It’s hard to find many people as immersed in reggae music as E.N Young. From listening to reggae and playing instruments at a young age, to making his own music, becoming a full-time member of Tribal Seeds, producing countless other bands, and running a label, E.N has a ton of perspective on music in general and everything surrounding it.
E.N released his debut album ‘Luck & Chance No More’ in 2010, positioning him as a roots reggae-loving, melodica-playing artist who is constantly spreading positive messages and words of wisdom to anyone who listens. With the release of his latest album, ‘Live Love Stay Up’, a tour with Tribal Seeds, and multiple spots at the upcoming Cali-Roots Festival, E.N has the recipe to take his music to an ever higher level in 2015.
The Pier recently had the opportunity to talk with E.N about all these exciting things in the works, plus some more detail about the making of ‘Live Love Stay Up’. E.N had just finished with a session at the studio when he caught some time to relax and chat with us on the phone, while The Pier’s own David Norris was in his studio taking exclusive photos for the interview.
Exclusive Interview: E.N Young
The Pier: It’s been four years since your last album came out. How long has the concept for ‘Live Love Stay Up’ been in mind? How long did it take to complete the album from start to finish?
E.N: A lot of the songs I recorded years ago, and I revamped them, refinished them, and made acoustic versions and dub versions of them. There’s three new songs, and the rest of them were ideas from over the past four years. I’ve been working so hard producing for other people that I haven’t really put time into my own music. So the concept only came recently when I saw a common theme. I kept talking about live, love, stay up in a lot of different songs individually, and I just kind of put them together and said “Okay, this is going to be the title of the album.” I keep saying messages to stay up, like to stay forward and stay happy and stay good, you know? And I kept thinking of that. “Live” is a song I wrote just speaking of trying to live good. I have a song “Love”, and I speak about love a lot. So those three things just kind of came together. I’d say it took about four years to make the album from start to finish.
The Pier: What made you decide to break it into a triple album, instead of adding extra tracks onto the same album? Was there any inspiration from Rebelution’s ‘Peace of Mind’ album?
E.N: Yeah definitely, it’s 100% inspired from them. Actually, the other day I was thinking about the album concept. I think I was doing a session with Blue Twenty2’s, and Eric Rachmany from Rebelution texted me. He was like “Hey I love the new album, I was checking it out on iTunes and I really like it.” And I was thinking – I totally forgot I got that concept from them, because I really like how they did that. I totally forgot he was the one who gave me that influence. I really like the concept, and the acoustic ones on their album sound awesome. And I was looking to kind of expand my music, so I think that was a good way to do it, to try to put all my pianos, guitar, and all these instruments that I don’t focus on completely, all in an acoustic version. So yeah, it was really nice, I definitely got the idea from Rebelution.
The Pier: This album was recorded at your studio, Imperial Sound. How are things at the studio? Are there any current or upcoming projects you’re excited about that you can share?
E.N: I’ve been working nonstop on so many records. Just in the past couple days, there’s a band called Blue Twenty2 from Texas who came in. I mean it’s just been all over the place, and I’ve been doing a lot of tracks. But I’m just focused on producing more and more, and still keeping the studio alive and active, and putting out a lot of good music and keeping the label alive. This summer was really nice, having Gonzo and Leilani Wolfgramm and Clear Conscience and just a bunch of good records. So I hope to have more time like that where I just release a lot of good music. A lot of people have been hitting me up, and I’m just going to keep producing, and keep doing my best.
The Pier: You’ve produced so many up-and coming roots reggae bands and artists since you opened your doors at Imperial Sound in 2013. What group in particular that you’ve produced has really stood out to you as a writer and performer?
E.N: There’s been so many, I wish I could just look at the list, seriously, the list is big. One that really stands out to me is Tatanka. They came in and they really had their production on point. They came in solid, like they knew exactly what they were doing, and their attitudes were positive. Everything was good about them. They came in and just laid it down. And I got a chance to do some shows with them with Tribal Seeds. And they laid it down live too, they had a good vibe. So yeah, Tatanka is definitely up there.
The Pier: How are you able to balance the time from your solo material, being in Tribal Seeds, running your label, and running your recording studio? When it comes down to time, what takes priority for you?
E.N: Well lately, I think for the past year it’s been helping other people. It’s been helping develop other artists, and help them to have quality music and to have a message. That’s been my priority, and also Tribal Seeds has been my priority. But I think I need to take a little more time to make my music, and that’s kind of what I’m doing with this album. So it was really nice to spend some time getting my art out, and I was really grateful to be able to create that album and put it out. I see myself in the future, in the next year, slowing down a little bit on production to make time to make another album, and get my live show going and things like that. But yeah, time is limited.
The Pier: If only there was more time! So your current tour with Tribal Seeds has Leilani Wolfgramm as the opener, who you’ve produced. Will you be playing drums for her set in addition to playing with Tribal Seeds in the show?
E.N: Yeah exactly, that’s what’s going down. I’m going to play drums with Leilani, and still come up and sing and play keys with Tribal. I’m really excited about that because I started playing drums at a young age—well, I started playing keys at a young age too—but drums I feel like are what launched me to being a professional musician, and I really have passion for it. Drums made me fall in love with piano more. So I feel like I’ve taken it full circle—back to playing drums like I did when I was a kid, and it feels special—it feels nice. I’m very grateful for the opportunity that Leilani is allowing me to do, and we put together a killer set. I did production on the set and it sounds really good, like a big sound. For a small half hour set, it’s pretty epic.
The Pier: Nice, I like the full circle reference, that’s a good way to look at it. I’m excited to see her, because we need some more ladies in this genre.
E.N: Yeah, I’m all about that. She has energy. She’s like fire. She’s really good live, you’re gonna like it.
The Pier: So what are some of the benefits, in addition to the drawbacks, of running your own label, Roots Musician Records? What are the pros and cons?
E.N: I don’t see too many cons, but the pros are that I help people release music the right way. The music industry is crazy, business in general is crazy, and there’s a lot of different ways artists can go. And you’ve got to be in it for a while to really understand which path to go down. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of experience recently, and been able to come up on certain things like correct distribution and promotion, like having 10,000 on our email list. So, the pros are that I get to help artists get their music around. Some common things are you’ll see me after the show passing out hundreds of CDs of my Roots Musician Records sampler, and sending out email blasts and social media and all those things we’ve been doing. And it’s cool that I get to help out these artists. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, I really wanted to help artists, and it’s all coming true. It’s really going down, and I feel blessed that it’s been happening. So it’s certainly a positive thing. I don’t see too many cons with having a label except for time. But I have a lot of help, I have people close to me. We have a team. The Roots Musician Records team does a lot, and they allow me to be free to produce and tour and things like that. So yeah, time’s always a hard thing, but I see a lot of benefits and lot of pros to this.
The Pier: So were all the dubs on the new record, ‘Live Love Stay Up’, produced by you?
E.N: Yes, they were all dubbed by me. I take the regular sessions that I do and make dub versions. And I actually did them all on the Tribal Seeds bus on the September tour that we just had. I did them all on the bus in about a week. I just sat there every day, played shows, and then back to the bus with my headphones on and just made it happen. And I took them to my studio afterwards, and they all sounded pretty good. I’m really stoked about how they came out.
The Pier: When you’re making these dubs, who do you take inspiration or guidance or advising from as you’re approaching the dub mix?
E.N: A lot of production and influence I get is from Jamaica, the original origin of reggae music, so a lot of producers like King Tubby, Scientist, Lee Scratch Perry—the ones who created dub and created the culture. I always give tribute to them, and I try to keep that style alive, because we’re in the second or third generation now where people don’t even know, like musicians that play reggae play [chicka-chicka-chicka], and they don’t even know who originally played that. They don’t know the original music at all, because they don’t need to. They’re adapting to the style now that’s current. But the roots of it are from Jamaica, 60s, 70s, 80s—that’s when it was created, and I try to keep that alive. So I’m trying to keep that culture that I was raised on alive and try to spread that within the American reggae and the new age reggae. So when I do these dubs, it’s the same kind of thing. Plus I put a digital twist on it, and go a little crazier than they ever did. But I’m keeping things like reverbs, delays, and time-based effects consistent to what was going on in the studio in the 70s and 80s.
The Pier: Your dubs are very traditional, and with your own spin like you said. And so speaking of these old reggae kings, was that a melody by Augustus Pablo, the melodica king, that you used on the song “Live”? What made you decide to use that?
E.N: Swing Easy is the original name of that riddim, which he actually used too. Yeah, Augustus Pablo and a lot of other Jamaican musicians took that riddim and went big with it. I get a lot of influence playing the melodica from Augustus Pablo, and it was a blessing to give tribute to that riddim. Because I haven’t really done that before, I haven’t copied music—but again I get influence from Jamaica and how they would take riddims and use them over and over and over. So I kind of went with that style. Especially linking up with Father Psalms and Ooklah the Moc, Kali Navales. Kali laid it down quick, and Gumby too. Those two guys are really into the same influence that I have, like from Jamaica, the old sound, and so that’s why I brought that kind of style to them to collab on that track. And that one came out really nice.
The Pier: Who is hitting those sweet high notes in the song?
E.N: His name’s Kali, but he comes from a band called Ooklah the Moc, from Oahu. And Ooklah is amazing. You have to check out Ooklah the Moc, ‘Rearrange Your Positive’—that’s one album that’s amazing, but they have a bunch of albums. There’s also one called ‘Vaults EP’ that’s amazing. But I highly recommend them if you’re into reggae music. They have a female singer and another male singer too, so three singers that trade off lead. They’re wicked, like super good, for real. I highly recommend them. So I grew up listening to them, so it was a treat to actually work with them in the studio. A big deal.
The Pier: That’s awesome, another full circle.
The Pier: Yeah. The song “Creation Rebel” on the album—it talks about the unifying energy throughout the universe, which could be seen as scientific, or religious, or both really. So what’s your perspective on the song and its meaning?
E.N: Yeah, it was just reflecting on the Earth and certain things like signs that creation is real and we are all connected. We are all one in the end. So for instance Déjà Vu, like they say that déjà vu means that you were meant to be in that place. That happens a lot for me. I don’t know what it is, you know, it’s trippy. Sometimes I see energies around people, like auras, depending on the time of day and different things. So there’s like small signs of creation and connection at work. It’s not like black and white, but definitely you can see signs. So in that song I’m just like chanting signs basically, like look at how we are all connected, look at how many millions of years, look at these people, you know? Like all these signs in art, they aren’t exactly black and white, but they lead to creation, you know? That we were created!
The Pier: What other musicians contributed to recording with you on the album? Are there any full time musicians that you consider part of your crew, or is it more of a rotating group that you play with?
E.N: I don’t really have a full time group, or not even one other full time player. It’s just me basically. So I play most of the instruments on the record. But some musicians that I was really grateful to record with, were the drum and bass of Tribal Seeds (Victor Navarro, Carlos Verdugo). They both recorded drum and bass on “Overpowering Blessed Love”. I was really honored and blessed that they did that for me, and it came out amazing. I really love the dub version of that song, because it accents the drum and bass. And also Jah Gumby, he’s the bass player of Ooklah the Moc—he has a studio called Father Psalms, but he recorded bass on that song “Live”. There’s also the guitarist from Clear Conscience, Blaine Dillinger, he recorded on “Be Back Real Soon”. And also Gonzo did a lot of work. He recorded a lot of the acoustic guitars on the acoustic album, and he also recorded guitar on “Never Gonna Leave Your Side”. But yeah, I got to work with a few musicians, and it was a blessing to do that. And I hope to continue to work with different musicians, that’s one of the best things about this—a bunch of artists coming together and collab-ing for a good cause, a good message.
The Pier: Definitely. So you’re a roots musician, and like you were saying, you’re really influenced by the spirit and message of roots reggae music. So how do you feel about American reggae in contrast to the Jamaican reggae artists?
E.N: I feel like evolution will always occur. Change will always happen, and styles will evolve. So I see that happening in the US, and I see the style changing and progressing. Someone said—I forgot who said it—that reggae will be the last original music that will happen. I don’t know who said that, but I remember hearing it one time. But I record all these bands, and a lot of them don’t know, like I said—they don’t know where that original [chicka-chicka] on the guitar came from. Or like the style of the drum and bass, like they don’t know Roots Radics, they don’t know all these old artists that came out of Jamaica: Channel One, King Tubby, Scientist, and all these producers that produced a lot of music. They don’t know that stuff. So I really hope that they continue to keep that alive and that people are open to knowing the roots of that music and knowing the culture associated with it. Because in the end this music was a spiritual music. It was the message of Rastafari, a spiritual one. It was about suffering, there were people suffering in Jamaica trying to make a stand and step up, you know? And I believe that’s why this amazing music was created. And we have to remember that. So, I like where the American scene is going, I like bands like Tatanka and Stick Figure. I think that’s really modern reggae at its best, American reggae at its best, moving forward. And then you have the Island scene, like The Green and all these things. A lot of those bands I like, they know about this roots reggae, they know where it came from. And so I think if the American scene keeps remembering, and studies up on their roots of reggae music, that the music will sound better.
The Pier: So right now, why aren’t American reggae bands as welcomed to play in Jamaica, when we see Jamaican reggae groups making their way to America to tour and collaborate?
E: Well I mean, Jamaica is just a small country, you know? The U.S. is huge. So I don’t think there’s that much opportunity to tour and things like that. In Jamaica, you’re going to go for a one-off show. I think they have their own thing going on. They’ve got their own artists, they started the music, and they have their own culture that they are keeping alive. You’ll see this thing for a lot of islands, it’s not just Jamaica. Like you go to Hawaii, they have Hawaiian bands on the radio. And they’re supporting their own culture, which is awesome, because you should support your own culture. So yeah, you don’t see that very often, but I think it’s just because they’re a third world country and they’re not too rich, and I don’t think they’re bringing in big acts in general.
The Pier: That totally makes sense. Another thing I want to ask is what would it take to bridge the gap in getting American reggae bands to Jamaica. But based on what you’re saying, is there even a gap to be bridged there?
E.N: I don’t know if there is, honestly. I can see Jamaica opening up to American reggae bands if they respected them, and the only way they’re gonna respect them is if they know the roots of the music they’re playing. So it’d have to be a band that knows where reggae originated from, and they’re taking it back to where it started.
The Pier: So coming up this year, in 2015, you’re playing twice at Cali Roots fest, with Tribal Seeds and as E.N Young. Who will be your backing band for the event and are there plans to start touring the world as a solo artist?
E.N: Yeah, I’ve pushed my solo career a lot, and I definitely want to do it, but I’ve just been really wanting to help a lot of other artists. I’ve just been waiting for time, just being patient and waiting until things unfold. But I feel like this is the time, now. In the past couple years I haven’t really put energy towards it, but now I’m trying to. And I feel really good when I’m doing it, when I’m spreading a positive message. It’s just what I want to do. So I do want to travel the world with it. But for Cali Roots, the backing band is undetermined, I’ve been working with Beyond I Sight a lot, and they’re awesome guys, and because of scheduling, time-wise, I’m not sure what’s going to happen for Cali Roots. So it’s unknown right now. But I have some ideas, and it might possibly be them, but I’m not sure.
The Pier: You’ve got time!
E.N: Yeah. And also, I might be playing with Leilani (Wolfgramm) too. She has one of the opening spots I think at the Main Stage on that Friday (May 22). And I most likely will be playing drums for her that day. So I’ve got triple duty, but I’m ready for it. It’s what I live for!
WATCH: E.N Young – Making of Live Love Stay Up
WATCH: E.N Young – “Eye of the Storm”