Buzzbox: It's a dub, man: Easy Star All Stars reinvent the classics
Tampering with the iconic albums of Pink Floyd, Radiohead, and the Beatles? Re-working classic albums may be considered blasphemous to some music mavens– but to New York-based Easy Star All Stars, an internationally-renowned reggae band, reinventing timeless albums is just another level of musical creativity.
"People give covers short change," says local resident and Easy Star label chief Lem Oppenheimer. "But to take a great classic album and reinterpret the whole thing– there's a lot of creative stuff you can do."
As the house band of the growing Easy Star music label, the All Stars are first and foremost committed to presenting an authentic reggae sound– despite the popularity of their dubs. The label formed in 1994 between three friends– producer and musical director Michael Goldwasser, Eric Smith, and Oppenheimer– who embraced all things reggae.
After overcoming the challenge of recruiting artists to commit to an unknown label, Easy Star began bringing musicians with reggae, ska, and jazz influences to the studio as part of the All Stars ensemble. It wasn't until 2003, however, that the label hit it big with the band's first release, Dub Side of the Moon– a reggae cover of Pink Floyd's 1973 album.
"Dark Side of the Moon was this stoner, spacey thing– not that far off from people who listen to reggae. The drugs are all the same," Oppenheimer says.
The success of Dub Side was unprecedented, with over five years on Billboard's reggae album chart and sales topping 250,000 units. And despite raised eyebrows at the concept, there has been critical acclaim as well.
"The idea of tackling a classic album is very post-modern to me," Oppenheimer says. "To completely transform something within one genre to another and still keep the integrity of it takes a sense of detail– a lot of thought and energy goes into it."
From there, the Easy Star All Stars took off. Over the next six years, the All Stars released two more critically acclaimed covers– one of Radiohead's Ok Computer in 2006 and the more recent Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band.
"Radiohead was a left field choice, totally unexpected," Oppenheimer says. "It's exciting, with Sgt. Pepper, to return to the iconic album– it's a new chapter for us. The reaction is phenomenal."
Lead vocalist Thom Yorke of Radiohead praised the dub at a concert, and members of Pink Floyd have come forward as fans. The success led to the creation of a touring version of the band, which had previously existed solely in the studio. The trio behind Easy Star saw a new step for the label– a tour that would continue to transform the original works in a re-energized way.
"It's a living, breathing thing," says Oppenheimer. "The live band gets their input on the road."
Easy Star All Stars play at iS on 6/5. The show starts at 9:00 pm and tickets are $15.