At times it feels as if New Zealand is in the midst of a golden age of reggae and dub bands.
Some, such as the big-selling Katchafire, fit the more traditional reggae template. But it has been Wellington's The Black Seeds-Fat Freddy's Drop-Trinity Roots mix of reggae and dub with touches of soul, pop, folk, funk and rock that's had the bigger impact. The bands regularly top the charts and play sold- out tours.
It has resulted in several new, younger bands following in their footsteps, including Dunedin's popular Six60.
But The Black Seeds' Daniel Weetman is aware that this has a downside.
"It's got to that stage in New Zealand that the whole reggae-dub thing - people are quite sick of it because the same bands are doing kind of the same thing," he says.
The Black Seeds are on a national tour following the release of their fifth album, Dust and Dirt, which went straight in to the charts at No 1 when released in April.
While the Seeds haven't abandoned the sound that has made them one of the most popular New Zealand bands of the past decade, Dust and Dirt does have the six-piece, which includes Fly My Pretties' Barnaby Weir, stretching in new directions.
"We didn't quite reinvent ourselves, but there were quite different grooves that came out and people find it refreshing," says Weetman.
That change is evident from opening track Out of Light, which began life as an outro to another album track, Gabriel's Strut Dub, until Weetman got a hold of it. "I thought, man, this was quite a different direction for us and I just wanted to put some sort of vocal over it. We didn't edit it at all; I just sung some lines over the top and brought it back. The boys liked it and it stuck." The result is a hypnotic, other- worldly song, still beat-driven, but almost psychedelic and dark. It's as if the Seeds have gone experimental indie.
Weetman says the band's willingness to take risks and experiment stems from being open to different kinds of music. "It's good to not have any rules on how to write a song. Everybody's really open to different ways to writing. It's just a really cool blessing to go that way and stick it on the front of the album."
That openness continues to pay off for live shows and tours. The Seeds have toured overseas for the past seven years, largely in Australia, Europe and North America. Weetman says it has required patience and perserverance in developing stronger connections with promoters and agents. But today "it's really healthy", he says.
It's so healthy that the band played several shows in Europe rather than in New Zealand after Dust and Dirt was released - the band returned home only a week before starting its New Zealand tour.
"It's great to hear people overseas really getting what we're doing and being told, 'You're not just a reggae band'," says Weetman.
"With this album the mix just really surprised people in some of the places we've gone. It's refreshing that it's not just a straight-out another reggae album. Personally I didn't want to go there and neither did some of the other boys."
Once the homeland tour finishes in Wellington on Sunday, the band heads to Australia, then Europe in August.
"We just really appreciate that people are getting what we're doing and seeing the bigger picture of the band. I guess it's taken us five albums to really get that message across."
The Black Seeds play Wellington's Front Room on Saturday and Sunday.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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