Devin Morrison Interviews Nathan Feinstein.
For our second installment of Two On The Mic, Devin Morrison speaks with Iya Terra founder and frontman Nathan Feinstein. Some years ago Devin’s endorsement of Iya Terra actually played a huge role in getting them some early support tours and looks from other managers and agents in the scene. Iya Terra’s first nationwide headline tour starts September 9 to support their new album Coming To Light. Press play and enjoy this conversation between musicians and friends…
-Reid Foster (Rootfire)
Devin: Nate! What’s going with you guys? What’s up with Iya Terra right now?
Nate: Things have been great. Extremely busy. It’s been a lot of work getting the new album together while pretty much spending the better part of the last two years on the road. Being on the road and working on the album simultaneously has been crazy. I wanna say we’ve been on tour like 8 months of the year for the last two years. So finding time to also write the music and record it and still have somewhat of a social life and be able to spend family time and stuff has been crazy, but I really do believe that being busy is a blessing. I’m definitely thankful. But it’s been a little crazy, know?
Devin: So you guys did most of the album on the road, would you say?
Nate: I would say Sacred Sound (2017 – our last album before this one) was probably done more on the road. This one was, I mean, it was mostly done in my bedroom, and then a lot of the stuff was mixed while we were on tour. But every time we would have time off I would kind of dedicate a workflow schedule to maximize a month at home, or a couple weeks at home. And I would work like ten hours a day, five days a week to get this stuff done, because it’s just better to be in your own creative environment when you’re recording. So if I want a certain guitar, I want to be able to just pick it up. Or like a bass…that’s the kind of shit that’s hard to do on the road. So a lot of it was recorded at home but then finished on the road.
Devin: A thing I’m curious about, just because I went through this a little bit, is this: how has the process of creating this album maybe been different from some of your other albums, considering that this is really the first album you guys have made since passing a certain threshold of popularity? I can imagine that for past albums, the primary goal was, “Let’s show people who we are and what we can do.” And then this one is more like, “Ok, people have seen what we can do and now there is an expectation, and we have to maintain a certain quality that they have come to expect.” So did you feel some kind of difference making this album that you felt was related to the fact that now you guys are a very visible band in the scene, and there are expectations?
Nate: Totally. That’s a fucking cool question. I definitely think that the main difference is that Sacred Sound was where we started experimenting with recording and producing ourselves. You know, on that album we tracked drums at a buddies studio, and we did everything else ourselves. And that kind of opened the door for us to be more confident in what we could do as a DIY production band. So with this one we stepped into it with the full confidence of, “Dude, we have a vision, and we think that we can totally do this on our own.” So this album is 100% self-produced. Which is a really cool contrast with the last one. And I had a really heavy hand in the mixing and mastering process, along with Big G, who mixed and mastered the whole album. Me and him worked it. And so, that’s like one of the coolest elements to me. I think this album is a good representation of the true vision of what we want to do. And also, I guess because there was really no time limit on the album, and it was able to be written and recorded over that two year period…so we could add a song at the end of the process, or we could…there were a couple of tunes where we totally just went back and re-did the whole thing from scratch. As far as the aspect of Sacred Sound being the album that kind of got us a little bit of notoriety on the scene, that was cool for us, and with this one…there is always gonna be pressure for that next album in terms of “how do we follow that up?” Because Sacred Sound turned out to be a pretty successful album in relation to us. So I think the key element was just putting that pressure on the back burner and just saying, “We want to write what is true to our hearts.” I don’t want to think about what people want us to sound like, but rather, what’s the music that I want to create. And so with this album there’s a lot of pushing the envelope when it comes to experimenting with different genres. There’s a hip-hop track on there. There’s also…one thing that’s kinda cool about the journey of Iya Terra is that I came from playing heavy music and metal music and shit. And then when I discovered Reggae, I tried a lot to kind of cover (my past involvement in metal) up, and was like “I just want to play Reggae now.” But these roots are in me, of the heavy shit. So there was always like guitar licks and stuff like that. But when people would compliment me like, “Oh man, you’re riffs are fucking cool,” I’d be like, “Goddammnit, I’m actually just trying to play Reggae and stray away from that.” But over the years it kind of came full circle and I got back to those roots, and ended up really appreciating that that is what kind of sets us apart from a lot of bands. That element of guitar riffing and guitar solos. So I felt really confident with this album that I could go ahead and just fully indulge in those things, as almost a highlight to a lot of the tracks on the album. You know, the final song on the album called “Fire & Water,” I sat down to write it to be something that wasn’t Iya Terra, because it was so different from what we typically do. And about halfway through the song I just said, “Fuck it man, I’m gonna use this for Iya Terra because I think this is a great song.” And I want to be able to break those barriers down amongst what I think people expect Iya Terra to be, and I just want to deliver what’s from the heart. So we went into it with the confidence of pushing the limits you know?
Devin: I was gonna ask you about “Fire & Water” actually. When you sent me the album the tracks were in alphabetical order and so I don’t know what the album order is. But dude, that fucking song…the intro is insane! It’s like video game shit. It’s dope.
Nate: Thanks bro.
Devin: You really just touched on a bunch of things that I wanted to bring up. Because I think these songs really do showcase your guitar playing. You know, the term “Reggae-Rock” now refers to a whole huge genre. Basically this whole scene is described as “Reggae-Rock.” But to me, when I hear that term in association with all the bands in this scene, it means that there are some Reggae elements happening, but then things kind of dissolve into a mish-mash of something, where everyone is strumming chords and maybe there’s distortion, and the drummer is playing some kind of open hi-hat beat or whatever, and those are kind of like the “Rock” elements of “Reggae-Rock.” But you guys are doing what I would really call “Reggae-Rock,” because you have crazy guitar riffs, and the musicianship level is high. Listening to you guys and especially you on guitar, you can tell that these guys all know how to play their instruments. So I think it’s super cool that you guys have embraced your Rock roots. I agree that it’s one of the things that really set you guys apart.
Nate: And that goes back to us stepping into this record with full confidence. But one thing that I do think…I hear the term “Reggae-Rock” a lot, you know what I mean? And I want to like it. I want to like that term so badly, because I like Reggae, and I fucking love Rock. But I think that the way that it’s panned out is when considering “Reggae-Rock,” it’s always “beachy.” And we’re not a fucking “beach band.” You know what I mean? I think that when you hear “Reggae-Rock” you think that they’re gonna be singing about drinking Coronas and like palm trees and shit. But I don’t think that “Reggae-Rock” has to just be that, because, you know, Rock has as many sub genres as Reggae has, and I think that there are so many other cool ways to blend heavier music in with Reggae. Because the beauty of Reggae is that it’s heavy! One thing that I always remember talking to you about is like, you know… I think when you started taking a liking to us as a band…’cause we were long-time fans of The Expanders and we always wanted to be on your guys’ radar. And then when you specifically started opening up and taking a liking to us, you’d tell me, “Well you guys have these deep and heavy rhythms, like Midnite.” Because Midnite was like our favorite fucking band. And you used the term “heavy” or like “deep.” And I think that “Reggae-Rock” doesn’t always dig that deep, you know what I mean? But Reggae alone does, and Rock alone does as well.
Devin: That’s a really good point about the two genres. I’ve never really heard anyone go that deep into the actual possibilities when it comes to blending Reggae and Rock. And I agree! You hear the term and you’re like, “Oh this could work!” But then it’s a lot of one kind of thing.
Nate: It always goes to the beach, you know? But dude, tell me when you listen to a real rock band like Zeppelin…that’s deep fucking music.
Devin: So. You guys have a national headlining tour coming up. Can you tell me some of the details bout that?
Nate: I’m super stoked! It’s going to be the first headlining tour for us that spans the entire U.S.. We’ve taken our turn doing different little regional stuff across the country for the last couple years. Like, we’ve done just a South-East tour, and we’ve done just the West Coast, and just the Mid-West, but all separate. I feel like we’re taking a big step in the sense that this is the first time we’re ever releasing an album and doing a full nation-wide headline tour around the album. The tour is named after the album; it’s called the “Coming To Light Tour.” It is a whole three-week long West Coast leg, and a whole three-week long East Coast leg. We’re hitting most major cities. I know that people will be upset when I say that and their city’s not on it. But we WILL be hitting most areas. We’re hitting all regions of the U.S.. We’re bringing For Peace Band who are our fucking brothers. And we’re bringing The Ries Brothers out of Florida, which are a couple of really cool, really talented kids who we are stoked to have.
Devin: Dude, it’s really cool the way For Peace Band and you guys seem to really have some glue together. Obviously we did that tour that was Expanders, Iya Terra and For Peace, and you guys had already done some stuff with them before that right?
Nate: Yeah for sure. I think that what created the brotherhood was, first of all, we were huge fans of For Peace and Rootical Riddim, JC’s (lead singer and keyboard player) previous band. We did our first-ever national tour supporting Fortunate Youth, and it was also supporting For Peace Band who were backing Josh Heinrichs and Skillinjah. So I mean, we spent ten weeks on the road with those guys as our first introduction to, like, meeting them. And so we just got really close because a ten-week tour is fucking brutal, and it was just like band-of-brothers type shit. So now every time we see them, it’s instant good times.
Devin: Awesome. When does that tour start?
Nate: It starts in September and goes all the way until the first week of November.
Nate: Yeah it’s a long one.
Devin: Are there any songs from the new album that you are maybe most excited about?
Nate: Yeah. I’m really excited to release “Follow Your Heart.” Because we’ve been wanting to do a collaboration with The Green for a long time. We did a short run of shows with them last year, in 2018, and became good friends with the boys, and the idea came about to get Zion to feature. So we just marinated on the idea for a while and wrote the song, and I’m super happy with the way it turned out. And then I’m stoked on some of the stuff that showcases the guitar riffing. So definitely “Fire and Water,” and “Wash Away.” I’m stoked for the collaboration with The Movement called “Break Down The Walls.” And then I’m stoked that this is the first time we decided to put horns on an album too. So I have to big up the Jah Connection horn section that did “Ganja Must Burn” and “Rainbow Road” with us.
Devin: Oh dope. I was gonna ask about the horns. Because plug-ins on computers sound so good nowadays that sometimes I can’t tell if I’m hearing synth horns or real horns.
Nate: Totally. Yeah, those guys put some horns on for us. And going with the theme of wanting to push the envelope, I felt like there’s nothing that we would decide not to include on the record because we can’t do it live. I think that the album will be immortal and live forever, and we just want to make the best record possible.
Devin: That’s a good point to touch on. I know we definitely struggled with that. I mean, “struggle” is the wrong word. But that would come up. The idea of, “Well, should we do such-and-such on the album because it might be hard to reproduce live.” And I think the consensus we all came to, and definitely myself, was similar to what you just said. The live show and the recording are two different animals by nature. So let’s not worry about that too much. Let’s just make this album the best it can be, and then we’ll worry about the live show when it’s time.
Nate: I agree with that, I agree with that! And I also think there’s levels to it. Because there are also gonna be songs that come out cool on the album but are ten-times better live. And there’s no way to control that, you know what I mean?
Devin: Definitely. Well, you spoke earlier about your love for Rock music, and then how you got into Reggae. But it seems like, however you got into Reggae and whenever it happened, you really went deep and grasped some of the important underlying vibes of Reggae that make Reggae, Reggae. And I always like to ask people who some of their biggest Jamaican musical influences are. They don’t necessarily have to be Jamaican, but some of the more old-school, traditional elements in Reggae that you were influenced by.
Nate: Yeah. I will definitely answer that. But I think one thing that’s important to note is that I’m so grateful for the things that Roots Reggae has taught me. Because I feel like it kind of gives me the insight to where I can say, “Ok, I want to put some Rock shit on this track, but I’m gonna follow guidelines that were handed to me from this music and from this Roots Reggae…” ‘Cause like, I’m not gonna put cymbals on the “1”, you know what I mean? And I’m not gonna do crazy fills. Because I understand from this music that a lot of the time simpler is better. So we’re able to fuse multiple genres together while still applying rules, or guidelines I guess, from Roots Reggae Music, so that when you do go into a Rock part, it’s still not a full-fledged Rock part. It’s got a lot of Reggae feel in there as well. But to answer your question, I think that most of the guidance and inspiration from Jamaican artists…it’s been passed down man. I think that us being a younger band, we started just like a lot of other Reggae bands do in this day and age. With coming into the Slightly Stoopid era and the Rebelution era. And then finding ourselves digging deeper and deeper into it. The first real Jamaican artist I got into, and he’s not even like a traditional Roots Reggae artist, he’s more of a Dancehall guy, but when I first heard Anthony B my whole life was changed. You know, I actually went to Reggae On The Mountain, I think it was 2013 or 2014, to go see The Expanders. And it was the year that Anthony B was playing. Me and Nick Leporchio, we went to go see y’all, and we ended up staying and seeing Anthony B. And we were just like…fuck, his band and his style and the way his lyrics flowed. So we got really into Anthony B. We were obviously always into Bob and Peter Tosh. Living in L.A., there’ve always been the Wailing Souls guys hanging around, so we got really into those guys. We got really into Israel Vibration. And then, what’s funny too is that before we dug into a lot of older Jamaican music, our first drummer was a vinyl head and collected all sorts of records. And he showed us the U.K. sound. And we were so young that we couldn’t really pick out what made it different from the Jamaican stuff because to us it all sounded like old-time music. But he showed us Aswad, and that’s where we connected dots of like, “Holy fuck, this is what we want to sound like.” So finding bands like Aswad and Steel Pulse and other bands from the U.K. was what really did it for us as far as finding a love of Roots Reggae Music. As well as a lot of Jamaican artists that we stumbled upon along the way.
Nate: But then also, being that generational band, what was cool is that once we started playing with bands that we looked up to, that we’re more modern, like you guys, Fortunate Youth, and bands that were from L.A. that we looked up to and eventually started playing shows with was like, tons of old music was passed onto us through you guys. Through the generation before. And a lot of the love and technique of that music was passed on through, you know, guys that were playing currently and that we listened to.
Devin: Going back to the new record, on the tune “Hold Ah Vibes,” is that the first song for you guys that has featured Nick Sefakis on lead vox for the whole song? I know he has his verse on “Humble Yourself” from Sacred Sound, but I don’t remember hearing a song with him singing lead all the way through. And you know, I should probably ask him this question, but…when I hear him, and can never quite put my finger on who he’s listening to. He definitely sounds like himself, but then to me he’s also got this vibe that’s like, maybe Dezarie, or Alborosie? Whenever I hear him I’m always curious about who he’s listening to. I’ve never asked him. Because he’s really good at that style! I don’t know if I’ve ever heard any other singer in this scene that does that style that he’s doing.
Nate: Totally. I agree with that. And that’s another aspect of this record that I am stoked on, that Sefakis is singing lead on an entire song. I don’t want to speak for him obviously. But I think it’s changed over time for him. I think he started his singing style when Midnite was his number 1. We used to have joke, like if we’d be in the van and he’d be like “Yo, let me put some music on,” 99.9% of the time it was gonna be Midnite. And I think he still takes a lot of his lyrical inspiration from Midnite. He listens to tons of Reggae Music. More than I do. He always has his finger on the pulse of what’s new, what’s coming out, who’s the hot artist and stuff like that. But to me, what I get from just knowing him personally and obviously hearing him sing, there’s a lot of Protoje in there, there’s definitely some Alborosie, there’s some Chronnix, and there’s Vaughn Benjamin (lead singer of Midnite), as inspirations. In my opinion.
Devin: As you’re saying all this, I’m kind of articulating this idea to myself in my head for the first time; but I think that you guys are one of the only bands in the American Reggae scene right now that really draw a lot of inspiration from modern Jamaican acts. Does that seem like a true statement?
Nate: We do. We take a lot of inspiration from it. I mean, with the development of artists like Chronnix and you know that whole circuit that me and you have talked about before, it’s like, that changed the game for a lot of Reggae lovers in the states, and for a lot of bands too you know? ‘Cause I remember first hearing Chronnix and Protoje and being like, “Yo, this is a totally new sound coming from Jamaica. It’s something that’s paying proper homage to all the old stuff, but it sounds like a message for our times that we’re living in currently, you know?”