Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Chicago band Akasha bringing new beats to music scene


One of the joys of living in the Chicago area is its rich and diverse music scene.

Enter Chicago band Akasha. The band's roots reggae grooves and tight vocal harmonies are creating a stir in the music world.

Those who have not yet experienced the band live will have the chance when Akasha performs at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 at Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.

The Drastics, Hood Smoke and Impala Sound are also on the bill. There is a $8 cover charge, and tickets are available at www.lincolnhallchicago.com.

I had the chance to talk to Akasha frontman Cosmos Ray about the band and its vision.

Q - Is there a meaning behind the band's name?  

Wikipedia says:  "Akasha means the basis and essence of all things in the material world; the smallest material element created from the astral world." 

I was studying a bit of Rudolph Steiner and Madame Blavatsky
at the time we formed the band.  They spoke of the Akashic records.
That any particle in the universe when properly accessed contains all knowledge of all time.  

We often get asked is our name in reference to vampire character made popular by the late singer Aaliyah in "Queen of the Damned."  The coolest reference I heard was just a couple weeks ago.  A fellow musician upon hearing the name said "Akasha?!, That's cool man, sounds like a Japanese sword."

Q - How did Akasha form? What was your idea in forming the band?

Doug Bistrow (bass) and Scott Moss (guitar) had a band called The Shift.  I was in a band called Star People. They sometimes would have me cameo on a song or two on their sets.  

After a while, Doug and I spoke about putting together an outfit.  On July 23, 2005, we did a show at Subterranean in Chicago.  We didn't have a name yet and were still trying to decide on a drummer.  

I told the venue to list this iteration as The Akasha Project.  The idea in forming the band was to be able to explore all the music we loved from blues, to rock, to hip hop to reggae.  

Whatever we were feeling, we were down to try.

The band since has had a rebirth.  Especially in 2010, there were marked advancements in light year measurements.  We added Shane Jonas to the mix.  He is an amazing trumpeter, keyboardist and vocalist.  

In May of 2010, we added John Barbush on the drums.  He solidified our deep pocket and we decided to focus more on our reggae sound.

Q - Political expression has been an integral part of reggae's history. Are their certain political ideas Akasha is trying to express in its music?

As they say, poly tricks are ever abundant in the shitstem.  Our music certainly has an edge to it.  

I would say more relating to social issues than political agendas per say.  A song like "One Man Rises," speaks to the inequality in our society with regard to economics, religion and politics.

With regard to all of these subjects, it asks the listener to consider the balance of things.  That by one man rising, another one or more has to fall.  

I think this is symbolic of our message.  How do we as people reconcile all the imbalance and bullshit around us and at the same time enjoy life and give to one another?

We also don't want to come off pedantic, so we have worked to find ways to emphasize love.  You can't go wrong with love songs.

I think we have struck a good balance of the social edginess, love songs and danceable grooves.

Q - How do you think the band's sound fits in with the Chicago music scene?

Chicago obviously has always had a strong musical scene.  Today is no different.  

I think our sound fits in well with the scene at large.  We embrace the many lenses of reggae, from ska to rock steady, from roots to lovers rock and even a little dub and dancehall here and there.  

We love to sing in four part harmony and make people dance with our grooves.  Although the reggae scene is more niche oriented in Chicago, we have been able to play on various bills, from indie rock to pop folk.

I think our image and sound allow for us to play with many styles of music.  

Q - How do you think the members of Akasha fit together in creating the band's sound?

I personally grew up listening to hip hop, dancehall (which I knew to be dub), roots reggae, and my parents music (which spanned bluegrass to jazz).  

Doug has an extensive background in jazz and western classical music.  Scott studied opera and is a beast at rock music.  

Shane is versatile in jazz, gospel and soul music.  John can play anything, but his one drop and pocket are like granite.  

You can build Manhattan on his groove.  I think that all of our backgrounds are key ingredients to the ONE sound we create.  

We love to sing harmonies and our arrangements and orchestrations borrow from many sounds, though we focus this sound through the window of reggae.

Q - How would you describe the band's sound?

We are five piece outfit focusing on the canon of reggae.  We play ska, rock steady, roots, lover's rock, with some dub and dancehall sprinkled in.  

We also have a concept of no stopping during the set.  We try to keep the audience engaged and moving by truncating some songs and always making tasteful transitions between songs.  

Our sets are reminiscent to a selecta, selecting tunes at a party.

Q - Is technology making it easier for a band to get its music out to the masses? How has Akasha tried to use technology to get its music out to people?

Technology is definitely making it easier for musicians.  I think in general, the shake up of the conventional industry and the advent of economically viable technology is great for music.  

It means more musicians can create and distribute their work.  While not everything will be great, to me this allows for the art of music to grow in ways it could not in the convention set up by the mammoth industry giants.  

Akasha has utilized technology on several levels.  Our most recent project, which will be released this spring, was recorded entirely by us with our own equipment.  

That wasn't possible for most of us even five years ago.  We obviously use the Internet quite a bit for our distribution.  

We have pressed physical copies as well, but the online resources have distributed our music much more widely.  We have a website, www.akashaband.com which functions as our HQ, but we  also have Facebook, Twitter, Last.fm, Reverbnation, etc.  

The opportunity to go viral with a song or video allows for any artist to be accessible over night.  That is priceless.

Q - What are the band's short term and long term goals?

Short term, we would like to finish mixing and mastering this latest project and see if we can get someone interested in pressing it up on vinyl and distributing it.  

We would also like to hit the summer festival circuit hard and begin touring regionally.  

Long term, our goal is to be prolific.  To record and release as much material as possible and to make a living from playing music.