John Brown's Body: Back to the Future
By: Elise Hugus, August 28, 2012
courtesy Ben Sarle - JBB brings its Future Roots sound to the Wellfleet Beachcomber for two energy-packed shows on Wednesday and Thursday.
For the last 15 years, John Brown’s Body has been changing the way we understand reggae music.
Bringing together conscious lyrics penned by vocalist Elliot Martin with dubstep overtones and a classic horn section, JBB has evolved from the straight-up roots reggae sound heard on its 1996 All Time album to its later records on the Shanachie and Easy Star labels.
At the forefront of what is now termed “Future Roots,” the 8-piece band from Cambridge, MA and Ithaca, NY has gone through some changes of its own. With only two of the original members still in the band, fans can expect to hear more of a space-dub vibe on a new JBB record, due out some time in the next year.
But fans on the Cape won’t have to wait that long, with two John Brown’s Body shows on Wednesday, August 29 and Thursday, August 30 under the stars at the Wellfleet Beachcomber.
InsideOUT: Between John Brown’s Body and your side project with Dub Apocalypse, it’s been a busy summer. How has the festival circuit been so far?
Tommy: Festivals have their charm, but some can get out of hand. Some of the extracurricular things people do are a little disheartening sometimes. I find the music-lover festivals are really good. The ones we did do this year, like the GrassRoots Fest in New York, is huge. We’ve been playing that 10 years probably and we headlined this year. And the Floyd Fest in Virginia was filled with tons of World Music acts. We just played Tweed River Festival in Vermont, where the vibes are really family-friendly.
I/O: How do your gigs at the Beachcomber compare?
Tommy: We’ve been playing there probably 5 or 6 years now, and mostly two consecutive nights that always sell out. It’s incredibly packed and super high energy. The Beachcomber is not a big place, so it’s all we can do to fit ourselves on that stage. It’s a little like Tetris.
It’s honestly turned out to be one of my favorite gigs. There’s just something about that beach… We definitely spend a good amount of time there. We usually join the bonfires after the show.
I/O: In the past 15 years, how would you say JBB’s sound has evolved?
Tommy: These days, our sound tends to be a little heavier. Back in the day, it was geared toward the classic reggae grooves. These days it’s leaner; it’s a meaner, thicker sound. Honestly, I’m proud of both eras of the band. I’m really proud of all the records we’ve made, where we’ve been, where we’re at, and where we’re going.
Lyrically, I can’t speak to the message. We want to put across a high-energy vibe and let the audience see people who really love doing what they do. We’re not there to be politicians or put forth an agenda. We like to put forth a really sincere vibe.
I/O: Where do you plan to take the band next?
Tommy: I want to continue on the path that we’ve carved out after all these years. People change, lineups change. The older you get, you have different facets of your life. JBB has been part of my life since my mid-20’s. We’ve set goals for ourselves, and have been able to reach a bunch of them. We’ve played our music in some amazing places in the world, including Hawaii. We just want to keep teaming up and playing with bands we really love.
I/O: In terms of your side project, Dub Apocalypse, can you see that taking off the way JBB has?
Tommy: When we first started out, Dub Apocalypse was about featuring members of JBB and G.Love, which helped people understand the vibe. Based on the work we were doing this summer, the band is starting to have legs of its own. It’s just a collective of people who love playing music together, whereas JBB is a full working band.