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Interview with Dan Ubick of The Lions


Interview with Dan Ubick of The Lions

THIS GENERATION - Interview with Dan Ubick of The Lions

Los Angeles-based 12 player strong supergroup, The Lions has an all star cast of players and singers, songwriters and collaborators.  Producer and guitarist Dan Ubick gave us some insights as to the band's second release THIS GENERATION which was released in February by Stones Throw Records.  

How did you connect with the other players, within the collective spirit of the music scene in Los Angeles, many of you in the band play in other bands, as the spokesperson of the band, can you explain how you evolved into The Lions?
Well that's a good question.  The Lions thing kind of evolved because a bunch of us have played with different bands over the past 15 years. Dave Wilder, our bass player, Sergio, our keyboard player, we all kind of played in Soul groups and Hip-Hop things over the years.  We kind of decided to get together, we all grew up loving Reggae and Jamaican music, and decided it would be fun to see what we could do.  'cause most of the stuff coming out has been digital lots of synths and stuff. We all grew up on Peter Tosh and Marley and the The Mighty Diamonds and all this good stuff. So we were like, "We should make something Hammond (organ) and piano and two guitars and horns and just kind of see what happens. So we did, and Todd, our trumpet player played it for the guys at Ubiquity and loved the three songs we recorded and asked us to make a record.  That's how the first record came about and concurrently Todd and Blake, our drummer and Dave Ralicke were all playing with Joey Altruda around town..who is an LA staple with Jump With Joey and played with a lot of The Skatalites and all this. So we did his group for a while called Crucial Rhythms and that was a lot of fun and through that we met Alex and Destin from Hepcat.  We hit it off and asked them to be on Sweet Soul Music, the song that I wrote for our first record.  The relationship kept progressing and we have become close friends with those guys too.  It has just been a natural progression.

You were on Ubiquity prior to this release, how did you link up with Stones Throw folks?
Our first album was on Ubiquity, Jungle Struttin', the way we hooked up with Stones Throw is my old group, Breakestra that my friend Miles Tackett runs was on Stones Throw for a long time, so I got to know Wolf and all those guys through being in the Breakestra and putting out our first record with them, and then worked with Mad Lib and different Hip-Hop groups over there years. Just have always kept in touch with him, as soon as we had this new stuff done, we were just looking for a label, and I sent it to Peanut Butter Wolf (Chris) and he didn't hit me back for two months or so. I hit him back again and was like 'Hey do you like this Wolf?' And he said, 'Oh yeah, I wanna put it out.' So I wasn't sure if he liked it or not and he ended up wanting to put it out.  It was very cool and here we are.

What was the recording process for this album like, you put it together, you are the producer, you are in the band, you didn't have the pressure of delivering on a record deal. You also have a lot of players with a lot of different bands that they play with.  How did you make this happen?
Well with 12 guys its definitely a feat, but its a great feat, its a great hang.  All of the guys in this group are good friends and we all like to hang out together, so it kind of just happened like that. Alex writes songs, I write songs, Malik our other singer writes songs, Shakespeare is another big writer. So we would come in with rhythms in mind and I would have kind of the song, if Malik had written one, I would have it charted out, the rhythm section and I would lay it down and start tracking over that.  Same thing with Shakespeare, here's the basic rhythm, lets lay it down to tape, and we'll overdub the vocals and horns later. So we kind of just did it like that, with having sketches in mind and then going in and laying down the real deal.  

What was the timeline like for that?
We finished it pretty quickly, we finished this record almost a year and a half ago, so it just kind of got tied up with all kinds of business stuff and finding the right artwork and in the beginning and finding a label.  Finally everything fell into place and it took a while for all of that to happen. But its been done for a while, we have actually, got like two or three new songs.  We just finished a Clash song for this Clash tribute that is coming out in Spain. So working on all kinds of new stuff too.

I found this lyric, "You can't roll a split on an Mp3 really funny. Who wrote that?
I wrote that song, that's a song that I had in mind. I kept hearing, not that exact line, but different people alluding to that tactileness of vinyl. My generation grew up with older brothers and sisters. You'd see people with their Zeppelin or Hendrix record rolling a jay on their record sleeve and as much as that's a funny tag line, you see that people don't get this experience of actually listening to a full record and just hanging out and enjoying the music.  Everbody is just downloading that one little track now and its so disposable now, all of us being the age that we are, want people to realize that music can be so much more than that.  It can be sitting down and enjoying that.  

I would have to agree, I know all of the lyrics to the song "Hotel California" for a reason.  I sat down and read all of those lyrics, when I was growing up it was in an album world.   That leads to my next question, as a producer and with this age of compression and sound that differs from anything close to what I would consider the deep roots reggae sound, what do you see as a producer and part of "this generation" as a responsibility and as a band as your mission to stay true to this original analog style, this deep roots sound of reggae, rocksteady, the use of horns, all of the tricks of the trade?

I don't really see us as staying true to it, I just see it as with this group of guys, those are the records we grew up and those are what resonate with us. You know, synthesizer horns just don't resonate with me, I'd rather hear a saxophone and a trombone, I'd rather hear a Hammond organ than a synthesizer, that's just what we all grew up listening to. It feels right to me it feels organic to me, and it feels like people respond to it.  With Soul music too, the minute the Dap Kings put out their record with Amy Winehouse, people were just like 'Wow, this is just some guys in a room, hanging together, playing music together,' and you could feel the energy which you don't always here when it is synthesized stuff, which is great too, you know, a lot of us listen to all kinds of music. So for this particular project, we really thought it shows the songs off the best to do it this way.

Especially with the collective, with more than one singer, it just really has that sense of a studio vibe, in Jamaica, that old school vibe, where there are lots of folks in the studio, lots of singers, people giving input on so many levels.  
Well its always that way with 12 guys, there's always a party and its always a hang when we get together so I kind of feel like the people that come to see us, god bless, just become a part of the show, you know, its the audience and the band together, its a fun party.  

Speaking of party, you had a release party in wonderful Eagle Rock, how did that event go for you, what was it like to birth this album and release it in the party fashion?
Like I said before, its been a long time, and we've had it done for a while, but to see it so beautifully packaged and to see so many friendly faces there, old and new and all the guys from the label at the party, they have done it the right way, they believe in it.  It was a Tuesday night so I was a little worried but it was packed and so many great people there, the beautiful Eagle Rock Center for the Performing Arts. Which is a beautiful Spanish style kind of renaissance building, it was great. It was a super fun way to culminate all this hard work that everyone put in and have all our friends and fans and people that put input in there too.  

You had a recent video shoot, what song was that for?
We just shot our second video, for the song  Roll It 'Round  it should be done any day now, we are just waiting for the final edit.  It was cool we shot it at this loft, this director John Casey had a cool kind of video for it, I have not yet seen the final cut so I am waiting for it but hopefully we will see it soon.

Was that video, a performance concept with footage of the band playing?
That song is about Shakespeare finding the perfect girl. Our first video centered around the band live, and this one we were kind of in the background, like we were playing a party that centered around Shakespeare and his love interest.  

Super, well he has a lot of background in television so….
Yeah we have a lot of actors in the band.  

You all have that perfect combination of LA people.  Everyone that comes there comes to be their best and they are going to do whatever it takes. 
LA is expensive, you have to multi task and do many things.  

Do you have a project studio, or do you have a commercial studio, how do you function as a producer outside of your band life?
My studio is really just a project studio at my house. I have friends come to my house, but it is pretty much just for The Lions, we do half of it at Sergio and Dan from Orgone band's studio, because we have the same Tascam machine.  So we do The Lions stuff, like the basic tracks, for the first record and THIS GENERATION were done over there, and the overdubbing was done up here at my place.  I have my other group Connie Price and the Keystones its like a funk thing, with rappers, and we have a record coming out too.  I do all kinds of stuff, I've done television commercials, a little bit of everything.

Any other high level events you'd like to note that are coming up for The Lions?
We just finished this cover of The Magnificent Dance by The Clash, a great rework of it, with The Lions for this comp that's a tribute to The Clash that is on the Golden Singles records. That's going to be coming out too on vinyl and on CD and it turned out really cool so I am excited.  Chris Murray Combo, Aggrolites, so it should be pretty cool.

What a nice project for LA, to be released in Spain, through a Spanish label. 
Its a payback to Joe Strummer and the guys, cause The Clash is a huge influence on most all of The Lions.  

They have influenced many, and vice versa, reggae influenced The Clash obviously with Mikey Dread, who actually had a huge influence on how reggae artists tour today in America, he was really the roots there.  
Keep a look out on  and on for all kinds of shows cause they are coming in quickly and we are hoping for Europe in the Fall. We are movin' and movin', this records coming out.