It is not easy to hook-up with bands, especially international bands that may tour in the U.S. once a year. So, when I heard that Wellington, New Zealand alt-progressive-reggae rockers The Black Seeds would sit down with The Pier during their stop in Boulder, Colorado I was honored. At about 9:30 pm The Black Seeds manager escorted me to the Fox Theatre’s downstairs green room, where I met up with singer and percussionist Daniel Weetman. After exchanging the usual pleasantries we took a seat on the floor, among the telltale signs of extensive touring—including, band members sleeping on couches, coolers full of beer and open suitcases.
The Blacks Seeds are wildly popular in their native country, and around the globe. Since their debut in 2001, the band has released a total of five studio albums, one live album, along with several songs featured on international compilations, including The Pier’s Pacific Island Sampler last summer. Every studio album to date has gone at least platinum. The Black Seeds’ third album “Into the Dojo” went double platinum, and received international attention and serious airplay in Europe. The Black Seeds fifth, and most recent, album “Dust and Dirt” was released on Easy Star Records in April 2012, and is poised to set a new standard for The Black Seeds and the genre as a whole. In the album’s first week it peaked at number one on New Zealand iTunes, number three on the U.S. iTunes reggae chart and number three on the U.S. Amazon reggae chart.
The process involved in the production of “Dust and Dirt” was, indeed, a new process for The Black Seeds. It was one that involved the complete collaboration of all eight band members. The process also included nearly a year-and-a-half of work, frequent jam sessions, time off from touring in the U.S., Europe, and most importantly, “Production Village.”
STUDIO: PRODUCTION VILLAGE…
Production Village is the Wellington, New Zealand recording studio where “Dust and Dirt” came to life. The humble studio space provided the venue for “Dust and Dirt” to become the first album where The Black Seeds could rehearse, record and create without concern for time, cost or other constraints.
“We’ve never had our own space to rehearse in. The studio is a base for the Seeds and a home away from home. The guys could come and go as we wanted…and it was really, really healthy for the album. Having the time and to be able to make music when we wanted was crucial in order to make this album enjoyable,” says The Blacks Seeds singer and percussionist Daniel Weetman.
Unlike previous albums “Dust and Dirt” is a total group effort and a testament to the group’s commitment to collaboration. The band was able to incorporate the ideas of all eight band members through a new group process where band members broke off into small subgroups to workout ideas.
“It always comes back to the (studio) space. We were able to get everybody’s ideas for the album because we had the time…we could just push play while we were jamming and say ‘shit, that’s cool’—whereas in the past the band was constrained by time, deadlines and physical space,” Weetman explained.
The studio also allowed for improv and the spontaneous jams that became the foundation of the album. The album features two jams, “Don’t Turn Around” and “Loose Cartilage,” the latter being a Black Keys-esque, rock tune. Weetman explains how the former came to life…
“…the jam ‘Don’t Turn Around’ started with me just playing some chords, and then Barney (Wier) started playing bass, and Jarney (Murphey) started playing the drums. We were like, ‘this is great’ and we kept playing for twenty minutes in the morning. Later in the day we started joking about a vocal idea, and then started messing around with that (vocals).”
As the songs evolved the picture became clearer about the album’s direction. “…with ‘Don’t Turn Around’ half of us were thinking, ‘that’s not going to be on the album’ and I was going ‘yeah, it’s pretty cool—it should be on the album,” says Weetman. The band ultimately felt that the jams were a nice complement to the other songs, and fit them in, “…the album was kind of like jenga or tetris…”says Weetman, “…we included songs that we thought fit.”
ALBUM: DUST AND DIRT….
There is little doubt that “Dust and Dirt” not only pushes the boundaries of The Black Seeds as artists, it ultimately forces a healthy re-examination of what is considered “reggae.” At a time when a lot of reggae-rock music seems to sound the same to the causal listener, The Black Seeds came along with an album that provides a refreshing glimpse into the potential for expanding the genre. The album’s producer and The Black Seeds guitarist Mike Fabulous called the album more “radical” than past albums. This “radical” direction for the album was at the forefront of several band members’ minds as The Black Seeds began to record.
“It was a conscious thing, but we also had to make it happen. Some of us had spoken about it and decided we really wanted to bring out more of the influences from each member of the band,” says Weetman. In many ways “Dust and Dirt” is an evolution and progression of previous songs and albums. In particular 2008’s “Solid Ground” laid the foundation for the newest album. Songs like “Rotten Apple” and “Slingshot” were the precursors to the sound of “Dust and Dirt.” Weetman explains, “…songs like ‘Rotten Apple’ and ‘Slingshot’ are great tunes, in a modern sort of way. Those songs opened up doors for what we have now.”
If “Rotten Apple” and “Slingshot” were the precursors to “Dust and Dirt,” then the track “Out of Light” may just provide a window into what The Black Seeds have in store for future albums. The first track on “Dust and Dirt” is an electronic heavy, vocally layered tune that could easily be featured in Tarantino’s next flick.
“It is such an unusual track. It gives us something to build on from here. It’s a tune that is strange—even though that wasn’t our intention.” As with many songs on “Dust and Dirt,” “Out of Light” was developed organically through an unscripted process.
“The song started as an outro and I took it home, thinking that the song deserved some vocals over it. I did the vocal and then it was a tune. That was it; it was a jam and the whole structure of it never changed. It was really cool! I just mumbled some words over it and was like ‘should I say something that people can understand’…I thought about it for a second, and was like ‘nnnaaahhh!’”
Over the nearly year-and-a-half process to complete the album, The Black Seeds completed twenty-five demos—all with the potential to make the final cut. Ultimately, the band had to pare down the list and “Dust and Dirt” was completed with thirteen tracks. But, the remaining twelve demos won’t disappear into music history completely, as The Black Seeds have several ideas for the unreleased material.
“…we listened to those tunes and put them into a folder as potentially another album or ideas that we could build on. They may turn into b-sides of something that is currently on ‘Dust and Dirt.’ Also, I think it is always cool to give away a (unreleased) track, exclusively to your fans…after we complete the four months of touring, we really want to get back into it (recording) and not leave those tunes to die.” Only time will tell if, or when, the remaining demo tracks will be completed and shared with the world.
Of the 13-tracks on “Dust and Dirt” a handful are “studio” tracks—while the remaining tracks easily transition to live shows. The Black Seeds continue to work through the “studio” tracks and hope to showcase them for their fans.
“There are three tunes that we haven’t played live, they are ‘Wide Open,’ ‘Out of Light,’ and ‘Don’t Turn Around.’ ‘Out of Light’ is a tune that was an outro…we really had to work on it a bit more because there is three different vocals that I did. They (vocals) all have delays and unusual effects. We did practice the track in rehearsals but without the right effects it’s hard to get the vibe and its very, very different to anything we have done…we are still working on it and it’s gonna sound awesome. When we go back to New Zealand we will play it on that part of the tour.”
The Black Seeds are currently on the road in support of “Dust and Dirt.” They began their international tour on the west coast of the United States in early-April and will end in mid-June, with stops in the U.S., United Kingdom, France and their home country of New Zealand. Even after a nearly two-year break from touring in the U.S., The Black Seeds are not surprised by the outpouring of support from their American fan base.
“It’s been great—really amazing actually. We made this music back in little old Wellington and never got a full club. American crowds really get it—what we’re talking about, what we’re singing about, the music that we are trying to do. People here are like ‘you guys do reggae, but there’s something else,’” says Weetman.
The Black Seeds have fans all over the world, but, in particular, fans in Germany have been most receptive to the band’s sound over the years. The band solidified their European standing in 2007 when they inked a record deal with respected German-based label Sonar Kollektiv.
“Same as American fans, they sort of get it. I think a big part of it is Fat Freddy’s Drop and the massive amount of popularity that they drew in Europe basically opened things up for us. People began to pay attention to New Zealand, and starting checking out us and Katchafire, and other New Zealand bands.”
Ultimately, with the exception of French fans, fans across the world generally react the same to The Black Seeds live show—with smiles from ear-to-ear, non-stop dancing and genuine energy. Fans in France, on the other hand, have a bit of a “wait and see” attitude.
“…they stand there, arms crossed…kind of like ‘that was great…what’s next?’ We’ve seen heaps of bands…,” laughs Weetman. Weetman attributes the French fan’s reaction to the amount of world class live music and musicians that pass through the country.
So, what’s next for The Black Seeds? Following the completion of their international tour, The Black Seeds will likely return to Wellington, and Production Village, to continue the recording process. The band is excited about “Dust and Dirt” and the potential of the remaining demos to materialize into finished songs—not to mention, The Blacks Seeds want to harness the creative spirit of the studio space. And if “Dust and Dirt” tells us anything, it’s that The Black Seeds may just be scratching the surface of what’s to come.
The Black Seeds Links:
The Black Seeds Show Locator
The Black Seeds Website
The Black Seeds Facebook
Article & Photos By: Kit Chalberg
-Read The Pier’s official Album Review for Dust And Dirt by clicking HERE
Official Video “Pippy Pip”
The Making of Dust and Dirt: Three-Part Series