Survival of the Chillest

As occupied with spirits as with sounds, Heavyweight Dub Champion has mass appeal.

Saxophonist Totter Tod describes the effects of the group's music in more graphic terms.

"If you cut the heart out of two people -- if you cut the heart out of you and cut a heart out of someone else and place it on the same table right next to each other -- they, in a very short amount of time, will beat to the same beat," he says. "That's true, I think, with any biorhythm. So as a performer, if you can induce a mental, physical, emotional state in yourself and then project it and amplify it to someone else -- a crowd, naturally, whether they're conscious of it or not, will go to the same places as the performer."

During Operation Raise the Dead, the band's upcoming Halloween show, the collective hopes to take its audiences through a de-zombification process that will, according to Resurrector, "create a space for a new sort of psychology that will welcome helpful spirits that will, if you call them, come to assist you," he says. "It's more about raising the walking dead than raising specifically dead people from their graves. From our perspective, it's waking people up who are essentially walking dead through their lives. For this show, we're combining our philosophy with the general Halloween concept of uniting with spirits."

All you need is dub: Heavyweight Dub Champion will survive.
All you need is dub: Heavyweight Dub Champion will survive.
All you need is dub: Heavyweight Dub Champion will survive.
All you need is dub: Heavyweight Dub Champion will survive.

"Raise the Dead is a concept that is an exalting of the ancestors," adds Apostle.

When the group performs live locally, it is often joined by a revolving cast of area artists that includes Slam and the Unstoppable 1; DJs Ivy, Psychonaut and Illnaughty; and video collectives like Free Speech TV. The guest performers help create a dynamic multimedia presentation that's designed to bombard the senses.

Heavyweight Dub Champion's sound has transcended its beginnings as an acoustic-driven dub band, a project brought to life by Patch and Resurrector. The group was conceived as a side project to the reggae group Roots Revolt, which Resurrector founded and Patch played guitar for. Heavyweight Dub Champion evolved as a more stable platform when that project eventually imploded in chaos, partly because of various legal imbroglios that plagued individual members. Heavyweight Dub Champion was born firmly grounded in roots-oriented reggae dub music.

"When we started, none of us liked electronic music," says Resurrector. "We were much more into the idea of every instrument being played specifically by living actual people at that moment. When we started this band as a side project, all we had was an old analog four-track, a bunch of drums, a guitar and a bass. We would make tracks one by one. We would actually simulate a whole drum set, which we didn't have at the time either. [We just used] a lot of old Guatemalan drums, Egyptian drums and shakers and layered one track on top of next -- all raw equipment, nothing electronic or digital involved."

The players shed their Luddite approach to recording when they learned to use samplers and sequencers, which provided a sonic efficiency and diversity to their arsenal.

"We started to realize that if we actually used sequencers and electronic vehicles like samplers, where you can layer track upon track, it was a little bit more efficient to convey the vibration and the sound we were trying to create," says Resurrector.

Instead of hiring 25 musicians to round out the sound, the players use technology to re-create and manipulate recordings. When sculpting their sound for mass consumption, Resurrector, Patch and Totter Todd record all of the live instrumentation in the studio, and from there they "use samplers to record and sequence from all the instruments we play and layer on top of layer to create a certain presentation and vibe for each tune," according to Resurrector. This approach underscored the four work-intensive years that preceded the release of Survival Guide for the End of Time.

To complete the final revisions of the Survival Guide, the group ventured to Los Angeles to work with Scott Wolfe and Brian "Big Bass" Gardner, two of the most seasoned technicians in the urban-music industry. For two years, Wolfe was the in-house engineer for Death Row Records and played an important role in the production of classic recordings from artists such as Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Tupac Shakur. (Additionally, Wolfe "toured the world with Gwar, and his favorite music is dub, so he was absolutely perfect," says Resurrector.) Wolfe recorded, co-produced and co-mixed the group in North Hollywood's famous Bay 7 studios, home to some of the best vintage analog recording equipment on the planet.

"We prefer the analog sound, because it's based on actual vibrations as opposed to digital reproduction of a sound," explains Resurrector, who credits Wolfe's tutelage "for giving us the knowledge to understand how much the medium that you put the music on affects the music."

In the Bernie Grundman Mastering studio, Gardner put the final touches on the record. Survival Guide was among many pop artifacts, including Michael Jackson's Thriller, to be mixed in the space.

"We wanted somebody who has had amazing music pass through his hands," says Resurrector. "You've had Prince, Michael Jackson, Sting, Frank Sinatra and many of the Marleys sitting on that couch of the studio."

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