Interview with Tommy Dubs
By: SD Liz
His music is in his name, Tommy Dubs! What does Tommy dub? â€œPunky reggae and Dub-influenced urban sounds,â€ according to the man himself! Tommy Dubs is a singer, songwriter, guitarist, keys guy, and, most importantly, a producer. He produced two of his own compilations last month titled Take What You Want and Manana Del Sol. Tommy Dubs has been in the music scene for the last 15 years. What makes him so unique is that he takes experiences from the scene and records it into his music, and he is also aware of how his surroundings influence his music.
On Saturday, January 14th, NUG Magazine went to check out Tommy playing at Winstonâ€™s Beach Club in Ocean Beach. It was his CD release party and fellow band Bad Neighborz was there to pump up the crowd with their punk/rock reggae. Tommy Dubs and Seismic Leveler then gathered on stage to play their punk/dub/reggae, and wow, they knew how to mix their music! On stage, there were four sets of keyboards with Tommy using a pair, as well as another keyboardist, along with mixers and beat machines. The three guitarists, including the bass man, situated up front brought out the rock â€˜n roll that Tommy claims in his music, which also hinted to a â€˜70s type of rock. At one point, Tommy played the harmonica in a song that sounded like it was about relationships. His set list included, â€œBring Fire On Youâ€, â€œGunslingerâ€, and â€œWonâ€™t Be Coming Home.â€ Tommy Dubs and Seismic Leveler sure dubbed it for the crowd, and his music was very much enjoyed!
NUG Magazine had a chance to speak with Tommy prior to his CD release party. He told us about his inspirations, his political point-of-view, and just how much he loves to produce music. Follow us as we explore the world of Tommy Dubsâ€™ music.
Where are you originally from?
Chicago. I came out to Arizona for school and then moved to Argentina for about a year. After that, I came to California and have been in Ocean Beach since!
You were in a couple of other bands before moving out to San Diego. Tell us about â€˜em!
For the first seven years, I was playing in Tucson, Arizona. I played in a band with some of the guys who are from Mike Pintoâ€™s band. That band was called Stucky and it was traditional reggae with a full horn section. We toured Argentina and had a pretty big song on the radio called â€˜Politrixâ€™. Then, some of these guys from my current band and I played in a band called Gadfly for five years. We played â€˜rocksteady rockâ€™ with an upright bass. I played guitar and sang vocals. That band broke up and then I put out my first CD called En Los Campos, and that was a collaboration with some of the guys from Digital Underground and the B-Side Players, and a bunch of other guys from different bands. Then we found more guys for the band and started playing the CD, and that is the current lineup with Seismic Leveler.
How does this band stick together?
One thing my dad told me is you will never meet someone who has the same passion as you, and you canâ€™t expect them to. That was very eye-opening for me. If someone canâ€™t make it in this band, someone can show up and play a different instrument. That was really important because it was heartbreaking when my band broke up. The only way I can describe it is like having three girlfriends and breaking up with all three of them at the same time. Thatâ€™s what itâ€™s like. You go through anxiety, depression, and sitting at home on a Friday night when youâ€™re used to playing in front of people. Itâ€™s a heartbreaking experience and you really question your worth. Some of these guys are from Gadfly, and some are from Vegetation. We came together and figured out how to make it easy on everyone. Weâ€™re not all reggae players and we donâ€™t mean to only play reggae. I like to have that influence, as well as show someone who doesnâ€™t know how to play reggae, how to play it.
What is the message in your music?
Itâ€™s personal. Up until the last few years, I didnâ€™t really care about lyrics as much as I do now. A friend told me, â€˜You have to throw yourself on the fire for music.â€™ That stuck with me and I wanted to talk about experience, humility, and say things that would make me vulnerable because I think people latch on to that, just like it did to me with the group, Atmosphere. Especially after moving to Cali, I wanted to talk more about real issues and say something: politics, love, emotionâ€¦Musicians should say something other than about partying!
Are there other memorable spots in California that have influenced your music?
The first time I got to cross the California/Oregon border. That way of life is appealing to me. Northern California is really cool and special.
Tell us about the different genres in your music.
I love electronic music, including electronic dub and any new music coming out. My music is heavy dub-influenced rock and hip-hop. I was really inspired by UK hip-hop and all the shit happening over there with such bands as Grimes, Rosco, Roots Manuva, and DJ Ricochet. Itâ€™s hip-hop with no hooks and real shit with massive reggae influence. London has been a melting pot for hip-hop, punk rock, and reggae. The urban influence is more of a production style versus a vibe like using samplers and drum rolls, just like DJ Diplo, M.I.A, Santigoldâ€¦You wouldnâ€™t notice how much they are influenced by reggae unless you really pay attention, but they are in their style!
Some of your music is influenced by Latin rhythms. Is that because you lived in Argentina?
Yeah. It was ironic because the day I moved there, it was martial law for a week. Their currency got devalued by 400% and they went through six presidents in two weeks. I was fortunate enough to have a publicist out there who pushed this song called â€˜Politrixâ€™, which was about what was happening. The only bands that got to tour were Rolling Stones and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Since we were from California, everyone assumed we were bigger than we were. Also, a band called Aztecas Tupro and I played music together. Salsa is a big influence out there.Â A friend gave me a stack of discs of such bands as Manu Chao and Sumo and it was mind-bending because I was like, â€˜Iâ€™m missing out on all this music because they are singing in Spanish.â€™ I felt I lost so much by only listening to English music. It was an eye-opening experience.
What influences your songwriting?
I like to write on something I havenâ€™t written on before, like what I am going through every day, such as love and hate. I say, â€˜I have three songs when I fall in love, and 30 when I break up.â€™ Also, politics. I have been more aware of it and how important it is to talk about it. Globally, people donâ€™t understand the effect we have on other countries. That was a big thing when I was in Argentina with the IMF and the debt in Latin America, and the influence we have over their imports and exports. For people who say, â€˜I am not political,â€™ I call bullshit because they are political. And just because they donâ€™t vote, they still fall into someoneâ€™s plan. So, do what they DONâ€™T expect you to do, and go vote! Believe something and stand for it!
And you produce your own music?
Producing is my first love. I love playing music and singing it, but I hate producing my own vocals. I love to have someone sing in on it. I really enjoy working with someone and bringing something out of them that they never thought was there. At one point, I was giving guys a hundred bucks to voice a tune, so I have tunes with Richie Spice, Tippa Lee, and even Digital Underground.
Tell us about working with local musicians.
With Mike Pinto, I wrote the song â€˜Cool and The Deadlyâ€™ and produced his record. I have a record coming out with Piracy that is dancehall mixed with African music and dubstep. There are bands I would love to play with called Little Hurricane, Grand Olâ€™ Party, Psydecar, and the B-Side Players, who are more rock, something I love. For me, creative music comes from the rock scene. I want to go see something and say, â€˜Whoa, I didnâ€™t even know you could make music that sounds like that!â€™
Letâ€™s talk about cannabis issues. Any thoughts on the current federal crackdown?
I think dispensaries should be allowed. I think people should be able to use medicinal marijuana, and for recreational use. I donâ€™t see any problem with it.
Can you think of any solutions to the problems?
If the government would regulate and tax it, there would be so much money. The problem is that there is so much propaganda! It was like, â€˜Do we vote to legalize? Do we vote to decriminalize? If you legalize, then the government is going to take it over. If you decriminalize, it will still be in the hands of the growersâ€¦â€™ When money is involved, you are never going to get a straight answer.
So, legalize or decriminalize?
Itâ€™s a waste of taxpayer money to have this federal regulation. I would prefer it goes to a state level, so it is easier for everyone. If you want to live in a state that does this, then live in that state. If you donâ€™t agree with that or donâ€™t want to live there, move out! The problem is that we have a system of prisons that are private, and they donâ€™t want these multi-million-dollar facilities empty. They want them full. So, they want the marijuana laws in placeâ€¦the prison system, the political system, and the pharmaceutical companies! Of course, the pharmaceutical companies donâ€™t want the laws to go away either because theyâ€™d lose tons of money! Itâ€™s just a crazy system! If marijuana was legal, the DEA would have nothing to do. When it comes down to it, itâ€™s just money. There is a lot of money to be made with it being illegal versus legal.Â All the agencies are set up to fight it.
Hmmâ€¦Do you think 2012 is the year for change?
I donâ€™t know if it will happen this year, but eventually it will. When you put a cigarette next to a joint, you know there will eventually be safer access to everyone. To me, it will be legal medically before it is for recreational use. The more political awareness that comes to it, thenâ€¦you know.
Once again, Tommy Dubs just released two self-produced, full-length CDs called Take What You Want and Manana Del Sol, with the latter featuring a band from Spain. Both compilations are available for purchase on his website, www.tommydubs.com. You can also interact with him on Facebook!