Coming up on two decades, John Brown’s Body is one of the first and one of the longest national-touring American reggae acts. So what accounts for the band’s longevity?
“Our love for the music — it’s as simple as that,” said Drew Sayers, saxophone player.
The band’s eight members are from Boston, Massachusetts, and Ithaca, New York. The band’s sound is rooted in reggae rhythms and blended with a variety of other styles — dub, electronic, funk, ska and hip-hop included. John Brown’s Body has performed in Vail often over the years, most recently in 2013 as the headlining concert for the Winter Mountain Games when drummer and founding band member Tommy Benedetti talked to the Vail Daily.
“We’ve played a bunch of these outdoor concerts in Vail, and they’re always a blast,” Benedetti said. “We have a really big sound that translates really well live. With the horns, the organ and drum and bass, it’s big and pumping, with really high, heavy vibes. We love what we do, and I think that comes across pretty obviously. It’s good for us and the fans as well.”
Sayers took the time to answer a few questions for the Vail Daily in advance of the band’s free show at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater in Vail on Tuesday night.
Vail Daily: You’re playing six back-to-back dates in Colorado this month. What do you like about our state and what draws you back?
Drew Sayers: It’s really about the people who keep coming back to our shows. We do this mostly for the experience of playing together, but it’s also to inspire those who decide to come through. We try to stay laser focused on that no matter where we are.
VD: You’ve played in the Vail area quite a bit over the years. Any good memories or do the shows just kind of run together?
DS: The Vail (Winter) Mountain Games last winter was pretty memorable. It was an outdoor nighttime show on the mountain, so it was really cold. We tried to warm up by drinking nips of bourbon, which didn’t really work, but despite the conditions, we played to a huge crowd that was energetic, and I think it turned out to be the most fun show of the tour.
VD: Your “Kings and Queens” album is your latest record. Tell me how the album was received?
DS: A lot of people have told me it’s their favorite John Brown’s Body album to date. We worked really hard on it, and Elliot wrote some brilliant songs. Now we are just looking towards the future and making more great music.
VD: You guys are known for your high energy live shows. You are definitely a band best experienced live, do you agree?
DS: I think that’s something for each individual person to decide; some people love our early records, some like our instrumental album the most, some like to see us live. It’s not up to us to decide how people interpret our music, all we can do is put it out there with our hearts behind it.
VD: For a person who has never heard your music, what can they expect from a John Brown’s Body show?
DS: A group of musicians who love playing together; heavyweight drums and bass; tight three-piece horn section; one of the best and most original singers in modern reggae; a band that is passionate about making great music that you can dance to and be inspired by.
VD: Your lyrics tend to be socially conscious. Talk about what topics you’ve tackled on the latest album and why.
DS: I think the lyrics can speak for themselves. Elliot touches on a lot of topics that can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. It’s up to the listener to decide what meaning they draw from it. We have had everyone from soldiers in Iraq who listened to us as inspiration to stay positive, to people who have lost loved ones and find solace in the message or just someone who is having a bad day and needs to be uplifted. Or maybe you just like the music because it makes you feel good and you can dance to it. I have seen this “socially conscious” tag given to us many times. Anyone who writes lyrics — or makes music for that matter — must be conscious of their surroundings and the way social interaction shapes who we are as people. Making music is an act of social consciousness in itself.
VD: You’ve called your most recent sound “future roots.” Explain what that is?
DS: Once again, I think music and lyrics should speak for themselves, but every so often you need to describe it to someone who hasn’t heard it yet. But even that person needs to have some point of reference to draw meaning from it. With “future roots” their are two points of reference: one being roots reggae and two being modern music in general, which is harder to define due to the exponential availability of information. I think what we were attempting to say is that we have a deep, deep respect for the traditions we have been influenced by, but aren’t afraid to move fearlessly into the future with our own original sound.