Easy Star Records is an American independent record label founded in 1996. Based in New York City, it primarily produces and releases albums in the genres of reggae and dub. The label has had multiple albums chart at #1 on the Billboard Top Reggae Albums chart, including Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band, two albums by The Green, and Vines by Passafire, who signed to the label in 2013. In 2014 the label released albums by artists such as Rebelution, Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, Backbeat Soundsystem, New Kingston, and The Expanders, who's June 2015 album Hustling Culture debuted at #1 on the Top Reggae Albums chart. The label manages bands such as the Easy Star All-Stars, a touring and recording musical collective, and has worked with artists outside the reggae genre such as Citizen Cope and Corey Harris.
Easy Star Records was co-founded in 1996 by Michael Goldwasser, Eric Smith, Lem Oppenheimer and Remy Gerstein, all friends based in New York City. The founders, despite their varying backgrounds and interests, all shared an interest in live dancehall and Jamaican reggae. According to United Reggae, they formed the label because "they felt there was a place for roots reggae made with live musicians and analog equipment, like it had been back in the 70's and early 80's." The label's name came from the "Jamaican patois salutation, 'Easy, Star,' as in 'Take it easy, Star.'"
Founding Easy Star-All Stars Goldwasser, already a musician in the reggae scene in New York City, brought together a number of musicians to work on original songs he'd been writing. He stated, "We wanted to be an original Jamaican reggae label, although not run by Jamaicans." However, the label soon started working with artists and producers with unreleased material, much from the 1970s and 1980s, and began reissuing tracks as well.The New York reggae and dub collective Easy Star All-Stars was formed by the label co-founders in 1997. With a rotating roster of musicians, the band originally functioned as a studio band for the label's earliest recordings, and only began touring in earnest in 2003. Early on, the Easy Star All-Stars would play around New York City backing up Jamaican artists, including Sugar Minott and Johnny Osbourne. The band also put on tribute shows to artists such as Augustus Pablo, Dennis Brown, and Jackie Mittoo. Not all the co-founders were musically involved in the band; Oppenheimer, for example, remained VP of the label and not a touring member. Michael Goldwasser serves as the group's original composer and "unofficial creative director," playing various instruments on their releases and writing the adaptations before the band goes on tour. 1997-2002: Early releases Singles, Easy Star Volume One (1998)
In 1997 the label released several singles on 7" vinyl, including "Time Has Come," the first single by Ossie Dellimore. Dellimore, a roots reggae singer based in Brooklyn, had performed for several years locally before recording with the Easy Star All Stars. After 1997 the label ceased releasing singles for some time, instead moving to EPs and LPs. The first album by the label was the January 1998 compilation Easy Star Volume One, which included covers by the Easy Star All-Stars and guest performers such as MC Trouble, Rob Symeonn, Gary Pine, Sister Carol, Sluggy Ranks, Ranking Joe, The Meditations, and Sugar Minott. Among the songs was Dellimore's previous single "Time Has Come," and other singles the label had already released on 7". Allmusic gave Easy Star Volume One 4/5 stars and a positive review, calling it an "exceptionally good collection of reggae singles...Although all of the tracks benefit from state-of-the-art production technology, the singing and playing are all reminiscent of the late '70s and early '80s, the period when Rastafarian-themed roots reggae was ceding ground to the slicker and more secular dancehall styles." About the production, "The prime mover behind this album is producer Michael G, who provides all the rhythms and a virtuosic touch at the mixing board."
A full year passed before the label released a second album; on February 9, 1999 Easy Star Records came out with Ghetto Knowledge by The Meditations, a reggae vocal harmony group from Jamaica. Allmusic called Ghetto Knowledge "a match made in heaven: the Meditations, a roots harmony trio that has maintained the same style and lineup since the early 1970s, and Easy Star Records, a label devoted to releasing modern roots reggae that partakes of the spirit and flavor of reggae's classical period while taking advantage of 21st century recording technology." Almost nine months later, the label's compilation album Sugar Minott's Hidden Treasures Vol. 1 came out.
In 2000 the label again started releasing 7" vinyl in earnest, with over ten singles that year by artists including singer Luciano, Jamaican deejays Anthony B and Triston Palma, and The Meditations. Three full-length albums were released that year as well, with the first being the March reissue of Ghetto-ology, a 1979 album by singer and producer Sugar Minott. October saw the release of the compilation Sugar Minott's Hidden Treasures Vol. 2, followed the next month by Jamaican deejay Tristan Palma's album Two Roads.
February 2001 saw the release of All I Have Is Love, a compilation album and the label's seventh release. The original album had artists record remakes of classic Studio One songs produced by Sister Carol. It received a positive reception by critics such as Stephen Cook of Allmusic, who called it "successful look back at the music before the digital hegemony of dancehall and ragga."
That August, Sugar Minott released Rare Gems, his second release on Easy Star. Want Some Freedom by The African Brothers was released in September 2001,and only two albums were released in 2002: Easy Star Vol. 2 Dancehall Culture, and the compilation album Can't Stop Us Now.
2003: Dub Side of the Moon
For several years after Can't Stop Us Now the label released no more than one album annually. On February 18, 2003, the Easy Star All-Stars released Dub Side of the Moon, a reggae reinterpretation of Pink Floyd's classic The Dark Side of the Moon. Among the performers were Dollarman, Corey Harris, Frankie Paul, the Meditations, and Ranking Joe. Allmusic gave it a positive review, stating "dub's psychedelic mysticism is a perfectly good match for Pink Floyd's mannered weirdness." Dub Side of the Moon remained on the Billboard Reggae Charts for several years after its release in 2003. After Dub Side of the Moon was released, there was "a great demand for live renditions of the album all over the world," and the label put together a touring group which has been on the road since 2003.
About the style of the Dub Side of the Moon, despite the frequent pop song covers, Smith has stated "There is a lot of suffering and pain in reggae. It's a struggler's, it's a sufferer's music. The casual fan sees reggae as a summer, spring-break-type music, and that's really far from what it's about. We like some of the darker areas of reggae, and one of our concerns with combining [reggae and Dark Side of the Moon], was we'd have a really, really dark album on our hands."
2005-2008: EPs, marketing and events
The label released no albums for the rest of 2003 or in 2004, and the next release was the April 2005 album Pressure Points by American reggae band John Brown's Body. August 2006 saw the studio album Radiodread by the Easy Star All-Stars, a song-by-song cover of Radiohead's OK Computer. At a 2006 Radiohead concert, Thom Yorke praised Toots & The Maytals version of "Let Down" on Radiodread, and Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood also praised the cover version, calling it "truly astounding." The solo album Ticklah vs. Axelrod was released by Easy Star All-Stars member Ticklah in late 2007. The label then released the EP Until that Day by the Easy Star All-Stars in March 2008, which consists of mostly non-cover material except for "Dubbing Up the Walls," a cover of the Radiohead song "Climbing Up the Walls."
Beyond managing the touring of their various bands, the label previously organized Easy Star Reggae Tuesdays, a long-running reggae party in New York. The label has consulted on marketing for albums such as Mighty High (2007) by Southern jam band Gov't Mule. The label has also been involved in consulting with SOJA, a Virginia reggae band signed to ATO Records.
2009: Tours, charting albums
In 2009 the label increased output and released five albums, including two by John Brown's Body, whose album Amplify debuted at #1 on Billboard's reggae charts. The band's remix EP Re-Amplify also debuted on the Reggae Albums chart, peaking at #8. Re-Amplify featured remixes by artists from around the world including Dubmatix (Toronto), WrongTom (London) and their friend Disashi Lumumba Kasongo from Gym Class Heroes (US).
2009 also saw the release of the studio album Easy Star's Lonely Hearts Dub Band by the Easy Star All-Stars, a reggae cover of The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Music Feeds rated the album 10/10, and it cracked the Billboard Top 200 twice, making it the first reggae album to do so in over two years. It also reached #1 on Top Reggae Albums, #2 on Top Heatseekers, and #9 on the Top Independent Albums.
Later in 2009 the label also reissued the 2008 album Solid Ground, its first album by New Zealand reggae band The Black Seeds, and the band's first US release. At that point the album had reached platinum status in New Zealand. In the summer of 2009 The Black Seeds toured America supporting John Brown's Body, before John Brown's Body came to New Zealand to tour with The Black Seeds in their home country. During this tour, Solid Ground was released in America and reached #15 on the US Billboard Reggae Charts. John Brown's Body played in the United Kingdom for 16 shows with Easy Star All-Stars, and 11 shows in New Zealand with The Black Seeds. The tour lead to a musical brotherhood with The Black Seeds and they and John Brown's Body performed together at the 2010 Grassroots Music Festival in Ithaca, NY.
Also in 2009 the label released The Prester John Sessions the singular solo album by Tommy T, the Ethiopian bassist for the band Gogol Bordello.
Three albums were released by Easy Star Records in late 2010, including Connection by American vocalist Cas Haley, which debuted at #2 on Billboard's Top 200 Best Selling Reggae Albums, and a second album by The Black Seeds. The third album was the remix album Dubber Side of the Moon by Easy Star All-Stars. It features bass-heavy remixes of Dub Side of the Moon by Easy Star All-Star members such as bassist Victor Rice, and guest artists such as The Alchemist, Dreadzone, Adrian Sherwood, Border Crossing, Mad Professor, and J.viewz. Dubber Side of the Moon debuted at #2 on the Billboard Reggae charts. When asked about the infusion of dubstep with the album, Smith stated that dub was an important new subgenre in reggae, particularly at opening up reggae to new audiences.
2011 marked the first time in close to a decade the label had released a 7" vinyl single: "Pork Eater" by Ticklah, a 2007 track that first appeared on his album Ticklah vs. Axelrod. "Pork Eater" was followed by the single "Don't Stop the Music" by the Easy Star All-Stars. That year the label released the first album with only original sounds by the Easy Star All-Stars: First Light. 2011 also saw the release of another EP by Cas Haley. In 2011 the label signed The Green, a reggae band formed in 2009 in Oahu, Hawaii that blends Hawaiian music with roots reggae. The band released an LP and EP that year, and in May 2011 the LP Ways & Means spent four weeks at #1 on Billboard's Reggae Chart, also winning "Best Reggae Album" at Hawaii's Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.
On April 10, 2012, the label released five albums by New Zealand reggae band The Black Seeds, marking the first time the albums were released in the United States. Among the releases was the new LP Dust and Dirt and four older albums including Into The Dojo. In 2012 there were also the cover album Thrillah by Easy Star All-Stars, themed to Michael Jackson, and the album JBB in DUB by John Brown's Body.
2013-2015: Recent projects
In early 2013 John Brown's Body released Kings & Queens, followed by Cas Haley's La Si Dah and The Green's Hawai'i '13. Also in 2013, Easy Star Records signed Passafire, a band from Savannah, Georgia whose music combines rock with reggae, dub, and progressive. Passafire's album Vines was released that fall, marking the label's fortieth release. Three albums that year: Kings and Queens, Hawai'i '13, and Vines, all reached #1 on the Billboard Top Reggae Albums chart. The label's album Count Me In by Rebelution, was released on June 10, 2014. It debuted at #14 on the Billboard 200.
Easy Star All Stars released Dub Side of the Moon: Special Anniversary Edition on September 16, 2014. The band Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad released Steady on September 30, 2014, with the album receiving a near perfect 4.5/5 score from The Pier. Backbeat Soundsystem released the album Together Not Apart on October 14, 2014. In November 2014, the New York band New Kingston signed to the label to release their upcoming album Kingston City, which is due out January 27, 2015. The Expanders' June 2015 album Hustling Culture on Easy Star debuted at #1 on the Top Reggae Albums chart.
-- Courtesy (Wikipedia) --