TAMPA – Watch out Tampa, the Spiritual Rez reggae funk dance experience is coming your way. On Friday, Feb. 25, Spiritual Rez will appear live at Skipper’s Smokehouse.
“Start with a dose of old-school, Marley-Toots-Tosh reggae and infuse it with everything from Sun Ra Arkestra freak jazz to Steve Vai guitar pyrotechnics. Inventive intersections like these define Spiritual Rez” – Michael Witthaus, Hippo Press
Their latest album, The Nexus, is a perfect example of how the group keeps a fine balance of their influences from Steel Pulse, Toots and The Maytals and the masters of Funk, Parliament Funkadelic. With backing horns, stinging guitars and soulful vocals, Spiritual Rez is an act not to miss.
Check out spiritualrez.com for streaming music, including tracks from The Nexus.
ASHEVLLE — This city has been labeled a hippie music mecca and a town that truly embraces cultural diversity, so it makes sense that members of the six-piece reggae jam band Spiritual Rez, who have their own fun with names, would look forward to playing here.
“A lot of people ask what the name of the band means, but to tell you the truth I like to leave it up to them,” lead singer Toft Willingham said during a recent telephone call from his hometown of Brighton, Mass., before the band began its most recent Southern tour. The band plays Saturday at the Emerald Lounge.
“Just yesterday a girl came up and said to me, ‘I know what Southern Rez means … it means Spiritual Reservoir,’ but I’ve heard everything from Spiritual Reservation to Spiritual Resolution, so why not?”
Whatever meaning assigned to the name, anyone who has heard the band’s unique blend of uplifting music understands that the musicians have fun playing it.
“We’re a high-energy, positive hybrid reggae experience,” Willingham explained.
“Everything we play has its roots in reggae and Jamaican music because we listen to everything from classical music to heavy metal. We hope that comes across in our sound. We want the audience to have as much fun as we do at our shows, and I think that happens because we infuse solid songwriting with the performance skills from eight years of touring.”
The band has been to WNC several times before, including shows as part of Downtown after Five and the Lake Eden Arts Festival, and is currently on the road in support of its third full-length studio album.
“With the live shows, we usually play more funk than what’s on the record, and that leads to some interesting arrangements where we take a four-minute track and jam it out to maybe 10 minutes on stage,” he said. “That’s fun for us and the crowd because as they see how much we care about the music, they start to love it, too.”
While Spiritual Rez largely plays original material on stage, the band has jammed with acts ranging from George Clinton (founding Parliament Funkadelic member Bernie Worrell routinely sits in) to Jimmy Buffett, and that has led to an occasional interesting cover song finding its way into the mix.
“You might hear some Talking Heads or P-Funk riffs, and maybe one Bob Marley song, if requested,” Willingham said. “No matter what we play, we want the crowd to escape their lives for just a little while and dance, watch other people have fun and have a good time while there. We love playing Asheville.”
Album Review by John Powell
Spiritual Rez is a heavy hitting reggae band, and they make this known immediately on Nexus with “One Light”, a firecracker of an opener, a horn riff that lands into a rock steady groove and the line, “We build a fire and we plant the herb.” Jesse Shaternick’s bass and Ian Miller’s drums drive the track, accentuated by dual guitars splintering in and out behind one of the best-used horn sections (Kory Stanbury and Bryan House) that have ever graced a contemporary reggae album.
The Boston-based sextet delivers twelve songs about positivity, fighting the Man, and smoking herb. They incorporate every sister of reggae, from ska to dub. They break into their teenage years with variations on a pop/rock theme, and they successfully attempt complex melodies and a progressive reggae sound. Nexus stuffs in a bit of every genre and is bound to make you sing along to the catchy choruses. You will find yourself turning it up over and over.
But to peg Rez as solely reggae is to deny them their influences and their guilty pleasures. They’re more than capable of splicing utter roots with Van Gordon Martin’s metal-sized guitar solos, acoustic pining as on “I Know”, and funk in the spirit of 70s soul.
Raggae six-piece Spitual Rex took the stage at Zydeco Monday night, October 25.
Zydeco was ready to groove on Monday night, October 25. Six-piece reggae outfit Spiritual Rez, of Boston, Massachusetts, took the stage for a show at the venue in Five Points South.
Spiritual Rez, fronted by Toft Willingham, met in college as freshmen at the Berklee College of Music in 2002. They bonded over their affinity for reggae music and their love of playing in front of crowds.
“We started out just playing for fun,” said Willingham, a tall slender guy with long hair pulled back into a ponytail. “We would play at parties at our friends’ houses for free.”
They all lived in the same dorm, which had 24-hour practice rooms, proving to be very beneficial to the band members.
“I used to be really into the punk and ska scene,” Willingham said. “I listened to the Clash, the Specials, the Aquabats, those kinds of things.”
Their latest album, “The Nexus,” was released recently and can be purchased through CD Baby.
“We’re actually not on a label,” Willingham said. “We’re DIY for sure.”
“My brother, who lives in New Zealand, did the album artwork for us,” he added. “It’s really helpful to have a connection like that.”
As far as their goals, Willingham put it plain and simple.
“Ultimately our goal is to sell out every stadium,” he said with a chuckle.
“Our best fan base is in Boston,” Willingham said. “But we play a lot of festivals, like the Lee Festival, Camp Bisco in New York, the Bear Creek Festival in Florida, which is coming up in two weeks.”
“We play whatever we want,” he said. “We want to bring people into our own little world, to give them an escape.”
Van Martin, a petite guy with a ball cap pulled sideways over long dreadlocks, plays lead guitar for the band.
“I’m from Chicago, and I grew up on a lot of blues and jazz,” he said.
“[Playing music] is a feeling-sharing experience,” he added. “It’s like a window into the soul.”
Spiritual Rez are no strangers to the South. They played shows in Huntsville, Tuscaloosa, and Auburn, as well as a show in Atlanta, Georgia.
“We played at Workplay back in 2007,” said drummer Ian Miller. “There weren’t very many people there, maybe like 30, but that’s partially because the Bangles were playing in the soundstage next to us.”
“We love playing in the South,” Willingham said. “Everyone has been really hospitable.”
At around 9 p.m., the band took the stage with a bang, kicking off their set with their groovy reggae tuneage. They seemed to be right at home under the bright lights, and Willingham interacted with the audience a good bit. He even introduced the members of the band as they did their thing.
At one point, he said, “Alright, at the count of four, I want everyone in the room to erupt in a big primal scream.” And just as he said, everyone screamed their lungs out for about ten seconds. It was awesome.
The crowd was bopping, swaying, and twirling around on the floor the whole time. It’s safe to say that there wasn’t a single person standing still in the entire room. It was a fun time for everyone who attended.
Their music combined elements of reggae and funk with straight-up rock-and-roll, with Martin tearing the neck of his guitar to shreds with his killer riffs, Willingham crooning his vibrato-laden vocals into the mic, Miller pounding his funky beats on the skins, and the bass and horn sections keeping things groovy all night.
Seriously, these guys are sick. Even if you’re not into reggae music, you need to check these guys out. They’re all excellent musicians and they are really good at what they do. Check out www.spiritualrez.com to see when they’ll be playing next.
Only Toft Willingham could be contagiously happy after waking up on the floor to do an early interview. But perhaps that says something about his band’s music.
Spiritual Rez will get you over next week’s hump at The Pour House with their take on reggae. And who knows, after dancing all night, you just might be smiling the next morning, too.
“It’s a high-energy show. We’re definitely a metal band stuck in a reggae band’s body,” said Willingham. “Our music is positive; it’s about happiness and love. We want to share those good things.”
Showcasing the good vibes is their latest effort, “Nexus,” recently released in July.
“It’s our third album, and our longest with 13 songs,” said Willingham. “It’s a reggae rock album. We wanted to lay down all the reggae songs we hadn’t yet laid down and get the ones right that we wanted to get right.”
“Nexus” follows 2006′s “Rising in the East” and 2005′s self-titled debut.
“It’s by far the tightest recording that we’ve made because we spent so much time rehearsing,” said Willingham. “For 10 days, we locked ourselves inside a barn in Florida. We spent the time honing our craft and it really sounded great. The feel was there.”
Fellow barn jammers and bandmates include Van Gordon Martin (lead guitar, vocals); Jesse Shaternick (bass); Ian “Meat” Miller (drums); Kory Stanbury (saxophone) and Bryan House (trombone).
While it’s changed here and there over the years, Spiritual Rez’s creative process is at its most collaborative with “Nexus.”
“Van or myself will write a tune, or come up with lyrics or maybe even write it together. However it comes, we’ll bring it to the band and then Spiritual Rez will have at it,” said Willingham.
“That’s what’s cool about how we work,” he continued. “When all our minds are working together is when we’re at our best. I might have done some lyrics, but no one is going to come up with a better base line than Jesse the bass player.”
The Boston-based six-piece band is influenced by George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Toots and the Maytals, Jimmy Buffett and Gregory Isaacs. In 2007, they won the Boston Music Award for Best World Music Act.
When it comes to performing, though, Willingham and crew just want to make you feel good.
“We are servants of the people that come to our show,” he said. “I say it all the time that what I’m really trying to do up there is get people to escape from their daily lives.”
“It’s so funny,” he continued. “But it all comes back to making other people happy. The best part, aside from making music and the travel, the coolest thing for me is being on stage and looking out and seeing happy people. That’s what brings me joy. That’s why I slept on the floor last night.”
Where the music meets
Spiritual Rez is all about the groove, mon
By Michael Witthaus firstname.lastname@example.org
Start with a dose of old-school, Marley-Toots-Tosh reggae and infuse it with everything from Sun Ra Arkestra freak jazz to Steve Vai guitar pyrotechnics. Inventive intersections like these define Spiritual Rez, the Boston-based septet performing at Stone Church in Newmarket on Thursday, Sept. 16.
“It’s a melting pot left and right, a swirling vortex of music that comes together,” says the band’s drummer, Ian Miller.
“Nexus” is a word that pops up frequently in conversations with Miller. It’s the title of the latest Spiritual Rez CD, released in July. He also uses it to describe Berklee College Music, where Miller and bassist Jesse Shaternick, fresh out of high school in Hawaii, met vocalist Toft Willingham and guitar player Van Gordon Martin in 2002. “It started in the basement, in the practice spaces, freshman year, and really just melded into something where we said, we need this to be our job,” Miller says.
Such a pronouncement has inherent challenges. As he prepared to go to Berklee, Miller’s father asked if him if the six-figure cost was worth it. “I said if I have to make $100 a day and live in a shack, I want to play the drums. And I’ve lived in a shack — metaphorically and sometimes quite literally. I’m still 100 percent, and all of us are still willing to make this sacrifice to the music we love so much.”
Among the sacrifices: Miller spent the day of the interview handing out free samples of Back to Nature Cookies in downtown Boston. “We each paid our rent in one shot,” he said, “so we’re stoked and the music can take full hold.”
The music business is challenging, something Miller finds strangely appealing.
“In one sense it’s survival of the fittest, but there’s so much more music being created, and music begets music,” he said. “In my opinion there should be much more art, even if makes less money for people playing music.”
The band is currently enlisting Facebook followers to vote them onto next year’s Jam Cruise. “That’s another nexus place for us,” Miller said. “I hate to keep using that term, but people from all over go on it who are intimately involved in booking larger festivals. They’re all there, all having a great time.”
The festival circuit has been a steady source of work and inspiration, a warm-weather highlight to a schedule that averages 150 gigs a year.
“The reason we do this because people get off on it so much,” Miller said. “We work the stage and stage works us. The festival scene is perfect — instant community, instant energy. We take it to that next level of insanity.”
Willingham’s full-body dancing, coupled with Martin’s crackling, sometimes otherworldly solos, are testament to Spiritual Rez’s live performance power. The group is looking forward to the Newmarket show, Miller said. “We love the Stone Church, the energy there is incomparable,” he said. “We’ve played there for years, in and out of the management changes and ownership, but one thing remains the same: the shows there are always crazy.”
The following night, Friday, Sept. 17, Spiritual Rez will play a hometown show at Boston’s Paradise nightclub. Former Parliament-Funkadelic keyboard player Bernie Worrell will join them onstage. It’s a friendship that dates back to Martin’s pre-Berklee days in his hometown of Chicago, where he was a teenage member of Bernie Worrell and the Wu Warriors. “They instantly made the connection,” Miller said. “Once you meet him, you won’t forget him.” Worrell initially sat in with them at the old Lion’s Den Club in Greenwich Village; the Paradise show will be his fourth with the band.
On stage, Spiritual Rez begins with the kernel of a song and takes it from there. Part of this stems from their jam band ethos, but mostly it’s the product of a very busy schedule. “Rehearsal is a strange thing — we don’t rehearse too much,” Miller said. “We have been more now that we have some time. In the last three years we’ve been touring so much — last year, we played 150 shows. So there’s not a lot of time to sit down and practice, which was an issue for us. Now we’re trying to do that more and more. But there’s a lot of improvisation going on. We have forms of songs and we change it around as we see fit. It’s a very jazzy thing but it happens within this crazy rock-ish reggae sound.”
Miller will probably be happy wherever it takes them.
“Personally, it’s been my dream for as long as I can remember to play in a band, do nothing but play drums and have a good time, and make other people have a good time,” he said. “Luckily we’ve been shown this project and each other, and it’s amazing. We all have such a great time.”
“There’s no need for introduction/ To make your body move is our function.” This inviting ‘handshake’ open “Rollin’ Dutches,” just one of numerous infectious modern reggae numbers on Nexus, the latest release from Boston-based Spiritual Rez.
The Rez sing sweet songs of lioness ladies and groovy ganja but skirt the jokiness that so often infects lighter-spirited reggae. This band possesses an abundantly inviting energy that taps into the brighter side of Bob & Ziggy Marley but also more soul & horn-infused progenitors like Johnny Nash with significant rock crunch in spots. As evidenced by Nexus, they excel at easy to like, positivity infused music, and they’ve been sharpening their skills on the touring circuit for half a decade, laying down roots everywhere they can so they might grow as strong and free as the Spaceship Tree that adorns the cover of their latest release. (Dennis Cook)
The band is on tour now and plays tonight, Friday, September 10, at Backwoods Pond Fest in Peru, NY, and tomorrow, Saturday, September 11, at The Stone Church in Newmarket, NH. Find full tour dates here.
Spiritual Rez is currently in competition for Jam Cruise 9′s “Vote To The Boat” contest. You can vote for them here until September 20.
Here’s what Spiritual Rez drummer Ian Miller had to say to our inquiries.
Instrument of choice: Orange Country drums & percussion
1. Great music rarely happens without…
Fulfilling live energy. Too often I see groups on stage not getting the crowd off simply because they aren’t getting themselves off..
2. The first album I bought was…
Bloodhound Gang’s One Fierce Beer Coaster, shortly followed by Foo Fighters’ The Colour and Shape.
3. The last song or album to really flip my wig was…
Easy Star All-Stars’ cover album Radiodread – ha ha ha, I’ve been jamming that pretty constantly.
4. When I was a kid I wanted to grow up to be…
My first answer was fireman but that moved quickly to astronaut.
5. My favorite sort of gig is…
One that involves all-ages. The whole band loves playing for children – goes back to question 1. Fulfilling. Energy. AWESOME!
6. One thing I wish people knew about me is…
Come say hi and find out in person!
7. I love the sound of…
The huge flapping tarp outside our apartment’s window.
8. One day I hope to make an album as fantastic as…
Pink Floyd. In my opinion it took them a few tries to get there, but damn could they meld.
9. The best meal I ever had on tour was at…
Rhumb Lines in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. They really know how to treat the band there. We’ve played there three springs running and I believe this year it was the surf & turf for me – nothing but the most premium!
10. I always find the coolest audiences in…
Festivals, usually. Everyone is there for the music! Well, most everyone.
11. The worst habit I’ve picked up being on the road all the time is…
Diet. Diet. Diet. Diet.
12. The Beatles or the Stones? Por qué?
The Beatles. They just wrote better albums. Works as answer for question 8 as well.
13. The craziest thing I ever saw was…
The storm cell in Kansas, which almost drove our van and trailer off the freeway with a small tornado. That sky had life and it was attempting to feast upon us! Experience + Beauty = 100 points.
HARTFORD – The crowd at Sully’s Pub is anxious and ready for more. The musicians take the stage and set up their instruments.
Toft Willingham begins on lead vocals and rhythm guitar; Van Gordon Martin on lead guitar and vocals, and Jesse Shaternick on the bass. Ian Miller set up his drum set (with no symbols save for his high-hat), while Kory Stanbury gets ready on saxophone and Bryan House on trombone.
Spiritual Rez Jams
Individually, they are all incredibly talented Berklee musicians, but at this moment they are Spritual Rez, an up-and-coming reggae horn funk band playing in Hartford on Friday.
The band formed eight years ago out of Boston and has been performing around the United States since then. This particular tour celebrates their new album “The Nexus,” which anyone who enjoys even a hint of reggae should add to their collection. Even those that don’t normally entertain the thought of this genre would be remiss if they did not sample it seeing how many different musical styles can be found in these tracks.
The band is categorized as reggae but there are hints of funk, heavy rock, rhythm and blues, and more, probably due to the bands numerous influences.
“We all grew up listening to roots reggae, but we are all into other stuff as well.” says lead guitarist Van. “Just today we were listened to Bach, Pantera, Cat Stevens, and even rap!” adds lead singer Toft. The two comprise the writing duo for the band, and compose all of the songs the band plays.
When asked about their writing process, Van states that “No song is ever written the same.” Sometimes they begin with lyrics, sometimes music, and other times they will start a song and the band takes off with it until its finished and sound completely different. But no matter how they get there they always deliver.
Spiritual Rez Jams at Sully’s
“Every time we sit down to write a song- we write a song.” says Toft. However writing is only half the battle. To truly listen to Spiritual Rez, one has to see them live; just ask anyone in the crowd at Sully’s. Not one person in the diverse crowd was standing still.
From the 21 year olds to the middle aged, everyone there was at least swaying in rhythm with the music. The set began with Toft’s masterful crowd work, prompting the crowd to give a “primal scream” and the energy never faded from there.
For two, hourlong sets the band performed what could only be described as organized musical chaos, practically never taking a break and always entertaining. There were songs from “The Nexus,” jam-style musical interludes, and solos from each musician where each one got a chance to showcase their talents. All-in-all, Spiritual Rez delivers on both their album and their live performances.
In the near future the band can be found at Backwoods Pondfest in New York on Sept. 11 or at Paradise Rock Club in Boston on Sept. 17. But until them the band is just “tremendously thankful to play music for a living.
Stone Church to host Spiritual Rez CD release party
Thursday, August 26, 2010
NEWMARKET — Spiritual Rez with its CD Release Party is coming to The Stone Church on Zion Hill on Thursday, Sept. 16, at 9 p.m.
Called “energetic and inspiring,” Spiritual Rez is delivering the goods. This 6-piece roots-reggae, rock outfit is packing out clubs on a nightly basis and breaking out brand new material off of their newest release, The Nexus.
Winners of the 2007 Boston Music Award for Best World Music Act and Alumni of the prestigious Berklee College of Music, the band provides a fresh blend of Reggae, Funk, Afrobeat and Rock to give one of the most energetic live shows around.
The band’s newest release, The Nexus, is a combination of the group’s positive songwriting, energy-filled live performances and their heavily inspired roots-reggae sound.
“Alone Again” showcases the group’s ability to create infectious grooves mixed with bright horn lines and searing guitar, all while giving a nod to the influences of an earlier, gentler, Wailers sound. The powerful, “Rollin’ Dutches” captures the band’s Ska-punk roots with tight changes and quick-lipped lyrics. The albums closing cut, “More Than I Am,” brings everything all together.
The bands positive grasp on life shines through in Toft Willingham and Van Gordon Martin’s lyrics as the rest of the group holds it down. The dueling patterns of guitar and horns are very tasteful and the ending crescendo reels in the listener, leaving them wanting more.
The Boston-based band has been described by Skipper’s Smokehouse (Tampa, Fla.) as having “the ferocious live energy and bombast of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and PFunk, to their own blending of chill island grooves with raucous urban tribal vibes.”
We are excited to announce that we have just added a return to Sullivan Hall in NYC on September 24th. Joining the REZ that night will be Indobox for a special late night set and Zach Borer out of NYC! We also have added September 25th at Putnam Den in Saratoga Springs….excited to play for folks up there. Check out the tourdates as many more are going to be announced! Looking forward to seeing a lot of you in the next few weeks!
Welcome to our new home on the web! We hope that you will take the time to check in here from time to time and keep up with us on our facebook page, as well as all the news and tour dates for Spiritual Rez. We could not do this without you, and we appreciate the support!