For nearly ten years now, the mysterious roots reggae collective 10 Ft. Ganja Plant has operated under a dense shroud of anonymity. Although it’s no secret that the group primarily consists of former/current members of John Brown’s Body, their albums rarely feature personnel credits, and the band has played only a handful of live shows to date.
Much like their publicity, the band’s music as well is generally shrouded in dense layers of fog and echo. Unlike John Brown’s Body who are taking roots to the future, 10 Ft. Ganja Plant seems more than happy to dig the roots deep into the past, to the days when Studio One bustled and skanked with fresh roots riddims, and Tubby and Perry’s mad scientist experiments expanded the role of the recording studio and the studio engineer to match the emerging modern world of infinite possibility.
Kevin Kinsella, bassist and vocalist of 10 Ft. Ganja Plant, was kind enough to speak with The Pier regarding the group’s new album Shake Up The Place and detail the band’s history and austere recording process.
The Pier: I was very excited when your label brought up the possibility of doing an interview, but to be honest, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to help lift the shroud of mystery that 10 Ft. Ganja Plant has been maintaining.
10FT: I want to clarify, that wasn’t a publicity stunt or anything we planned. It just happened organically that way. At the time, John Brown’s Body relocated from Ithaca to Boston back in 1998 and when we’d come off the road from touring with John Brown’s Body, we’d be doing weekend warrior stuff 3 or 4 nights a week, so those other three days we wanted to play reggae still. This was kind of our reggae gym where we’d go to and work out. It was never a shtick or premeditated like it would be a secret band or something.
The Pier: Has you relationship to 10 Ft. Ganja Plant changed since you left John Brown’s Body?
10FT: No. 10 Ft. Ganja Plant has just organically been very fun. It’s kind of in an alternate universe where my role has never changed. I play bass. It’s a collective in the sense that we all bring tunes into the recording session, and we have very few pre-written parts. We imagine it being like it was done in Jamaica or Motown or Stax in that the band learns the tunes, maybe rehearses it once and then hits tape with it. It’s very free and flowing, more from the heart and the kick-drum. It’s more like the feeling. Usually we’ll always get the first take.
The Pier: Do you record together at once?
10FT: Oh yeah, in a room. Each record has been a little bit different. On this new record Shake Up The Place we do it all analog, all to 2-inch tape.
The Pier: I would imagine. This album doesn’t sound digital at all.
10FT: We’re way in the analog and organics. It’s one of the fundamental tenets of the group. And keeping it spirited, kind of live, organic, inspired, you know? There is no perfection. Of course we strive to do our best, but we embrace the goof-ups.
The Pier: How long did it take to write and record Shake Up The Place?
10FT: We usually do it [record an album] in a weekend. We get in on a Friday around dinnertime and leave Sunday around dinnertime. It goes fast. It’s all on the spot and some of that shows. You don’t think about reggae. You can’t study the Rasta man; you can’t study reggae. You have to be reggae, and you have to play reggae everyday! If you’re really gonna play reggae, you can’t over-think it. You have to feel it.
The Pier: How did Prince Jazzbo and Sylford Walker fall into this?
10FT: Both those cats reached out to us, which is a huge honor! They were like, “we love this band.” We’re not preservationists or getting academic or scholarly about it, but from what we gathered up, what we all love about reggae was that it was very spontaneous, it was very prolific, it was very on the spot. That’s kind of where we come from. And I think Prince Jazzbo, The Meditations, Sylford Walker and people we’ve worked with feel that.
The Pier: Did they come into the US and record with you?
10FT: No we just sent them riddims in Jamaica. They voiced it and sent it back.
The Pier: Sounds like that must have been a pretty cool experience, and certainly pushed you a bit out of your comfort zone as a band.
10FT: 10 Ft. Ganja Plant is an organic, growing thing. It’s changing all the time. We’re not anal about it. We don’t have strict rules. We just roll with it. There is no recipe we need to stick to. We let it unfold. It feels good to work like that. A stronger product comes from sharing. When you and I look at something we only see 180 degrees. But if you hug someone else you add their 180 degrees and add 360 degrees. No man is an island!
10Ft Ganja Plant Links:
10 Ft Ganja Plant – “Shake Up The Place” Album Review
10 Ft Ganja Plant Website
10 Ft Ganja Plant Facebook
Interviewed by: Chris Castro