FRIDAYS UPDATE- JohnStone: Staying true to the roots
As if the life of the independent musician wasn't already difficult enough, DC-area reggae band JohnStone is forced to play the role of teacher and cultural ambassador at every show, trying to explain the history and social relevance of their music to an audience which all too often thinks that owning a copy of Legend is reason enough to list reggae in the "favorite music" section of a Facebook profile. "We're playing reggae music in a culture that's not reggae," says guitarist Andre White. It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it.
As a result, there's a lot riding on their songs. "A lot of the lyrics are about positivity and keeping your head up, exploring our sameness as human beings and the positive energy you can get from treating people right," he says. "There isn't too much difference between us, but we find a lot of different ways to isolate ourselves from each other, whether it be through religion or music or whatever else we can think of."
But it's not all sunny island music– with a nod to the activist sides of Peter Tosh and Marley, JohnStone also occasionally aims high when it comes to lyrical content. "You want to be true to yourselves and the people who came before you," White says.
"We do a lot of global lyrics," he continues; their last album, Innocent Child, was named for the kids in places like Iraq and the Sudan who find themselves in over their wee little heads. "In all those countries, you have children, nine year olds with AK-47s who don't understand the adult decisions that brought them there," he sighs.
White says they're still trying to make the whole operation relatively friendly. "We're writing a new album and it does address some of those issues, but it's a lot more discreet. Marley was great at that– he was doing a critique, but it wasn't in your face."
It's as much a business decision as an artistic one. "When you're a working band and your clientele wants to hear that, you're going to play what they want," he continues, "but we strive for a balance: the commercialized reggae that's happy and poppy and the heavy stuff, the critical, lyrical, and social content."
JohnStone performs at Fridays After Five on June 20.