Before their show this week we got an opportunity to sit down with headliner Iration and speak with Micah Pueschel (guitarist and lead vocals) about musical influences, California, and the bands latest album Hotting Up. You can catch them this Friday, April 8th at Webster Hall in New York.
Reggae In NYC (RN)
(RN): Being originally from San Francisco, I see you guys repping SF gear all the time. I know that you got to perform at a Giants home game last summer how was that?
(IR): Yes we have played at AT&T park twice, acoustic and then we did Levi’s this past year. It was awesome. I am a Niners and a Giants fan so for me it was just one of those great moments in my life. Surreal moments where you set foot on a field or get to work with a franchise that you grew up loving, something that you care about. I’m a huge football fan, huge sports fan in general, so it was really cool. It was surreal, being on the field and stuff like that. But we have a lot of friends in San Francisco, that we have known for a long time, so we spend a lot of time out there.
(RN): If you are a big Forty-Niners and Giants fan, was there a part of you that wishes it could have been at Candlestick?
(IR): Yeah, you know, The Stick, it had the heir of a little bit more of a fortress then Levi’s does. Levi’s, I don’t think it’s had the time yet to develop that home field advantage. Candlestick was so cold and windy, so packed in. It went up so vertically, when teams came to play there it was intimidating.
(RN): What is it about Hawaii that breeds reggae? So much of the Cali scene started there or has ties there?
(IR): The Green is all from Hawaii, we are all from Hawaii. I think it’s just growing up with the mishmash of taking famous songs and turning them into reggae type songs. That’s what Jawiian really was. It wasn't even as much making originally, as it was initially taking classic songs, giving them a reggae flare. Playing them with a ukulele, changing them in that way and giving them a little island flare.
That’s just the music we grew up with. Hearing it on the radio along side reggae, which is pretty much the biggest genre of music in Hawaii. I just remember growing up with UB40 and Alpha Blondy and Bob (Marley), obviously, and Ziggy (Marley). In the 80’s Ziggy was hitting his big stride, it just became second nature, you hear it on the radio and in your daily life. It’s what everyone listens to so it becomes ingrained in your psyche and ingrained in your musical taste.
(RN): It’s reminiscent of early recordings out of Jamaica, where you had reggae covers of American and UK R&B songs.
(IR): Right, right. They had Motown. They had R&B. Then it regenerated as reggae and as a more political thing,. For us, we are not in a war torn, strife ridden country, we are in Hawaii, so most of the songs end up being about love or relationships or life. What our lives are about, that’s the main difference.
(RN): Coming from the West Coast, not every band has the East Coast fan base. Last time you were in NYC it was a sold out show, what is it about your fans that allows you to sell out coast to coast?
(IR): We’ve spent a lot of time and energy touring, building our fan base. It was not something that just happened over night for us. We have been touring since 2008, pretty steadily and we have been to New York a lot of times and played a lot of shows before we were selling out shows. We played at The Trash Bar in Williamsburg. We played Sullivan Hall. We have literally built ourselves from the bottom all the way up to where we are now. I just think that with this whole scene, there are so many bands now, and there is so much quality now. The quality has gotten better at the top and I think people just hearing it and it becoming more of an easy thing to find. Whether it’s Pandora or wherever people are finding their music online. It gives us the ability to reach the coasts; even if we weren’t necessarily touring there. I just think we are lucky. I mean New York fans, we know that they don’t all come from right in the city. They come from Jersey and the surrounding areas and people will drive kind of a long ways to see shows in New York because it’s such an iconic place to see a show or a concert and there are so many iconic venues.
(RN): Hotting Up is the first release since Micah Brown has joined the band. What influence did he have on the album?
(IR): It’s been awesome. I mean Kai (Rediske) was a great song writer and had a great voice and had a style, but Micah Brown I think has added a huge element. Which is a different style of guitar and really as a true lead guitar, he has opened up our abilities to do things guitar-wise and give us a full sound and I think that has made a huge difference. As well he has been writing. He writes his own music. So having his ear, studio ear, ear for writing has also been huge. I think the record was the most polished and best record that we have ever put out as an album.
(RN): You have said that the band pushed themselves on this album to try new things and go new places, tell us about that process?
(IR): We did. We really said; this is an important album for us, we are post losing a band member and kind of changing. We really felt that we needed to bring a strong product. We have always said that we don’t want to put anything out that is not quality, that we are not proud of. I think that in the past maybe we have, not whole albums but certain songs, we just did them and were like “well we are not gong to throw this away so we might as well put it out.” After we put it out, we are like “why did we do that?” At this point, I am talking earlier stuff. But yeah I think with Hotting Up we really pushed ourselves to play well. To get the tones and the sounds correct and we didn’t limit ourselves. We were open to different processes and trying new things in the recording process and that all came together. We worked with a different crew, we worked with a different producer, different mix engineer, different recording engineer, we recorded at different studios. So I think overall it was just a totally kind of fresh and different process, which was awesome.
(RN): You seem to be able to produce material very quickly, even with all the touring. What is the bands writing process like?
(IR): Previous it was a lot of writing on the acoustic guitar. Generally I would write something on the acoustic guitar, come up with some chords and then I would bring it to the band and we’d kind of hash it out as a band. Now its like, we still do some of that, but on Hotting Up maybe half the songs were done like that and then the other half were done with our producer Dave (Manzoor). On the piano he’s a really, really talented piano player. So it was like writing on the piano and building little beats and songs and little kind of things on Logic and writing over that and putting chords together and trying a bunch of different stuff. It was a new way to write, but it was really cool and actually speeds the process up quite a bit. Because he’s so proficient at using Logic and using tools, we can build a full beat and a basic track of a demo song within a few minutes. It really helps for me to have the chords down and the beat down, then writing over that is pretty simple.
(RN): I have heard you talk about supporting up and coming bands and the great reggae community on the West Coast. How has it been touring with The Expanders and Hirie?
(IR): In general this whole scene or genre is pretty tight knit. We know just about everybody we are familiar with just about all the bands that are touring bands. We were there from the very beginning. We were there from the beginning of the scene when it was like, there was only like five bands or something. It was 311, Pepper, Slightly Stoopid, us, Rebelution, The Expendables and a couple others, Dirty Heads. Now there is so many there are hundreds now. They are popping up everyday. It’s interesting to see and in a lot of ways we feel like we were there in the beginning and maybe helped to mold us in a certain way. It’s cool. Hirie and The Expanders have been good, they really both got like totally different styles. Hirie’s got a female lead and they got horns and they do a different brand and then The Expanders are really this old school kind of reggae. That’s playing like reverby stuff with three part harmonies and they sound like the old original style of reggae. It’s very different, very cool. Both bands have a very cool product that they put out there. I am happy with it. It’s pretty early in the tour, we are only on our fourth night so we really have only been together for a few nights now, but they are going to get better and better. Yeah, we are stoked.
(RN): It sounds like it will be a great show for fans, with so many different genres of reggae all playing together.
(IR): Totally, and obviously we are different from those two. I think we always try to focus on when we put a package together trying to cover multiple bases. It doesn’t even need to be “reggae”. We just want it to be good music and we want it to be interesting. We like to think that the people that come to Iration shows are not just reggae fans, their just music fans. I think we, just because of the songs that we do and style that we play, it’s not roots, roots reggae. There is an element of reggae involved of course and I think that people recognize that in the music and I think that allows us to bring a huge variation of bands out on tour with us. We have Amp Live doing a DJ set and playing some of Unified Highway and some of his remixes and stuff. Then we have The Expanders, Hirie and us. Overall I think it is a broad night of music, there is a lot of variation and style.
(RN): There is a huge reggae scene emerging on the West Coast. How would you describe your music to reggae fans that have mostly been listening to Caribbean reggae?
(IR): It’s different for sure. That’s what we grew up listening to and playing. We started as a cover band and we played every one of those artists songs. That’s who we looked up to, Black Uhuru is our favorite band. Sly and Robbie, those are the songs that we loved to play and to emulate and that’s kinda where our drum and bass style originally started. The Taxi Gang, Sly & Robbie, Black Uhuru with Michael Rose. We know that we are not roots reggae. We know that we are not Barrington Levy or Steel Pulse, (Peter) Broggs and bands like that. We are what we are. We come from a different place, we come from the islands.
We always said from the start that we want to do something different we don’t want to just play reggae. There are a lot of bands that are kind of crossing it up with reggae, but we felt that we had the ability to do a lot of different mashups and not just be like we are only going to play punk and reggae or metal and reggae, like pop and reggae or hip hop and reggae or whatever it is. We just said we are going to try and make good songs and whatever style they come out as we will accept that. We are not gong to try and fight it and not pigeonhole ourselves into one genre.
I think that if people come see an Iration show they should expect that there is gong to be some rootsy sounding songs. But there are also going to be some songs that are more rock alternative vein and stuff that is more light hearted or closer to a pop song then a straight up reggae track. We just try to run the board. The reason why people like it is because there is variation. People that love Barrington Levy and love Eek-A-Mouse, they are still going to love that. We are trying to tie multiple fans in. We want to have those fans, but we also want fans that listen to hip hop, that listen to alternative and indie rock and stuff like that. I think we try to broaden the target range a little bit.
(RN): I’m hoping a lot of those fans that you are talking about will come out, see the show and be exposed to some of these new bands and types of music.
(IR): Totally. We went the opposite way, we learned by hearing the original roots bands and we have made our way to where we are now. But if someone listens to Iration and then goes the other way and goes deeper into the history of reggae and learns that way, we don’t have an issue. We would be stoked for people to go “I’ve heard Iration or Rebelution, but I have never heard Steel Pulse.” It sounds ridiculous to anyone who is a reggae fan, but if that helps them discover Steel Pulse and that style of reggae then I’m stoked. Either way, for me I’m just pumped that people are listening to that stuff and understanding where it is coming from.
(RN): What reggae is in your ipod?
(IR): Oh man, to be perfectly honest with you when I am on the road I don’t listen to that much music, I’m listening to podcasts and stuff like that. Right now, what am I listening to? Let me look at my ipod. I got…the last songs played were Mikey Dread, Roots & Culture and Ooklah The Moc, this band from Hawaii. I don’t know if you have heard of them. They are the badass roots band from Hawaii. They were a huge influence on us when we started. We wanted to sound like them, their drum and bass section and everything. They are just a badass band and they have really prided themselves on playing that really roots, hard, old school style. I listen to some much different shit. Lots of older stuff, Fleetwood Mac, Beatles, Tom Petty, Weezer. I listen to whatever at the moment feels right. I also listen to whatever is on the radio nowadays. I listen to hip hop and whatever pop song is stuck in my head on the day, I’m not a hater, I’m pretty open to music in general.