"Its My Life"...
Kevin Kinsella of JBB
Tells his story.
By: Dori Kornspan
DK: First off you're back at The House of Blues, which is pretty exciting. How is playing in Boston different, as opposed to other spots you guys have played?
KK: Well, Boston is our home-it's where half of our band lives, and half the band is in Ithaca, New York upstate New York. We started the band in Ithaca and quickly relocated to Boston because we wanted to be in a bigger city. We had a lot of roots here a lot of friends. So Boston is one of our two homes so it's great to play your home field, your home crowd. They show lots of love, lots of energy, and lots of support. We love Boston.
KK: We don't deal with labeling. We don't really get into labeling. We like to play music. Music is our whole life. A lot of us have been doing this for over ten years. Some of us have been doing it for over ten years together, so it's what we do. It's our family. It's our livelihood. It's our mission-you know, to play some soulful music. We are here to express ourselves and try and get other people to express themselves. We want to have this communication stance with song.
DK: On that note, the other side of the reviews I've read have nothing but positive things to say. Some publications I read call you guys the "best American reggae". How does it feel to have a title like that?
KK: That's nice-you know. Once again, music for us is not competition, it's communication-especially reggae music. It's a voice for the individual to achieve freedom and to speak for the voiceless, whether that be for people who are disenfranchised. So it's not about being the best.
DK: In some of your earlier CDs, you used a lot of heavy bass sounds. How would you describe JBB's sound now to someone who is new to your music?
KK: Heavy bass and drum music. It's a big sound. We have three horns, two singers, organ, lead guitar, drum and bass. It's an orchestra big sound. It's all original music.
DK: I'm definitely somewhat new to your music and the first thing I noticed is there are so many of you guys. It makes for such a powerful sound.
KK: Yeah, it is a big sound. We've got eight people on stage. We travel with our own sound engineer who kind of creates a dub drum and bass landscape. Sometimes I'm on stage and it feels like I'm playing with an orchestra. We've got that three-piece horn set, three singers singing at once. It's pretty powerful.
DK: We touched on it a little before, but as a band, do you guys have a message you are trying to convey in your lyrics and music? Is there one thing JBB as a band stands behind?
KK: I think the message in the music varies for everyone in the band. No one really comes with a political agenda. We don't come with a necessary spiritual trend that directs the band in any one way. I guess it's seeking freedom. Freedom of expression, like I was saying earlier communication. Just the whole presence seeking presence. When we come to play live music, we are present. Sometimes that means mistakes and all. We encourage people in the audience to be present at that moment too you just embrace the dance and have a good time that night. And we want them to open their hearts and their minds.
DK: So you guys were #10 on Rolling Stone's alternative music charts, your music has been in movies, too
KK: Yeah, that was the same song, a track called Vanity. We did it on our first record and it was produced by my cousin Craig Welch. It had a very black arch Lee Perry sound to it, which a lot of people like. This was before Lee Perry's black arch sound had kind of been written about in certain publications and then it became famous again for a second. So it kind of was timing, that the song came out when it did. It predated some of the Lee Perry revival.
DK: Does having your music in movies and in other places than the stage add to your direction and drive as a musician?
KK: Well, it's in a make-out scene, which is nice [band laughs in the background]. It's in a pretty bad movie, but it's in a make-out scene, which is pretty smooth. It's great it brought us a lot of attention.
DK: I know a lot of you have your own side projects happening. Tell me about I-Town Records and what's happening there.
KK: I-Town Records is the label that John Brown's Body started. All Time is the record that had Vanity on it. It was the first record that came out and now there are 40 titles on I-Town Records, the latest one being Live John Brown's Body, where we are backing up this legendary Jamaican performer, Justin Hines. He was one of the architects of reggae music and we did a festival with him last year and about ten thousand people and we recorded that. We released it just a year later. That is the latest thing on I-Town. We've put out a couple solo projects. The other singer, Elliot Martin, put out a great drum and bass record on the label. Also, a lot of guys in the band play with this other group called Ten-Foot Ganga Plan, which puts out records on I-Town.
DK: Sounds like you guys have a lot going on.
KK: Oh yeah. We just love to play music.
DK: What are your favorite kinds of venues?
KK: This is one of my favorite venues. But I also really like to play at outdoor festivals. Playing outside is real nice the stars and the moon and the mountains and the trees, and theaters where the focus is less on drinking and smoking and more just on the music.
DK: OK. Explain to me the name. Who is John Brown?
KK: John Brown is an abolitionist who raided Harper's Ferry in 1859. He was mainly trying to abolish slavery in this country. He was captured and hung- l saw him as a martyr, some saw him as a terrorist. He was kind of a sign of contradiction. So being named "John Brown's Body" is that spirit, of freedom fighters. It is also just a recollection of American history and what this country is predicated upon. It's to remind people...to be like, "We know where you're coming from." We know what the history of this country is. One part of reggae music is a celebration of history, remembrance. It is one of the chrisoms of reggae.
DK: So it's important to JBB to stay true to the roots of reggae and where it came from?
KK: Definitely. We know the roots and we respect the roots sincerely. We are the roots. We don't try and emulate it or act it. We are who we are. We know the history of Jamaican music. We know its originators. We have immense respect. Everyone we've met, all the legendary people- the respect and admiration is reciprocal. They are all very cool. They love the music and they know that we love it, respect it. But we don't try and cop it we are not play actors. This is our life. I've been playing reggae for 15 years, more than half my life, "It's my life.".