Interview: Yellow Dubmarine

bill bodkin talks with one of the premier tribute bands in the U.S., lending reggae flavor to the Fab Four …

Music evokes all sorts of emotion. A great ballad can make us fall in love or shed a tear. A hard rock anthem can get our adrenaline pumping. Yet rarely has their been a sound that’s inspired a sense of happiness, warmth, that’s brought a smile from a frown the way the Yellow Dubmarine‘s sun-soaked reggae tribute to The Beatles does.

On a soggy Saturday as I pulled a marathon Saturday work day, the Mid-Atlantic tribute band’s ska, dub and reggae reworkings of the Fab Four’s world-famous catalog brightened my day. It was like a warm blanket of reggae was wrapped around me as I sipped on a cup of joy brewed by the tunes of the lads from Liverpool.

Hyperbole aside, Yellow Dubmarine’s Abbey Dub record is a fantastic tribute to John, Paul, George and Ringo. It’s full of clever, well-produced and well-performed re-imaginations that, despite being covers, are highly unique onto their own. The creativity Yellow Dubmarine has when it comes to converting rock to reggae is near mind-blowing.

Pop-Break’s Bill Bodkin spoke with Yellow Dubmarine’s Aaron Glaser on the day they are to perform at the legendary Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J.

Pop-Break: How did the came band come together? Was this something that started as an original concept, or was this some sort of super group of guys from different bands that came together to form a tribute band?

Aaron Glaser: It wasn’t exactly like that. Most of us are actually childhood friends. The band started for a specific event. Our friend passed away a few years in 2007 and we were participating in putting on a memorial concert for her, and we really just had the had the idea to do some Beatles reggae tunes. It just seemed like a lot fun. It was an idea that kinda just dawned on us, and we had a great time with it. So we kept doing it, and doing more and more Beatles songs and adding more members to the bands. At the time, there was only four us — we added a horn section and percussion. Then we got really serious about the arrangements because it was a fun musical endeavor.

From their record release party at the 930 Club

PB: So you guys had all been playing the Baltimore scene for quite some time?

AG: Yes, there a few side projects with the band and we’ve all played in bands before. We’ve got a lot of funk roots in our band and a lot of blues rock.

PB: How hard is it to re-interpret The Beatles into the reggae and dub genre. What’s the process of translating The Beatles’ rock sound to reggae and dub?

AG: I gotta say that it’s awesome. It’s so much fun because everyone knows the songs we’re playing at our shows. So we get to celebrate these songs with the people at our shows, but at the same time, we can put our own artistic ownership over what we’re playing. We can put everything into it, and we feel like we’re offering something rather than playing covers.

The process is really fun too because it’s really satisfying as a musician. What we do is take the same chord progress and lyrics and melody and we try to wake the song up again with a new groove. We try to stay true to the essence of the song and that’ll give us some inspiration to what kind of grooves to do. Like, “I Saw Her Standing There” is an early song with a lot of melody and rock energy, a lot of upbeat energy. We did a more energetic ska interpretation for that, which really fit the song. Spacier, more majestic Beatles songs like “Something,” we put a nice heavy dub beat on that sorta song. And there’s lot of others we can do like we can have a horn play a melody … basically anything from the original song that inspires us, we’ll try something.

PB: Your version of “Polythene Pan” had such great guitar work on it. I was really impressed. And I think it really summates what you guys are all about: You cover a spectrum of styles within the reggae genre.

AG: Our name suggests that we only do dub, but people soon find out we do all kinds of dub and reggae [sounds].

Yellow Dubmarine Aaron Glaser

PB: The Baltimore/Washington D.C. music scene seems to be rich with original bands. How has it been being a tribute band amongst a sea of original bands? Was it tough to win audiences over?

AG: Well … it’s great. [laughs] We’re a tribute, but we also do original music. I would say that the Baltimore has been very receptive to the original side of our project. I think they appreciate that we’re doing something original with the music instead of being a straightforward tribute.

We’ve actually become close with one of the best original bands in the area, The Bridge. They’re fantastic and they’re Baltimore’s pride. They showed us a lot about playing in Baltimore.

PB: Didn’t one of the members of The Bridge produce Abbey Dub?

AG: Yeah, the mandolin player, Kenny Liner.

PB: Can you talk about what the recording process of the album?

AG: There’s a lot that we experienced and learned during the process. It seemed like a great idea like it would for any other band — it’s a fun, musical endeavor. It’s a good business endeavor — we have a product to our name which’ll help us become more recognized. We had some time to pick which album we wanted to do, how we wanted to approach. We all easily agreed on Abbey Road because it seemed fit for interpretation with lots of styles and emotions going on in the original version. It’s also the definitive album of theirs and it seemed like the best way to showcase The Beatles. We were also thinking about the live show when we were deciding which album to record — Abbey Road just has a great flow to it.

So when we went into the studio, Kenny, the producer had a lot of ideas for us. It was interesting because we never worked with our producer, and he really challenged us and motivated us to re-examine our arrangements. He really helped with us with the flow of the whole and think of our songs from a studio perspective — nice and clean. He had a lot of great ideas for how to get the best sounds for the album.

PB: Before the interview, you had mentioned you had some great experience while recording the album. Can you share some?

AG: It’s always great to watch the soloists go up and do their solos. Like you said, there was a lot of great guitar work on the album. It was cool to step back and watch our guitarist John Sloane killing leads first take. A lot of what you hear on the album is first takes, and I think that’s really something special about the album. It’s got this live sound to it which is different from the Easy Star. A lot of people compare us to Easy Star. And that’s fine we have something of our to show and it definitely comes out on the album. Our music is based on the live aspect a lot more than the Easy Star albums. Back to the exciting stuff in the studio, the live rhythm tracks we live we did as a group, and I think that is a major part of the album.

PB: You guys are doing an expanded tour, including hitting Asbury Park tonight. Is this the first time you guys have done a tour like this?

AG: This is our first time doing an expanded tour like this, and we’re really excited. We’re trying to go anywhere there’s Beatles, and that’s a wide territory! We just want to travel and play Beatles songs, and hopefully it’ll take us a lot of cool places.

PB: Does the excitement outweigh the nerves or do the nerves outweigh the excitement?

AG: Excitement definitely outweighs the nerves. I think we feel pretty confident in our musicianship and our arrangements and our live show. So we’re getting a pretty good reception from everywhere we’ve gone.

PB: For people who’ve never seen you before, what can they expect from a Yellow Dubmarine show?

AG: They can expect a live show of songs that they love with a new danceable groove on them and a big band of awesome musicians.

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites