No matter what time of year it is, listening to reggae music immediately envelopes you in a day dream: sandy beaches, comfortably humid temperatures and a sweaty long necks of beer waiting for you in an ice-filled bucket as the waves crash in at your feet. If you’re on stuck on the East Coast this time of year, that is both a beautiful and cruel daydream. But, no matter how many blizzards pound the region, that sweet, sweet reggae sound will always be our escape to a far sunnier time and place.
Luckily, every year without fail, during the coldest, must unendurable parts of the winter a ray of sunny hope comes rolling into the region — The Expendables annual Winter Blackout Tour. The Santa Cruz, California-based quartet, is musical panacea for the doldrums of winter. Their sun-soaked hybrid of reggae, punk and blistering 80s-metal inspired guitar solos is an infectious sound that will warm your bones and make you want to just straight rock out with reckless abandon.
We recently caught up with Geoff Weers, guitarist and founding member of The Expendables, as the band rolls into Asbury Park for their show this Friday at The Stone Pony. Weers filled us in on the band’s new record, touring a summery sound in the dead of winter and his love for killer 80s metal guitar virtuosos.
I have to start off by saying I really appreciate the awesome guitar work on your new record. I don’t think I’m out of line saying it has a very ’80s, virtuoso guitar feel to it. Growing up on metal I appreciate that a lot. To me, this guitar work stands out from a lot of the other reggae bands out there. What was the decision to go with a guitar style like that?
We’re kind of like you. Both me and our guitar player Raul [Bianchi] grew up on the ’80s metal stuff. We love Pantera, we love Metallica, we love riffing guitar players, Steve Vai, all those, those virtuoso dudes. They’re fun for us to listen to so we’ve always incorporated that in our music from day one. We never really decided that we were going to go this route or that route. We just decided that that is what we like to play so we just did it.
Who do you model your playing after?
When I was growing up and listening to a lot of guitar players I would generally jam along with either a Jimi Hendrix record or an Eric Clapton album; so either of those two really that started me off.
You just dropped a new record, Sand in the Sky, your first studio album in five years. How do you feel this time away from the studio and constantly on the road has benefited you as musicians?
It wasn’t really on purpose that we took so long. It was just kind of all of a sudden it was five years since we had done the album. Within that five years we acquired a little warehouse and created a studio for ourselves. I think that was what really helped us to create our new album this time and make it the way it is. We were able to spend more time in our own studio without the pressure of worrying about paying for studio time. I think that was one of the big factors and it took five years to get into that position.
And as writers and musicians did you find you guys matured sonically because of those five years playing on the road so much and did it influence the album?
Yeah, a lot of the songs though were pretty old. A couple of the songs had been sung for the majority of five years so it’s kind of a snapshot of those five years. We’re always growing and maturing as musicians. We never stop and with the addition of that studio we created, it made us mature into better recording artists and better at recording and doing the recording process so that was a big growth part, at least for me personally.
How do you feel this record stands out from the rest of the catalog?
We put a lot deeper thought into all of the tracks that are on the album and, for me, all the tracks, I’m happy with. Every other album we’ve released there is always like a song or two that I’m like — ‘Oh man. I wish I could have done a lot of that different or I don’t know why we did that.’ But, this one we really worked hard to create what we feel were good songs and yeah we had a producer [Gordon Brislawn] come in, from one of our old albums, Getting Filthy, he came back and helped us with a lot of the song writing so that was a big factor.
What was the decision to bring him back?
We just reacquainted with him and got back in touch and decided that it felt good. We didn’t really expect anything but he was just kind of easy to work with and understood the way we work so it was just natural and easy to start.
You have a new monitor system where some of you guys are wearing ear monitors while you’re performing — can you explain why you guys did that or what that adds to the live performance?
A lot of people actually do it, you probably don’t actually see them because they’re hidden. Instead of having speakers playing the sounds that you are playing, they are little in ear monitors that put it into your ears so that you don’t need to have any bleeding of sound. You can hear it directly what you’re playing into your headphones.
Has that really improved and hard to make the adjustment for?
It was a little difficult to adjust to it but now that we’re used to it, it has been a game changer for us on stage.
What do you mean by a game changer?
Just going from venue to venue, the rooms sound different, the sound systems, the different monitor rigs, different quality, just little things, and so it’s difficult to play on stage in an ever changing environment. Now with this monitor system, there’s consistency in what I hear on stage and so it’s a lot easier to perform consistently and hear everything precisely because I’m controlling exactly what I want to hear in my headphones.
You guys are coming to The Stone Pony Friday February 20th. For me, I always see all these reggae bands come through the Stone Pony — Rebelution, Iration, Ballyhoo!, what separates you guys in terms of a live performance from those guys? Great bands in their own respects but what sets you apart from those guys in terms of the live experience?
I feel like we’re more of a rock show. We have that kind of amped metal rock dueling guitar in our music and that comes through in our live show. Not only do we do a chill reggae portion, we’ll segue into a sweet metal dueling guitar amping section of the song and then go back right into a chill mellow reggae spot. So we’re very energetic in our music and it ebbs and flows to different extremes and I think it gives the band a real sense of different feelings during the show.
You’ve been here a few times, usually during the the winter. It’s like you guys are the first sign that summer is coming back to the Jersey Shore when you guys come around. Do you find it crazy that east coast venues are like hey come in the middle of winter to play our venue; we’d love to have you. Is it ever kind of weird because you guys play such a sunny vibrant beach sound?
I don’t think it’s weird. I mean we’ve done this tour for I think it’s the fifth one. Originally it was because everyone was touring the in the summer and we wanted to tour at a time when no one else was touring and it just kind of turned into our little thing. And yeah I think it’s great that we get to go play these places and give people a little bit of relief from the cold because I have never lived in a place where it snows but I couldn’t imagine the feeling it is to be locked inside in the cold for weeks on end. We can make people feel good for a few hours.
My final wrap up question is what are you guys, outside of this tour, what do you guys have in stock for the summer and for the rest of 2015?
Well we’re looking, I don’t want to say anything too soon, but we’re looking at, we’re getting a couple of offers from a couple big summer tours so we’re looking into those and hopefully tour with somebody awesome this summer. We’re, around 4/20 time, we’re probably going to do a couple of shows on the west coast then we’ll see. It’s a little too soon to tell for us right now.
The Expendables perform at The Stone Pony, Friday February 20th along with Ballyhoo! and Kalastro. Click here for tickets.
Bill Bodkin is the Owner, Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Pop-Break. Most importantly, however, he is the proud father of a beauty daughter, Sophie. He is beyond excited that Pop-Break will be six years old in 2015 as this site has come a long, long way from the day he launched in it in his bachelor pad at the Jersey Shore. He can be read every Monday for the Happy Mondays Interview Series as well as his weekly reviews on Law & Order: SVU, Mad Men and Hannibal. His goal, once again, is to write 500 stories this year (a goal he accomplished in 2014). He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @PopBreakDotCom