The Island Sound presents the full-length Exclusive Interview with Spiritual Rez.
Veterans of the touring circuit, Spiritual Rez, has formed their sound with a fusion of reggae, ska, funk, rock, dancehall, jazz and everything in between. The band labels their sound as “the craziest reggae dance party you’ll ever be a part of.”
With well over ten years of consistent touring, Spiritual Rez performed their very first legitimate show in Hilo, Hawai’i, during 2003.
The band officially came together with the three core members of Toft Willingham (vocals and guitar), Jesse Shatternick (bass) and Ian Miller (drums) in Boston at the Berklee College of Music.
Prior to the performance in Hilo, Spiritual Rez was playing locally at college parties in the state of Massachusetts.
From the earliest of days as a band all the way to the upcoming release of their latest studio album, Setting In The West, Spiritual Rez has carved out their own hardcore fan base at each tour stop they hit. The shows have become even more electrifying and energetic than their first performance in Hawai’i. The band now features six members, adding Quinn Carson (trombone), Julian Dressler (trumpet) and Mohamed Araki (keyboards) to the three founding members.
For the upcoming full-length interview, the topics discussed focused on the new album, set to be released on October 7, 2016, the collaborations featured on the new record, including Hirie and Dustin Bushnell or “Duddy B” of Dirty Heads, as well as life on the road, the differences between the East Coast reggae community and the West Coast reggae scene, and much more.
Without further ado, here is the exclusive interview with Ian Miller of Spiritual Rez…
The Island Sound: To get things going, give our subscribers a little background on the band. How did you decide on the band name and what brought the members together to form the band initially?
Spiritual Rez: There are a core three band members that have been in the band since its inception. The original three includes myself, our lead singer, Toft, and our bass player, Jesse, who is also from Hilo, Hawai’i. Jesse and I moved from Hawai’i to Boston for music school at the Berkelee College of Music. We met Toft really quick during college and we all started writing music together. In the first couple of years, we came up with the name Spiritual Rez, and it doesn’t really have much meaning. We hear from our fans about some of the different ideas and meanings as to what Rez could be, like resonance or resound, even resilience and reservation. Through our recent West Coast tours, we have found out that we have a lot of Native American fans that enjoy our music. None of these things are direct connotations as to what it means, but at the same time they all encapsulate the feeling we get when playing music. By the time we finished college, we added a full horn section and went through many different incarnations to find our sound and our signature. But, all of it has been really focused, as a whole, on the live show and how we can really make the crowd have a good time.
The Island Sound: Now, you guys are certainly approaching veteran status with some tireless work both in the recording studio and on the road touring. In the early stages was there one show or performance that stood out for you in the beginning and you thought, “We can really make a name for ourselves in the reggae genre make a career out of this?”
Spiritual Rez: I’ll actually say, because it conveniently ties to the islands. Our first legitimate show was in Hilo, Hawai’i at the Palace Theater. At that time, we had never really played a show, like a real show. We had only really performed at college parties, previously. So, in 2003, the original three of us flew out to Hawai’I for our winter break in college to perform this show. I will never forget that night. It really solidified the fact that this is what we wanted to do for a living. The energy of the show was amazing. We weren’t rock stars, we were just kids up there having a good time with the crowd. But, that’s what we wanted to do. Thirteen-years later, yea, we are definitely veteran status. We want to get to super-veteran status and eventually retirement status (laughs).
The Island Sound: Life on the road is not easy, especially as a rising band trying to make headway in non-mainstream genre. So, how is life on the road for you guys?
Spiritual Rez: I have to say, it is really easy for bands to bump heads, especially when you perform a schedule like we do, which is about 100 to 120 dates a year. Our band is very good at maintaining complete positivity and just stoking. Even after forty days or fifty days on the road, we aren’t headstrong or negative to each other. Everybody is still having such a good time and we are lucky to make it work. I think it may be due to musical freedom we have in the band. When we step on stage, we play our songs live a little bit different than our recorded album version. We are not confined on stage, we tweak each song just a little bit every time we play. That musical freedom creates a great environment to just be friends that are lucky enough to play music, and thankfully, make a living doing so. I can begin to tell you how much gratitude we have for our fan base and the fans that come to our shows. We have tremendous support and it is only continuing to grow. We cannot say enough about how much they mean to the band and our music.
The Island Sound: Currently, you guys are touring in support of your upcoming album. It is a nationwide tour, but what are some of the hotspots for the band?
Spiritual Rez: We are really excited to get back out and tour in California. We have been really touring for the past 9 or 10 years. The first four years as a band were just performing at colleges. But, in all those years we never made it out to California until about two years ago. Since that first trip to California, we have jumped on a total of three tours. And, every time we go out there, it just gets bigger and bigger. Just the energy of playing shows in this genre on the West Coast, it is a little bit different. Our style is pretty different than many of the typical roots-reggae bands you see or hear coming from California. I love roots music and I love the American roots movement that is currently happening. That being said, we are doing something slightly different and the fans really embrace the energy. With these tours on the West Coast and California, specifically, we have been able to cultivate a whole new family and create so many connections to further our band.
The Island Sound: As an east coast reggae band, it is perceived that the West Coast is more fruitful for American reggae bands. How do you view the reggae scene on the East Coast versus the West Coast?
Spiritual Rez:Obviously, the American reggae genre is still heavily California based. don’t want to say it is oversaturated, because for me, I can never have too much reggae. There are few different subgenres and styles within American reggae. There has been such a spotlight on the California bands, and rightfully so. But, t he East Coast reggae movement has really supported itself. The bands have all been tirelessly working, and I see some of these bands on the East Coast not getting the proper reception that they need or deserve. It just seems like a lot more effort and a lot more work for some of these East Coast bands to get it running, compared to the West Coast or California bands. It’s interesting for us to go on stage and say, “We are Spriritual Rez from Boston, Massachusetts” and play the type of reggae we play, most people just assume we are from California. But, some of the biggest names in reggae music are from the East Coast, SOJA might be the biggest band in the world not named Marley, John Brown’s Body is legendary, and bands like Passafire, Giant Panda, TreeHouse, Shrub, we have been playing with those guys for years. It just takes a lot of work to maintain. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, either. This is life and you have to work for everything you have.
The Island Sound: On this current tour, you will be hitting some major hotspots for reggae bands, like Long Beach at DiPiazza’s, the 710 Beach Club in San Diego, and The Mint in L.A. What does it mean for you guys to be playing at some storied venues like that?
Spiritual Rez: Every time we have gone to California we have had bigger draws every single time, and this is before our album release. Obviously, playing in Long Beach, I mean, that is the Mecca for this particular genre. Even when we drive into Long Beach in our van with license plates from 3,000 miles away, the energy will be incredible. Whether it is a big room like the Catalyst in Santa Cruz or club in Hollywood or in Pacific Beach, we are going to put on a show that the crowd will enjoy experiencing. It will be awesome for us to get out there and play these shows.
The Island Sound: Your sound is certainly unique and not cookie cutter in the genre. Coming from the East Coast, what are some of the bands that you guys looked up to as a form of inspiration when creating your sound?
Spiritual Rez: Each album we put out is a separate form of art for us. We have not had the same full lineup on all of our albums. As a band, we have gone through many different incarnations. More recently, our live show has always worked into different versions of itself. There are always constant evolutions. For the upcoming album, we went out to California to work with one of the members of Awolnation at his studio. When I walked into the studio, I thought for sure this guy was going to say, “No, (expletive) drums. We are just going to use the drum machine.” (laughs) But, then we sat down and we just wanted to have an old school drum sound. It was perfect. Even the vocal producer, we didn’t choose reggae producers for the album. For us, it has been another instance where we have changed and grown as a band with the people we have worked with, and I think the latest album will show that for our fans.
The Island Sound: Over the course of the band’s career, you guys have established some great relationships. With that, and the new upcoming album, the band featured some of those bonds created with the Duddy B of the Dirty Heads, female reggae artist, Hirie, as well as Reel Big Fish and Awolnation. Talk about building relationships with those artists and bands, as well as how it helped form the upcoming album.
Spiritual Rez: Our lead singer, Toft, was actually in a band with Kenny Carkeet from Awolnation. They grew up in Florida together and were in a band when they were fourteen-years-old. Kenny was working with the Dirty Heads, writing a song for their new album. They ended up not using the song for their album, but he said the song would be perfect for you guys. We were then introduced to Jim Kaufman and recorded at out in Los Angeles for about a month. We brought in all these great musicians and instrumentalists to round out our sound for the album. Billy Kottage the trombone player for Reel Big Fish, he actually played with us on a tour few years back. The song with Billy is actually one of my favorite songs on the album, and before he asked to do a song with us, that song wasn’t even going to be on the record. So, we had to rethink that and get him on the track. We met Hirie at our show at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz, while we were on tour. We did a lot of work with her and we have a video that we will release for that song, “Together Always”.
The Island Sound: For this upcoming release in October, what do you hope devoted fans and new fans take away from the album, as a sound, from the lyrics or as inspiration?
Spiritual Rez: We really want everyone to enjoy what we have created. And, realistically, see and hear the messages we have in the songs. A lot of our songs are somewhat comedic, yet somewhat serious. It is just one big story for this album. We want the fans to have songs that they want to sing along to at our live shows and have a good time when they hear our music. For us, performing live is what it’s all about. Our shows are what we want fans to be most gratified with. Nobody wants to see the same show a hundred times. If you want some real hardened musicianship, that’s what we are there to provide. And, that is what this album was intended to do.
The Island Sound: In terms of the band, where do you guys see this upcoming album elevating your status in the genre and the band’s future endeavors?
Spiritual Rez: We just want people to have a good time and come see the shows. That is where everyone is going to have the most fun. This album is a conduit to that. It is what we view as the promotional capabilities to get us there. We are an independent band and doing this on our own. We are very stoked on the support that we do have. Where we are at, right now, is great. I feel like more people will see and hear exactly what we are capable of doing. We don’t need to be celebrities. We just want to make a lot of people have fun, dancing to and singing along with our music.
The new album from Spiritual Rez, Setting In The West will be released on October 7, 2016.
Video: Spiritual Rez – “Sober” (Official Music Video)