South Florida mid-summer can be a grind. In between the inescapable and sustained heat, the sky growls and bellows short sharp shots of rain. Floridians need a happy place this time of year.
Well, we need look no further than to see wherever Floridian big band reggae merchants the Resolvers are playing to find it. In the next few weeks, we are blessed with two performances coming our way. Tonight, the band plays at Fort Lauderdale's Culture Room before a slot at the Afro Roots World Music Festival on August 9 in Miami.
This is a guaranteed good time, where the feel good factor is constantly turned to high, and all get heady on the positive vibes emanating from the stage. The 10 members of this reggae collective are enthusiastic and effective, able to shift effortlessly between the frantic pace of swing to the casual skank of dub. It's an eclectic jumble of an inspired live act, a carnival of squawking brass, lurching rhythms, sweet vocals, and intoxicating anthems.
Moreover, the band has just released two new records Nate's House and Bigger Is Better. Two albums that act as a prequel and sequel to 2012's Big Band Reggae. These are good times for the Resolvers. Bandleader and guitarist Ron Eisner took a breather to tell us more about the band's past, present and future.
New Times: I'd like you to tell us how you initially got into reggae, and speak a little bit about how the band came together.
Ron Eisner: In Florida, we have a lot of Jamaican culture. One of the biggest Jamaican communities in the United States is right here. So I made some friends in this community, particularly a made a friend named Ojay, also I made a friend named Kenny Lazarus, whose dad is a well-known reggae artists from the '70s. Basically I had a real Rasta, a real artist show me the ropes.
There was a gig in Delray at Dada, we started playing informally on Thursday nights, I wanted to play, I wanted to write songs, and there was a gig, I showed up, and the rest is history.
What threw us together was the fact what we were all easy going, we love people and we love music. We are drawn together by the music. Even today, 8 years into the making of the band, we feel like we've accomplished so much just by being able to stay together and we feel like it's only the beginning.
For us, it's always been like a lifelong thing. This project is something that we want to hand off to our children.
How did reggae speak to you when you were younger?
It's the positive spiritual music of the people. It's not pretentious. It can be so many other things, it can be dark, it can be lively, it can be political. For example if you take rock 'n' roll where the message is, "sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll," for me, that's not even sustainable. But reggae is about peace and love and herb and meditation... I guess I thought I could stick to that for a long time, I could do that.
Your first album Big Band Reggae was really eclectic. Some tracks were super high energy, while other slowed it down in a "dubby" kind of way. Do different band members take the lead with different styles in sound?
Different songwriters bring different things to the table. Dean, the keyboard player, he's more heavily rooted in the traditional reggae, so something like "Itch Your Mind" have more of that element, more dubby, more roots reggae. Myself, I'm not a traditional reggae songwriter, my background is from somewhere else.
When we were younger, we were questioning our identity. When we began to explore our sound, we wanted to be legitimate, at some point we reached a departure where we knew we were a reggae band, but where we wanted to consciously bend that genre and try to change and raise an eyebrow. Let's be artists and see what comes out, rather than try to emulate something that had already been done. You can really here that on that record.
Have you been surprised by the positive reaction this mixing of sounds and genres has gotten?
Most people get it, we're not trying to put up a front, or try to be something that we're not, not claiming to be too serious, I think people understand what we're trying to do.
It give us amazing pleasure to see people's reaction to the music for the first time. Bring this sound that we think is new, that is different.
Remember, we're still a very young band, and with the two new albums released, we've just doubled the amount of music we have out, so, let's see.
Florida is very unique. There's a lot of places play what we play. Luckily, we are very busy, all the time here. The audience knows us here, it's our home, and we have a lot of friends here, so it's always special. Home court advantage and all that.
Tell us about the two new albums, Nate's House and Bigger Is Better...
Well Nate's House is a prequel to our last record Big Band Reggae. Basically what we're trying to do here is show the evolution of the sound. Being in a band, it's really hard to catch up to yourself. To write, record, and produce the song takes a long time, especially when you don't have a record label to do it for you while you do other things... You're always trying to catch up to yourself. So we wanted to catch up on stuff we haven't released, and secondly show how the sound became.
Nate's House is the era when we'd just added the horns to the band. Nate was our original drummer, one of the few of the originals who is no longer with the band. We have a new drummer, Frank for the album Bigger Is Better. However, Nate was an important part of the band for many years, and this is basically a tribute to him. We know he's no longer in the band, but we love him, and we'll never forget him.
In terms of the sound, it's basically a snapshot of what we were doing at that time.
With Bigger Is Better, it was a conscious effort to dive into two traditions -- the tradition of roots reggae and American jazz from the days of the travelling big bands. We recorded the album in a different way, in one night, so basically what you hear is a live recording... 11 people playing and singing at once. There are minor over dubs, but the meat and potatoes of what you hear is us playing together live.
We're definitely one of those bands you have to go see live. So we wanted to get that live experience on record. It's not easy, you have to be really good to be able to do a record like this. Bands these days don't bang it out like this anymore.
The Resolvers have shared the stage with some of reggae's greats, the Wailers, Julian Marley, Stephen Marley, Damian Marley, Inner Circle, English Beat, Lee 'Scratch' Perry.
Have you ever had a "pinch yourself" moment on stage?
Oh, all the time! When you're on stage and there's thousands of people digging what you are doing, it's like an outer body experience. When there's all these people joined together at a show or festival, it's a kind of religious experience.
A lot of these guys we've played with are really down to earth people, they give you advice, you chat, and you realize that they're just like us.
What can a newcomer to one of your live shows expect?
Lively fun, lots of energy, lots of people, lots going on -- big sound, dancing, laughing, grinding, just a lot of people having fun! We love what we do. You'll definitely see that.
The Resolvers open for Groundation tonight at 8 p.m., at Culture Room, 3045 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale. $20 at the door. Visit cultureroom.net.
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