After debuting at #1 on the Billboard Reggae Chart, The Movement will be making their way through NYC on tour for their new album Golden next month. They are playing a Rocks Off Concert Cruise, which if you haven’t been is an amazing way to see the city and hear great music. In preparation for their visit we sat down with lead singer, Josh Swain and talked about the new album, song writing and the future of independent music.
RN: Reggae In NYC
MOV: The Movement
RN: In 2014 you released Beneath The Palms, a surprise acoustic album as a free gift to your fans. Tell me about that, why a free album?
MOV: We were having a little lull in the stuff that we had released and we had gone and done these Sugar Shack Sessions in Florida. It’s just like this cool little studio, really low key and they have this outside area where they set up cameras and some mics and stuff. We did like four songs out there. Just one take vibe kind of things. We got some good feedback on that and were like, these acoustic recordings of our songs are actually going kind of well, they are not that bad, and we ended up going back out to Compound Studios, which is our base out there in San Diego and doing a couple hours and recorded maybe eight or nine more songs. Just one take, like that, and ended up putting it together. It was super cheap for us, relatively free and we didn’t make any actual physical copies or anything like that. It was a really easy way to put a digital record together and we got some artwork made for it. We said we don’t really want to charge for this, there is no reason. Let’s just put it out there and see if the fans like it. It was kind of a little low key, not really produced, acoustic record and I think all-in-all turned out pretty decent. The fans really appreciated that.
RN: How did you come up with the sticker project, to make a giant print out of your upcoming album and then divide that amongst the fans?
MOV: That was a promo for our latest record Golden. We just brainstormed on what a good and different way was to promote the record and to make the fans feel a little more involved. We basically blew up the (cover) artwork into a giant print. Then we numbered each little one. I think there were 800-900 pieces per print, we did two prints. We cut them all up, our management team did a great job they did it all in-house at our managers house.
I didn’t think it was that great of an idea at first. Like who really cares? The idea was as you had a certain number you could go to our site and plug it in as a puzzle piece and people could start to decipher what the cover of the new record looked liked. I don’t think it got to where people were actually doing that, but I think the concept was understood and appreciated by everyone. It actually went over better than I thought and the fans really appreciated having it. It was just a different idea when it comes to releasing and made them feel like a part of it.
RN: Tell me about the Rootfire Cooperative? This is a cooperative built on the concept of micro loans? It sounds like the next step in the future of independent music?
MOV: It is. We got involved with Rootfire right after we released Side By Side in 2013 and we were really directionless. We had a line-up change. I quit the band for a while then I came back into the band and the other singer left. It was a really tumultuous time in the bands career. We went out and did this record, really independently, with no guidance, no marketing campaign, no producer. We were lost. A bunch of fucking retards out there trying to put a record out and the record is what it is. We were sitting around, we just got rid of management and we don’t have anything, what can we do to get back on track?
I think our bassist Jay called up Seth (Herman) out of the blue. We had some mutual friends and had heard that they were managing The Green at the time as well as John Brown’s Body and Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad. I talked to Curtis Bergesen, who does all the digital stuff for the artists on Rootfire, a few weeks earlier and he said “there was no way that Rootfire could take on another band at that time and blah blah blah.” But Rootfire kind of accepted us. There were I think, words of caution from other people not to, because we were pretty crazy at the time. We were really focused on partying and not really focused on music and our careers. It was really such a blessing that they accepted working with us. They took us to a really different level in terms of being focused and put us on the right path in terms of getting a new booking agency and things like that.
We started working with Seth, Reid (Foster) & Curtis and before too long it came down to putting out this record Golden and what label we wanted to release it under. We got a few offers from different labels and one in particular that I had always wanted to work with and ended up kind of seeing the model of how. When we started looking at percentages and numbers, it didn’t really make a whole lot of sense to me. It does in some respect and it doesn’t in other respects. The industry standard these days needs to be looked at differently because its not the same industry. I had talked to Seth before about the capabilities that Rootfire had as a management company. Their reach, dedication and passion for reggae music and the reggae culture in general, American reggae culture, and what their capabilities were when it came to say putting together a marketing campaign for a record and being able to promote it properly. It turned out that the work ethic and dedication and the reach that Seth and Rootfire had compared to, if not surpassed the other labels that were interested. They hadn’t been around for as long, seeing as it wasn’t around when we were talking about it, but I said “let’s try to do this in-house. I don't see why we need to get a third party involved in releasing this record. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m not exactly sure what a record label is going to do for us that you cant do.” Seth kind of had this epiphany to start a cooperative and let our record be a first record under the label. It just makes sense. Like I said they have the capability and it’s mutually beneficial to the artist and the label, in the sense that their only offering micro loans to bands that they manage.
What happens is; we are given the opportunity to make a really quality record, one that we wouldn’t make without a micro loan from them. They get 100% of the money they gave us, they get it all back and hopefully it blows up the band in a way that the management company receives higher commission in the future. The band does better, the management company does better and the label grows in terms of recognition. A way to bring the name and gain acceptance in the culture and it really just mutually grows every aspect of everybody. To me it just made sense and at that point I wasn’t really concentrating on what they could do for us. It was these guys are my family, my friends. They have done so much for us and I wouldn't want to work for everybody else. At that point it was like “it’s on let’s do it.” They did a great job. The marketing campaign and the promotion, getting out to radio stations and everything we needed and really kind of blowing up the record in a way that I thought it should be. This is the first one and they are starting to do some other bands under the cooperative in the future and hopefully getting better and better.
"It was these guys are my family, my friends. They have done so much for us and I wouldn't want to work for everybody else."
RN: Tell us about the new album Golden. Pier said “the best reggae rock album of 2016 so far…" It debuted at #1 on the Billboard Reggae Chart and you said, “By far the best and most important stuff we’ve ever done.”
MOV: Normally, I am super sick the record we do immediately when we release it. I can’t stand to listen to it anymore. This one I think lasted longer than most. I am just getting to where it is a little played in my ears. I’m really proud of it. I think that as a band we are a different band than we used to be. I know I am a different person. Like I said before we used to be really focused on the wrong things when it comes to drugs, alcohol and girls. Being really dumb when it came to our career and I think a lot of the choices that we made. The music that we played, our performances at shows, really showed where we were as a band in the past . This record was different. We came into the studio and went to Louisa, Virginia, to this farmhouse in the middle of the woods and stayed there for ten days. We were just really sober and focused on the record. Eating healthy and chilling out there in the peace, quiet and calm.
We had a great producer out there Danny Kalb, who did the last The Green record and has worked with Giant Panda. He’s doing a Hirie record. He’s worked with Beck and just a great dude, great producer, great engineer. We were so lucky to have him. We had Matt Goodwin out there as well from JBB (John Brown’s Body), Giant Panda and Easy Star All-Stars doing keys and horns and really putting together a lot of solid ideas for us. I went out there and I thought I don’t have any songs. I’m not really sure what we are going to do. Seth kind of heard maybe a demo or two that we had done and forced us to go out there. I really didn’t want to and I didn’t think I had any songs that were worthy of actually trying to record. We ended up going out there with a few scratch ideas and the more we were out there the more I was like “oh yeah, I think I got this other one.” It just really came together pretty naturally and now I think the big difference was our level of focus. Also having Matt and Danny there was pretty well…the level of professionalism was just raised. The last record we had done was Side By Side and it was just the three of us dicking around in the studio and not really caring at all what was happening.
I remember on Side By Side we had Mark Boyce from G-Love come out and cut keys for a day. I think I stayed in a different room all day drinking. Didn’t come out of the room, didn’t even care what the keys sounded like on my record. I remember I came out at the end of the night and said bye to him or something. Didn’t listen to the keys, I’m sure its good lets move on. That was just really indicative of where our mindset was at the time or at least where mine was. It was such a difference now to really be involved and care about every little minute detail of the record. To be involved in these little particular chord changes and stuff. Sitting up late night with Matt and Danny going over it, “oh this might sound cool if we do this” and “let me tweak this”. At the end of the day, just the level of professionalism, the care and expertise that went into it the little decisions in the songs really put the record over the top. Having Danny produce and engineer it, we came out polished and just better. That’s my opinion of course but that’s how I feel and I think the content of the songs is a lot better too, considering where my mindset is nowadays compared to where it used to be. I’ve got more to really talk about and a different way of thinking. I think all-in-all the fans can see the difference in the production and the content and I think that is what is making it more special then our last record.
"I think that as a band we are a different band than we used to be. I know I am a different person."
RN: On the new album you have a bunch of guest appearances, Mr. Williamz, Elliot Martin, Leilani Wolfgramm, Collie Buddz & Bobby Hustle. What was that like?
MOV: It was kind of weird how things went down. When we were on tour with Tribal Seeds and Leilani that was really organic. We actually cut the vocals for ‘On Top’ in the back of the tour bus and we ended up keeping those vocals on the actual record. We didn’t think we were going to do, even including my vocals, which I didn't want to do, but it turned out ok. That was the story with Leilani. I mean I knew I really wanted to have her on a track for something in the future, we made this little demo and she sang on that. She said, “what is it about?” and I didn’t really know I just said, “write something about being a badass or something” and it turned into a pretty cool hook. We are so lucky to have her on the record, one of my favorites for sure.
When it comes to having Collie on the record, we did a few shows with him and he was always saying how much he liked the song ‘Habit’ when we played it live. He graduated from Full Sail in Orlando, two years before I did, so we had this mutual taking point about engineering and recording. We got to talking and he said, “you should remix that song and I would love to be on it”. I don’t know if he knew that we would take him so serious, but immediately we called up Dan from Dynasty up in Seattle from Loud City Music. Make an instrumental for Habit we want to get Collie Buddz on there. He threw the rhythm together and I did the vocals for that at my house on this little shitty thing on my laptop and sent those out to Seattle. We had him mix that and Collie did his vocals from Bermuda and Bobby Hustle, who is a great up and coming reggae artist, did his out there at the studio in Seattle. We put it all together and we did a few edits of that song. I think it turned out great and that’s a fan favorite now.
With Elliot we had Matt Goodwin in the studio and Elliot is probably my favorite artist of all time and JBB is one of the best and most innovative in reggae/rock, American reggae ever and I am just in love with what they do. I really respect Elliot as a person and as an artist and innovator. So Matt being with us in the studio, I didn't realize that he actually played keys on Amplify. He played all the keys on the record Amplify by JBB and I have listened to that record so many times and not put two and two together that it was Matt who did the keys. I was just blown away and the last day in the studio we made this track ‘Golden’. We had 11 songs and needed one more on there. We just made this, listening to this jungle influence, dancehall songs. We kind of wanted a jungle beat feel to the song and made ‘Golden’. I left 32 bars open for whoever and I thought hopefully somebody good will want to be on this song. “Who can we get?” and Matt was like “you know I can just call Elliot.” “You mean Elliot from JBB?” I was stunned. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of that and he was like “yeah, I’m sure he will do it”. I was kind of skeptical because that was my first choice for anything. It turns out he liked the tune and did it in a week. He had his vocals back and just crushed it and needless to say I was so excited about that and that to me made the record right there. I think if every other song was just garbage it would be find because we had Elliot on a tune.
We kind of did the same with Mr. Williamz. We had the song and I had this one part where I wanted someone with a real Jamaican accent to chant over this part. We didn't really have a verse open just this one part where I wanted someone to be saying something. One of my favorite dancehall artists is Mr. Williamz and Gary is just hitting up random reggae artists to see what there vibe is and if they will respond. He threw something out to Mr. Williamz and I was like, “there is no way that this dude is going to want to be on our record. He’s too good, he’s too real. He’s just too good, he’s going to look at this and not want to be on it.” But I think he actually sent over his shit faster than anybody else did. Which is really cool, he did this really cool chant that we loved.
I am really stoked to have all these people on the record. It just sucks playing it live. You don’t think about that. What are you supposed to do when you play the song? I try to sing Leilani’s part. I haven’t even tried ‘Golden’ yet, because I don’t know how we are going to work that, but we’ll figure it out, whatever. I’m just stoked that it went down the way it did.
RN: When you listen to this album there are so many different styles, each song sound unique. What brought that about?
MOV: Well it’s funny, before we actually did the record I was listening to what was popular in American Reggae today. Not to say that I’m bashing it or anything, but a lot of it sounded like you can listen to a record all the way through and it’s one song. From song to song, it’s like the same song. You almost have to look down and see if the track changed. “Is this the same song?” It’s weird because I think there is a lot to be said about that. Fans like that and it is relatable and mainstream. A lot of people can get behind it because it is what they are used to. “Ok, well I liked this one song, make a hundred more like it,” you know, “and we’re going to like it.” I really wanted to approach the record that way. I wanted to make a poppy, really simple, poppy record. That was kind of nothing to really look at and see if fans would bite more and see if it was more relatable. Not try to have anything really too scary on there, too different, just something that people could relax to, listen to and go “yeah I know this stuff, this is what I like and I get it”. I really wanted to do that and I don’t know what happened.
We came out of the studio and I know in everyone’s hearts we don’t want to make a record like that. It was almost physically impossible to make a record like that. The songs that I think I had ideas for already, I had some scribbling in notebooks and recordings on my phone and stuff, they weren’t like that. I had had some instrumentals that Gary had sent me that were just these rhythms that you could find on the internet that I had written some demos to, just scratch ideas and they weren’t really poppy and the content wasn’t poppy. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be. Then the more like Danny started fucking around with the songs, it was like “yeah, this is not going to happen”.
All-in-all I think we get more respect for having a record that's not the same all the way though and switches up styles. I don’t think we have ever put out a record that has had musicians, other friends of mine who are musicians in bands tell me that they like and respect. That's something that I always felt that we lacked and wanted and I didn't know that it would happen with this record. I’ve had a lot of bands that we tour with and friends that are in the scene and its been really nice to hear them say that they respect the record. I think that they are really talking about that aspect of it. That it is different and not just the same stuff that is being pushed theses days. Hopefully we can use that format to gain mainstream success too, because I know its possible. I’m hoping that we put something together right and we will see where it goes. The tour has been going pretty good so far.
RN: Tell me about the track, Through the Heart, you say “I Take My Pen And Stab It Through The Heart Of Babylon”. Is the pen the mightier than the sword?
MOV: That was an idea that we had for a while. I think we were calling it ‘Pen Through’, that is what we were always calling the song. It was different before, we had written this little demo of it. We had all these different artists that we were touring with spit a verse for it. It was really in development for a while. I didn’t really know what it meant, I had this hook to it and I had written a lot of the lyrics already for the verses. It really didn’t mean much. A lot of times I will write stuff more like a poem or imagery, just thoughts and feelings as they come up and don't really know what you are talking about as you are writing it. Then later on it starts to make sense. You read it almost in third person, “oh wow, I know what this guy is talking about now, oh wait, that was me who wrote that”. This is kind of one of those songs. Its weird, I don’t think that the actual lyrics of the verses reflect as much as I would like to reflect what I am talking about, because like as I said they were written a little bit earlier. I would have liked to gone back now that I am thinking in retrospect and written some different lyrics for the verses. But I think that everyone knows what I am talking about.
I didn’t want to use the word Babylon as well. I know its used a lot in reggae music, that’s one reason why I didn't want to use the word, because it is so played. There is always hesitance; I haven’t said that on any record. It’s also I am sure that it has different connotations, different meanings, different ideas as to how it should be used. If it's a biblical reference and things of that nature. I didn't want to use it the wrong way and have people be like “this white boy shouldn’t be saying Babylon in a song or whatever”. It came to me and I could only release it when I was clear headed enough to know what the fuck I was talking about. What it is to me is just all the bullshit that was going on in my life and being able to really overcome all that stuff through creativity. Though self-expression, through writing music. Basically its saying writing and being in this band is what gets me through. It cuts through all the negativity and crap in my life. Hopefully it encourages people to use these different art forms, self-expression and freedom of being able to do what you want to do to. Crush the opposition which is Babylon and negativity, you know jobs you like, blah, blah, blah I could go on forever, but I think people get the point of what I am saying. I did not think at all that it would be one of the favorite tracks and its turned out to be one of the favorites. I’m happy about that.
RN: What reggae is playing on your ipod?
MOV: I’m listening to John Brown’s Body and The Expanders. It’s so cool because they are really good friends of ours. It turns out that all the music I listen to nowadays, they are my friends. It’s really strange to be in that position and really lucky. It just turns out that they put out some really killer music. Yeah lately its like everywhere I go I have The Expanders playing on my phone on spotify. It’s my everyday music. No matter what I am doing it’s just better if I have The Expanders on. When I am trying to get ready for a show or more of an amped up mood, I have been listening to John Brown’s Body. It just never gets old to me, everything they do is just magical. I think of all the bands right now, those are definitely the two that I have been bumping the hardest.