In lieu of the 2014 Pier Awards, we bring you this week’s Artist Radar in the form of the four-piece vintage reggae outfit, The Expanders.
The Expanders originally formed back in 2003, but the reason we are highlighting them now is because of their big 2014, including tour dates with Slightly Stoopid, Tribal Seeds, G.P.G.D.S., Passafire and Fortunate Youth as well as performing at California Roots, being nominated for The Pier’s 2014 Breakout Artist of the Year, and a big New Years Eve Celebration Show with Iration at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, CA.
Since 2006, The Expanders have been a popular backing band for some of Jamaica’s biggest artists when coming to California, including: Alton Ellis, The Maytones, The Ethiopians, and The Wailing Souls, among others. They haven’t released a new album since their 2012 self-titled release, but they are currently working on their new record, which I am told is due out some time in early 2015.
Unfortunately 2014 wasn’t all good for The Expanders, as they were robbed of all of their gear back in October, while on tour with Passafire in Seattle. All of their gear and a ton of their merchandise was stolen along with most of their luggage. Because of this, they set up a GoFundMe Campaign that fans can donate to by clicking HERE!
Artist Radar: The Expanders
I recently caught up with vocalist and guitarist, Devin Morrison, who explained that: “Getting robbed so far from home is a crappy feeling! They stole most of our merchandise and a lot of our equipment and personal belongings. We did recover the van and trailer though. And the support from the community for our GoFundMe campaign to replace our gear has been truly humbling! It’s an indescribable feeling to see how many people want to help us get back on our feet. We are more than halfway to our goal of $10,000.” Actually, they are at 70% as of this writing, so please go give these hard working musicians some support.
The Pier actually interviewed The Expanders about three years ago, which you can read about HERE!. Each of the band members came from different California based bands, leading to a drawn out five years of recording their self-titled album. Now, Devin says, their priorities have changed a bit, where “Chiquis still sings lead in The Boogaloo Assassins, and I play with The Lions whenever I’m in LA and they have a show. But we’re all committed to The Expanders as our first priority.”
I saw The Expanders for the first time out in California for this years California Roots Festival and was impressed by their ability to represent such a traditional style of reggae music, especially when they performed a stripped down acoustic set in front of The Pier booth. In a scene, that is dominated by “true” Jamaican artists as well as “white-boy reggae”, how does a band that flirts between both genres of reggae, set their own path? Devin gives such a great explanation, we included the entire quote below…
“Well, we are all life-long fans and students of classic Jamaican music. Our mission statement as a band is to bring the sounds of vintage reggae to modern audiences, and to share what we’ve learned about the origins of this music with today’s reggae fans. In that spirit, I’d like to use this opportunity to discuss the term ‘rocksteady.’ We hear people use that term a lot when describing our sound, and they seem to apply it as a synonym for “old-school” or something like that. ‘Rocksteady’ is in fact the name of a very specific style of Jamaican music that was recorded on the island for a small window of time (1966-1968). Classic examples are tunes like ‘Engine 54’ by The Ethiopians or ‘Save A Bread’ by Justin Hinds & The Dominoes. Rhythmically speaking, The Expanders actually play almost no rocksteady at all. Our tune ‘Moving Along’ from our first record was an attempt at the style, but in the end it morphed into more of a hybrid thing. There are some modern bands playing great rocksteady, most notably LA’s legendary Hepcat, as well as Roger Rivas from The Aggrolites. Roger just released a free album of rocksteady songs called “The Last Goodbye” that is absolutely killer! John Butcher from The Expanders did a lot of guitar work on that album.”
Devin continues on by further breaking down the technicalities of their brand of reggae, dropping knowledge on the intimate differences within the variations of classic reggae music.
“In a rhythmic sense, we identify much more with mid-70s roots and “rockers”, a term coined by legendary Jamaican producer, Augustus Pablo, in the mid-to-late 70s that was widely used to describe what reggae was sounding like at the time. We also play a lot of the early 80s sound that was mastered by The Roots Radics and producer Linval Thompson;’Something Wrong,’ ‘Race Is Run’ and ‘Snow Beast’ from our first album are examples of that early 80s style, while ‘Evilous Number,’ ‘Gone Away’ and ‘Careful’ have a more roots ‘rockers’ feel.”
When asking Devin how their throwback approach towards classic Jamaican reggae fits into today’s American reggae scene, Devin explained that: “The scene today has a strong culture that is largely centered around common themes of positivity, unity, and social upliftment. In that context, I think we fit in much the same way many other bands in the scene do. The really awesome thing to us is that fans seem to be recognizing and appreciating our attempt to pay homage musically to the golden era of Jamaican music, and so far no one seems to mind that we don’t play the ‘reggae-rock’ style that so many other amazing bands in this scene do so well.”
After almost two years without releasing an album, The Expanders are back in the studio working on their next release. Devin told me that the album is about 95% complete. They’re currently putting some of the final touches on the record. When asked about the new sound, Devin had this to say: “We feel this record captures how the band has grown together musically in the time since we made the first album. I just think the grooves are a little tighter, the songwriting is a bit more focused, and everyone has really learned to listen to each other musically.”
Without getting the name, or track listing, I was able to learn that the boys are in the process of recording one more track with “some pretty amazing vocalists who everyone in the scene knows and loves. I won’t let the names out just yet, but I think people are gonna be pretty stoked on this one.”
Right now you can head over to the MP3 Massive to download the song “Snow Beast” off their 2012 self-titled release by clicking HERE!
Watch: The Expanders – “Top Shelf”