Whether performing covers of modern day rock classics or their own work, Easy Star All-Stars are the definitive name in reggae and dub music. Taking classic rock albums and re-working them with slick reggae touches, Easy Star All-Stars are one of the few reggae bands to break the pop charts in the US. Their album Dub Side of the Moon, a re-imagined reggae version of Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, became one of the biggest selling reggae releases of the past decade.
Staying true to their eclectic traits, the group have amassed a cult-following since the mid-90s, and will be making a belated trip Down Under for the much-anticipated. Musician, producer and founder of Easy Star records Michael Goldwasser spoke with me ahead of their Australian visit.
GB: You’re most famous for your re-imagined version of Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. When you’re reinterpreting songs, especially from such an iconic album, what kind of things does the band need to think about?
MG: We've got to keep the essence of the song the same as the original, which in a way is easy because so much of that lies in the lyrics and the melody. So the main task is to bring our reggae vibes to the song in a way that takes it to another level – it can't just be plopping a typical reggae beat onto a Pink Floyd song. So the band needs to think about keeping it real, and interesting, on the reggae tip.
GB: Is it true that you and the other Easy Star All Star band members became friends with Pink Floyd after you recorded Dub Side of the Moon?
I wish that were really true. We did meet Clare Torry, who sang the iconic part on the original ‘Great Gig In the Sky’ for Pink Floyd – she is a big fan of our version and has come to several of our shows in the UK. As for Pink FLoyd themselves, David Gilmour had some nice things to say about us, but we've never actually met him. Dave, if you're reading this, give me a call and we'll grab a pint!
GB: How important is it to stay faithful to the original? Do you think covers work better if they still keep the same elements of the original song or if they go in a completely different direction?
MG: We try to stay faithful to the original in terms of lyrics, melody, and also basic harmonic structure. Two reasons – we want our versions to be recognizable, and also, the publishers can be pretty strict about changes to lyrics and melodies. I personally would always prefer to hear a cover that is pretty different from the original – otherwise, why bother to cover the song? I think the exception would be that it is pretty cool to go to a concert by a major artist and hear them cover another major artist's song, keeping it just like the original.
GB: Having so many band members, is it sometimes hard to stay true to everyone’s own artistic vision when performing live or recording in the studio?
MG: Everyone is able to put aside their own personal artistic vision for the good of the project. When we are performing live, everyone adds their own personal touch, but the goal is to play these songs that the fans love in a way that they will enjoy – it's not about us.
GB: The album First Light came out this year, how does it differ to your previous works?
MG: First Light is our first full-length album of original material. It allowed us to express ourselves as songwriters, which we don't get to do with the cover material of course. It also shows off the diversity of styles that we are comfortable with.
GB: You’ll be playing Falls Festival in Australia at the end of the year, what are you most looking forward to when coming down under?
MG: Seeing koalas riding around in kangaroos' pouches drinking Fosters!
GB: There’ll be lots of other bands and artists performing there; is there anyone you’re excited to see?
MG: Young MC! I actually went to high school with him – he was a few years older than me, but I remember seeing him at a school talent show and thinking ‘wow, this guy is a lot better than most rapping high school students that I've seen’
GB: Easy Star performs at many festivals, is there one in particular that stands out for you?
MG: Glastonbury. One of the most important music festivals in the world, and we were honoured to play three separate shows there, highlighting each of our big albums.
GB: Dub and reggae is a genre that has been around for so long and for the most part remained virtually timeless, why do you think that is?
MG: Because it's difficult to tell time when you are always stoned!
GB: Which album would you yourself like the band to cover one day?
MG: I really can't say because we like each of our tribute albums to be a surprise. But I am very excited about what we are working on right now. Expect it around July or August 2012.
South Australians eager to make the trip to Lorne for Falls Festival on December 31 should visit www.fallsfestival.com.au for more info.
Album First Light is out now