HOLLYWOOD—HELLO AMERICA! Again, I realize that if you really want to understand something, if possible you should go to the source. Reggae for a long time captured my curiosity as a musician. Without question after discussing this magical sometimes hypnotic sound my understanding is much clearer laced with even a kind of spiritual respect. And what a fascinating teacher I was fortunate to have in Kameren Chase Neal.
MSJ: Reggae has a special distinctive rhythm, does it represent a certain statement or attitude? And how does it relate to Rock music?
KN:Well I grew up around music, my dad was an aspiring drummer, and my mom loved dancing and singing. The rhythms of the music were what drew me to the speakers. Whether it was the simple nick-nak of the temptations, or the energetic pumping of a classic Michael Jackson tune, I would be there dancing and singing along. But it was when I heard the rock steady thump of Bob Marley and the Wailers that my soul was activated. There is an almost spiritual element in reggae rhythm. When you really let it in, it nurtures the soul. When you take that element and blend it with rock music you get something moving and exciting at the same time. Rock music is energetic, it’s fun. Reggae rhythm is moving, it’s deep. Put them together and you have an awakening, good times ahead.
MSJ: When you were a youngster, how did it affect you—did it make you feel free or introduce an idea that possibly one day you might enjoy making this kind of music your life’s career?
KN: Well my family was a huge part of my music educatin growing up. Everyone in my family loves music and is passionate about their taste in music. My older brother for example played hip-hop non-stop! From Chris Cross to 2-pac. He loved it, and I loved it because he loved it. I would learn the lyrics careful to navigate away from words I didn’t understand, which in pre-teen years is a lot of words when talking about rap lyrics. My mom listened to Jackson 5, Michael Jackson, Patti LaBelle, Sade anything with some soul to it. She’d turn up the radio on a weekend afternoon and just start belting along to the tunes, and eventually I would follow in kind and we’d be singing “Aint No Mountain High Enough” until our voices were horse. My dad was the eclectic one though, always listening to something different. He liked to blast Queen in his office while he worked. He’d listen to BB King in the evenings and sip Jack and Coke. He listened to James Brown when he needed a pick me up, and he listened to Bob Marley when he needed motivation. We did a lot of camping when I was little and we would listen to tunes on the way. Once we got there we’d set up a CD player and listen to more tunes, and again on the way home. We listened to a wide variety of music and all of it inspired me in different ways. I get something different from every genre. Growing up I never really thought about what genre of music I would pursue. I knew one thing and one thing only that I wanted to perform.
MSJ: Would you say that Reggae, like the Blues, represents a cry for freedom, love and a hunger for humane respect?
KN:Reggae to me represents a rebel soul. So yea I would say that’s pretty dead on.
MSJ: Who were your first music idols and how did they express themselves that affected you creatively?
KN:I mean I just had so many growing up and they all affected me. First and foremost would have to be the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Watching him captivate an audience for hours on end during his live shows was something that I knew I wanted to do from a very early age. He moved with intent and passion and every movement had the crowd by the neck. It was almost violent the way he moved an audience, and it was magic. Bob Marley had the same appeal to his audience but instead of being violent with them he invited them for an intimate discussion of issues and ideas. He could be playing in a soccer stadium with 40,000 people and every single one of them would be completely engaged in what he was singing, and more importantly saying. He had a way of making everyone in the audience feel like it was a 2 way conversation and that made him a type of Rasta Profit. His allure was borderline spiritual. He accomplished this with his music as much as with his attitude on stage. He was kind, caring, strong, compassionate, uncompromising, non-judging, religious, peaceful, and attentive. These are all elements that I have aspired to embody on stage as well. It comes from being honest with your music, being real with your audience, and knowing the one thing that all the greats of music always knew. Your craft can and will help people. Once you accept that the rest should be easy.
I also take a lot of inspiration from other front men. James Brown for instance, had incredible control over his band without ever having to pick up an instrument on stage. If you’re going to be a good front man, and not play an instrument I always felt you had to do it like James! He was like a physical conductor for the band. He danced he yelled he screamed, sometimes he even sang! But all the while his every action was keeping the band in time, letting them know when to change to the next part of the song, when to end the song. This made it so James could improv. He could give a different show to every audience. He could express the music and have the band right there with him without having to play an instrument and that made his live shows really stick out in my mind from very early on. Similar things could be said for Jim Morrison of the Doors and many other great frontman.
MSJ: How did you change as an artist or a human being when you first began to perform in front of an audience? Did it give you a sense of freedom, a kind of release?
KN:My first time on stage was in the 3rd Grade talent show for my elementary school. My mom went out and made a Michael Jackson costume for me from scratch out of a little Captains jacket. I remember the jacket really well, my mom hot glue gunned little white tassels on the shoulders, she told me, “They are for when you dance like MJ they are going to accent your moves.” I didn’t know I had any moves. I sang “Man in the Mirror” by Michael Jackson along to a tape. Before going on stage I was running my fingers through the “tassels” on my jacket shoulder. My hands were sweaty, I could hear the audience. I can’t remember how many people there were. It was a packed cafeteria but it felt like an angry stadium of spectators. I just kept running my fingers through the tassels over and over telling myself that if they were tangled everyone would laugh at me, and I wouldn’t have any “moves”. It actually wound up keeping me calm. By the time they announced me and I walked on the stage my mind was locked on my damn tassels. The lights were bright so I couldn’t see anyone. So I clutched down on the mic and sang along. I felt like I was pretty rigid but I felt like I was doing a good job. Just before the song ended the nerves started coming up again, I was worried no one would clap. No one would like it. The music ended and just before I was going to turn around and run off the stage the most amazing thing happened, applause. It was like food for my soul. I had never heard something more beautiful. I had heard people clapping at church. I had heard people clapping on tv. I had even heard people clapping in a crowd. But this ovation was for me. They were clapping because I had made myself vulnerable to them during those short minutes and that vulnerability had affected them. I can only imagine you could barely hear me over the tape player, everyone congratulated me after, and when I asked them why they told me, “I couldn’t have done that.” And I was baffled by it. I had no clue at the time what they meant. All I did was the same thing I did every day. Sing along to a track I loved. My family did it all the time. It took me a while to realize it was not that I sang, it was how I sang, how I stood, the confidence I exuded on stage was just as important as the notes I hit. Once I realized that I knew I wanted to perform in one way or another for the rest of my life.
MSJ: What do you hope your fans will get from your music and the kind of message you are trying to impart to them, and yes, to the world?
KN: I hope they get everything I got from my favorite artists growing up and I still get from my favorite artists today. I hope in the music they find meaning. Meaning that relates well to their own lives. I want them to get hope. Hope that tomorrow will be a brighter day. I want it to give them release, release from the daily issues that can bog down the spirit. I hope they find a home. A place where they can turn on the music and immediately be at peace, at ease, comfortable and welcome.I want it to inspire, to change, and to encourage independent thought. I try to make music that is slightly left or right of the social norm. The best artists always did it this way in my opinion.
MSJ: Does your music reflect what is happening all over the world and you find yourself wanting the average person to understand how it affects them individually?
KN: Our music reflects the way we feel at any given time. We write to our current issues. So yea sometimes it reflects current events worldwide. “Kiroshi” is a good example of that, with lyrics like “Revolutions waiting just around the corner. We are all headed towards the New World order.” We have a few different methods to writing songs. Sometimes Mike (guitar) or Jamie (bass) will come up with a melody on their instrument and bring it in and then I will get the feel, and write lyrics to the emotion that the music evokes in me. Sometimes it goes the opposite where I have a melody and a few words and they match me with their music. Sometimes one of us comes in with a full song ready to piece everyone else in. It helps to write this way, I feel, because everyone will be affected different by different writing styles. This way we can reach and really touch a lot more people than if one of us did all the writing.
MSJ: Being aware of your own demons, does it make it easier for you to understand others who are trying to survive day by day?
KN: I have been some bad places in my life, and have gone through some rough times, and I’d like to believe I have learned from those experiences. I think it allows me to make music that relates to a wider variety of people; because everyone has ups and downs its how you deal with them that separates the weak from the strong. But here’s the key, every weak thing has the potential to be strong.
MSJ: What kind of human being do you believe you’ve become since your involvement as a singer-entertainer?
KN: I think it has made me more sensitive to the emotions of people around me. It has made me extremely grateful for all the opportunities that have come my way. I think it may have kept me modest. No matter how good I may think I am on any given day, there is nothing like having someone better than you open for you. It’s very humbling to say the least. It’s instilled a strong sense of service in me as well.
MSJ: Are you satisfied with who you are now and why?KN: Good question… Satisfied implies that I have accomplished. Once you have accomplished there is not much left to do, and to paraphrase Brain from Pinky and the Brain. “I still must try to take over the world!” We released our first EP a few years back and are now done with our follow up album American Dreadlock on itunes February 14,2012. I am very proud of that but satisfaction just sounds so, “Ok I’m done!” And I am far from done. I love myself. I love my family. I love my band Kounterfeit Change. I love my friends. I love the earth. And I love the human race. I can’t wait for the rest of 2012 to see what it has in store for me and Kounterfeit Change. I am always excited about what’s coming next. What’s the next phase, The Next Step? No one can be sure and that’s what’s so damn exciting about it.
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