John Brown’s Body
Tommy from John Brown’s Body sat down in the Waiting Room for a quick chat about the band, Easy Star All-Stars, The Black Seeds and their upcoming tour of the UK.
The Waiting Room: First of all for British readers who may not know a lot about the band could tell us a little bit about the origins of John Brown’s Body, how did the band get started?
Tommy: The band was formed in 1996. The core of the band had played together in previous groups and we shared a love of old school reggae and dub. We were living in Boston, MA and Ithaca, NY at the time and we decided to record some new tunes. That batch of music turned into “All Time”, our first record as John Brown’s Body. We toured a bit and started getting a positive response about the band, so we continued on and recorded “Among Them”. That album was picked up by Shanachie Records in 1998 and put us on the national scene. We pretty much became a full-on touring band at that point and realized that we were in this for the long haul.
Now the name John Brown’s Body is certainly a unique choice, can you explain where the name came from?
JBB is named after John Brown, a white abolitionist living in the US during the 1850s and 60s. He is an often-overlooked but very important figure in US history- he helped arm a slave insurrection in West Virginia, and was captured and hung. That was basically the backdrop for the beginning of the Civil War. Anyway, we thought he was a real interesting person with a compelling story. We liked the idea of an iconoclast from the majority standing up alone against a great injustice, and it made for a unique band name, so we went with it.
You have a album dropping 28 September called ‘Amplify’ and a remix EP ‘Re-Amplify’ which is your sixth release, and the tour will be your first time playing in the UK. You must be excited to bring up your music to a new audience?
We are beyond excited to be coming to the UK. It’s been a long time goal of the band. We wanted to wait for the right opportunity- we didn’t want to cut corners and go over without our horn section, or our live sound/dub engineer. With this tour lining up with the UK/Europe release of “Amplify” and “Re-amplify”, the timing couldn’t be better!
How would you sell your music to someone who may not have heard you before?
JBB is for music lovers. I think we’ve hit upon an interesting mix of an old school dub foundation with a more modern approach to song writing and grooves. It’s a very high energy live show, with a 3 piece horn section, a live dub sound engineer, thick bass, and drums. Over the years, we’ve shared the stage with Dave Matthews Band, Jurassic 5, and Slightly Stoopid, as well as Burning Spear, and Culture. I think that speaks to the universal appeal of our music.
On ‘Re-Amplify’ you gave over control of your music to a group of re-mixers, including the UK’s GoldieLocks and Australia’s Blue King Brown. Were you apprehensive about giving your tunes to other artists to mould in their own image?
Quite the opposite actually, we were super excited about doing a remix record. It’s another thing I’ve wanted us to do for a while. And, thanks to our management and our label, Easy Star, it came together. Having such talented producers and musicians from around the world sign on to this was really an honour. It’s inspiring to hear our tunes re-interpreted as something different for our fans to enjoy.
You are supporting Easy Star All-Stars, how did you manage to get on board with the Easy Star crew?
Well, being signed to Easy Star records means that we are all family already. JBB and ESAS did a West Coast US tour in 2005. We were supporting our “Pressure Points” record, which was our first album for Easy Star records. The Easy Star All Stars were supporting “Dub Side of the Moon”. We had a blast touring with them! Menny More came up onstage and sang with us every night. It was killin’. Easy Star records have a very cool roster that includes JBB, ESAS, and the recent addition of our friends from New Zealand, The Black Seeds. We’re glad to be part of the family and look forward to tearin’ it up in the UK.
After the UK tour you are heading to New Zealand to support The Black Seeds, I have spent a fair amount of time down there and they certainly love their reggae and dub down there. You must, again, be thrilled to have this opportunity to expand your audience? How did this tour come about?
Playing music in New Zealand is going to be surreal. It all came about by our manager reaching out to The Black Seeds’ management about working together. Things started rolling and before we knew it, we had a US and NZ tour lined up with them! Right now we are in the midst of a 3 week US tour with The Black Seeds supporting us. In Nov, we’ll support them in New Zealand. They are one of our favourite bands on the scene right now. Playing music with them has been one of my favourite experiences of my career. We are definitely gonna make some noise in the South Pacific!
I understand that the band has experienced its share of upset, most notably the death of your original bassist Scott Palmer. It must have been tough losing not only a member of your band but I assume a friend also?
Yeah, we have been through a lot together. 2006 was a tough year for us, with Scott’s passing and the departure of a few long time members. Being the drummer, I was especially close to Scott. He made a huge contribution to the sound and development of the band, and he was one of my best friends. Losing him pushed the band and myself to the brink. But, we re-focused and recommitted ourselves to making music. We added people to the band that were not only great players, but great people. I think our perseverance is paying off.