Hailing from St. Petersburg, Florida, The Hip Abduction is known for their high-energy, emphatically danceable shows that combine West African instrumentation (specifically, the kamale ngoni) with dub bass lines, reggae rhythms, and indie pop acumen. Our contributor Tyler Hurd caught up with bassist Chris Powers last week to talk upcoming gigs, musical influences, and more, coming off the band’s newest release Gold Under the Glow.
So, honestly first time I saw you guys was by accident at Hulaween 2015, but I ended up staying for the rest of the set! Seemed to me as a unique take on reggae.
That was a crazy weekend, man. I love that place, what a good vibe. Suwannee is special, we had the opportunity to play Wanee in ‘14. It was a really amazing time. Gregg Allman was there, and he was side stage for the first thirty minutes of our set. Ended up giving me a pat on the shoulder, so sweet! We also got to hang out with Chance the Rapper, which was super awesome. He’s a truly genuine guy, love what he’s doing. We’re all about making friends, man.
That’s super cool, so, how’s this current tour going?
Well, now I’m back home in Florida getting some sunshine, we got back yesterday. We did 4,700 miles in 15 days up north with Galactic, and man, it was super cold up there. But those kids love their island music up there! It was like 20 degrees, and people would show up with huge jackets and then have Hawaiian shirts on underneath, pretty funny. I’m in St. Petersburg right now in the backyard, 80 degrees, much more comfortable. The band is from St. Petersburg, so we love our sunshine.
The Hip Abduction has a big Red Rocks show coming up with Nahko & Medicine for the People and Boombox, how stoked are you guys for that?
I was talking to my brother the other day, and he reminds me that Red Rocks isn’t just the best venue in the country, but all of North America. Was crazy to think about. This is our first time playing out there and we’ve got a full 45-minute set, so it’s definitely gonna be a great time. We are also hitting Summer Camp and Electric Forest. It’s shaping up to be an awesome summer.
I’ll be seeing you guys at Forest, FloydFest, and hopefully moe.down, so I’m excited. How did that gig with moe. come about?
They sat next to us at an autograph signing on Jam Cruise. They told us they were fans, they said they wanted to get up with us, and before you knew it shortly after the cruise, we got our invite to play. I got to check out Rob Derhak’s rig and talked bass with him for a second, that was pretty wild. We’re excited for that.
This will be our second FloydFest, and there is one hell of a vibe up there man, it’s super special. When we have opportunities like that, we take it. Kris Hodges [FloydFest producer and CEO] got connected with us, invited us to his house, his wife made us spaghetti, and then invited us to play. When you’re on the road, all you want is some normalcy. It was obvious that it was a special kind of gathering. All the people that are involved with FloydFest, they’re all there for the right reason, and the way they take care of artists is amazing. Literally had free massages for artists, like what?!
You guys are definitely in the jam-circuit, as far as festivals go, and you guys can jam no doubt! However, I definitely wouldn’t consider you a jam band per say, do you guys consider yourselves to be more in that realm than the reggae (SOJA, Slightly Stoopid, Rebelution) scene?
Well, our first record was very much so a world vibe, second album was more roots and reggae, as we recorded everything analog. That gave us a lot of credit in the reggae community and we then played California Roots, and it was awesome. Then with this new record Gold Under the Glow, we implemented some hip-hop and dance into the sound. So, as a band we can put together an hour long reggae set, or we can play Jam Cruise and we can whip out some weird covers and different jams and get creative. On another day, we’re playing with Weezer and Fall Out Boy, and we can put together a pop set. We’re very comfortable in the world we’re in. The commonality is that whether it’s jam music or reggae music, the people that show up are music fans, and are not just there for the scene. Me personally, I feel at home in the jam community, went to Phish shows and stuff as a kid, but then again I live on the beach and definitely love some reggae vibes. Might be a reflection of who we are as a band. We are constantly consuming music, especially this awesome new electronic stuff coming out, like Odesza and Tycho are implemented into our sound, just simply because that’s what we listen to. As far as being inspired for sounds and new textures, artists like that are huge inspirations. Recently, I saw that we got called “tropical indie pop”, and I can take that because the new album definitely has more of a pop vibe. We feel at home at each of those places because we are able to conduct ourselves and put together a set at all places. It keeps the creativity and personality of this band going.
You guys are pushing the limit on what a reggae band can do, and that’s so cool to see. I could totally hear some of these new songs on the radio! How do you feel about that?
Oh we’d be absolutely stoked. Sirius has got us on three different stations right now, so that’s pretty cool. With the new album, some old school fans were saying “Ah, you’re trying to write a pop album,” and that wasn’t our intention. We were just listening to St. Lucia and Vacationer and RAQ, and that’s what came out with this new record. We’ll be debuting some new stuff on the road that are more chillwave tracks, Odesza-like, and we will continue to make new stuff. Who knows what the album will be after that? Not like we’ll make a country album like Ween, but maybe!
The best bands definitely evolve their sound as time goes on, just look what String Cheese has done, so it’s refreshing to see you guys doing just that.
We’re so blessed that this is what we get to do. Only in my wildest dreams did I think that this would happen. Two years ago, I quit my day job and haven’t looked back. It’s a fun thing, man.
These music videos are gorgeous! Are the songs inspired by travel?
Definitely. Lead singer, David and I started writing in 2007, and he and I really connected on travel. He spent a lot of time out in the Caribbean and Bahamas, and I used to teach out in Samoa. The sort of escape and quietness and solitude that comes with no electricity definitely can be seen as an inspiration in our music, kind of like a wanderlust. We want our music to take listeners to those places in their minds and give them those feelings. We get to work with a lot of different people, but the guy we worked with on the music videos, filmmaker/photographer Dylan Melcher, is one-of-a-kind. It’s amazing to see he and David communicate. They are just on the same page. They came back from Costa Rica with a video that was composed entirely of 5,200 photos, that’s crazy. Then we’ll also do a cool shoot in a subway in New York. We’re trying to keep it original.
Do you guys have any favorite festivals or venues that you guys love to play?
We play a bunch of shows, but we’re already talking about Red Rocks. Our songs are seamless, every song goes together into one set, and sometimes we have to change keys or transitions, things like that. It’s a huge conversation. So altogether, we are very excited to play Red Rocks, it will be our third time out in Colorado, super beautiful out there. The other thing we’re super stoked about is Sweetwater 420 Fest in Atlanta, we worked with them and then finally hit the nail on the head with a tropical IPA called Hibiscus. It has a floral aroma to it, and then the IPA finishes with passionfruit and amarillo hops. It’s not a sweet, fruity beer at all, it comes into the flavor. They’ll be serving that during our set, and we share the stage with Trey Anastasio, Widespread, and the Dirty Heads that night. Not too bad. We start the whole festival on the main stage, which is super sweet. Nick Nock is the head brewer down at Sweetwater, and we feel the same way that Nick does about making beer, and he created something really amazing. I like beer a lot, and it’s really cool what came out of it. People should definitely come out. Returning to Asheville is also gonna be awesome. It’s gonna be a blast, 420 Fest, Red Rocks, then Electric Forest. Gonna be cool. I’ve never been to that. I feel like my friends are describing like something David Bowie had something to do with, sounds fantastic. We’re playing both weekends, so it’s gonna be super cool. The guys from Galactic are so incredibly gracious to share with us their knowledge, it’s been truly a blessing spending time with them. I still get starstruck with these guys.
Okay, walk me through this harp looking thing you guys play, kamale ngoni?
Yes, Kamale ngoni. It’s actually not that weird, it’s where the banjo comes from. It was a fifteenth century West African (Mali area mostly) traditional hunting harp. It’s pentatonic with 12 or 14 strings, and you must make them by hand. Ours is made with a bowl from Bed Bath and Beyond, a conga head, and a hand carved neck and bridge, with fishing liner. It’s an interesting instrument for sure. Always sweet playing with the guys in Toubab Krewe. There are no frets, so you can only tune it in one key, which makes writing interesting. It does restrict you, but having those limits on the structure of music makes it a real challenge to make new music. As we venture into electronic, it will be really interesting, but we’ll still continue the world elements, as the kamale ngoni comes in. It makes it really interesting onstage, as I don’t use a bass amp, and we have to position our amps so the sound is balanced. John Holt just rips it, man. I pick that thing up, and have no idea how to play it, no way. I’ve been in this band for ten years and I’m still mystified by it.
That’s great because it’s a cool, distinguishing feature in the band. As a huge music fan, it’s always good to see one thing that sets you apart.
It’s like 80 materials and 80 hours of work. It is definitely a labor of love, as that could be a metaphor for this whole thing. They used it on the Jam Cruise video recap, which was dope. If you haven’t done a Jam Cruise you definitely should do it, man.
I haven’t, I think it needs to happen!
It’s so awesome dude, every band you’ve ever heard of is there, and you’re just there and you’re like “Is that George Porter eating a sandwich over there?” Before you know it you’re hearing him talk about Stevie Wonder covers. It’s wild, I didn’t know what to expect. It’s a total blast, and the crew is awesome. Didn’t see a single face with a frown, and it was just nothing but good vibes, it was great. Highly recommend it.