Jeff “King Django” Baker has been one of the most prolific musicians of our generation. Whether he is playing ska, reggae, dancehall, punk, hardcore, or some conglomeration of any/all of those, he has put out quality release after quality release. Musically, he has been the ringmaster of Skinnerbox, the Stubborn All Stars, his Roots & Culture band, and recording under his own name. He has also worked with a who’s who of bands such a Rancid, Murphy’s Law, the Slackers, Civ, and the Toasters. Not just a musician, Django also runs long running label Stubborn Records and the Version City studio.
Recently, King Django released his latest record, Anywhere I Roam. The band features a number of special guests such as Obi Fernandez, the Forthrights, Regatta 69, and many more. I had a chance to catch up with the man I am proud to call my king.
I have to first ask about the Version City Podcast. You did a fantastic 2-part interview with Travis Nelson from Inspecter 7, Hub City Stompers, and Steel Toe Solution. Can we expect more of these?
I love doing the podcast, but I’m so busy that it’s hard for me to find time to do it. I have a couple more episodes with Travis recorded, but haven’t found the time to edit and mix. I’d love to find some people to collaborate with on this so we can get them out more frequently.
Have you thought about doing a Marc Maron style show focused on the ska/reggae scene? You know a lot of folks and were there in the trenches with them. There are shows like this for punk, emo, etc.
That’s kind of the idea of the Version City Podcast (versioncity.podomatic.com), and we’ve had some really cool guests on the podcast in the past. Again, if I could find a good team to collaborate with, these would be more regular!
More than most musicians your music career has evolved tremendously, how do you get exposed to new sounds?
Thanks, I’m flattered! I love music in general, and there’s just so much music out there, old and new, more than anyone could ever listen to in a lifetime. I am mostly turned on to new and different stuff by fellow musicians, often while riding around on tour. I’ve also always been into researching the music that I love and finding out where it came from and who influenced it. It’s never-ending!
Anywhere I Roam is your newest record out now on Stubborn. How did the record come about? How did you get so many fantastic guests?
This album came together really organically—I didn’t really try to make it. It was more a case of having a load of fun collaborations that I’d done with good, musical friends through the course of my travels—hence the title—and also several cuts from my studio that had never been released before. I feel very privileged and lucky to have so many talented friends all over the world!
Do you plan on doing any extensive touring on the record? Have you ever thought about doing a residency in NYC?
I just came off of a very fun month-long “Version City Tour” with The Snails and Matt MacLeod which kicked off just when the album arrived from the plant. It was very encouraging, especially since I haven’t been touring very much recently. As far as residencies go, I had been doing the Version City Party in NYC on a monthly basis for many, many years, but at the moment I haven’t found a suitable venue. It’s a tough thing to pull off, and a lot of work, largely thankless, booking so many bands every year and promoting a big show every month. That being said, it was always a great party, and I’d love to get something more steady happening again locally. It’s just a matter of finding the right spot and enough bands that will help promote and actually draw a crowd.
What is on the slate for Stubborn Records in 2013?
The Stubborn and Version City label releases have been doing pretty well lately. I had been pressing a lot of vinyl out of Kingston, Jamaica, but the vinyl industry there had a kind of freeze for a while and it really slowed us down. I just came back from there with almost all of my stampers and labels, so we’re going to start re-pressing the older titles and press some new ones right away. We’ve just released the debut vinyl EP from the Snails, and a Dr. Ring Ding/Dave Hillyard/Version City Rockers 45. The next two releases CD releases will probably be a Hub City Stompers full-length and a Version City Rockers “one riddim” album featuring a load of singers and instrumentalists.
Is there a release that you have been sitting on that you’d love to release but cannot? Any lost tapes?
There are always more releases sitting here than I have time to finish or put out. I have a great Dr. Ring Ding/Version City Rockers album waiting to be finished, as well as my own Roots & Culture volume 2 and a crazy various artists “Version City Sessions” that I need to find time to finish. I also have a stack of tunes we recorded with Glen Adams of the Upsetters before he passed away. I spend a lot of time working as a mixing and mastering engineer for various clients, as well as practicing, rehearsing and playing gigs, so my own (self-funded) projects tend to take a back seat at times. There’s still loads of unreleased stuff from the days when the studio was in the Lower East Side!
You are always on the cutting edge of new music, who do you see coming up?
Tough question. One of the coolest things I’ve been seeing is the renewed use of traditional instruments in pop music! I hope that trend continues!
After all of these years, you are still in the game. What keeps you going after all of this time?
Honestly, it’s all I think about when I wake up in the morning. What else would I do!? I just love to study music, play music, produce music.
What do you see as a next step for the scene in general? Is there a next evolution you see things heading toward?
Very hard to say. There are a lot of young people learning about the roots of reggae, rocksteady and ska at the moment. A lot of young bands are coming up playing these styles. Right now it seems like they are kind of derivative—it’s taking them a while to find their own voices and styles and most of them are kind of just copycatting. The trend has been toward rocksteady and early reggae lately but It will be interesting to see what they can bring to the table once they get their heads wrapped around it and begin to express things in more personal and relevant ways!