This past week we were able to catch up with the Common Kings as they came through New York City and the Gramercy Theatre on The Hits & Mrs. Tour. We sat down before the show with lead singer JR King, guitarist Taumata “Mata” Grey, bassist Ivan Kirimaua and drummer Jerome Taito. Here is what they had to say.
Reggae In NYC (RN)
Common Kings (CK)
RN: You have done some amazing tours with Justin Timberlake, Soja, Rebelution, just to name a few, how has it been headlining this tour?
CK: We have done headline tours before, but this one is special because it’s the first time on the East Coast. Usually, we just hit the southern states. Overall the tour has been great all around, every show we’ve had good turnout.
RN: What have been some of the memorable moments so far?
CK: D.C. was crazy. They showed a lot of love. It was probably because of the venue, it had low ceilings so everyone was just packed in there at the Rock and Roll Hotel. It’s a big time, well-known, punk rock venue, but it was dope. The crowd was live.
RN: Last time you were here were you at The Gramercy?
CK: We were supposed to, but it got snowed out. It was our first show that ever got cancelled. But this time we brought the Cali weather.
"We were supposed to but it got snowed out. It was our first show that ever got cancelled. But this time we brought the Cali weather."
RN: I see you have Tomorrow Bad Seeds opening for most of the tour, how did you connect with them?
CK: They are great guys. We get along with them really well and we love their music as well. We did a tour with them a long time ago, like three years ago when we were first starting in Hawaii. We were super stoked that we were able to reconnect. Those are like our brothers. They got a great following and their show is crazy. They are freaking great.
RN: You have done a bunch of collaborations, such as J. Boog and Meghan Trainor, will we see some new collaborations soon?
CK: We are hoping yes, possibly some stuff with Kranium or with Shaggy, we spoke with Shaggy the other night. But we are excited for the new music coming up, for sure, to share with everybody.
RN: Do you have new music coming up after this album?
CK: Yes, we have a lot of songs,. We always have different influences, it is just mainly finding a theme and sticking to it and putting those songs together. Because our songs just go all over, we have straight pop songs, where people are like “you did that”? We have super soulful country songs and some roots reggae songs, but with the reggae undertone all the time. Making it make sense, make sure it portrays who we are as artists.
RN: What do you mean by portrays who we are?
CK: Our influences and Common Kings as a band.
"We are hoping yes, probably some stuff with Kranium or Shaggy, we spoke with Shaggy the other night."
RN: Who would you like to do a track with?
CK: JT (Justin Timberlake) for sure, Pharrell (Pharrell Williams). I’d love to get in with CeeLo (CeeLo Green). We did a show with him, he is a super cool guy.
RN: Are we going to see you guys on a big reggae tour soon like the Jamrock Reggae Cruise?
CK: Oh hell yeah. We are going there this year, we may not be performing, but we are going.
RN: The Hits & Mrs. Album has been out for about 5 months now, how has the response to this album been?
Common Kings: Well, the reception that we got was really good. It debuted at #2 or #3 on the iTunes reggae charts and got to #1 for a few days. So that was really cool for us. We were super stoked.
RN: There is a huge reggae scene on the West Coast. How would you describe your music/shows to reggae fans who have mostly been listening to “Caribbean” reggae?
CK: Our shows are different in a sense that if you haven’t been to one of our shows, there are so many different aspects to the show. From being intimate with the crowd, to high energy, to songs that you are familiar with that you didn’t even know we can pull out of our ass and put it in the show. It covers everything. What we have seen is families, the kids come and they know all the songs on the EP and we play other stuff that the parents are like “oh wow” and they start to get into it and so we have literally, full families that are all fans. It’s very cool.
RN: One theme I see regularly when I interview reggae acts is the importance of family? How has that influenced your music?
CK: It’s never easy to be away from family, but they are the prize at the end of the…the prize at the end of the ride? The reason for the ride? The reason for the season? (band laughs). They make it worth it and we do this for them.
RN: What is your writing process like for putting together a song?
CK: We get inspiration from somewhere and we like to collab with a lot of other song writers, but with ourselves we can start with a baseline or a guitar line or riff, maybe production, just start it any which way. We have noticed that whatever sparks up the inspiration, no specific process, its like a big puzzle. There is no wrong or right way. No Other Love started as a different song, what in the hook was the verse and what was the hook became the second verse. We just re-arrange like a puzzle trying to make it all fit.
RN: That is something I know you have talked about before, wanting to really continue to work on a song to make it good for the fans.
CK: That is one thing that we have been known for, many artists who are our contemporaries say ”man you guys take too long sometimes”. We have to because we don’t like it, if we don’t like it we have to fix it. We take pride in our music, its all for the fans. We don’t like to just put anything out there, you can see the quality of the work that we just try to put out, all for our fans.
Our writing definitely has improved since we worked with like Meghan (Trainor). We have had the privilege of working with some dope ass songwriters and producers and you see how they go about it, it definitely helped us. There are very rare artists/writers that can do it, I think the only person right now, in the game, that is both a bonafide, legitimate born, natural writer and a born artist is Meghan. She is the only pop artist to write every single song on her album. They saw it is co-wrote because she works with a producer who creates all the beats, but we have seen her literally write a song, produce it, engineer it, vocal arrange it, the whole thing. It’s crazy she is the only one. The other person PooBear (Jason Boyd) he was insane. You can just tell, when you work with those caliber of writers you’re just like, you are gods gift to everybody and we are just going to try and come one quarter of the way. You are in school, a master class of how they think and how they go about it.
RN: Politics are often a big part of reggae music, do you write a lot of political songs?
CK: Not as much as we should or have yet, no conscious songs. We do have some, the most conscious song we have is Ain’t No Stopping but it’s more or less about the hustle. Just the hustle and grind of everyday, what you wake up and feel like telling yourself or telling the people that doubt you. As far as being political that is a whole different beast, we shy away from that. There are definitely artists that do it really well, I think we are too much of happy-go-lucky guys to embody that. Let’s freaking throw some steaks on the grill and lets have a good time, that’s kinda what we are. We have been coined as “feel good” music by our fans, so feel good, we will stay with that, that’s our lane.
RN: What advice do you have for other bands that are just starting out?
CK: This is not an easy road to travel, that‘s for sure, so you have to be committed. There are so many different aspects to this industry that you have to be conscious of and aware of and make sure that your steps are always moving forward and not backwards. There is a place, obviously, for being artists in that, but there is so much more that goes on behind the scenes that it kinda stops artists from getting to that , you know breaking what ever it is. You have to be able to play both sides to keep moving forward. That’s probably why a lot of artists and bands get screwed over, because they focus so much on just being an artist, which is great, and then they let somebody else run the other stuff and that ends up working out bad. They don’t understand what’s going on, having a really good balance on that really helps.
RN: What reggae is playing in your iphone right now?
CK: I got Major Lazer, I got Die Antwoord, I just got Justin Beiber (band laughs). Every heard of an artist called Ricky Blaze? Chronixx. I was just listening to Catch A Fire actually. I got Tennille, she is our sister, she is bad. Of course I downloaded Meghan’s (Trainor) new album. This band called Common Kings, ever heard of them? When I go poop I listen to them (band laughs). Oh, I got Stick Figures Set In Stone, yeah, they are good, rootsy.