by Rachel Reeves
Some bands know from youth that they want to play music professionally and purposefully enter the entertainment industry. Others form, grow, evolve, and flourishs kind of by accident.
Iration was the latter kind of band, not because its members weren’t purposeful and intentional about their work but because it all kind of just flowed: the sound, the collaboration, and the success. It felt natural, the way reggae feels natural on islands.
“In the beginning, there was no, ‘Okay, we’re going into the music industry,’” bassist Adam Taylor told an interviewer. “It just happened.”
The original members of Iration grew up together on the Big Island of Hawaii; Taylor grew up on Oahu, but went to school on the Big Island. They didn’t start jamming until they moved to California for college, some to the University of California Santa Barbara and some at Santa Barbara City College, in the early 2000s.
In the dirty, seaside garages of Isla Vista, the college town flanking UCSB, they started playing music. Mostly they played covers of Bob Marley songs and other popular reggae ballads at house parties. Eventually, they booked some gigs at bars downtown, including Velvet Jones and Sandbar.
“That was a good way for us to kind of realize we wanted to do music,” said Micah Pueschel, a songwriter for Iration. “It gave us a little glimpse of what it could be like.”
The band recorded an album with no training, experience, or understanding of how to record. Pueschel remembers having “no idea what we were doing.”
Then, the band took a trip to Hawaii. For two weeks, they worked with Grammy-winning producer of Hawaiian music, Charles Brotman. Pueschel describes the experience as boot camp. Shortly after that, in 2008, Iration released its EP Sample This. That album contained the track “Falling,” a song that catapulted their album to the third best-selling reggae album in the world on iTunes.
“It’s one of the songs we have that went certified gold and when that happened, it all kind of took off,” Pueschel said. “Things started to really go. It didn’t feel overnight, but I think with ‘Falling,’ it felt like, oh, this is different. There’s momentum.”
Suddenly, when they played shows at venues they’d been booking for years, people knew the words to their songs. They were appearing more often on the radio and the Internet. They kept their day gigs, as students and bartenders, and they kept booking shows.
Soon Iration was touring with Pepper. The Internet branded Iration “sunshine reggae,” based on their feel-good rhythms, but as the band evolved and grew, the category started to feel like a pigeonhole.
“That’s been a discussion point for a long time,” Pueschel said. “I think in general, we were in Santa Barbara and Southern California, playing these brighter love songs in the beginning. We’ve always tried to put a positive spin on our music and have the music reflect positivity and optimism as a general theme, but at this point, there’s such a wide range of sound – there’s a lot more than reggae in our catalog and I don’t think it’s all super sunshiney.”
On the point of being branded as reggae, Pueschel isn’t even sure that most people would consider Iration’s music reggae, as opposed to alt-rock or even pop. The band’s sound is syrupy, with smooth bass and a wider vocal range than typically produced by a “sunshine reggae band.”
Iration songs transport you to the shore of an island where time slows down. They are songs that make you dance, smile, and think about warm summer nights and barbecues on the beach. But there’s also range and rock in the band’s sound that stretches beyond the categorization of Jawaiian, a term that refers to a fusion of Jamaican reggae and the easy, flowing nature of Hawaiian music, which produces a sort of pop-inflected reggae. They’ve also dipped into Motown, R&B, and funk.
“It’s just one of those things in music where labels and radio stations want to pop you into a genre box and fit you into a specific thing because if you’re living outside the box, it’s hard to place you,” Pueschel said. “For us, that’s been a blessing and a curse because in certain areas we’re considered reggae and in the reggae world we’re not reggae enough. So we’ve always been a tweener. But I think we just enjoy lots of different things. We don’t want to play just one thing because we have to play these songs for hours and multiple times.”
Iration’s first gigs outside of Santa Barbara were in the South Bay, in places like Saint Rocke and Patrick Molloy’s in Hermosa Beach, so the band sees Beachlife Festival as a return to some of its original fan base.
“We built a fan base in the South Bay when we were starting,” Pueschel said. “It’s gonna be really cool to return to the South Bay and one of the places where we really started.”
Iration plays on Saturday May 6 at Beachlife Festival.