When drummer Jeep MacNichol moved to Denver in 2012, he had two CDs in his car: Minor Threat, by the hardcore punk band Minor Threat, and The Best of I-Roy, by ’70s dancehall artist I-Roy. These two seemingly incompatible sounds provided the inspiration for what would become his next project, The Plates.
“I think listening to both of those extremes ingrained in me the idea for a band that combined punk and reggae,” says the fifty-year old MacNichol, who was the the original drummer for the ska-tinged jam group the Samples. “I wanted a high-energy, reggae-influenced punk band with a stripped-down lineup.”
The inspired skinsman dreamed, and the universe answered. His first call was to a local reggae DJ named Stero Lion, who was born in the U.K. to Trinidadian and Jamaican parents, and who later moved to the Bronx for a spell before settling down in Denver in 1996.
“I knew Jeep from when he used to tune in to my radio show, The Rasta Experience, that aired on Sundays in Boulder [on Radio 1190],” says Lion. “So he was familiar with my style and musical taste.”
Once Stero agreed to become part of the concept, MacNichol recruited Jamaican-born bassist Ian Anderson, whom he knew from his work with Highway 50, a Boulder-based outfit led by former Samples bandmate and keyboardist Al Laughlin. With an island-inspired frontman on board and a rock-solid rhythm section in place, the group added Lakewood resident Scott Beach on bagpipes for an occasional Scottish twist, and the lineup was complete.
“So many bands these days have loops and DJs and horn sections and multiple guitar players to create dynamics, which is great,” MacNichol says. “But for the Plates, I wanted the challenge of creating dynamics by taking things away and using less.”
MacNichol’s instincts paid off. The Plates, who have opened locally for artists including Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare and played small club shows at venues such as the Lion’s Lair and the hi-dive, create a lean and sometimes explosive sound that moves nimbly between reggae-, rock- and even some bagpipe-inflected jams.
“We play good, clean feel-good music,” says the 43-year-old Lion, whose name is a play on his first DJ sound setup, a stereo-mix, and his astrological sign, Leo. “With us you shed your inhibitions and just feel the good vibes. Even babies or grandparents can jam,” Lion says.
The Plates, who've released three self-produced CDs to date and played about fifty shows thus far, have a penchant for short, half-hour-long sets that pack heaps of energy and inspiration into a small yet expansive-feeling time frame. Savoring the group’s underground status and DIY approach, MacNichol says he enjoys the challenge and freshness of being at the bottom of the recognition ladder.
"I think the biggest growth for us over the last few years has been through our dedicated supporters and the growing awareness of our music, which comes mostly as the result of our [YouTube] videos and from the almost 6,000 CDs we've given away at our shows," he says. "I like being at a place where you have to prove yourself and earn new fans. It’s exciting.”
The Plates thrive on the intensity of live performance, and the act's upcoming performance at Levitt Pavilion should manifest the band's expressly chosen seat-of-the-pants approach.
“What keeps me excited about music is learning and experimenting and being a sponge to new ideas and experiences all the time,” MacNichol says. “I don’t like feeling stuck or bored with any musical venture, so I create challenges, subconsciously or consciously, in my drumming and overall musical expression to face and conquer. I guess I crave that lack of comfort. It gives me a goal to strive for. I visualize it in my head like a boxer’s training camp."
The Plates, with New Politics and 311, 5 p.m. Friday, August 11, Levitt Pavilion, Denver, $39.50.