Interview with New Kingston
09/26/2017 by Gardy Stein
From Kingston to the world! With their current release A Kingston Story: Come From Far, the home-grown band New Kingston combine their Jamaican roots with NYC influences and experiences made on tour. Brought into existence both physically and mentally by Daddy Courtney Panton, the band consisting of him and his three sons Tahir, Stephen and Courtney Junior leaves a lasting impact once seen live. Reggaeville was able to catch the family affair prior to their performance at the Ostróda Reggae Festival this summer in Poland:
Is this your first time in Ostróda?
Stephen: Yes, it's the first time on this festival, but our second time in Poland. We performed at Reggae na Piaskach last year.
How do you like the country, the people and the Reggae scene here?
Courtney Jr.: It's nice, especially in the festival grounds. It's great to see everybody representing Reggae in their own way, you know, whether smoking some weed or wearing a Bob Marley shirt or a New Kingston shirt (laughs)… whatever it is! I love the vibes here, I love the appreciation for Reggae.
Turning to you and your music, what was the starting point of New Kingston?
Tahir: I wanna big up my Pops, you know, because he is the foundation of this group. Honestly, we just big him up all the time. I mean, we were just youths trying to find our way, and he gave us his model, his passion, his whole life! He gave us what he knew, which is Reggae music, music on a whole, you know. We were still young, at school, and it was a hobby at first. I remember he used to pay us to practice (laughter). It was good, you know, it was really like our first job and I rate my Pops for that, cause he taught us how to earn too, he taught us discipline, and that's really how we started, there and then. Over time we started realizing "Wow this is actually really nice, we can bring things to the table too, we all have voices as individuals and as a group!" Yeah, so big up to our Pops!
How old were you then?
Courtney Jr.: Very young, early teens.
Who is the youngest anyway?
Tahir: I'm the youngest!
Stephen: Keyboard man! (laughter)
How did you choose the instruments? Was it an individual choice or did you say "Ok, I play keyboard, you play drums…"?
Courtney Jr.: I mean, Pops being a musician, we had guitars, keyboards, bass guitars, drums... everything! So, you are dabbling what you're dabbling, and I guess when the instruments came to our house we were just playing with what we liked best.
Tahir: My father is a very wise man. He speaks about his friends' father who taught his sons instruments and all of them play drums. Why would they all play drums, how could they be a band? So I think my father was really like... you do this, you try that. I think in the back of his mind he already knew, for us to make sense we gotta be a full band. Big up Courtney Panton!
Is that true, did you always have a band in mind?
Courtney Panton: It started out as a jam, as a need to bond with the boys. We just started jamming at first, I really didn't think about a band then, it was just my wish to bond with the boys and jam.
When was the moment you decided to take up a name and start as a band?
Courtney Jr.: Well, the name came from my Pops' older band, the Kingston Crew. So we were the New Kingston, the new sound, the young, so that's really the essence of the name. We were doing a bunch of things, music was really... we had to learn and focus, we put out several projects while we were still growing, you know. It's cool to see the evolution process while we were still young to men to fathers, you know, so it's really a blessing.
What do you perceive your role in the band to be? Leader, founder, manager?
Courtney Panton: I'm the bass player right now. I've gone through all the roles from the beginning, but everything is settled right now, everybody just kind a goes in and helps. Most emails and stuff is done by Courtney or Tahir.
When did you move to New York?
All: Sometime in the early eighties.
And you live there until now. How do you see the difference between New York and Jamaica? Would you ever switch?
Tahir: Let the Jamaican Stephen tell you... (laughs)
Stephen: I mean, it's a give and take. He is always in Jamaica, our Pops, he doesn't leave that place, you understand? That gives us a foot in Jamaica anyway still. For us, we like to explore everywhere, so... music takes us wherever we want to go. I spent most of my life in Jamaica and then the other half was spent in New York with these brothers, it's an interesting dynamic and we have the best of both worlds.
Do you have contacts to the Jamaican music scene?
Courtney: Yes, especially through our Pops. He is really the direct link.
Stephen: The thing I like about Jamaica is that most of the musicians are musicians' kids, so we are a part of that. Most of the other people right now, they are products of that, their parents are musicians or somebody along the line. That's what I love about Jamaica and Reggae music on the whole, it's really a family-oriented thing, you know.
Have you ever performed there?
Stephen: We performed at Rebel Salute in like 2006 or 2007, that was the early days of New Kingston. Recently we were there 2015, we did a show in Kingston. It's a good vibes!
Courtney: It was at the Reggae Month from JaRIA [Jamaican Reggae Industry Association], it was very good! It kind of showed us the potential what could be in Jamaica for us, you know.
You seem to be very Kingston-oriented anyway... your last albums were called Kingston University, Kingston City and Kingston Fire, and now we talk about the new album, Come From Far. Can you say something about the idea behind, is it a concept album?
Tahir: Definitely a concept album!
Stephen: Well, this gentleman always has lots of thoughts going through his brain, and the ideas… we bring them to each other. I don't know, we kind of spoke it into existence! At the beginning I remember you talking to me, Courtney, saying "A story! We should tell a story!" that's all he kept saying "A story, a story!" (laughs) And now it's a Kingston story... we come from far!
Courtney: We just like to do things different, you know. So with this album we were like, we wanna catch a moment in time, so it's like a dual title… it's called A Kingston Story, but same way we call it Come From Far because it's our story. We tied Kingston to everything because it's still tied to us. My Pops is Kingston Jamaica, that's what I call him all the time, that's the place! He always stresses what love and joy it is for him to land in Jamaica and feel the energy and we get that same energy from him, every time we went there and every time he came back he tells us "Jamaica nice, man!" That's why we are always tied to Kingston, because we always represent the foundation. Our Pops gave us some real foundation music to grow up on, and that was important for us.
You start the album with a train sound… does this represent the journey you are on?
Stephen: I think it helps paint a picture, the train tracks kind of soundifies the vibe of the album.
Tahir: Absolutely! I told people an interesting story about the artwork, right? The artwork went through many phases. I tell people to make sure they look at our eyes. We are looking out from the train, on the album. We are from New York and trains run every day, that's what we captured, you know… the journey.
What is the Browne's Interlude?
Stephen: Wooi, that's really funny.
Courtney: Like I said, my Pops has numerous peers and friends and family. Glen Browne is a foundation bass player in Jamaica, that's actually him playing acoustic bass on the track, so it's like, these are all the people who support and love New Kingston. We have a lot of musicians on the album as well and that feature right there... he was just playing and it was so nice, with the children in the background, it's one of those vibes... and also it sets the mind when you hear it, go through that interlude and it kind of settles your mind for the next song, Agape.
Yes, that's a beautiful piece too. Can you say something about Honorable And The Beast?
Tahir: That's just life, it's the constant battle within your own self, to make sure that you stay positive and don't let the negative take over.
Will there be videos out for some of the tracks?
Stephen: We would love to, because it helps convey the message.
Courtney Jr.: I think most songs will get a video!
Who are you working with for the visuals?
Stephen: With quite a few people... Director Edwin Escabar and Rob Frisco, a lot of guys in the States. People who are close to where we are, we just pull them in.
Tahir: We gotta use a European director one of these days right? Our next goal… We've never done that before (laughs)
For the songwriting in general, is there one of you who does it or do you all share ideas?
Courtney Jr.: Our music is really like just our experiences. As a group we are all individuals, so we have our own experiences that we want to bring across, and at the end of the day, we gonna say something individually as much as a group so, whatever each one sings, he came up with it. Sometimes we work things out with each other...
Stephen: Some people write and some people edit, so it's like we all are involved. Maybe I say "the blue bird" and then Courtney says "the bird is green". And then we just keep transforming until it becomes us, you know.
Tahir: Melodies… So many formulas! But always very collective.
You tour a lot. From here you go to the UK and Rototom, right?
Courtney: Yes. Actually, this is the first time we took off in a long time. Normally we do 100 - 150 shows a year, but the first half of this year we took off to spend time at life, you know, it's very important. And also to spend time to work on this album, just kind of reflect on the travels and so. Coming to Europe and understanding the language barriers, where music is the best communication. So this album is just something you feel now because we kind of understand more about the world as we get to travel and we're still learning... it's cool you know, I just love the whole growth process, and us again as human beings, we understand our potential and make sure we maximize our potential, it's great opportunities.
But it's not always fun, right… Maken [of the Ostróda Reggae Festival crew] told me that the last time you were here your luggage got lost, including your keyboard? (laughter)
Courtney Jr.: Everything! Big up Maken and the whole Positive Music Promotions, big up yourself for having us! Yeah, that was bad, but we just realized the show must go on, because we have a message we wanna spread to the people so, no matter how we get it across we must try to give our best every time. There is always gonna be an unfortunate circumstance, that's life, that's why we say "Honorable and the beast", you know. That's where those things apply, because there is always gonna be something.
Stephen: You remember Courtney, back on this show, we didn't have our equipment, so there's things happening in the show that we were playing and we were trying to play it but we couldn't, and I look at Tahir and he just laughed and said "I can't play it, I don't have it!" (all laugh)
Tahir: You gotta have fun! That's the main thing, because that energy is what the people receive and I always think about the people first as much as me I understand the vibe, and we want to uplift even ourselves, you know.
How does it feel to be on stage with your sons? I imagine it's very touching at times…
Courtney Panton: It's a blessing to be on stage with the family, making music with them. That's what it is, a blessing. I will be with the band as long as possible!
What I realize also is that you are very interactive on social media, like, when people comment on your posts, you often make sure you answer or comment.
Stephen: And it's really us!
Courtney Jr.: Human connection is the best thing, you know. I really appreciate everybody who takes their time out to acknowledge what we do. It's really important. I mean, we could still be home in Brooklyn, but we are out here! I never take any of that for granted, so thanks to everybody that acknowledges, who spreads New Kingston. I mean, we just make music and people support that music, what more can you ask for? Thank you so much!
Thank you for making that music! What interests do you have beside music?
Stephen: So wild... acting was one of my passions, and cooking. When we are home, all of us, every day cooking is a first for us.
Tahir: Stephen is thinking about doing something like a musical type of class in Jamaica, to start a process.
Stephen: I'm endorsed by a guitar company and I'm thinking we could probably work something out to give away five guitars from the company on behalf of New Kingston, to Alpha Boys School or whatever school is in need of instruments. We definitely wanna link with the people on a more personal level, giving back.
Courtney Jr.: Big up the man dem in New York, because our studio in New York is the people's dem studio! That's what we do, to uplift the artists who are up and coming because we understand what it means to come from New York where it might not be easy to get your music out there, or even record or have a place to record, so if you are in New York, stop by Kingston Studio, seen!
Is that where you record? Since when is it operative?
Tahir: Yes. Since day one, that's been our blessing. Big up Courtney Panton every time, because it's his mentality and his vision which was always way ahead. When he was on tour as an upcoming musician, he would say "OK, this piece of equipment right here, instead of wasting my money on things I don't need, I collect, collect, I get home, I have a studio!"
Stephen: He pretty much helped us to produce all of our music, so my father having this studio from all times we were able to grow up in it. It's funny, sometimes you don't realize that you are learning when you do things, and my father always did that "Oh do this, do a beat, plug this up!" you know, just teaching us until we come to an age where we were like "Ok, now we know what to do with these tools... make music!"