Jah Sun was a name I had always previously heard of but never actually heard. I knew he performed reggae music, is adaptable in merging hip-hop into his repertoire and after our friends at Press Junkie passed along his new album, Between The Lines, the timing seemed perfect to dive-in with discovering someone, that was new to me. Now based out of Humboldt, CA, Jah Sun is originally from Texas and made his way out to Los Angeles, CA in his early 20’s shortly after discovering Bob Marley’s music and influence. He released his debut album, Height of Light, in 2006 and has since collaborated with a lot of house-hold names in reggae and dance-hall.
His fifth studio album, Between The Lines, is a 12-track record that dropped on April 28th, 2017. It was recorded at Prairie Sun Studios in Cotati, CA with Jah Sun’s intrigue coming from the studio’s analog boards, vintage mics, amps, guitars and most importantly, the atmosphere, as he aimed to create an organically live-feel of a record.
Curious about his background and perspective of reggae music as an artist, I had the opportunity to exchange some Q&A with the Humboldt, CA based reggae performer. It was a good opportunity in discovering someone new that I enjoy, and to then be able to have some questions answered as my wonderment around his music evolves. Enjoy our exchange below as he discusses some songs from the record, Bob Marley, the reggae genre and more!
Interview: Jah Sun
The Pier: In reading up on you, I liked how you discovered Bob Marley & how that experience rocked your world with influencing you as an artist — Can you tell me the moment you first discovered Bob Marley?
Jah Sun: I was around 22-years-old and I was temporarily staying in Erie, PA trying to earn money as a roofer. It was hard work because most of the roofs there were made with slate as opposed to the shingles, like in Texas, where I was from. I was feeling disconnected from everything I knew and out of place being in a new town that was very different from where I was from. After a long day of working in the sun, I asked my friend to take me to the mall just to walk around and clear my head. I remember walking past a record store and in the window was a VHS tape of Time Will Tell. I had never even heard Bob Marley’s music before, but something about the cover-art drew me in. I went back to the house where I was staying and watched it that night. I was an instant fan, but I also realized there was something more to Bob than just being a musician; he was a prophet and I immediately felt something I had never felt before. I began searching for more of his music and others like him, which also lead to me learning more about myself and the world around me. I began cultivating respect for myself, others and the earth. Discovering his music started me on a spiritual path at a time I needed it most.
The Pier: That’s a great story! I love hearing how a positive influence opens new paths of opportunity and it seems like you’re seizing it with your evolving work of art. Is there any particular song in your repertoire that you can point to as a soundtrack to the aforementioned experience of discovering your influence in Bob Marley and starting your spiritual path?
Jah Sun: I’m not sure that I have a specific song about discovering Bob and beginning my new path but songs like “I know How It Feels” and “Never Give Up” are a reflection of the journey and subject that I became aware of as a result of my discovery.
The Pier: You have a background in hip-hop as well — pairing your influence of Bob Marley, who in the hip-hop world growing up inspired you to rhyme and flow?
Jah Sun: I was doing hip-hop during the ’90s and loved MC’s like Black Thought, Mos Def, Talib Kwali, Nas, and KRS ONE. If I could collaborate with one of today’s hip-hop artists I’d say Joey Badass. His song “Land of Freedom” is the song that really drew me in. Check it out!
The Pier: You said with this album, Between The Lines, you wrote everything from scratch, using a guitar and piano. Which did you feel yourself gravitating more towards, the guitar or piano?
Jah Sun: In the past I was always writing to a completed composition, beat or riddim and that was cool but this experience felt much more natural.
The best part about this process was that I had the freedom to customize each song how I wanted and escape the “formula” feel that I think I was getting too wrapped up in. Many of my previous songs were starting to feel too similar to me in how they were structured, as well as this aim of trying to make everything sound perfect. During this process I found that the acoustic guitar really draws out of me something different than writing to a complete composition. It’s so stripped down and empty, it allows for some emotion to come through as well as different melodies to find.
The Pier: Which song on the new record would you say had the biggest impact on you, from a stripped-down stand-point — Any song in particular that really drew it out of you?
Jah Sun: “Ghetto Ballad”… It’s just me and my guitar and some harmony accompaniment from Nikki Burt and the song is the most heart felt on the album!
The Pier: Awe, that is a good one! I’ve seen & read how much emphasis has gone into the honesty of this record. The unveiling of personal stories that reveal a more vulnerable Jah Sun — I know you alluded to the process of the record coming together, but what about now made you feel comfortable about taking a bigger step with opening up?
Jah Sun: Actually it wasn’t very comfortable, it was completely outside my comfort zone. The whole process was different than anything I had ever done. I was also going through a personal transformation. I cut my locks after 20+ years and I was wondering how people would take to my new look, new sound and new direction. The thing that kept driving me to stick with it, although I was feeling many uncertainties, was knowing that the best way around fear is always through-it. If I couldn’t make a record from a place of truth, in my heart, then I shouldn’t be doing this.
The Pier: One of my favorite songs on the album is “Tables Turn” — About as personal of a story as it gets, assuming the boy in the songs’ story is you… What is this song about? Seems like you’re giving perspective from experience…
Jah SuN: Thanks! I love that song too and it is somewhat auto-biographical. I remember my first visits to places like Jamaica and Hawaii. I remember thinking it must be a paradise to live there away from the rat-race and busy lifestyle we live here. We go there as tourist and drink our drinks with little umbrellas and the staff smiles at us and makes us feel so welcomed and everything seems so wonderful. But when you dig a little deeper and sit down with the locals you learn a different perspective.
The Pier: I Love it! Reminds us to to visit with pure intentions & respectful awareness. You know, I also dig the cover-art to the record — Two hands made up of tiny lines of different colors — Who designed the cover and how did the visual concept come together?
Jah Sun: The graphic artist’s name is Alessandro Benassi and he is from Italy. I had seen some of his previous work and thought he would be perfect to give the visual feeling to the record and I think he did a great job, it was all him! I only asked that he design it while listening to the record. He is also doing the artwork for all the singles we release from the album.
The Pier: Very cool! It seems like you’ve also had the opportunity to work with a slew of talented artists & musicians that include Lutan Fyah, Peetah Morgan, Richie Spice, Dean Fraser and I’m not even scratching the surface. Point is — your style is very dynamic, adaptable & collaborative — Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?
Jah Sun: Yes there are so many. I’d like to work with Tribal Seeds, SOJA, Fortunate Youth, Michael Franti and Rebelution. Just to name a few.
The Pier: Well I hope they’re reading because I believe greater mutual awareness have come from some awesome collaborations. Speaking of being collaborative, it seems like Reggae music is at an all-time high in terms of popularity. Festivals are sprouting up everywhere and even commercially it seems to be reaching new heights — Would you say this is the golden age of reggae-rock music?
Jah Sun: It certainly seems so and I do love to see the evolution and fusion of the genre. I know the only thing constant is change but I also feel it is important to preserve the tradition which is why I really respect some of the Cali bands keeping it more roots, like Tribal Seeds and The Expanders…
The Pier: Where do you see the future of the Reggae genre going? Change is ever constant & Reggae is so adaptable to other genres, it’s interesting to get perspective from those that network & collaborate — What are your thoughts on where the genre is going…
Jah Sun: I don’t see any limit to this genre. It has been fused with rock, punk, rap, dub-step, drum n’ bass and so much more. Now it seems to be the new commercial pop-trend, too. I think the music that was created in Jamaica deserves to go all the way to the top and spread throughout the world. I just hope the people that created it get their credit and fair share and I also hope that the pure tradition will be preserved while it continues to morph and fuse with other styles. The fusion of it is cool, and people like myself doing our version of it is great for the genre because it exposes people to it who may not have found it otherwise. But I feel its crucial that the roots are preserved and the founders are honored!
The Pier: For a lot of fans who may be new to your music, describe your live setting… What would us fans come to expect visually & sonically when entering a venue with you on stage?
Jah Sun: My music and my life are not 2 separate things. Its not a 9-5 that I clock in and out of. My recorded music and live shows are reflections and offerings of my experience in life. I have traveled to many places in the world and had the opportunity to connect with many different cultures which is why I consider my style a fusion and why I have so many collaborations. In the past, my live shows have been very “fun” driven with lots of energy and crowd participation. I also try to include local artists in my show by inviting them on stage, as well as the youth. I have had up to 20 kids on stage with me before to honor them and remind us all that they are our future. I will continue these traditions but plan to incorporate more intimate moments in hopes of connecting with my fans on a deeper level.
The Pier: Thank you, Jah Sun, so much for taking the time to answer these questions about your background, album & allowing us to get to know you more. Congrats on your new release and fans, give his album, Between The Lines, a listen if not a purchase — You can pick it up on iTunes by clicking HERE!
Listen: Jah Sun – “Ghetto Ballad”
Listen: Jah Sun – “Tables Turn”