If you have not yet heard the buzz around the 10-piece reggae group ‘Onlyjoe’ then you must have been living underground for the last year. Tenor Fly described them as the ‘Past, Present and Future’ and with an accolade of performances alongside artists such as Tippa Irie, Mad Professor and Congo Natty, they are fast becoming the No.1 Reggae band of London. We caught up with the group for a spot of Japanese food to chat about why preserving the vinyl format is important to them and why Reggae music has lasted so long.
Ventsmag: How do you lot write a track as a group? What’s the chemistry like in the studio?
Zico: It can be quite a turbulent process cos of course you’ve got a lot of musicians in the band, everyone has got their own opinion, everyone wants to have their say. We go through the rigmarole of some arguments and some people not liking this or not liking that, it’s a natural process of creating anything but at the end of it we know it’s all for the common good and because we want our track to sound the best it can.
Nathan: Generally somebody comes to the table with an idea whether it be a drum beat, bassline, guitar riff. We kind of just lay down the foundation and then everything builds up on that.
V: Reggae and Dub music has had a massive influence over U.K dance music including Drum n Bass and Dubstep. Can this ever work in reverse for you? Are there any underground dance artists influencing you right now?
Jago: Him, he influences me (points to Hylu) and he influences our sound a lot cos he produces our sound, he’s our engineer, you know what I mean. He’s a big influence, ask him as well.
Hylu: So many different influences in dance music, in terms of production, if you’re talking about dance music, it’s not really a genre I see it as, I see it as a sound, so anything that’s not mid range, anything that’s not too squealy, or in my face, I think that’s a place where vocals should sit. I’m more interested in sorta subby sounds, something thats got weight. I like syncopated beats, I don’t really like anything too hypnotic.
V: Certain artists like Alborosie and Gentleman who are both European have adopted a Jamaican accent for their music. Do you agree with this? Do you think it’s important to keep a British sound to your music?
Jago: I think that’s an interesting question cos I think with reggae there are some people that learn their English with you know a ‘patois’ accent. Someone like ‘YT’, he does it, and he does it really well, I mean for me there’s like a balance. When I chat I do it a little bit but I kinda hold on to the London thing with it.
Zico: For me it doesn’t make a difference whether a white person sings like a black person or a black person sings like a white person, what needs to come through is the fact that you’re passionate about that music.It doesn’t matter how you chat, as long as your heart’s in it, then that will be translated.
V: There is always going to be a war between analogue and digital. As a Reggae band what are your views on preserving the classic analogue sound? How important is your sound to you as a group?
Hylu: As a band and as the engineer for the band I feel that it’s about capturing the original Reggae sound and that is by recording onto 24 track tape. But then at the same time I do all the mixing in the computer so it’s an amalgamation of both cos you get two different sounds. It’s about knowing the qualities of analogue and knowing why you use it and why it’s sometimes better and sometimes why it’s not.
Harry: The way that Hylu has learnt to produce has been coming from a Drum n Bass and Dubstep angle and his entrance into it is from a different place than say King Tubby for example. King Tubby starts makin’ tunes, he doesn’t have the option of using Pro Tools and Logic, maybe if he did it would have been different.
V: It was announced recently that record labels would stop producing CDs and just release digitally. Seeing as you have released your new E.P on CD as well as Vinyl, how important is it to you that your fans own a physical copy of your music? What are your views on labels that just release their music digitally?
Jago: Why are they called record labels? (Everyone laughs) you nah mean, why are they called record labels when they’re not releasing records? They should be called digital labels.
Nathan: I think we’re doin’ our best to preserve the vinyl format, you know for our last release we pressed a larger proportion of vinyl over CDs, that’s all we’ve got out in the shops, just vinyl. I think it’s vital that we’re seen to be pushing things in the correct way, how things were done originally. Hylu is spending a lot of time mixin’ our tunes so we want the end result to sound the best, we’d rather release on vinyl as opposed to MP3.
Hylu: The way we see it with ‘Unit 137’, the label, is to always release on vinyl. I’d say one of the only reasons we put it on CD is to get it out at the gigs, cos a lot of people buy CDs at the gigs, so we’ve done a limited run of CDs. We’ve also released it digitally but I wouldn’t wanna do a proper release if it wasn’t on vinyl because a lot of people are still buying vinyl.
V: British reggae groups such as Steel Pulse and Aswad have gained a lot of success in the U.K. Where do you see your group going in the next 5 years?
Nathan: I mean our aim pretty much is to become the Dub band of London, you know the Reggae band of London. It’s not really our aim to play up to a record label and get a major deal, that’s not what it’s about, but you know just spread the name worldwide.
V: Why do you think reggae music has lasted so long? What is it about the music that makes people want to come out to see groups like you perform?
Harry: I’d probably say it’s the message behind it, which is always a message which people are going to identify with, regardless of era, which is the same reason people are still buying Bob Marley records however many years after he died, it’s the same reason why people might buy our records.
‘The message behind the music is universal. I mean you’re singin’ songs about unification, peace and love, what person, really, can’t relate to that message.’
Promo video with footage from Onlyjoe’s last summer tour. Including interviews with Mungo’s HiFi, Skitz & Rodney:
Remix video – documents the process of getting the vinyl mastered, cut and then pressed.
Onlyjoe’s next single is set to drop around November this year and preparation for an album in 2013 is well underway. Keep up to date with gigs, releases and info on their website: www.onlyjoe.co.uk, www.unit137.com
Words by Joe Rice
Photographs by Etienne Bruce