1. Welcome to Diamond Reggae! Can you introduce us to your band and tell us where you’re from and how long you’ve been together?
Super HI-Fi is from Brooklyn, NY and has been playing together since 2011.
2. What inspired you to form Super Hi-Fi and to start making records?
Originally the idea was a mix of dub and afro-beat. That’s where the name came from- “Hi-Fi” sounds Jamaican and “Super” has such West African connotations- like the Super Rail Band from Mali, or the Super Eagles, Nigeria’s national soccer team. But once we started playing it sort of changed a bit, we got interested in exploring the concepts of dub music but live, and mixing that with a lot of rock sounds as well.
3. What inspires your music? Are there any bands or artists that you find yourself returning to for inspiration?
We try and be as original as we can, but listening to King Tubby records was probably what really started me off in trying to explore what you could do with this music – creating unusual arrangements, making it really bass-heavy and sometimes stripped-down.
4. Tell us about your latest project Blue and White? Where did you record the album and what was the creative process like in regards to the song-writing? Do you write as a group, or do you compose all the parts and then present the songs to the band in that state?
We’ve been working on Blue and White for the last few years, really. We recorded our last few albums with a great engineer named Nicola Stemmer at Nine Lives Studio in Jersey City. We did two Christmas albums (Yule Analog Vol. 1 and 2) and one all-Nirvana covers album (Super Hi-Fi Plays Nirvana) and like everything we do, we did them all onto analog tape. During these sessions, we would record everything we needed for those albums, and then we’d be left with a little bit of tape left. So we would record these original songs that I had been writing at the ends of all these sessions. It was like we were stealing time, it was like, quick, we did what we had to, now let’s record some of our own shit while we can! So bit by bit, we had enough for another album of original music, and then we went back over a lot of the tracks and started adding to them and refining it. I think this album is the most studio-intensive album we’ve made, there’s a lot of things on it that we haven’t done before, starting with the vocals of course, but also we added backwards tape effects, acoustic guitars, percussion, even pedal steel guitar and country music harmonies (on “Fergie”)! I write all the songs and bring them to the band and then we play them live, but on this album we really decided not to worry about how to play them live and we got really intricate with the recording.
5. Are there any unique challenges that the music industry presents today, that didn’t exist when you first started out? Are there any aspects of the music industry that you feel are unfair and why?
Well yeah – nobody buys albums anymore! That’s the biggest change for mid-level artists like us, is that there’s not really a path to making a living just recording and releasing music anymore. Streaming is how everyone listens to music now and it doesn’t pay for the artists. So you have to tour a lot if you want to make a living just doing this, and we’re all in our 30’s and 40’s, some of us have kids, we’ve all pretty much done that already and we’re not interested in going on the road for long periods of time. So it gets harder to figure out how to do this, and you have to be really stubborn and love the music you’re making a lot or it’s not going to work.
6. What advice would you give to young musicians looking to pursue a career in the music industry?
It sounds corny, but I’d just tell anyone to make sure you really, really love doing this. Because chances are you’re not gonna make much money doing it. So you have to get that feeling from music, like you get high from it, like when you play with your band or anyone else like you just did a hit of the best, most incredible drug there is. If you get that, then you’ll figure out how to make a living doing this, but if you don’t you should probably go and get a normal job.
6. How important is image in the music industry? Is that something that you worry about?
It’s obviously very important, but we don’t worry about it at all really. Which is probably why you didn’t see us on the Grammys!
7. Do you think that contemporary artists are more focused on their image than the content of the songs that they release…and why?
I think in many cases yeah, but I wouldn’t say it’s any different now than it always has been in the pop music world. I mean, Jimi Hendrix’s first US tour was opening for the Monkees! So there has always been serious ‘art’ music and light fluffy pop music that has co-existed.
8. Aside from bass and vocals, do you play any other instruments or collaborate on any other projects?
Yeah I started as a guitar player and I play a little keyboard and some other stringed instruments too. I play in a lot of bands around NYC, like Molly Tigre, which is an experimental afro-jazz band, Kakande, which is a West African dance band, Bourbon Sprawl, which is all country and western, and my own project The Eargoggle, where I play and record all the instruments, to name a few.
9. What is your musical background? Do you come from a musical family?
My mom played piano and we listened to music all the time in the house, but I don’t know if I’d say that’s why I became a musician. I wanted to be the loudest, fastest guitar player ever when I was in high school, and then I went to college and studied with jazz great Yusef Lateef and that really got me started on exploring as much music as I possibly could in life.
10. What is your favorite part about performing live? Do you get nervous at this point in your career?
My favorite part of performing live is in creating something unique every night. Like, the songs might be the same but the way we play them, the energy and interaction with the audience and just the different emotions we’re feeling all combine to create something that only exists right then and then it’s gone. That’s why we do this. As far as getting nervous, I get nervous when I’m not playing music, but never when I am!