As she rolled through NYC’s Webster Hall on the Hotting Up tour, we had a chance to talk with Hirie about her musical journey, the new album and her inspiring fans. This newcomer to the reggae scene has already made quite the splash and we can’t wait to hear the new album when it is released.
Reggae In NYC: (RN)
RN: This last year has been crazy for you. You were on tours, major festivals, you hit the ground and running fast and hard. How has it been?
HI: It was definitely a shocker to the system, but we enjoyed it. Absolutely every second of it, still do now. We definitely spent more time on the road than we did at home. Luckily, the band and I were hungry to go out perform and play music and meet people. It was great for all of us and we get a good boost in our life.
RN: You mention the band and I know travel with a pretty large band. What made you decide to bring so many people together to play?
HI: Well, it’s funny because I started the band out with our sax player, Chris (Hampton), and the second member to join the band was the trombone player, Andrew (McKee). From that point, I think I just realized I would never have a small band. You can’t minimize once you have two horn players. It’s just an organic thing with the horns and then we put the keyboard and a guitar and everything else together. Then we met an amazing percussionist from Todos Santos, Mexico. He plays with us here and there and he is amazing. The more people you can bring to the party, it’s always fun.
RN: On your self-title album there are many different styles of songs. You offer fans regular reggae songs, with full horns and band but then you also have acoustic content and some dub content. What made you choose to put so many different styles on the album?
HI: Definitely just a self-crisis, not necessarily knowing who I am exactly and then being okay with that. I started out at open-mic and everything was stripped down. I had these songs that I didn’t really think deserved to have much production around them so I wanted to leave them as is and they were the ones that got me started so I left them that way. Then having the horn players and the big band, so you have big sounding songs. Then working with Ian Young from Tribal Seeds really helped me round the whole album out and then do four different dubs at the end. That was just a flavor at the end of the dessert. We really put a lot of passion and creativity in it. I didn’t want it just to have one particular sound and that’s something I’m excited about with the new album as well. We’ve grown in the last two years and we allowed that to show in any music.
RN: The single "I Wanna Be" is out from the new album. What kind of feedback have you received on the single?
HI: It’s been good. Hawaii has been playing it a lot actually so back home, I know it’s been on rotation for a long time now. It was produced by Don Corleon (Donovan Bennett). He’s a really amazing producer. He’s done some Rihanna and some Sean Paul and Shaggy and stuff like that. It was just fun in a major key and it was just something that was a summer or spring song and it’s a standalone single. I was just curious to see how a happy-go-lucky song would do, most of my stuff is all minor and moody kind of dark and edgy. It was cool to put that out there and get to feel going in. I thought it’s doing great and it definitely brought us some new fans.
RN: Speaking of the new album that’s coming up, you did that via Kickstarter. Tell me a little bit about that process?
HI: Yeah. I’m still kind of in shock over the whole process but basically, we had zero budget to record our album. We basically get on the road and we survived just enough to feed ourselves and just sleep. We started out with just one hotel and twelve people. There’s a walk of shame every morning and at night, when you book a room for two and then you’re actually walk in with twelve people with suitcases and all that. We started out small and we didn’t have this grand budget but we had grand dreams and plans. I do believe in the power asking and it can’t hurt to try. I wasn’t afraid to be rejected as much as I would’ve been before and I just wanted to throw it out there.
We fundraised for $40,000 dollars on Kickstarter not really knowing what to expect but we worked really hard and we provided a lot of dope incentives and packages. We’re really blessed that our fans pulled through and we managed to hit I believe it was like $46,000 by the end of the campaign. So we were able to work with the producers of our dreams. We got Danny Kalb who did The Green’s Hawai’i ’13, their last album. He also did Beck’s album, two albums or something like that. He’s really eclectic. He works way outside the reggae realm but he’s also worked with a lot of that similar style like Ben Harper and stuff. He was an amazing producer to work with and the only thing I mentioned to him was we just wanted or just needed it to be like a journey that just transcend and it’s something you walk into. It’s something memorable and timeless, which I really love about music. We were able to do that and then work with Sergio Rios in North Hollywood. We got a couple of songs on tape and all the songs are each and individually so cool and it’s all thanks to the fans.
RN: When you say that, "it’s all thanks to the fans," is there an extra pressure for you knowing that there isn’t a record label that’s backing it, but really your fans who came out and said ‘we’ll give the money, go make something great’?
HI: I feel like it’s so much less pressure because they know who we are, as it is and they already loved us for who we are. I don’t really think it, unless we just spent it maybe shopping or anything that’s something stupid then came out with a really bad album then maybe they would be disappointed. But we definitely put every single dime into making this album great and musicians and everything. The pressure for me is just then finally getting it released and submitting it for mastering. We’re just waiting on one last song just a couple of forks in the road. But as soon as that song comes in, we can start mastering it and then we can start the album campaign, which we’re all dying to start. We’re just here with our fingers crossed.
RN: So hopefully, we’ll see that out maybe later this year?
HI: Oh, yeah. I’m praying really hard for June.
RN: One quote of yours that has stuck with me is “reggae is the unsung hero in music culture.” What were your thoughts when you were saying that?
HI: Yeah. It’s still such a stereotype to this day for people to be like, “yeah, I listen to reggae. I played some Bob Marley here and there” the other misconception is it’s all the same. It’s two chords. Then it’s obviously you haven’t heard Groundation and some of the more progressive reggae band or rock/reggae band or Cali reggae. There’re so many different styles and for somebody to think that they’ve heard one style in any genre or to hear one artist and to think that you’ve heard it all is a crying shame because there is so much out there.
I’m a firm believer that music heals and specifically, I believe reggae heals. People that don’t give it the time of day maybe don’t realize how influential it can be in your everyday life. The music is so inspiring, it’s so positive and everything is ‘follow your heart’ or ‘be kind’ or ‘change the world’. You A/B that with some of the music on the radio. It’s almost embarrassing to our generation that we’re allowing so much music to hit the airwaves that is completely opposite to helping people or to empowering women or empowering good relationships or healthy lifestyles. The cool thing about reggae is that most us really do care about our health. I’m not saying other genres don’t by any means. But the lyrics are there and they speak for themselves. I do believe that reggae is the unsung hero of the music industry because it’s thriving and it’s well and it just needs a little more light shining down on it.
RN: We were able to speak with Yvone Curtis a little while ago, one of the reggae greats, and she talked about her struggles as a female artist. With a new generation of female reggae artists like yourself, Kelissa and Jah9, what has been your experience in what is a male dominated industry right now?
HI: It’s been positive. I definitely had my fears going into this that I was going to be belittled, ‘oh she’s only getting attention because she’s a female’. But the cool thing is that you do it long enough and you work hard enough that your music and your ethics speaks for itself. I feel like I’ve gained a lot of respect in the industry from bands and from management and all this because they see that we’re not just dallying around and fawning that I’m a female or anything like that. We’re working really hard and we’re putting in an unseen amount of hours. We’re driving across the country nonstop and haven’t had an issue really with—if anything, I’m thriving in the fact. I’m a female and I embrace it and I feel like I’m empowering women. Anytime a female comes up to me and says, "Oh you now I’ve been thinking about doing this but it’s such a male dominated world." It’s like “well come on. It’s only that way if you let it be in your own head” and I definitely don’t feel that way at all. I feel empowered and I feel like I can get my way when I want it. So I'm going to keep my foot down, keep working hard, and not allow people to think that they can take advantage of me in any way.
RN: It sounds very inspirational and you said the hope of this new album is when people listen to it they feel inspired. What is it about the new album that you think is going to inspire people?
HI: It’s just way more lyrically conscious than the first. I have no ill feelings about my first album. I love everything that it’s done for me but I feel like I just had three more years to write this one. We released it in 2013 and I think this ones releasing in 2016. I’ve grown a lot and I’ve been lucky enough to witness a lot of things on the road and to meet a lot of people with different kinds of hardships or just mentalities that are really cool. I translated that onto the lyrics. I also was able to co-write with some close friends and I saw a lot more open to that whole collaborating aspect. It’s a culmination of all of that travelling and meeting just hundreds and thousands of people and being hungry for a change and seeing it or not seeing it and just wanting to make a difference, so a lot of the music is really like do it, do it.
One song in particular, which is going to be the first single on the album, called "Give up" one part says, “Now listen to the voice that’s chatting in your head and sing along for once do not run instead.” In my own head, I feel like sometimes you’re scared to listen to that tiny voice telling you to follow your gut. This is totally not the job I should be in, but oh crap, I did five years at school. There’s so many different situations that people are struggling with every day and if you can’t find your passion then you’re not allowing yourself to be open to finding it. That’s something you’re going to have to live with for the rest of your life so why not sing along with those voices in your head versus just shutting him out and being miserable. It was just a lot of little subliminal messages in the music. I’m not trying to force anybody to feel in any certain way but there’s definitely a lot of invitation to think and to reevaluate on the album.
RN: When you talk about this album having a deeper lyrical content, has your writing process changed from the first album to the second album?
HI: I’m not too sure about that. I think it’s pretty much the same. I’ll just play some chords. I never really been one to write things down first and then come up with something around it. But I’ll just be inspired by a chord progression or I’ll hear some melody in my head and then I’ll put it on the guitar and then I’ll start writing lyrics. I did do something a little different, having the full band now. We did just a lot of jamming. I would just freestyle lyrics and most of it didn’t make sense. But then there would be some moments that felt really magical to all of us. I would save that clip and then I would try and write to it. A lot of the really cool stuff with the cool melody in chord progression on the album and were written with the whole band. The collaboration aspect was a lot bigger and greater than I’ve ever experienced.
RN: What reggae did you have playing in your iPod right now?
HI: On my iPod? My obsolete iPod? What reggae do I have? Well I’ll tell you on my playlist, my go to is always Damian Marley. I don’t know what it is about him. Dezarie for sure. I’ve been getting into Blue King Brown, I actually have a little surprise feature on the album with Nattali Rize on there. I’m very, very, very excited about it.