there. So that kind of was the impetus to do it.
As far as the music, what I think is one of the coolest things is that the whole project, it all felt very natural. Like we both, Dan and I, have done enough reggae that we knew when we were talking about doing a project like this we were both eager to do it and we knew it would be simple and easy and fun. Like, we have our vocabulary, we know how we want to do it.
RF: So I wanted to talk a little bit about Denver. The city is growing, the music scene is growing, the reggae music scene is growing. How’s Denver doing? How are the fans? Is the music getting across?
DA: Denver, I think, has some of the best live music fans in the country. It’s really, really cool to see, especially as a musician. Not only does it have an incredibly supportive network of musicians that are out going to shows, seeing their friends play, but there’s also just this massive fan base of people that love live music, and it’s not necessarily people saying, you know, ‘I’m going to go out and support my friend’s band.’ It’s people saying, I want to go out and experience live music ‘cause I love it. And a lot of people get the chance to go out and see world-class music on a nightly basis. And a lot of musicians have the opportunity to go, to go play and to go work, which is really, really awesome. And that cultivates this scene of opportunity for collaboration, for new projects. And people are genuinely interested in what musicians have to say around here.
SF: The music scene has been growing in a really supportive and open way, which has been great. I think there’s a lot of reggae fans, and I think that there are a lot of people who are attracted to the heavier stuff. ‘Cause, like any style, reggae is a spectrum, right? Some people play what I would call maybe less heavy-hitting reggae, while other stuff is more heavy hitting and I think there’s been an appetite for a lot of it, but I think there’s been a great response to the heavier stuff and the heavier vibe that we’ve been trying to bring, that honestly guys like Jeff Franca and Dan just as bass and drum players bring.
DA: I think of Color Red as like an old-school label house. Something like how Motown used to function. It’s not a label in the traditional sense. You know, nowadays, if you’re a band and you want to pitch an album to a label, typically you have to have the album done. You have to say to a label, ‘will you distribute this for me and do you want to work together on promoting this music?’ Color Red is a label that curates a sound. Much like Blue Note did. Much like Motown did. Because everything is recorded in the house, it’s got this sonic imprint and it kind of functions as this one stop shop for musicians to kind of input their music into this machine and have a team collaborating, propelling you forward, you know, with every sort of avenue that they can help with, which is really, really nice.
SF: What’s so cool about Color Red is that their business model essentially exchanges a slightly higher percentage, primarily used for distribution of material, they take a higher cut of what you record in their studio in exchange for free studio time. And then beyond that, once you record music with Color Red, it goes into their music catalog, which they’re actively trying to grow and sell and promote for licensing and publishing opportunities.
So what’s so great about that business model, definitely for dub and just in general, is that the studio time is free. There’s a backend incentive. And anything we record, it’s going to get put in the Color Red library. Who knows, maybe we’ll make a track that we’ll sell down the line. And even if it doesn’t do that, you got free studio time. That’s huge. You know, Dan and I are both busy, working, arguably quote unquote successful musicians, but studio time isn’t cheap, and extra money to do projects is not always easy to find, especially up front. Color Red has created a model which has allowed for, I think, a lot of Colorado musicians to try stuff, do stuff, create stuff at a high level while utilizing this extensive and growing community of musicians, which just produces so much music and opportunity. If we didn’t have Color Red, Dan and I would still be growing our dub project, but it probably wouldn’t be growing and flourishing as well and as quickly as it has with Color Red.
RF: Dan, is this the first time you’ve been in the producer chair for an album?
DA: I would say so. In the past I’ve had a hand in producing, like the Elephant Wrecking Ball stuff, but this is definitely the most involved I’ve been in really making creative choices for the overall aesthetic of the music, and not just, you know, my role as a bass player.
RF: How do you like that?
DA: Man, it’s great. It’s really, really nice. Well, I should say that it’s really nice when I’m working with a style of music that I’m so intimately familiar with and I’ve listened to a lot of. As a producer, I would probably have a hard time coming up with those super specific references, you know, as far as like, ‘I want this to sound like a King Tubby ‘79 or like Black Arc.’ With those specific references I think I fall short, but I do know what I like and I do know what I want things to sound like, especially when I hear them.
You know, if you ask someone like, ‘oh, are you into wine? What’s your kind of wine?’ most people will say I don’t know, but I know a good wine, when I have it, you know? Like, I can’t tell you what years were good, but if I taste a good one I like that one. That’s my default producer style. I would rather not have really specific things to get into, but I know what I want things to sound like, and kind of how to get there. But yeah, I really enjoy being in the studio during a mix and having inspiration come and kind of playing with, not the arrangement so much, but like I’m playing with the effects in the moment, to create the final product. That’s something I’ve really enjoyed.
RF: Today we are premiering “Dub the Line,” the third single off of the new album. What can you tell us about this track specifically?
SF: We did three songs the first day in the studio. We had something like three or four written ideas. Maybe they were just a baseline. And I, I think I literally wrote melodies like at the kitchen table the morning of the session. I was just like ‘yeah, this will be cool.’ I just wrote something pretty quick. But this one, this was just like we started making sounds and just playing and fucking around. And then we were like, ‘oh, this is cool, let’s do this.’ And Drew [Sayers] and I, I think I wrote a part of the horn line, Drew wrote a part of the horn line and we were just like, yeah, let’s just do this. And then this and then that and we banged it out. And we did like a few takes and it was done. So this was actually the first song that Death By Dub did, before we even had that name, and it was not preconceived. It was totally spontaneous.
DA: It’s really representative of the group. Like, the players that were brought into the session and the reason why they were there, you know, because of how they play and what they play and the choices they make. That song really exemplifies that more than anything else we’ve done so far. It’s this idea we brought that was like, ‘let’s all get in the room because I like how you guys all play,’ and then just like that that song was born. So it’s kind of cool how “Dub the Line” is specifically representative of the whole idea, the collaborative nature of the band and the studio.