New York-based reggae collective Easy Star All-Stars celebrates the 10-year anniversary of its irie cult classic Dub Side of the Moon, a reggae-style Pink Floyd tribute, with a show this weekend at Slim’s.
Despite producing several original releases, the group is most famous for the 2003 Pink Floyed inspired record and other re-imaginations of iconic albums, Radiohead’s “OK Computer,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” and the Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
This week Easy Star released their 10-year anniversary special edition of Dub Side of the Moon, loaded with new artwork, an in-depth liner note booklet and two bonus tracks, including “Breathe 2014” with additional vocals by Eric Rachmany of Rebelution (What, no bonus rolling papers?).
We spoke with Easy Star All-Stars’ founding member and saxophonist Jenny Hill about the milestone, her favorite place in San Francisco and future tribute albums in the works.
How did you first get introduced to Easy Star All-Stars and how long have you been performing in the group?
I’m one of the original members and I knew [producer and music director for the group] Michael Goldwasser before the project started just from playing around New York. I was in Burning Spear for three years in the 80s, so he saw me perform a lot of reggae shows.
I knew about their Tuesday night jam session, it was like a DJ thing and live reggae music in the East Village. There was a little scene building up and they decided to go forward with the Pink Floyd tribute album, Dub Side of the Moon, and he invited me to play on it. We didn’t really have a band yet. The album was so successful, they wanted a band for performing so they put something together as soon as the album was released.
What has been your most memorable live performance or moment with Easy Star?
There have been some really interesting highlights for us. I enjoy going to the more exotic places, so a year ago we went to Russia and we played out in the forest, like 100 miles away from Moscow. That was pretty exotic and interesting.
Just recently we did the Rototom festival in Spain. That’s like a week long world music festival, they have a lot of different bands there, and a a huge audience, just thousands and thousands of people. For this year, that was my favorite.
How did you end up pursuing reggae music given your background in jazz?
I started in jazz. I went to Berkeley College of music in Boston and I still do jazz composition. I have three CDs out under my own name. Jazz is very flexible. It can translate into reggae, especially if your doing solos in reggae. You can use jazz riffs or blues ideas. Things like that.
When I first got to New York, I was trying out a whole bunch of different stuff. Playing some salsa and in reggae bands with some Peruvian and Dominican guys. I was in an an all-female band called Steppin Razer and we started opening for some big acts like Yellowman, UB40 and Burning Spear.
Basically, within two years, I got asked to join burning Spear with my horn section, the Burning Brass, an all female brass section. That Burning Spear gig was fabulous. We traveled all over the world. We played in Africa, Europe and the Caribbean.
I like the message of reggae, I like the sound of reggae, and I like the horn section work.
Have you ever visited or performed in Jamaica? If so, what was that experience like?
Oh yeah! I went with Burning Spear. That’s the best way to go,—with someone that everyone respects. We did Reggae Sunspalsh in Montego Bay and also the next year we did it in Kingston. We performed at sunrise because it goes all night long. I was there all night long and we went on at 5am and did a 2 hour set as the sun came up. That’s was really fun! I’ve also gone as a tourist to Kingston and Ocho Rios. I love Jamaica.
Have any of the artists that Easy Star has performed covers for ever reached out to you to provide thanks or feedback?
They’re really don’t reach out directly, but they will mention they like it or say that to the press. Some of the artists have a policy, like Roger Waters has a policy of not endorsing bands. He did say he enjoyed hearing our version of “Dark Side of the Moon,” once. Tom Yorke has mentioned that he liked our version of OK Computer—at some point, he mentioned it. Obviously, Michael Jackson is not around anymore, but they liked it. They enjoyed it.
Does the group have ideas for new music or tribute albums in the future?
We’re planning an original thing next. People are trying to collaborate and write together, and we have a couple tunes written already. We’re going submit them in a big pot and vote on them to see which one we like the best.
For the next tribute album, we haven’t decided yet. It’s a complex recipe—it has to have conscious lyrics, it has to be an anthem album and the music has to flow. Right there, that knocks out like half the artists. We’re really just trying to search for the right combination so it would really have a nice impact.
Have you spent any time in San Francisco?
My sister lives in Bernal Heights. I got there a lot. I also like going down to the waterfront. I really like Marin County and going over to Muir Woods. I’ve also ventured south a little bit to Pescadero and Half Moon Bay. I really like the whole area.
My husband’s cousin got married in the state park back there. We camped there. It’s really beautiful. It’s named after a person, and It’s a hidden secret. Let’s not announce the name. [laughs]
Anything else you’d like to share about Easy Star or plans for the rest of the year?
Yeah, it’s worth noting that all of the members have other side projects that they’re working on, to keep it fresh and keep it going. I feel like our music is a great fit with the West coast. It goes well with people who enjoy doing things outside, skiing, surfing, camping—stuff like that—political lefties, aggressive thinking. I feel like the West coast offers all of that. It’s always one of my favorite places to play by far. We’re all based in the Brooklyn and New Jersey.
The Easy Star All-Stars perform Sept. 20 at Slim’s. More info.