Beware, from Jr. Thomas & the Volcanos, is one of the most authentic albums of Jamaican music to arrive in 2015. Full of heart and soul, the record is also one of the most meticulously composed musical documents. Every note is so perfectly placed yet feels so effortless. We had a chance to chat with Jr. Thomas himself about the band, the scene, and much more.
In listening to the new record, Beware, the sound of the band is almost perfectly authentic. Do you toil over every detail as you are both writing and recording?
Thanks! Reggae is all about the details as our bassist Chiquis likes to say. For writing, I may toil over things like “do I like this song enough to bring it to the session” or “where should I place these vocal harmonies” but I like to let the details happen organically when recording in the studio with little time to discuss. It allows each musician the chance to stretch out when the rhythm feels right. That’s when Jamaican music sounds best to me.
The band features a murderer’s row of musicians – how did the line-up come together?
All the players on the record had been friends of Brian Dixon. That’s really been Brian’s for some several years, “let’s put a bunch of players together in a room and see what happens.” The first session started out with Scott, Zac, Dan and Chiquis. Once we wrapped that session, we had some results to share, which made more musicians interested in adding to the collective.
What kind of evolution have the songs taken in playing with this band of musicians?
The songs start as acoustic versions with 3 part harmonies but I already have a musical direction I want to go with the tune. When we record, the band tracks live with everyone facing each other like a rehearsal. We discuss the vibe for a few minutes and start rolling as quick as possible. That gives everyone less time to think so the only thing they can do is react. This is what gives us the result that’s on the Beware record. If a small mistake happens but the groove feels right, we keep it. I hear it the same way when I listen to an old Jamaican record.
LA has received quite the reputation of having a thriving Jamaican-influenced scene. What has been your involvement in the scene?
This LP has been my first involvement with Southern California musicians. My main contribution has been song writing and getting the players on the record together at the same time to make Jamaican music. I plan to continue that process as long as possible as long as we’re still having as much fun as we have been lately.
Are you full-time in LA now or still living in Minneapolis?
I have a wife and home in Minneapolis. I love it here. We got the Purple Snow sound! The Volcanos are from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Francisco and Fresno. It’s always fun when we record at the Volcano Lounge in LA because for many of us, it’s the only time we’ll see each other with everyone so spread out.
You just came off a European tour – rumor has it there is a lot of love for the music you are playing there. How was the tour and how would you compare it to playing in the States?
The tour was excellent especially since it was our first tour which can be challenging. This project has yet to debut itself as a live act in the States. I hope it’s greeted with the same kind of love we felt overseas when that happens.
How did you get hooked up with Truth & Soul Records?
I sent our song “Breaking Up” to Truth & Soul. They expressed interest so I sent them more tunes from the first session. They liked it so they asked us to record 5-6 more tunes. That was a killer session because I was getting to know the players and what the band was capable of as well as knowing what the label would probably dig. I wrote Stop, Terrorize It, Color Me Blue and More Than Memories for that session. We also brought in Raynier Jacildo to play piano on those tracks as well. I knew after that session that we had the right material for Beware.
With the record out and shows already happening, what more can we expect from the band in the near future?
We did a session last July and finished 5 more songs that will be on the next album. That was our best session yet. We also are looking to return to Europe in the Spring and we talked about putting together a short run of West Coast shows around the holidays this year.
What are you digging on right now from a music standpoint?
Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of early Burning Spear Studio One, The Moovers from The Deep City Label and some dubs by The Heptones.