John Brown’s Body will take the stage at The Barkley Ballroom in Frisco on Thursday, Aug. 21. We caught up with drummer Tommy Benedetti to learn a bit more about the band’s musical progression over the years, what inspires the songs and how JBB’s future roots sound has helped to bring reggae into the 21st century.
SUMMIT DAILY: How long have you been playing the drums, and what, in particular, do you love about percussion?
TOMMY BENEDETTI: I’ve been playing drums for probably 30 years, so it’s been a huge part of my life for a long time. I really enjoy playing roots music and heavy drum and bass music; that’s what I was attracted to, have been attracted to, in the last 15 years or so. It’s fun to smash on things, straight up, who doesn’t love that? As far as playing drums in JBB, it’s a really great and challenging gig, playing with an eight-piece band. You get to cut loose, but you also have to really hold it down back there.
SD: How has your music evolved through the band’s history? What do you like about the progression? Anything you miss from the band’s early days?
TB: I’m very comfortable and happy with the way the band has sonically progressed over the years. It’s been natural. I don’t think it’s been forced; it’s just a result of us all playing together a ton — life experience and musical experience and listening to different stuff, figuring out how we can incorporate it into the JBB sound. Whenever we get together and play, that’s the sound. I think the band has really turned into a really progressive, cutting-edge vibe but retains the roots flavor, the essence of what the band has been about all these years: a big, huge sound that’s progressive and also organic.
Do I miss anything? I look back and I’m proud and psyched about all of the music we’ve made throughout our career, nine or 10 records, and I stand behind them. It’s just one of those things when you record a record, it’s a snapshot of that day, so the songs grow and the sounds grow and you get better at what you do.
SD: Is there a goal or overall message to your music? What are some common themes that you are putting out there?
TB: Elliot, our singer, writes the lyrics. I think he writes great lyrics. He writes about current, modern events, he writes about the struggle, things that we all live through, and I don’t think there’s a specific message we’re trying to get across, just to be an honest, sincere band, do what we love doing. We love what we do, and I hope that comes across on the records and in the live show.
SD: Is there any particular song that has been speaking to you right now during this tour?
TB: There’s a couple of tunes off the newest record, “Kings and Queens,” that we haven’t taken a stab at live; hopefully we will in the future. There’s one called “Starver” that I think is one of the best tracks we’ve played, one of my favorite drum tracks. As far as what’s in the set right now, the lead track off “Kings and Queens,” “Step Inside,” we’ve been playing that one almost every show, and that one seems to really encapsulate where the band’s at right now. It’s got the super crushing majestic horn head, it’s got a stomping groove; lyrically, it’s about inviting everyone into our world and our realm to be part of the experience. That one seems to be popping off lately.
SD: Who are some of your personal musical influences?
TB: As far as reggae, I love the old stuff. I love the classics, Burning Spear, Culture, stuff that’s just timeless, that will never get old. It sounds as great today as it did in the ’70s and early ’80s. As a band, we love the stuff from the U.K. reggae scene in the late ’70s early ’80s; it was really influential to the band’s sound. As far as myself, I listen to a lot of music, everything from Albert King to heavy stuff like Slayer, Queens of the Stone Age. We run the gamut as far as what guys in the band listen to. I was raised on rock music; I certainly wasn’t raised on reggae. Van Halen, AC/DC, Iron Maiden — I still love that stuff to this day. I’m lucky to have been turned on to this vast world of incredible music through a lot of friends and a lot of travel. And a lot of it has made huge impacts on me. I listen to as much in music as I can and as wide a variety as I can.
SD: How do you think John Brown’s Body has impacted the American reggae scene?
TB: We’ll leave it to other people to say who we’ve impacted. We see bands all over the country, younger guys who come up to us and pay respect and are appreciative, aware of the fact that JBB was one of the first American reggae bands to really get out there and hit the road hard. We’ve been doing this for a long time, and when we started, there was no scene to plug yourself into — a formula, a scene, a sound, that’s what a lot of bands plug into. We don’t get down with that much. We have our own thing going.
SD: How would you describe your music to someone who had never heard it before?
TB: We call it future roots. It’s a nod to the progression in the band, progressive elements that we have. We try to push the envelope a little bit with beats, textures, sounds, but it’s all over a bed of real organic, big drum and bass, body-shaking, soul-shaking drum and bass, majestic horn lines, lots of melody — there’s a lot to dig into with JBB. You can really pick the elements of any given tune and find a lot to latch onto: the horn head or drum and bass, the scratch, the rhythm. There’s something in it for a lot of people who like a lot of different kinds of music.
SD: Where do you see the band five years from now or 10 or 20?
TB: It has been little bit over a year since “Kings and Queens.” We’re going to be supporting that record for the next couple of years. We’re putting out a dub version of that record. We heard one of the first dub mixes the other day, it sounds really killer. We’re dub junkies in the band, and to hear the songs broken down like that is going to be really cool. We’re at a good spot. We don’t tour too much to burn ourselves out. We’ve done years in the past where we did 150 shows a year, but everyone seems content with the amount we play, the places we play, the quality of the shows. We’ll keep ourselves happy, keep the fans happy, and make the best music we can.