FEELFREE’S MUSIC FLOWS LIKE A “HUMMINGBIRD” AND STINGS LIKE A BEE ON THEIR LATEST ALBUM, THE EBB TIDE

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INTERVIEW BY JOE FITZPATRICK

PHOTOS PROVIDED BY ANDREW PFEIFFER

Many movies have inspired many people to take action and do something with their lives in one way or another. Perhaps Rudy inspired you to play football, even if you were smaller than other players on the team? Maybe Almost Famous made you want to pursue a career in music journalism? Whatever the case might be, movies can change the course of history and even create bands, and such was the case of the Alexandria, Va. reggae group FEELFREE. The foundation of FEELFREE was formed while some of the band members were still in middle school, but their friendship and passion for creating music has bound them together since then. The seven-member band includes lead guitarist/vocalist Evan Hulehan, guitarist/vocalist/trombone player Andrew Pfeiffer, drummer Bryan Frank, bassist Garrett Clausen, trumpet player Colin “Cloud” Cantfil, keyboardist Davey Hoen, and percussionist Jack “King” Kilby. We spoke with Pfeiffer, Frank, and Hoen to discuss their most recent album The Ebb Tide and their upcoming album, the lore of how the band started, as well as how they handle dealing with seven members at a time.

feel free 4On your most recent EP, The Ebb Tide, your music balances jazz harmonies with reggae rhythms. Were the songs on this album intentionally made to mimic the ebb and flow of these genres within each track?

Andrew: The name of the album actually came from this dinky motel called The Ebb Tide Motel where we stayed on our first east coast tour two summers ago in the Outer Banks, N.C. That’s an interesting parallel, but it wasn’t in the intention of the name.

 

Did you have a specific concept for the album going into the studio?

Andrew: Not really. It wasn’t too thematic.

What is the significance of the hummingbird in your logo?

Andrew: That’s something that we began [using for] branding ourselves in the past six months. That’s kind of become our thing. I think our sound is very vibrant because it has a lot of instruments, and it has many distinct influences. But it still puts off a serene notion, so it’s kind of like a hummingbird. When you see it, it looks like it’s not even moving, but when you actually look really close, there’s a lot of shit going on.

Can you tell me about how you guys formed the band?

Bryan: Me, Andrew, our other guitar player, and [our] singer Evan started playing together back in middle school. I think we all went and saw the movie School of Rock together, and came home after that in sixth or seventh grade and assigned everybody instruments. That’s how it initially started. Toward the end of high school to early college, we added Garrett Clausen on the bass, and then our buddy Colin Cantfil on the trumpet. It kind of formed the initial stages of FEELFREE, and then this past summer, we rounded out our sound by bringing on Davey Hoen on the keys.

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How did each of you initially get into playing jazz and reggae music?

Andrew: Me, Jack, and the trumpet player have been playing jazz since middle school. I played guitar and trombone. We’ve been in the school system jazz bands. I also studied on the guitar, and the other guitarist, he also studied a lot of jazz at [University of Colorado Denver]. Where does the jazz come from, Davey?

Davey: I am a guitar player turned keyboardist, and there was a time where I felt like I plateaued on the guitar. So I started to learn jazz guitar, and I carried that over on the keyboard.

With seven members, I assume things can get chaotic at times. Does any one person assume leadership most of the time, or is it more of a group effort in keeping things under control?

Andrew: It’s a group effort keeping things under control.

Davey: It is an effort for sure (laughs).

Andrew: It’s generally Evan, who is also the guitarist and lead singer, and I who are handling the booking and organizing things, but people take on different projects on their own as well.

Are you all originally from the Washington, D.C. area?

Andrew: Born and bred. All of us were born and raised in Alexandria, Va.

Your band’s biography starts off with the sentence, “A sound we all can call home.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

Andrew: It’s a bit corny, but I think we pride ourselves on the fact that when you go to our shows, there’s usually a lot of different demographics represented — age, gender, race — it’s not too specific to any genre. The music is not too polarizing, so we’ve found that our fans in the D.C. area are a lot of different kinds of people coming out to our shows over and over again. That’s kind of what we meant by that.

I don’t want to stereotype anyone, but typically, marijuana use and reggae feel free 2music go hand-in-hand. In your personal opinions, do you think marijuana will ever be legalized by the federal government?

Andrew: I think it should, and it will be. But probably not for another 30 or 40 years on the federal level. We’re all pretty happy that it is becoming decriminalized.

Other than yourselves, who is your favorite reggae band or solo artist from either Virginia or D.C.?

Andrew: Gotta go with SOJA on that one. We’ve loved SOJA since probably 2007-2006. They’ve been a big inspiration.

Bryan: CITIZEN COPE and DAVE MATTHEWS.

Andrew: We love Cope, and we’ve seen a bunch of [DAVE MATTHEWS BAND] shows at Merriweather [Post Pavilion].

Davey: Growing up, I was really into punk music, so that whole scene — FUGAZI [and] BAD BRAINS.

You have a few local shows coming up at the end of January 2015, including Grog & Tankard in Stafford and Jammin’ Java in Vienna. What can your audience expect to see from your performances at each show?

Andrew: At the Grog & Tankard show, we’ll be playing all the new songs that we plan on recording in early March at Inner Ear Studios with Don Zientara.

Will that be an EP or a full-length?

Andew: It looks like it’s gonna shape out to about eight songs, so somewhere in between.

Do you guys have any tours lined up?

Andrew: We are planning on doing a northeast tour in March and a southeast tour in April. We got new music coming summer 2015, and we’re on Spotify, iTunes, and CD Baby.

For more updates on FEELFREE, be sure to visit their website, “like” their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter and Instagram, subscribe to their YouTube channel, and listen to The Ebb Tide on Reverbnation.

DUB CITY RENEGADES CONNECT WITH REGGAE POP MUSICIAN AKSHAN TO CREATE A NEW ENERGY CALLED ISLAND ROCK

DCR 1INTERVIEW BY JOE FITZPATRICK

PHOTOS BY JOHN SHORE

In 2007, reggae in the DC metro area was on the rise, and leading the pack of local bands was DUB CITY RENEGADES with their combination of positive spiffed-out vibes with a rock and roll attitude to match. Though their former vocalist lacked in the stage presence and energy the band exhibited, the DUB CITY RENEGADES truly came into their own when they brought on the “island rocker” AKSHAN to fill the void of energy lacking in their performances. In January 2015, the band released their latest EP Island Rock to reflect where they have come with their new vocalist, as well as where they are heading together.

You describe your music as “Island Rock,” but how well does that translate to your audiences when you are playing around Virginia and D.C.?

As a solo artist, I moniker the [title] of “island rocker,” which is [also the title of] the last album that I did. So what happened pretty much was as we did this album, they kind of morphed into a collective of sounds that mimicked the album but on a reggae roots vibe. With that, we saw it as the most normal thing to do to label it as “Island Rock.” It was more of the live essence of what I did as “island rocker.”

But as far as the translation for the audience, when you come to a DUB CITY [RENEGADES] show, you pretty much get the understanding of the energy that we bring. It’s an island vibe, but it has the energy of a rock crowd. So we try to build it up to where it’s a nice vibe going with lots of energy.

How long have you been performing with DUB CITY RENEGADES

I started performing with them around 2008-2009. I was living it Atlanta for a bit, but then I moved back up here. Then we started connecting on that level, and then we started doing music. It’s been a while (laughs).

Did they have a different vocalist before you joined the group?

Yeah, it’s funny that you ask. The day I met them, they invited me out to a show because I was going back and forth from Atlanta. I came out to check them out, and their vocalist, I would say, wasn’t really up to par as far as the energy and the sound he was bringing. So actually one of the band members brought me up on stage, and I just did a one-two song off the cuff. It’s been history since then.

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In addition to playing with DUB CITY RENEGADES, do you play any shows on your own?

I’m a solo artist initially. I have a couple albums out that I’ve done independently. It has a reggae vibe, but it’s more of reggae pop where I blend the styles a little bit more. But rhe DUB CITY RENEGADES offered me the outlet to be what I truly am as far, as a reggae artist.

Does your music with DUB CITY RENEGADES have any elements of go-go, which originated in the D.C. area?

As far as the go-go element, I would say no. We have a percussionist who plays different elements that are tied into go-go, but I wouldn’t classify it as go-go. It would be more [in line with] the roots of the Jamaican elements.

Earlier this month you guys released your album Island Rock, which you originally planned to release in 2014. What caused you to push back the release date?

There was actually a number of things. While we had been working on the album, we eventually released an EP with a number of songs, and we had some upheaval with the band. We had members changed and different things happen to where we had to just slow the process down and revamp everything. We now have different members who are now a part of the collective, so we had to change things around. So we pushed it back and went to put together this album that now is Island Rock, but … we had to change our plan based on the changes in the band that were occurring.

Where did you draw the inspiration from for the songs on Island Rock?

We came up with a number of the songs when we were coming to practice, and one guy would have an idea for a bass line or a rhythm, and then they would play and we would all come in together to try and create something. As far my end, with the lyrics and the creation of the song, it would be more of whatever energy I  was feeling from what they were bringin g, I would translate into lyrics.

The entire album is pretty much a collective of what we were feeling at that particular moment. You will see a couple of songs on there discussing a lot of the upheaval we were having. For instance, the song “Critics” is actually referring back to some of the members who were in the band previously. They left the band on their own accord, and after we started moving along without them, they started having issues to the point that we had to discuss it in one of the songs. Also, one of the songs we did, “How We Rock,” discusses a more positive aspect as far as how we were all good friends, and now it’s come to this. Regardless of what is going to be said, we’re going to move forward.

Lyrically, are any of your songs politically inspired?

I definitely have songs that are politically inspired in different avenues, but it’s more relative to my Jamaican culture. For instance, we have a song called “Straight Forward,” which is more of a political/religious-type song. It kind of discusses your connection to the Most High. With the things you do, you have to steer back to the Most High to find guidance and direction. The lyrics, for instance, say, “Give me the words that will lead me to Jah, so I can do the deeds that are pleasing to Jah.” It’s more on a spiritual aspect to try to make a connection.

Recently, your band played at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, Va. with FEEL FREE. How was that show?

Jammin’ Java is kind of our home place; we play there pretty often. It’s one of those places where every time we go there, it’s always packed. It just has a nice energy and a nice feel. The energy is usually good there. The energy with that show was real dope. We had the house packed out, and we played very well.

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Other than FEEL FREE, are there any reggae and dub artists from this area that you guys are really into?

THE ARCHIVES was a band that we rocked out a couple time with. They’re pretty dope. We’ve played with them a few times. Also, there’s a number of bands that we’ve played with over the past couple of months that have been really good. HIGHER HANDS and HIGHER EDUCATION from Maryland were the last bands that we played with. They were pretty dope as well. We try to stay internal, but the vibe that we draw from other bands pushes us forward to continually try to be better … We definitely draw energy from a lot of them to make ourselves the best band we can be.

Do you have any shows coming up that you would like to announce?

We have a few shows. We’re trying to make this summer thing pop off. [To promote] the album, we are playing the National Cherry Blossom Festival in D.C. on April 5, as well as a few of the wine festivals this summer. We will be playing at the Linganore [Winecellars] Reggae Festival on July 18. Our next show is Friday, February 13 at Jammin’ Java. Come check out the energy.

For more updates on DUB CITY RECORDS, be sure to visit their website, “like” their Facebook page, follow them on Twitter, and listen to Island Rock on Reverbnation.