2013 proved to be an incredible year for Southern California’s Reggae-Rock-Hip-Hop super group, Krooked Treez. Voted as Breakout Artist of the Year in the 2013 Pier Awards, the 7-man band has made some big noise in the short amount of time they have been together. With O Brown and BZ Bwai on the hooks and vocals, Bobby Zen on bass, Adam Willis shredding guitar, Stephen Lashbrook on percussion, Alex Puente on drums, and Paul Monico on the keys providing back up vocals, Krooked Treez has quickly gone on to playing sold out shows at the House of Blues, flying overseas TWICE to rock Russia’s Kubana Festival with System of a Down and Korn while also sharing the stage with established touring bands like 311 and Rebelution on last year’s annual 311 Cruise. All of this was accomplished as they further boosted their popularity with the release of their debut album, Higher Place, in July 2013.
With no signs of slowing down in 2014, it is safe to say that Krooked Treez is here to stay. Drawing their musical influences from a wide array of artists and musicians that extends from Red Hot Chili Peppers to Cypress Hill, Nas to Rage Against the Machine, Sublime to legends like Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, and of course, Bob Marley, there’s no telling what the next Krooked Treez song will sound like. Their first show was at a house party in Isla Vista, CA which has become known as a breeding ground for huge reggae bands like Rebelution and Iration. The members of Krooked Treez all come from very different backgrounds while some of them have tight connections with legends in the music scene.
That being said, The Pier got a chance to speak with the band’s founder and lead MC, Oscar Brown AKA O Brown, in order to give fans, both old and new, a deeper look into the formation and current state of Krooked Treez.
Exclusive Interview: Krooked Treez
The Pier: What’s up O Brown!! First off, thanks for taking the time to answer some questions for the fans over at ThePier.org! The first Krooked Treez song I heard was “So In Love With California.” You guys blended a smooth sound of reggae and hip-hop all while showing love to my home state of Cali and the lifestyle that comes with it. How did you guys come up with the concept for the song and video?
O Brown: We went into the studio and I was thinking in my head, ‘We need a California song.’ Our drummer, Alex, kept playing the beat over and over and I eventually wrote the hook in less than a minute. Then BZ Bwai went into the vocal booth and laced it so smooth, man. It sounded so clean, when he came out the booth I was like ‘Wow, that’s it right there. That’s the chorus.’ So then we went back to the studio and laid down the verses probably like a week after. We wanted to shoot a video for it and Stephen Lashbrook hit up our friend, Sami Ansari, and he was down to direct it. I wanted to get different beaches for the video so we shot it in Isla Vista, Playa del Rey, Mother’s Beach in Marina del Ray, Venice and Venice Beach. The beautiful Christi K joined us on set at Bobby Zen’s house in Playa del Rey and we also got shots of a local skater friend of mine for the video. I also think this is the first music video to feature Yogaqua (yoga on a stand-up paddleboard in the water). This music video opened up the doors for Krooked Treez…
The Pier: Born and raised in Southern California, it was like I had been waiting for that track my entire life! (haha) From then on, I was hooked… How did you and the rest of the members of Krooked Treez first meet?
O Brown: One day, my dad called me and told me that my friend, Rocky, stopped by his house with BZ Bwai’s brother, KB, and left a CD. My dad listened to it, said KB was from Belize, that he was good and that they were on their way to my house to drop off a CD featuring him and his brother, BZ Bwai. I told him I would put them on my show ‘The O Brown Show’ on BReal.tv that Sunday. When that Sunday came around, I interviewed both of them and a few months later, BZ Bwai emailed me a track that he wanted me to be featured on called, “Rebel.” The hook was already on it and I loved it! I told him that it was exactly how I was feeling at the time and we ended up dropping it in the studio. My friend, Mike T, said he would shoot a video for it and when we dropped the video, it sparked a huge buzz. I went to the Cypress Hill Smoke Out Festival and saw Ern Dogg with DJ Muggs of Soul Assassins/Cypress Hill there. They told me that the song was dope and that the fusion of Hip Hop and Reggae was solid. From there, they suggested that I start something with BZ Bwai and that we would be rocking festivals like this all around the world. I realized this is something I have wanted my whole life, to rock festivals worldwide.
Alex Puente, a drummer/producer I met, produced us a Reggae/Rock/Hip hop track & sent me ‘Irie Radio’ and I loved it. BZ Bwai reached out to Arturo Solis and we dropped our second song at his studio. I was feeling the energy and vibes of this new music I was doing. I then reached out to my friend Johne of OPM and he invited us to his house. I already had the name ‘Krooked Treez’ in mind so I pitched it to Johne, BZ Bwai, and Arturo and they loved it. As a result, I told BZ Bwai I was going to put a band together for us and he said “Let’s do it”. I called Stephen Lashbrook aka Lash BZ, who I met through Cypress Hill. He is a great photographer/percussionist who was itching to start playing percussion again. Next, I called my longtime friend and bass player, Bobby Zen, who used to jam with me on stage in the past. BZ Bwai met Alex Puente for the first time and suggested that we put Alex in the band since we all saw him as a great producer/drummer.
While in the studio, Alex produced ‘So In Love with California.’ I wrote the hook in the studio and BZ Bwai went in the booth and laced the hook with his smooth golden voice. I told Alex we needed a guitar player – so he sent us pictures and videos of two different guitar players. In the end, I chose Adam Willis who reminded me of a combination between Santana and Jimi Hendrix. BZ Bwai and I met up with Adam and soon after, he laced a guitar solo on ‘So In Love with California’ in one take. I set up a photo shoot a few weeks later in Venice Beach and the band met each other for the first time. We walked through the alleys of Venice, snapping pics and vibing with one another and when we got together for a rehearsal about a week later, I felt something was missing. We needed a keyboard player. I reached out to Mike from the band ‘Inhale’ and asked him if he knew of any talented keyboard players. He told me about Paul Monico and said he could sing too. Paul joined us for rehearsal and killed it. From that day on, Krooked Treez was officially born!
The Pier: Nice! Sounds like a long and rewarding process that’s starting to pay off. Since there are so many different backgrounds and musical influences in the band, what made you guys want to pursue a musical career in the reggae scene?
O Brown: I was born listening to reggae. My dad is from Belize and was a DJ in the early 80’s. He played Reggae, Punta and Soca music. My family made Belizean Caribbean food every day, it’s in my blood. It’s my roots. When I started rapping in 1996, my dad wanted me to do reggae, but it was all hip-hop for me back then. When I met BZ Bwai, who was born in Chicago, but raised in Belize, we started recording songs and immediately felt like this was my calling, like I finally made it home. It was time that I listened to my dad. Reggae saved me.
The Pier: I guess parents always do know best… With that said, I recently saw you guys just had your 2 year anniversary. What do you guys have planned for this next year to make it stand out from the previous ones?
O Brown: I come from a world of being independent and not really having any kind of major label backing or funding or any of that. So by me doing that for like 16 years, I’ve adapted to keeping momentum growing and only rising and getting bigger. Next year is all about taking action. We’re gonna drop videos. We’re gonna drop an album. We’re gonna try and hit as many festivals and shows as possible. And we’re gonna eventually land a tour out there somewhere with somebody. We just gotta keep that buzz goin’ you know? I come from that world of struggle and we have a solid team. We all work hard and are dedicated. We know where we wanna go. We see it and we have ambition. You can’t just talk talk talk… there has to be action!
The Pier: Very true. There are definitely a lot of hard working bands out there that haven’t gotten the opportunities you guys have been blessed with in such a short time of being together as a group. Why do you think it is, that Krooked Treez has been able to be featured on so many big festivals without having done any kind of touring yet?
O Brown: We are all super dedicated. While I’m sleeping, I’m dreaming about the band and our next move. I’m constantly thinking about the next move. I’m never content. If we land a big festival, while we’re on stage rocking that festival, I’m already thinking about when we’re gonna be able to rock another festival in the coming weeks. When you manifest something, you work hard and make it happen. At the same time, momentum builds up and you start to have that snowball effect. You keep reaching out. People reach out to you and you reach out to them. You find other ways to network. Talk to different promoters, invest money into Facebook ads, do anything you can do to help. You gotta get your name out there as much as possible.
The Pier: Sounds like you got a solid thing going on! Speaking of big festivals… Now that you’ve been back to Russia to rock the Kubana festival for a second time, explain how this trip overseas was different than the first one. Especially, with the current turmoil between Russia and Ukraine.
O Brown: We had a blast out there and we had a chance to connect with Matisyahu since his dressing room was right next to ours. We built some pretty good relationships in the 5 days we were out there. The producer of the festival, he loves our band and even though this was the last year for the Kubana festival, he’s gonna start up a new festival next year. It’s all love and hopefully we’re gonna be on his radar forever now. We played right on the sand of the Black Sea in Russia. It’s beautiful down there. The people just embrace our music and the fans go all out. They are die-hard! It’s always good times.
Of course everyone knows about the current situation with Russia and Ukraine, but we stay out of the politics and we’re there for the people of Russia and the Kubana festival. They embrace us so much. They love us and we love them. The main difference between last year and this year was that they set all the bands up in 2 different hotels about a block away from each other. We were only allowed to walk from hotel to hotel. They didn’t want us to venture out anywhere because there’s a lot going on over there right now. Last year we explored. We hit the bar scene, we were on the beach partying, we were doing everything last year! You’d be surprised about this but a lot of bands were scared to perform there this year. 15 bands canceled for the festival, but none were American bands. That was kinda trippy.
The Pier: That’s crazy! I bet it’s hard for any band in the U.S. to turn down a trip overseas to rock a festival, though. How would you say playing a festival overseas is different from playing in the US? Are there any restrictions a band might run into that they normally wouldn’t encounter in America?
O Brown: In Russia, you definitely can’t smoke weed. If you get popped smokin’ herb, you’ll get 10 years for that. (haha) Just for a gram! You gotta be real careful out there with that. As far as the set up goes for the festivals, they are pretty similar to the big ones out in the U.S. and like I said before, the fans out there, they go all out. They’ll grab a piece of paper that they find and ask you to sign it. Not saying the fans out here aren’t die-hard, but because we get music a lot out here and there’s so much going on with all the festivals year round, we can’t compare to out there overseas. When there’s a festival going on out there, the fans go there and they appreciate every second and every minute of that festival.
The Pier: If you build a fan base in another country, that’s got to be a good sign that you’re doing something right… Especially only being together for 2 years! Let’s rewind real quick… The video for your first single, “Rebel,” only featured you (O Brown) & BZ Bwai. Was Krooked Treez formed by then?
O Brown: “Rebel” was real raw. For the video, we chose 1 location to film at. We decided to shoot at a spot called The Joint in LA off of Pico and Robertson. It was the first collaboration between BZ Bwai and I. At the time, the band wasn’t even put together yet, but the idea was there and the journey had started.
The Pier: So from there, your next video went full-production for “So In Love With California.” What made you guys want to release an animated video as a follow up?
O Brown: So In Love With California’ came out epically. The one and only, Sami Ansari, directed the video and made it hard to compete with. So to follow up we wanted to do something completely different. I reached out to ‘Street Hearted Videos’ and once they heard the self-titled song, ‘Krooked Treez,’ they started drawing. When I saw the characters, it reminded me of Scooby-Doo from the ’70s. It was different and I loved it.
The Pier: It’s definitely has a Scooby-Doo vibe with a stoney take on it. I’ve noticed in a few of your tracks, you refer to yourself as the #1 Bud-tender at a local dispensary. Anyone else in the group have a sweet side hustle?
O Brown: I work as the number one bud-tender in the game. Alex Puente has his own studio called 110 South where he engineers and produces. Lash BZ is one of the best photographers capturing those live performances from your favorite bands.
The Pier: Nice! I definitely saw Lash BZ walking around with his camera at Cali-Roots this year and I think I remember him taking shots at last year’s festival before I knew about Krooked Treez! Which brings me to my next question… Before I heard of the band, I saw some videos last year of you representing BReal.TV at Cali-Roots and more recently, I saw you and Lash BZ were featured on The Dr. Greenthumb Show. With a long lasting relationship with Dr. Greenthumb himself, what roll would you say B Real and Cypress Hill have played in helping Krooked Treez get on the map?
O Brown: B Real of Cypress Hill interviewed BZ Bwai and myself when we premiered the video to our first single, ‘So in love with California,’ on The Dr. Greenthumb Show on BReal.TV back before anyone heard of us… But let me take you back to when I first opened for B Real in the late 90’s with my hip-hop group, Trilogy, in Hollywood at the Viper Room. B Real loved our energy on stage and started producing for us. Being in the studio with B Real was a dream come true. At that time, Trilogy was managed by Danielle Field, she was one of the reasons Tupac got signed and is the daughter of Interscope Records founder, Ted Field. She started shopping our demo in the early 2000’s to different labels. We had so many good times with Danielle Field and my rap partner, Bernard Williams, who passed away in 2003.
B Real sent his condolences to Bernard’s family and me. I did not know what to do, I was depressed and every time I thought of my best friend/rap partner not being there, I cried. I decided to turn that into something positive and kept creating music to help myself through hard times. One day at the Rainbow on Sunset, B Real asked me to jump on his Gun Slingers’ mixtape and told me to come over the following day. For the first time ever, I was going to rap with B Real of Cypress Hill. When I heard his voice on the headphones, I couldn’t believe I was going to be on the same song with the legend.
After the mixtape dropped, we started doing a lot of shows everywhere and that’s where I got a taste of the festival circuit. Every now and then, B Real would introduce me on stage to these big crowds, it was like a dream come true. I continued recording with B Real for many more years. He taught me so much in the studio and for the most part, he taught me how to be worldwide. Cypress Hill has touched every genre of music so when I started Krooked Treez, I had my favorite genres of music in mind. I thank Cypress Hill for that.
The Pier: Damn! That’s some serious history you got with a hip-hop legend! I also noticed a while back that you posted some clips of a TV show you guys were featured on. How did the opportunity to appear on the “Ex Wives of Rock” show come about?
O Brown: I met Sharise Neil over 20 years ago. She is the ex-wife of Vince Neil, lead singer of Motley Crue. Sharise and Kirk Siegel invited me to a friends and family bbq while they were filming. I called Lash BZ and he rolled with me. While we were there, Lash BZ started beat-boxing and Blue started rapping. She then asked me to help her write and record some raps. I invited her to the studio and they wanted to film the entire production. I hit up Alex Puente and asked him to produce an old school 80’s Rap/Rock track. I wrote the chorus and the verses for Blue. Then Adam Willis came in with a guitar solo.
The Pier: Sweet! Pretty rare opportunity to be featured on a TV show like that. Seems like you guys have no problem getting into all different kinds of markets. That’s a great thing! What would you say is the band’s biggest accomplishment to date?
O Brown: The 2013 311-Cruise from Miami to the Bahamas with Rebelution, Less Than Jake, J Randy, The Aggrolites and many more. That broke the Treez in and opened so many doors.
The Pier: Solid lineup and experience right there. Can fans look forward to hearing any new music from Krooked Treez in the near future?
O Brown: Yes we are working on our new album now and are about halfway done. We have been working out of several different studios including our drummer’s studio. We’ve also been recording with Ern Dogg of Soul Assassins at DJ Muggs of Cypress Hill’s studio. I’ve been talking to Ras MG of Sublime and he’s gonna cook us up a track as well. We plan on dropping the new album sometime in the first quarter of 2015 and you know I’m gonna hit up “The Buddha Master” B Real of Cypress Hill, and see if he wants to get down!
The Pier: Good to know! Some wicked collaborations going down on the next release. With so much talent in one room, describe the writing process behind your music. What comes first? Writing or Instrumentals?
O Brown: The majority of the time, BZ Bwai and I listen to the instrumentals that Alex Puente produces and let the music speak. Then we write to it. There is so much magic that happens when we all get together in the studio, everything flows naturally. After we complete the vocals, Adam Willis comes and laces it with his guitar. Paul Monico has stepped in recently and is producing some great tunes for us as well.
The Pier: Sweet! Now that we’ve got all the busy work out of the way, I’d like to end with a fun question – If you could choose to tour the nation with 3 other bands (any genre), who would you pick and why?
O Brown: Red Hot Chili Peppers – They bring that funk rock! They’re from The City of Angels and that’s where we’re from. They’ve been around for a really long time and they’re a very diverse band. They’ve rocked shows with every band you can think of. Chili Peppers represent Los Angeles and I feel like every so often you have that band that comes out of nowhere from LA and we’re one of them. It would just be really dope to rock out with those guys. They have that high energy on stage. They have the smooth choruses and their verses get hyped. They just remind me of a little bit of hip hop, a little bit of reggae-metal-funk-rock, you know? They just have all those elements in them and that’s what he have. We can get pretty funky on stage too (haha).
311 – That’s the band who broke us in from the very beginning. Before anyone heard of us, they kind of took a chance and were like ‘Let’s take this band and let’s put them on this big gigantic ship from Miami to the Bahamas. Let’s see what they can do.’ Our band was only out for a few months when they booked us on the 311-Cruise 2013 in March. Our album wasn’t even done yet! We finished it up right when we got back. They opened up all the doors for us. Those guys represent rock. They represent hip-hop. They represent reggae. That’s what we represent as well. We gave it our all on that cruise no matter what time slot we had. For us to go on the road with them would be a dream come true.
Rebelution – That’s a band whose live performance is just impeccable. Their stage show and their sound, how they rock out on stage, it’s just, you can feel it. Eric (Rachmany) is so smooth you can hear every word, guitar, and Marley’s bass lines. You just hear everything. Their set is just so dope from beginning to end. I’m a fan of Rebelution. They’re like one of the best bands out there.
We gotta put Cypress Hill on there too. Those guys are like family. When my rap partner passed away in the early 2000’s, B Real was one of the first to reach out to me. Those guys kept me going. They lifted me up. Cypress Hill has been rocking festivals for decades. They were one of the first ones to touch every genre and have been one of our biggest inspirations from the beginning. They even played Woodstock back in ’94! You can look that up on YouTube and see how massive the crowd was.
All these bands are great at what they do. And we learn from bands like that – Everyday.
The Pier: You guys would make a SOLID addition to any of those bands. Seriously! Thanks again for taking the time to have this interview session. Stoked for the opportunity to share the story behind Krooked Treez because there’s no doubt that fans will be seeing a lot more of you guys in the future. We at The Pier can’t wait to see what moves you guys make next!
Watch: Krooked Treez – “So In Love With California”
Watch: Krooked Treez – “Krooked Treez”