In the modern era of Jamaican influenced music, Steve Borth has become one of the most prolific artists in the genre. After cutting his teeth in a number of excellent ska-punk bands, Rx Bandits and Link 80 to name a couple, he started a project called Satori in 2003. Satori’s initial album, Savor Every Moment, was released on Asian Man Records in 2005. The release focused more on the traditional elements of ska, reggae, and rocksteady. Over the years, his music projects and partnerships have evolved. In 2020, Satori will be releasing their next album, a partnership with Dr. Echo. We had a chance to ask Steve a number of questions about where he’s been and where he’s going next.
What was your initial intent in forming Satori back in 2005?
I actually started the Satori project back in 2003, I believe. It started as more of a recording project with Matt Embree in his garage and then as we started recording more we realized we may be able to do a full on release. Satori was my first real dive into singing and songwriting. At the time I was touring and playing with Rx Bandits full time so for me it was more of a personal creative outlet were I could be free to do what I wanted to do. The first album “Savor Every Moment” did get released in 2005 on Asian Man Records but it was really a collection of tunes from different recording sessions we had done the years before that.
Having been a member in ska-punk bands like Rx Bandits, Omnigone, and Link 80, what side of your musical personality does Satori represent?
The first time I ever heard rocksteady music was when I was in another ska punk band from Sacramento called Lesdystics. We would be the opener for the local ska shows and many times we played with Filibuster and The Steady Ups. When The Steady Ups played I remember being taken aback with the sound and really falling in love with it. It wouldn’t be until a few years later when I started touring the UK with Link 80 that I really dove into the sound collecting records at shops and really finding the artists from the 60s that I really liked such as Delroy Wilson, Desmond Dekker and Toots and the Maytals. I would say that the early sounds of Jamaica have definitely stuck by side more than any heavy music, as the years have gone by.
What compelled you to bring Satori back after a number of years?
My friend Justin DeHart aka Doctor Echo and I have been working together for 13 years now and it all started with the Satori project. We have evolved together with my electronic project CHLLNGR and we continue to work on more modern stuff to this day but we had been sitting on this material since 2008 and both of us really never grew tired of the tunes after all of these years. Justin hit me up one day and suggested that he put out this collection of tunes and I thought it was a great idea. This collection is more of a transition from the more traditional sound of Satori into the CHLLNGR project so it is more of a stepping stone from one era to the other.
Was the transition to dub production organic or was it a sound you had always been reaching to achieve?
From the first time I heard dub music I was addicted to it. There is something about the minimalistic approach and the heavy bass that has always had my heart and soul. From the beginning of the project I had hoped for it to go that direction and on this release I see that dream fulfilled with Doctor Echo’s mixes and production.
What was the songwriting process like? Were you trying to write more material that would lend itself better to dub production?
The songwriting process went like this. I would set up my Tascam 388 reel to reel machine in a space that one of my friends would let me setup shop in. I would contact my musician friends who agreed to take part in the session and I would setup all of the gear and we would just go. Every tune from this project was written on the spot. The group would all come up with a chord progression together and by the time we learned it we would record it and usually after 1 to 3 takes we would have it down and then we would move on. Usually we would spend around 2 days coming up with these progressions and I would fill around 4 tapes of music per session. After all of the music was recorded I would take the songs and then go back and write lyrics and horn parts to put over them and then I would usually have some more musicians come in and do overdubs to fill out the sound a bit more. What happened after this was, months down the road I would send all of these files to Justin and then he would glue it all together and make a cohesive sound out of it and then boom, there is the tune that you hear on the record. There were actually many, many people involved with this record and a few recording locations. There are a few tunes on the collection that weren’t recorded on my tape machine but in Brian Wallace’s studio he had set up in Atascadero. We were on tour and had a stop at his place and recorded 3 of the songs on his Fostex machine. It shocked me, I have to follow through and mountain meditation.
How did you and Justin DeHart, aka Dr. Echo, meet each other and begin collaborating?
Justin and I are both from Sacramento, California and I had actually never formally met him in Sacramento even though we had played concerts together with our bands. I actually hit him up via his website and then called him to talk to him about the Satori project and what I wanted to do with it. I sent him some tracks I had worked on and he liked it and everything went from there. I invited him to come on a west coast tour to do sound with Jesse Hayes on drums, Christian Vela on bass and I played guitar, sax and sang. We had a really good time on that trip and have been working together ever since.
As you were writing for this record, did you have specific lyrical themes in mind?
The lyrics for this album were written over a period of a few years and I tend to write about whatever I am going through at the moment so if you listen you can quite literally hear about different situations in my life during that time. I write quite literally and tend to not really make up characters in my songs so it is more like, what you hear is who I am.
Tell me about the sessions for the new record. In what time period were the songs recorded and where did you record?
This one can be a little tricky because it was actually all recorded in the period of 2006 to 2008, which was quite a while ago. Looking at the tracklist I can tell you that there were a batch of songs that were recorded in Oakland, California at a place called the Compound, which was an art studio, that my good friends Lena and Matt Reynoso run. Now it is a full functioning art space but at the time there was still some room for me to setup my gear. I put the Tascam in the main room and we were able to put the bass cabinet in a closet and everything was pretty well isolated from what I remember. For that session we had Jesse Hayes on the drums, Chiquis Lozoya and Mark Allen Piccolo on bass, I played guitar, Ben Malament played percussion and I hope I am not forgetting anyone else. Going down in the tracklist I see that there were a few songs recorded in Atascadero with Brian Wallace and on that session we had Jesse Hayes on drums, Justin DeHart on organ, Christian Vela on bass, Brian Wallace on sax and engineering and I played sax and guitar.
Who all played on the record and how did you get so many guests to contribute?
The idea of Satori from the beginning was to be somewhat of a collective of musicians and less of a “band.” I knew so many talented musicians and I wanted to have a chance to work with as many as I could. As I recall to this day there has been over 50 people that have contributed to being a member of Satori at any given time. Jesse Hayes from The Void Union played a big part on the recordings as he played on all of the tracks on the record. Chiquis Lozoya from the Expanders/Hepcat played on this album and also on another record that we are thinking of revisiting at the moment. Gunnar Olsen who used to play with The Exit and now plays with the likes of Bruce Springsteen and has his own company with some friends called TrackTribe. Christian Vela played bass and guitar on a few of the tracks and Ray Jacildo who now plays with JD McPherson and many other artists played, piano, organ and Rhodes on many of the tunes. Ben Malament played percussion for the session in Oakland. Jammal Tarkington and Rodney Teague from Keyser Soze blessed me with their lovely horn playing and Justin DeHart played percussion as well as made the whole project come together in the end.
Were there any influences, music or otherwise, that guided you through your compositions?
I always look back to the originators for influence, such as King Tubby, Scientist and I love all of the old Prince Jammy recordings. Roots Radics, Johnny Osbourne and Linval Thompson were all huge influences to this project as well.
You are currently living in Copenhagen. What brought you there?
I moved to Denmark about 10 years ago because I met my now wife on a trip out here back in 2009. We now have two kids and I quite like living in Scandinavia…no complaints at all.
The new record is due out in May 22nd – with this bizarre time we are living in, what kind of plans do you have for the project around its release?
I am hoping to record more with this project in the future but now we are talking about looking back farther into the archives to see if there is another release in the midst of all of the songs that were written back around the same era (2006 to 2009)
Is there anything else going on for you musically or otherwise that you’d like to share?
I have my own label now called IAAI Music and I have 3 projects that I am releasing on the label of which I am a part of each project. On April 24th I released an improvisational group I have called I Am An Instrument, on May 1st I released a project I have with some friends called Finds Them And Thrills Them and on June 5th I will re release my first CHLLNGR album called Haven. Check it out!!! More music to come.