After an amazing show at New York ‘s Gramercy Theatre we sat down with the MC from Oogee Wawa, Jesse Lee, to talk about reggae music and their latest set of shows. They have been a driving force for the East Coast reggae scene and will be opening for Steel Pulse later this month at The Space in Westbury. Here is what he had to say:
Reggae In NYC (RN)
Oogee Wawa (OW)
RN: I know you just returned from touring out of state, how was that experience?
OG: It’s been great, especially the last year and a half. The last year and a half has been pretty hard, built up a real good following, pretty much a national level at this point. But the last tour we just came back from was really exciting because this was our first time in the Virgin Islands. So that was incredible, we live in New York, so to get away from the winter and go tour and play some music down in the Caribbean was a dream come true, you know.
RN: I hear you are doing 100-200 shows a year?
OG: I wish it was only that. No, I would say the last three years we have hit over the 200 mark. 2014 we did 236 shows and then last year 257 or 258 was our final count and that was with me having twin girls. It’s actually looking like we are going to hit that mark again this year, the 250 mark.
RN: The Gramercy Theatre was packed last night to see you, tell me about your fan base?
OG: It’s crazy. We are from Long Island, so when we first came out, there really wasn’t a scene. Obviously there has always been a great music scene on Long Island, but it’s usually been hardcore, punk and cover bands. So when we came out on the scene there was one other band that was kinda doing reggae/dub, that we had known and we just got a lot of love from that. The scene in the last couple of years, not just the Long Island scene, but the New York scene has grown and that’s incredible. And you’re right to be an opener and have a majority of the theatre full is definitely a great feeling and that resonated through the industry. Even the other bands like Common Kings and Tomorrows Bad Seeds, were above all incredible guys. Very, very nice, super helpful. We talked a lot about our show and how we could enhance it, talked about their show and how big it is and how incredible it sounds. So that makes it easy too, like I said though that definitely resonated through them, “wow you guys have a good following and you just helped us have a good show out here”, that’s always cool.
RN: It’s great to hear that there is such camaraderie and support between the bands.
OG: Yeah I mean, I throw out the hashtag #bandfam all the time because that’s truly how I feel. A lot of these people that we meet on the road, you just develop that camaraderie and that love, and that family bond. Right now to see, the next generation of the reggae/rock world, you know, Oogee Wawa, Sun-Dried Vibes, Treehouse!, Resinated, Tatanka. All these other bands that we played with on the regular, we all seem to be coming up relatively in the same manner because we do, we big each other up. That’s just the best way to be about it. There is no need for a competition. Let’s help each other out.
RN: Your style of reggae is often called West Coast Reggae or Reggae Rock. How would you describe your music to NYC reggae fans who have mostly been listening to Caribbean reggae?
OG: Great question. I am trying to think of the quickest way I could say this. I could talk about this topic for hours. You know what it is too? You get a lot of negative connotation, I have heard “white boy reggae” before and I just dislike that. There’s no need, it’s a cultural thing.
RN: There was a lot of cultural diversity in the bands you played with last night.
OG: To me that is what makes for a great show. We tend to play with, you know, some more rootsier bands and to sum it up, people tend to be taken back with Oogee Wawa. We do have a lot of different elements, we do get clumped into the reggae world, but by no means are we only a “reggae” band. The message I believe is the same and to me that is what counts the most. It is a positive message, “let’s all get along”. There’s no negativity involved. Sure we do have some, chip on our shoulder songs. We have been burnt by the industry and things like that, but for the most part it’s all love. Its all community and unity and that’s what I believe is the message behind reggae music as a whole, you know?
But yeah, as opposed to West Coast, I kinda take it to a hip hop angle. Where the difference between East Coast Hip Hot and West Coast Hip Hip is very similar to the difference between East Coast reggae and West Coast reggae. Where East Coast we are a little bit more grimier and grittier. We have a little bit more attitude and then when you go to the West Coast it’s very happy and sunshine and palm trees. That rang true in the hip hop world too. Dr. Dre beats are very synthy and happy and then you listen to a Mobb Deep beat or a Nas beat and it’s rough and rugged. So I feel its kind of a similar, in my opinion. I listen to a lot of the “East Coast” reggae bands and we have a bit more of a rock edge to us.
RN: You seem to be having fun so much fun on stage, some bands make it look like work but you guys made me feel like you were loving every minute.
OG: It’s definitely work. We treat this as a full time job. We all do work as bartenders, just part time when we are home from tours and stuff, but this is work and we try to approach it as professionally as possible. We try to run our business the way any CEO would run a successful business. But when you are out on the stage, if you don't love what you do then why are you doing it? My old Phys. Ed teacher in high school, he was also our football coach, (said something) that stayed with me for my whole life, he was an older guy and everyone used to ask “coach, when are you going to retire?” He goes “I know it’s time to retire when I wake up and say I don’t want to go to work.” I believe that’s true and I know me and my whole group, you know this is what we do. We are performers, we are musicians and there is no better high than have a crowd be moved by what you’re providing. Because of that there is no reason to not have fun on stage. It’s fun loving music, you can’t not smile, you can’t not have a good time.
RN: Bars and bartending seem to run as a theme in your music, from the name of the band, to the song T.I.P.S. I assume you have some experience is that field? What did you learn there that you are bringing to the stage?
OG: Actually all of us met at TGI Fridays. We were all working at TGI Fridays, actually Chad was at Ruby Tuesdays down the way, so that’s how we all met each other. We were corporate bartenders and we broke out into the private work. I have opened up a ton of crap, beer bars as a consultant and things, comparing the two, as a bartender you are constantly on stage. When you are behind the bar and there are people sitting around the bar you need to entertain them. That’s how you make your money. If you have upset or disgruntled bar guests you are not making too much money, but if everyone is happy and smiling and engaging they are going to hang out more they are going to drink more and tip you more. And the same rings true on a stage. Who wants to just stand in a crowd, whether you love the music or not, if the people up there are miserable or are not putting out the energy that you can absorb to have a good time, you’re doing it wrong.
RN: More Sand Than Money came out in 2015, how has the response been to this new album?
OG: It’s been good. It’s been real good actually. We got a ton of reviews out from the album and some true reggae heads were a little taken back on it, but our core fans were super stoked and loving the evolved sound that we have coming with. Our first album was great. It was very bubbly, very beachy, fun music and then this album came out and it was a little more industry focused and serious and a little bit more of that reggae rock influence on it.
We tried to throw in our bubbly songs like Pretty like T.I.P.S., you know the fun songs, we tried to show that things are in jest with songs like Badrinath just to lighten the mood a little. But other than that we have gotten a real good response about it. And now we are looking to take it to the next level.
RN: With all the touring you are doing, are there plans for a new album?
OG: You know we talked about it. It just seems that right now at this time, to release another full length album we might be doing ourselves a disservice, so we are going to focus on releasing a few singles, throughout the rest of the summer with most likely another EP to follow up, by the end of Fall.
So definitely we are going to be releasing a few singles and we have a collaboration of songs we did with our friends TreeHouse! from Myrtle Beach, that song is going to be released, we are currently in the studio right now, working on another track with this other local producer who has done real good things, more in the hip hop and EDM world. We are going to experiment in that. Which again last night I was very very impressed with Tomorrows Bad Seeds and Common Kings on how they incorporated that mix of a sound.
I gotta say Junior, the front man of Common Kings was a super cool guy and excellent to talk to. It was really nice of him, he shared a lot of experiences he has learned from when they were on tour with Justin Timberlake. That was very well received on my end. I can’t wait to get back to the drawing board, you know?
RN: It’s interesting you mention that, they are one of the first groups in this genre that I have seen incorporate small numbers or almost dance moves into their set.
OG: It was so cool, I was like “yeah” and it was tasteful, I appreciated that it was tasteful, it wasn’t over the top. It fit very well with their show. Again it was educational as well, to see a group that is well received throughout the world put on that type of show in your back yard, is great.
RN: What is your writing process like for putting together a song?
OG: Well we are always writing, I know me I always write. We all try to work and perfect our craft as much as possible. For me, I’m free-styling on my free time, I’m always writing. But our writing process, we are fortunate, it’s kind of a gift and a curse, in some respects. A lot of bands have one writer, all five of us our writers, so it helps in the ability to crank songs out, but then also sometimes you get into your creative differences. We have actually been very fortunate to be able to work through those. And it’s going to be proven in these next couple of singles that we are going to release. Like I said, we are testing some waters here. We are going to see how it’s received.
RN: Politics are often a big part of reggae music and I know you have both fun and serious pieces. How do you feel about politics and involving some of those messages in your music?
OG: Actually, I live in a very political household. My wife is a political science major, is an attorney, has a jurist doctorate and most likely is going to be a judge at some point. So we are very, even locally involved in politics.
RN: It sounds like it may be something that you keep more in your personal life then in your musical life?
OG: I don’t fancy us a political band, that’s not the message that I want to get across. That’s coming from a bartender standpoint. What are the two things you don’t talk about in a bar? Politics and religion. People have so many differences of opinions and who is to say who is right and who is wrong. And that goes down when it comes to anything, when it comes to office politics, business politics, election politics, everyone has their own opinion. So I just feel it is unfair for me to try and push my agenda because I might have a difference of opinion from someone else. I think collectively we can say the number one thing is humanity and that’s the message that we try and put forth, stop dividing, let’s all come together.
RN: What advice do you have for other bands that are just starting out?
OG: Just keep at it. Honestly. I know it sounds like a copout and I’m sure people have been told that before. Perfect your craft and get on it. I know that when we were first starting out I had always wished that there was that kind of that band that we could lean towards and mentor us, that has been there. We made a good relationship with the guys in Ballyhoo and they kind of helped us out with some advice in the early stages. But I have always vowed that when we get to a level where we can help younger bands, we would do that 100%.
Which I’m currently working on right now, we have a few local up and coming bands that are just coming out on the local scene that I’m currently booking a tour for. Just to help them out and get acquainted to life on the road. The more bands that are involved in the circuit, the easier it becomes for everyone. And now we are building up a big scene on the East Coast, as much as I don’t want to compete with the West Coast, we have to prove that we can do it here on the East Coast.
We are trying to make that statement to these West Coast bands, utilize us East Coast Bands, we will help you sell out shows. A lot of West Coast bands take on tour other West Coast bands and they come to the East Coast and wonder “why aren’t we selling out shows?” Why don’t you link up with one of us, on of the East Coast bands and lets sell out some shows together. And then we will reciprocate the favor on the other coast.
We are actually working out a tour right now with another upcoming West Coast band call Synrgy. In the Fall we are going to be on a full national tour with them, again as a way kind of mend the two coasts together. As it comes to local bands keep pushing, keep getting at it and don’t be afraid to reach out to us that have been on this road already.
RN: What reggae is playing in your ipod right now?
OG: I’m very fortunate to be blessed with extremely talented friends, so honestly right now I am currently listening to our buddy Sun-Dried Vibes’ album. That’s what’s been playing in my house this morning while I was cleaning. Great dudes, very good friends of ours and they are crushing it, doing really good. Actually today on rotation was Sun-Dried Vibes and our buddy SOWFLO from Florida, so that’s what was playing in the Roenbeck residence.