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Tuesday, January 22, 2013

"Talkin' Bout My G-G-Generation:" A Conversation with The Lions' Producer, Guitarist & Founding Member, Dan Ubick (The Witzard Interview)

(1) I read that you've known Peanut Butter Wolf (Chris Manak) for quite a while now. So, what made you sign with Stones Throw after all these years for the joint release of This Generation?

Yeah, I met Wolf back when he started Stones Throw and was still up in San Francisco. He signed a group I played in for 5+ years called Breakestra that my friend Miles Tackett leads. I signed with Stones Throw because Wolf is an artist himself and really believes in the groups he signs. He and the guys at the label put in a ton of time strategizing about how to best help get the band heard by more and more people. I obviously am into that (Laughs), plus they have a great track record and very loyal followers.

(2) For those who aren't exactly familiar with The Lions, would you care to go through each member and their companion instrument/role in the band?

Sure. On drums we have Blake Colie, bass is Dave Wilder, percussion is Dave Chegwidden, organ and piano is Dan Hastie, on guitar is myself and Devin Morrison, on saxophone is Eddie Felix and sometimes James King, and on trombone is David Ralicke (sometimes Kincaid Smith on trumpet instead). Mixing us live has been our friend Bill Wendt [DJ Prophecy], but Steve Kaye mixes our LP’s and does dub mixing for us live whenever he can. On the frontline vocals are; Alex Desert, Malik "The Freq" Moore, Deston Berry, and Black Shakespeare. Deston also plays keys for us live a lot.

(3) You and your fellow 11 Lions bandmates appear/have appeared in countless genre-blending bands including: Big Daddy Kane, Black Eyed Peas, Hepcat, Macy Gray, De La Soul, etc. As a music fan yourself, what are a few of your favourite tracks from those past projects?

All the guys have played with a variety of great artists, so I know between us there are probably tones. Hastie and Sergio did some stuff with Alicia Keys, Ralicke played with Beck for years, Davey did the percussion on Ocean's 13 for David Holmes, Wilder played on Norah Jones' [2009] LP a bit, etc. For me personally, things that I've played on I love? Hmnn.... "Rather Hazy" by Macy Gray, "Song for My Father" on Madlib's Shades of Blue LP, "The Shadow of Leaves" & "Doubledutch" off the first Connie Price & The Keystones LP and "Give a Demonstration (Part 2)" from a 12" on Scion A/V I did with Big Daddy Kane. I believe I'm also on a track on Snoop Lion's new LP, which I'm looking forward to hearing!

(4) Considering that the band is 12 members-deep... I was curious as to how This Generation was recorded; Live-in-studio, separate tracks, through email, etc. What's The Lions' studio set-up/recording situation like? I'd imagine you guys are spread out all over the country, touring and whatnot, too!

Good question, we recorded at Ocean Way. Ha-ha! Just kidding. No, all the basic tracks (drums, bass, organ, or piano and guitars) were recorded to tape at Orgone's Killion Floor Studio in NoHo on the Tascam 388, which has 8 tracks. But Sergio and I use the same tape machine, so when we were done tracking basics and were happy with them, I'd take the reels and dump them into ProTools. From there I'd usually track the vocals, then the horns, then the percussion, etc. up at my studio in Topanga.

(5) In addition to it's CD/digital release, I know that This Generation's being packaged in a special 8-45 box set complete with dub remixes, too. Sounds like some pretty sweet, vintage-looking album packaging. How'd The Lions & Stones Throw come up with all that?

The 45 Box was Wolf's idea, if I remember correctly. Most music in Jamaica came out on 7" so it made perfect sense with what we're trying to pay homage to. 45's when they're not scratched up and when they're pressed on thick vinyl sound amazing, too. Plus if you buy the box set, you get 3-4 dub versions that aren't on the CD!!

(6) Pretty sure I saw a Facebook post the other day looking for extras to participate in the "Roll It 'Round" music video shoot/interactive art gallery"" (party). How'd that go and when might the finished clip see an eventual online release?

The shoot went well, that was last night actually! The crew did a beautiful job decorating the scenes. The director Jon Casey has a really cool vision for the look of the video and seemed happy with the takes he got, so I'll be excited to see what the final edit looks like, I think the turn around will be pretty quick though as I think Stones Throw wants it released before the LP drops on Feb. 26th, so look out on or for it soon!

(7) I was wondering, how did the untimely passing of Hip-Hop legend Adam "MCA" Yauch (Beastie Boys) last year affect you personally, Dan? I've been a die-hard Beasties fan since I was like 10-12 and it almost feels like I lost a close friend; It's definitely an event that'll change the face of Hip-Hop from here on out! Agreed?

I worked at Music Plus (aigh) when I was like 20 or so right when Paul's Boutique came out and still have the circular fish-eye pic promo poster I grabbed from there! Like many out there I'm sure, Paul's Boutique changed the way I thought about music forever. I love what the Beasties achieved and so it's sad just to know that force that they created together is no more. Yauch did so much outside of music, too that benefited the human existence as well with Milarepa. He seemed like a stand-up dude, wish I could have met him.

(8) Which fellow Stones Throw label singers and rappers, past or present, would you ideally like to collaborate with on future recording and why? What are the chances of us seeing any of these "dream collabos" ever come to fruition?

Hmnn...good question. It's always a pleasure working with Madlib and I'd love to see how he'd remix The Lions. Oh No is incredible, J.Rocc of course is a master. As far as singers...Aloe [Blacc] I have loved for years, Mayer Hawthorne. The Stepkids are really cool, too. We've been talking about collab'ing with MC's as well and Stones Throw's cup runneth over in that department, of course...Guilty Simpson, Wildchild, Percee P, etc. It'd be really cool to see if we could pull Quasimoto out of the woodwork at least for one track. So many possibilities. We'll see....

(9) Did any of the tracks selected for your "LIVE FROM W-LION" (podcast #77) influence the record during it's creation? That dreaded lion behind the boards on the podcast's cover is f*cking GREAT, too!

All of The Lions are constantly listening to different stuff, so it's all inspiration. We did that podcast well after the record was done though but Devin and I, who selected the tracks for it, have been digging on those particular cuts for a while. The Nairobi Sisters Dub has been one of my favorites since Cosmo Baker turned me and Dan Hastie onto it a few years back. Jeff Jank at the label did the great artwork for it.

(10) Leading up to This Generation's February 26th release, a handful of The Lions' tracks have appeared in a wide variety of popular films and TV shows (Young Adult, This Means War, Breaking Bad, Burn Notice). Would you care to explain your thought process behind delving into that alternate realm of promotion?

Third party licensing is just part of the game these days. It's good for PR and helps keep things going. With all the younger generation either streaming music or buying mp3's, licensing to film, TV, and video games is one of the only ways to stay in business and be able to continue making music. That and touring, which we hope to be doing a lot of in 2013 once the LP drops.

(11) What are the current where-abouts of Black Shakespeare's i&i Soundsystem (ice cream van), which is featured on This Generation’s cover? Any idea if it's still street legal and running around town?

Oh, it's still running and spreading good vibes. We used it for the album cover obviously as it's part of LA Reggae culture’s make-up at this point. Hoping Shakes and Aurelito will bring it to our LP release party (details TBA)!

(12) What sort of overall message do you ultimately hope to convey with the album title, "This Generation" and what does that phrase really mean to the band?

The song says; "This generation will use the music to fight" and we will fight, but not with guns. We will fight with our words, sound, and power like many before us and rally all those out there that believe in peace, unity, and tolerance (and who love good music!)

(13) This last question's pretty simple, but I think it's necessary to ask: What’s next for The Lions?

It's all sort of coming in as we speak, but it looks like some good stuff; SXSW in March is looking like it's gonna happen. We also just finished a really cool version of THE CLASH's "Magnificent Dance" for a Clash tribute LP that's coming out mid-year via Spain's Liquidator Music (Ernie B's will carry it, I think!). Check in at OR www.TheLionsReggae for updates!

BONUS: (14) I was just listening to This Generation on my computer while I was editing together our interview...and I stumbled upon your Van Halen cover, "Jamie's Cryin.'" Wow, what a beautifully-executed cover, my friend! Would you be oh so kind to walk us through it's conception, players on the track, and why you chose that particular 80's Metal tune?

Thanks man, glad you like it! Well, I have always been a huge Van Halen fan but mostly for their great songwriting. Most people focus on Edward [Van Halen]'s incredible technique on the guitar (which is amazing of course), but I always just liked their hooks and style when David Lee Roth was in the band. Michael Anthony and Eddie's backing vocals were always so hip and Alex [Van Halen]'s drumming is super funky in a Rock kind of way. They were just absolutely crushing things in the late 70's/early 80's, nobody knew what hit them.

Anyway, music is music to me and I'm always just exploring, looking for good chord sequences in everything...whether it's Hard Rock, Soul, Country, Classical, whatever it's classified as. "Jamie's Cryin'" is a classic early VH song that if you strip off the production of the original, is just some classic Soul changes. Once I thought about the arrangement and how Alex, Malik and Deston could do it in three-part harmony, I set up a session to try basic tracks for it. I thought it turned out really good and hope Diamond Dave is inspired to do some splits or Kung-Fu moves to our version (Laughs).

- Thanks a million, Dan! I really appreciate you taking some time out to answer my questions! Best of luck with promotion, sales, and touring behind the record, man!.. Make sure to go pick up a copy of The Lions' Stones Throw debut, This Generation, when it's released nation-wide Feb. 26th, my friends!

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