When it comes to feel good, summertime grooves, not many bands can pump out a jam to fit that specific mood as well as Common Kings. The positive nature of their music has fans all around the world feeling their vibe and grooving along with their tunes. It’s a bright and positive world when you get touched by Common Kings.
The Orange County by way of South Pacific four-piece made waves early in their career as they were nominated for a Grammy for their debut album, Lost In Paradise. Since that time, they have toured worldwide and shared the stage with Bruno Mars, Justin Timberlake on his 20/20 World Experience Tour, Meghan Trainor’s Untouchable Tour and Matisyahu’s 2017 Fall Tour.
Common Kings show no signs of slowing down. They are road warriors and after a series of single song and EP releases, they have a double album prepped for their sophomore musings.
I.A caught up with Common Kings guitarist Mata Grey for a discussion about the band’s feel good vibes and their new single “Damn Good Time.”
Interview By Michael Parrish
MP: Some bands have a certain feel to them. Your oozes summer vibes. How would you describe it?
MG: It does. Our fans have coined us “feel good” music. They don’t call it reggae. They don’t call it Rock. They just call it feel good. That’s the best way to describe it. Summer tours always do well with us. With all the hard work that we’ve been putting into this new album, we can’t wait to get out there and do our own headline tours.
MP: You guys have released a lot of singles. Do you have a full album coming?
MG: Absolutely. The only full album we’ve ever released was in 2017, the Lost In Paradise album, which was nominated for Best Reggae Album of the Year. Ever since then, we’ve released some bodies of work as EPs and singles. The music industry’s evolved so much and it’s changed, so we have been banging out singles just to keep it going. One thing led to another, now it’s five years later and we haven’t had a full album since. Two and a half years of that went down the drain because of COVID, but it also allowed us to get back to be studio rats for 15 to 16 months and we banged out over a hundred songs. We picked 22 songs and we are doing a double sided album. This is probably the proudest piece of work that we put together.
MP: Overall reason aside, it must have been great to have that much time in a studio to be able to make the album.
MG: It was, because we’re usually going, going, going. We’re a touring band and, to stay relevant, touring musicians are usually out seven to nine months out of the year. So it was a blessing in disguise because we were forced to stay home. We had nothing else to do, but be in the studio for 14 hour days. We saw the silver lining and while we were trying to stay resilient and we saw we could utilize the time the best that we could. We banged out one of the best bodies of work that we are proud of. It was amazing to make music without having any time constraint. That’s never happened for us.
MP:”Damn Good Time” is the first to come out of that batch of songs?
MG: It is. The irony of it though, is “Damn Good Time” was the very last song that we wrote that we decided to put on. It wasn’t even supposed to be on the album. The album was done, but we were having a cool, good vibe with a couple songwriters. I made a great connection at a writing camp in Miami, Florida with The Stereotypes, Grammy award-winning producers and songwriters, they did a lot of work on Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic. Turns out they’re big fans of Common Kings, but we’re on an independent label. We don’t have that kind of money. We were in Miami later, so I called Jon from The Stereotypes and asked if he had a songwriter that can push the envelope a little bit to something that’s out of the norm. Jon connected us with Seth Reger. He’s more of a little darker, more cinematic writer. We hit it off and in February of this year at one of the last sessions we had before we started wrapping up the album, we said let’s do one more song. Management was saying no more sessions. Let’s work with what we have. And then, in 45 minutes, we banged out “Damn Good Time.” We sent the demo to management, who said “Who is this? That’s the Common Kings?” It revamped the strategy of the rollout. We switched everything the moment we wrote that song. So it was one of those stories.
MP: It’s amazing how many times an artist says a song wasn’t supposed to be on the album, yet it ends up being the first song released.
MG: I remember when John Mayer came out with Heavier Things. He never wanted “Daughters” to be on the album and it ended up being Song of the Year. There’s a couple questions people ask me, “When do you know a song is done?” and “How long does it take?” I always tell them there’s no right or wrong. It’s all perspective. The song is never going to be right. It’s just how you presume it to feel like that’s what it is. That’s how it is. Songs can take months. Songs can take minutes. But that one came naturally. It is all about finding the good in anything. People were going through such heartache during COVID. So the whole thing is about there’s a lot of bad days, but I never want to have a day. If I’m going to have a bad day, I want to have it with people I love.
MP: You guys have such a unique sound, what’s it like when you’re writing? Do you ever want to venture outside of it or do you just stick to what the band does best?
MG: You know what I tell the boys? We all have our different backgrounds of what we collected and what we grew up on. My first concert was James Taylor. I was 17 years old at Irvine Meadows. I was the youngest guy. I grew up appreciating that. I tell the guys, “Don’t look at Common Kings individually. It is us four, collectively.” Whenever I go into a session writing for Common Kings, I treat myself as a songwriter that I’m writing for Common Kings. That helps me identify that I”m not writing the song for myself. I’m writing this for the band. I treat myself as just like another songwriter for Common Kings. I felt like the moment we understood that the better we were able to identify what our sound is, which isn’t us individually, it’s us four together. Everyone brings a little something different to the table. And then when you start throwing in other dope producers and songwriters in the mix, boom, it was the best representation and we know what the sound is and that’s what Common Kings is now.
MP: So you all know your role and stick to it?
MG: Everyone does have their role. They stay in their lane, but what makes it happen is that everyone knows what it is. You find the formula and everyone stays in that lane. The dynamic works. We just made it 10 years of Common Kings, and it’s been the same group of guys. It is really rare to find the same group of guys from when you first started. People ask what’s our secret. We’re a band of brothers first rather than brothers that are in a band. There are no egos and we respect each other’s decisions. If there’s any discrepancies, we talk about it. I also think because of us being of Polynesian descent, that also helped us with family and our faith. We Polynesians don’t come from much. All we have is each other. None of us are family members. We’re just good friends that met in Orange County.
MP: Talk about touring and its importance to the band.
MG: We feel like we’re one of the few bands that can live in two different worlds. We fit the Urban Jamaican Reggae and the whole Cali Roots Reggae on the other side. We land right in the middle, but touring helped us set the mark of who we are. We pride ourselves on our live show. A lot of bands went from producing in the studio to performing live. We were the other way. We were a cover band. We did a whole college circuit. We did every Battle of the Bands. We brushed up on our skills and that still applies now. It’s humbling because we’re out with Slightly Stoopid and they just told us, “We’ve toured for 25 years and have never seen this many people show up for openers.” And they added that they’ve never been on tour with a tighter band than us. It’s so humbling to know people at that level like us. We’re really grateful. And we’re hustling on this album. We put a lot of hard work on it and we’re proud of it. We can’t wait for the rest of the world to listen and chime in and tell us what they think.
Interview by Mike Parrish
Originally published in Invisible Airwaves Magazine available online at https://invisibleairwaves.com/
Images by Ohara Shipe