Thursday, July 31, 2008

Interview with 1592 "Detroit Rocksteady"

What would it sound like if you took the darker grittier sound of Motown and gave it a rocksteady beat? What happens when musicians from different musical backgrounds come together in Detroit with a new ska and reggae twist? 1592 has captured that unique blend of ingredients and have emerged from the Detroit music scene as a band to watch out for.

Vocalist/keyboard player Eric Abbey recently talked to us and broke it all down.

You describe your sound as Detroit Rocksteady. Can you define that term?

Eric: The best way to describe Detroit Rocksteady is to think of how a group of Rocksteady musicians would fine living in a city like Detroit. The inspiration for the band came from my long time love of Ska, Reggae, Rocksteady and Dub but I wanted to infuse the feeling of the city into it. Rocksteady was such a great sound during its heyday and it reflected so much of the mentality of the times. The harsh surroundings of Jamaica set against smooth vocal harmonies over a splitting rhythm is what gets me every time I hear songs by the Heptones, Lord Creator and others.

When I started writing the material for 1592 I was living in Manhattan, after growing up in Detroit, and the feel of Detroit was what I kept coming back to. You have certain sounds on the coasts; NYC has a sound, the Slackers, King Django, etc. California has a sound, Hepcat, the Aggrolites, Chris Murray etc, and Detroit really hasn’t had a sound in the ska, reggae, rocksteady area in a long time. I wanted to take the gritty side of the city and infuse the sound of Rocksteady into it. The biggest thing that we went for was to not sound the same as other groups around but to have the same feel. You have to Rock- steady or the sound doesn’t work.

Can you tell us about your album? How did you come up with the title? What was the inspiration behind it?

Eric: The album was written during a time when I was moving back to Detroit and felt as if the music scene was really being driven by the whole Garage Rock movement and not a lot else. Bands were popping up to just catch on to the trend and the scene was suffering from it.

The sound that we play is really a different sound in Detroit and no one has been playing traditional feeling stuff for a long time. The “third wave” of Ska was great in Detroit with Superdot, the Parka Kings, Suicide Machines and all of that and the title seemed like a great way to kick something off. The cover of the album is the Madison Hotel in Detroit the night before it was fully demolished. We all felt that the hotel was a great part of the old city and now we have to rebuild. All of the musicians in the group come from different scenes and the album is really a representation of people coming together to bring back a sound that we all love, hence, The Rise of the Fallen.

Where does 1592 fit into the Detroit music scene? How is the band received?

Eric: 1592 plays with all kinds of different groups and that is the way that it should be really. The best shows that we have are with bands that sound nothing like us. We fit really well into the Detroit scene because people enjoy hearing a different sound. I can not even count how many times people have said, “Wow, I haven’t heard that music in forever!” It feels great to make people happy with music in a time where the state of Michigan is in such a state of disrepair. We play with rock bands, blues bands and traditional Irish bands like the Codgers and it is always a great time.

What is the Ska and Reggae music scene like in Detroit?

Eric: The Ska and Reggae scene in Detroit is extremely limited at this time. There are bands around like Superdot, the Phonetics, Matt Wixson and others who are playing more of that “third” wave sound but the Ska scene is pretty dead at this point. The Reggae scene is a bit bigger with great groups in Detroit such as King Mellowman and other Roots Reggae groups but it is really difficult to get people out to shows now a days.

The scene does come alive when the original artists come through but that is far too limited. Lee “Scratch” Perry came through recently and it was great to see everyone out but it just doesn’t happen often enough. It would be great if 1592 and others that are around could kick something off again here in Detroit. There is a big Mod and Soul scene in Ann Arbor, the city that the University of Michigan is in, led by the Direct Hits night with Double Plus, Chuck Damage and other great djs spinning. It would be great to get a night started in Detroit. The future looks bright though and the music is really coming around in the Midwest. The Drastics, Green Room Rockers, and others are really doing something great for the sound.

Could you elaborate on the different influences you draw from musically?

Eric: Personally, I draw from all types of music to write from. I am originally a trumpet player and grew up listening to Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra and others. The first Ska group I ever heard was the Selecter and I was hooked. I also was very heavily into the Hardcore, Punk and Skin scene back in the late 80s early 90s. I think that is why I have always liked Rocksteady, Reggae and Ska with a bit of a darker tone to it.

For 1592, I am constantly looking towards sounds like Derrick Morgan, Delroy Wilson, Horace Andy and others that have just a slightly darker feel to it. We cover a couple of great tunes by those musicians and they all fit extremely well with the vibe of the show. The band also draws from bands like the Police, the Kinks, the Jam, and other rock groups that fit the sound. There really is no limit to what we draw from, even Northern Soul groups are often brought into the mix for a different sounding vibe.

You mentioned that band members come from various scenes. What scenes?

Eric: The band started with myself and an old drummer friend of mine that had played in a lot of different groups. He was mainly playing within the Rock and Roll scene of Detroit and had great success in doing so. Then I had my brother playing sax, who came up within the same scenes as I did. The bass player was also from the Rock scene and was working as a studio engineer at the time. When he agreed to play the band was set and we had our first shows, without a guitarist. Our guitarist is a long time friend of the bass player and when he heard we were playing Reggae and Rocksteady he asked to join the band. He has been with the Rock, Hip-Hop, Soul, and Funk scenes in Detroit for a long time and has been a great addition for the group. The group really formed in an effort to not focus on the typical things that bands fall apart for. We had all been in a lot of bands throughout the past and were all looking for a way to just have fun and play some good music. The focus of 1592 is just that.

Being a band that's so diverse, how do you feel about the diversity in ska and reggae music today? Should musicians continue to take the music in new directions?

Eric: This is a great question. For myself, I think that the way Ska and Reggae music is going is great. I have always liked when people take traditional sounds and manipulate them to make them something of their own. Along with that is what 1592 and other groups are doing by trying to get that nostalgic feel for the music back into the underground and mainstream. I think that it is the combination of both forward thinking and backward feeling that make the music continue to evolve and sound great. If you listen to the newer mainstream Reggae releases from Morgan Heritage or any of the Marley clan you can hear this feeling that is very much traditional in energy but the technology and song writing is very forward thinking. For me this is the way that I think all music should be. Focus on the basics and roots of the music and when you get that down, add your own sound and variant.

There are too many groups today, in all forms of music, that focus on trying to sound or act exactly like groups in the past. While this is great at first, if you don’t have your own sound the music will eventually fall flat. New directions are always good for every musical scene. Even if I or others do not prefer the direction that the music is going, it makes people talk, think and create new music in opposition to it.

Do you have plans for another album? If so what do you have in mind for it?

Eric: We are currently working on material for our next album. We have about half of the tracks written and are finishing up the rest. The second album is going to be pretty similar to the first with that continued darker edge but will also focus more on the reggae beat and feel. The new tracks are sounding great and hopefully everyone will like the new tunes. They are going over very well live right now and continue to get better. Keep checking the myspace page for updates and new track postings as they come.

Also, if anyone is interested in remixing tracks we are always interested in working with people. We have two tracks that are being remixed and/or chatted over right now by different people and are excited about doing some Dubs and other work with the first album’s tracks. That is the best part of music, the consistent change.

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