THE INTERVIEW: The Black Seeds
The Black Seeds are a New Zealand-based band fusing the energies of funk, soul, rock, dub and vintage reggae that seamlessly conjure up images of summertime fests. As their latest release, Solid Ground (read the review here as well) is hitting North American soil, I had the chance to chat with lead man/guitarist Barnaby Weir via his New Zealand space about the band’s message and name as well as Maori culture.
Who are some of your musical influences…because the band’s sound is a unique blend of soul, funk, dub, reggae?
Back in early 1998, late 1997 we came together but it took awhile for us to really become a band. We were just a group of guys working at a radio station, and we were very passionate about our Jamaican sounds, mainly old school roots reggae, and just a love of American music, of course. Soul music, blues, funk music. Then we started the band, The Black Seeds that we wanted to incorporate the sounds that we loved like roots reggae from Jamaica and the genres that we liked such as funk and soul music like James Brown and Parliament, Sly and the Family Stone.
Do you think it’s important to have a message in your music? Why?
Yes I do, I think it’s important to have something different to say in the music. In our first album [Keep on Pushing], there are some good messages, though it might not have been as clear as the music on our last album, Solid Ground. It was more pop-py in that sense, but still important. But the messages start from a personal experience and they evolve to a more community message. It’s an encouragement to be a part of a community.
‘Rotten Apple’ is a fave of mine. It not only has these deep bass lines but carries a message. How’d the song come about because it seems so different than everything else?
That song was written by Daniel Weetman, who’s the other vocalist and plays percussion and the MPC. It’s got that kind of MPC beat, more of a hip hop sort of bass. You have to really ask him about the actual theme. But I think it’s just about the personal experience of getting through things, relationships. It has a bit of hope in the music like your day is coming.
Where does the band’s name come from?
Initially, it was started by an ex member who’s no longer in the band, who hasn’t been for about five years now. But his take was you have different remedies, you know black seed oil? It’s like music can be some kind of musical remedy. Other ways of looking at it, other interpretations is that black seed oil is a remedy that cures a lot conditions and treats things. And then there are black seeds for growing marijuana [laughter]. Other interpretations have included the idea that they fall from the cradle of creation in Africa, and the black musical seeds traveled down through Asia and the Pacific down to New Zealand back to the world.
Speaking of the band, there’s eight members, right? How’d you guys come together? Because you’ve been making music together for awhile…
In the late 90’s I was 20 and I was probably the youngest one in the band. I was writing music and such, busy really around New Zealand. During the 90s it was really before roots reggae caught on as popular and we sort of wanted to do a Kiwi version of this style. We got together to do a party and it took awhile to truly get it together before putting our first album out, Keep on Pushing  but we’ve been steadily developing. A couple of radio stations broke us during that time in New Zealand and Australia and continued over in Europe. So it’s just built and the last five years have been really good for us.
New Zealand is known for mountains, glaciers, forests and of course, hobbits [all Lord of the Rings movies were filmed in the country], what’s the one thing visitors must do while visiting?
I think you have to get out and meet the people and understand the native New Zealand culture. We’re so far down here and we’ve only been cultivated in the last couple of hundred years, so we’re a new country in that way. We’re so small and people often don’t know it. We’re quite progressive in many ways. In terms of what you should do when you come here, you must see the roots of New Zealand in terms of meeting our native people, the Maori people, Pacific Islanders, Samoans, Fiji. We’re pacific islands, tropical; we’re kind of a lost world down here. The native people discovered New Zealand around 800 B.C. so that’s a long time ago. We didn’t start developing until around 1800. So the most important thing is to experience the culture of New Zealand.
Do you guys have any plans to tour North America in 2010?
You mean come to the States? Yeah, totally we hope so. We made our first proper tour with John Brown’s Body last year in North America but we will be going to Europe again this year and Australia and New Zealand, of course. But every year that goes by, a new baby arrives [laughter], so the family’s growing, and we can’t tour the entire year; we can only tour for a month, so it’ll be a short visit. We’re really proud of the response we’re getting from Americans, really good vibes. Hopefully, we can come and play lots of dates there.