Interview: Dub Trio

Beyond admiring the technical side of the music, the different voices found in the tracks and the overall warm vibe of the music makes for a good listen. Tomino explains, “It feels good and sounds good, and the way it is produced is amazing. Even if it is the same song, you can listen to a King Tubby version and a Scientist dub and know the difference.”

As the story goes, it was Tomino who turned his bandmates onto dub. As professional musicians, the three had ample time to listen to music as they traveled back and forth from shows.

“I had a bunch of mix tapes that a guy made for me off old vinyl, and I just laid it out one day in the car ride,” Tomino says. “We had been listening to a lot of jazz stuff and a lot of other things, but from there I felt like we just fell in love again with dub. We’d listen to it constantly. We’d be doing drives from Boston to New York playing these gigs, and it would be straight dub sessions in the car ride the whole way with the low end turned all the way up. It was great.”

Although the friends had been playing together in different configurations for three years, the official formation of Dub Trio was accidental. Holmes and Tomino were approached at an impromptu street performance by a man who asked them to play at his restaurant. Brooks also happened to be around, so they asked to play as a trio.

They quickly grew a following at their weekly gigs and began pursuing opportunities at other restaurants and bars. Holmes describes it as “very causal, unplanned—we didn’t even have a name or anything. We were playing for fun, making some money.”

The name of the band came about in a similar fashion. “One of the restaurants we were playing at—and we were playing a lot of dub at the time—started writing ‘Dub Trio’ on the chalkboard outside, because we started building a following,” Holmes says. “Before we knew it, we were stuck with the name.”

Not that they care to change it. “The name is fine. It’s fitting.” For some listeners it has been misleading, because the band does not easily fall into what has been commonly accepted as the “dub sound.” Tomino acknowledges, “Dub music has always been synonymous with reggae, but I don’t think of dub strictly as reggae music. I think of it more as a concept. So it’s almost like we’re applying the dub concept to whatever we’re doing.”

“There are not enough interesting voices in the world today—everyone’s kind of doing the same shit, pulling out the same trick.”

ROIR recording artist Badawi (Raz Mesenai) was at one of their early shows. By 9 a.m. the next morning, he had put in a call to ROIR label head Lucas Cooper to tell him about his discovery. Curious about a band that could elicit such a strong response from someone whose taste he highly admired, Cooper listened to sample tracks on its website and contacted the band.

Soon after, Stu Brooks dropped off a demo and Cooper had a chance to see them play live in New York for the first time. “They took over the room and they nailed it,” Cooper says. “Plus they were great musicians and nice guys. It prompted us to do something that we don’t normally do, which was to really work aggressively with them.”

ROIR was a natural pairing for the burgeoning band. The label is famous, in part, for releasing the first albums by Bad Brains, who were forerunners in brilliantly combining reggae sounds with hardcore punk. When asked about a common thread between the two bands, Cooper states, “There is definitely a musical connection, and I know they have respect for what each other is doing.”

Dub Trio released its first two studio records, the roots-oriented Exploring the Dangers of… (2004) and the more riff-based New Heavy (2006), on ROIR, which Brooks characterizes as “ultra supportive—they’d come to every show.” ROIR will also release the vinyl edition of Another Sound is Dying.

“Keeping it all in the family” is the catch phrase echoed throughout conversations with everyone in and surrounding the band. Though Dub Trio’s album reviews have generally been favorable, the band has elicited some mixed reactions, in part because it is so far reaching in musical scope. “To really get them, you have to see them live—then you can appreciate what they are,” says Ipecac Recordings co-founder Greg Werckman.

On stage, Dub Trio appears to be part craftsmen, part magicians, taking dub techniques that are typically done in the recording studio in front of an audience. The concept, explains Brooks, “is kind of specific to this band. We mic up the drums and we do our own effects. We’re manipulating one another in real time, which is usually done by a sound person at the front of the house.”

The trio arms itself with keyboards, a melodica, and a sea of effects pedals. Though some bands sound “just like their record” live, with Dub Trio, every night is a unique experience. Tomino explains, “The material has been written. The studio version is one version of that song, so if you come see us play tomorrow, it will be somehow different. It’s going to be a dub, a version of that song. We’re not going to play the same reverb in the same spot every single time.”

This open-ended format could result in total chaos, but as Cooper explains, “They are so tight. They can stop on a dime and drop it down into a real slow, deeper bass feel. [They can play] a dub track or two for a hardcore rock audience, and everyone just stops and starts bobbing. It’s pretty incredible to see that. They take advantage of the fact that they are amazing musicians.”

ROIR, which has long embraced live albums, released Cool Out and Coexist in the summer of 2007, capturing the group’s crushing live prowess at two packed shows at Brooklyn’s Union Pool.