Thursday, February 15, 2007

"The Beat" Q& A: Steel Pulse

There are a few reggae acts who I absolutely must see anytime they come to town. Barrington Levy. Israel Vibrations. And the legendary Steel Pulse.

I'd like to say I could remember every time I've seen them, but when it comes to reggae concerts, my memory gets sort of fuzzy. That withstanding, I can assure you that their live show is one of the most memorable experiences I've been lucky enough to partake more than once.

It's a righteous mix of awesome music and energy and showmanship. Their catalogue is ocean-deep, their craft work brilliant. Live, they manage to make their music sound light years better than their recorded stuff, which is as good as reggae gets, in my opinion.

The band will headline the first day of the second annual Santa Cruz days, Feb. 22 and 23 at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium. The band's keyboardist Selwyn Brown was kind enough to talk to "The Beat." Here's an excerpt from that interview:

Q: Whenever you do these festival shows, such as the Santa Cruz Dayz, where it’s five bands on one bill, is there any added pressure because you don't have as much time to prepare?
A: That's a good question because, what it is, it's a different kind of vibe. A different kind of organization. When we're doing our own show and everything is built around us and the opening band, we have time to come in and do our thing. It's hard, on us and even on our road crew. (At normal shows) they have more time to set it up and we have more time to do a proper sound check.
For a band like ourselves, we like to use sound checks as a kind of rehearsal as well. Sometimes sound checks are two to three hours, because we're working on new songs, working on songs maybe we thought we didn't perform particularly well the night before, or maybe there's a particular musician in the band that wants to rehearse a particular song to improve their performance on that song.
But with a festival, we just come in, we don't get a sound check. We get what's known as a line check, where we come in and make sure everything is actually working and hope the crew can get it together in time for decent sound on stage and in the audience. It's a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants thing. It's still enjoyable, but its a different thing, a different vibe.

Q: For reggae musicians, it seems like touring on the festival circuit is key to longevity. How tight knit is the community among the touring bands who work the festival circuit?
A: We all get out and hang out together. Which is good, because anywhere we go, it's like a big family. There's certain bands you're closer to than others, but it has nothing to do with record sales or a status thing, it's just a vibe thing. On a whole, it's a family sort of vibe, and you see guys you haven't seen in awhile, and you get together and it's like “How's so and so doing?”
Through these festival things, there's a lot of networking going on, so you might link up with other musicians to work on different music.

Q: Going back to the local scene, are you familiar with any of the reggae bands from the Northern California area?
A: Mostly bands like Soul Majestic, Mystic Revealers, Midnite, Boom Shaka.

Q: You ever heard of the Salinas band Dubwize?
A: I have, actually. I'm sure they gave me a CD at some point.

Q: The last time you guys released a CD was in 2004. Any plans for a new CD?
A: At the moment, nothing in the near future because we're so busy doing other stuff, touring and working with other people. I even go into schools now and do workshops with the kids, on the history of reggae and recording. I give out CDs and record music for fundraisers for schools.
As far as writing, we're always writing anyway, so material is always there. As far as anything new, realistically, I'd say we'd probably start at the end of this year, going into next year.

Q: For the Santa Cruz Dayz show, what can the fans expect?
A: As always, we'll give them the full Steel Pulse package. As far as energy levels, as far as the cross-section of songs. Hopefully, we'll do enough songs that most of the audience will like and recognize as favorites. Maybe more energy and some songs we're going to dig up from the archives as well. Hopefully, a lot of the fans will be excited as well to hear those old songs.

Q: I hope you guys bust out with “Ravers.” That's my favorite Steel Pulse song.
A: All right. We'll keep you waiting and hopefully we'll do that one (laughs).

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