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You may have heard a song we released two days ago. It’s called “All Dem Have,” and it’s from our 2nd album, …Against the Current, which is currently on its way to the North Pole for duplication. Pretty exciting, eh? Haven’t heard the new track yet? Here…

You may have noticed an unfamiliar instrument in this song, something that one of my friends described as “reminiscent of Italian folk ballads.” Though it is related to the Italian vibrandoneon, what you’re hearing is a melodica, a 20th-century Hohner invention that combines the reed technology of woodwind instruments with a miniature piano keyboard. You may have heard it before in Bob Marley’s “Sun is Shining,” anything by reggae legend Augustus Pablo, or the theme song from Perfect Strangers. It was also featured on “Jah Herb,” from our first album, Gold in Rule.

Our very own John Myers played it for “All Dem Have,” as well as “Things,” another one of my (B. Hold’s) songs from …Against the Current. Myers studied music performance at West Chester University, where he mastered over 83 instruments each semester. Though his primary concentration was the jaw harp, he also got pretty good on the bass guitar, clavichord, trombone, flugelhorn, and fundeh, all of which he played for both of our albums. The blow organ (another name for melodica) is one of his favorite instruments to play, as it reminds him of long nights in the conservatory during his WCU days.

Johnny is married to a woman (believe it or not) named Stacy, and they have a most adorable 2-year-old son named Jonah. True fact (unlike some of the things I’ve written above) – Jonah can already identify reggae music, and when his daddy’s music comes on, he recognizes it right away. Some experts believe that this is due, in part, to an experimental indoctrination process that John and Stacy have developed together; but I think the boy just inherited an ear for reggae.

Until recently, Myers had a head full of long dreadlocks that he had grown for about 7 years or so. While battling the evil Lord Sarlaac Jay in the Daalsbeep quadrant of the Blabalonn Galaxy, a puuh fighter shot a corrosive fluid into Johnny’s hair, leaving the melodica master with no choice but to chop off all of his locks with a high E string. Here are before and after pictures, in no particular order:

John Myers with dreadlocks

John Myers sans dreadlocks

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Meet James Hoy

I (B. Hold) need to get some creative juices flowing, so I decided to do a very brief write-up of each band member over the next couple of weeks. Get to know Steppin’ Razor a little bit better with these random facts about your four favorite reggae rockers. Some of these statements might not even be true, but they are guaranteed to give you some valuable insight into the inner workings of this band.

I decided to start with our lead guitarist, James Hoy, because we just released one of his songs from the upcoming album. If you didn’t catch “Rise Up” on Wednesday, check the Soundcloud link below.

James is a 29-year-old finger ninja from Intercourse, Pennsylvania. He says the most random things to strangers, and occasionally writes down his thoughts in a collection called Deep Thoughts by P. Dub (we hope this will be released in hardback someday, after some serious editing… because James is a terrible speller). Why “P. Dub”? Well, that has been James’s nickname since the summer of 2006, the first summer that Steppin’ Razor occupied the Jersey shore. It’s a long story, but James earned the “P. Dub” title because of beer pong (or was it beer pool?) and Venus Williams. Let’s just say Hoy has one mean sinker.

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James Hoy (left) walks through his field of dreams. A modern-day Kevin Costner in his own right, James "Sacrifical Lambchops" Hoy would like to be your best friend. (Photo by Brett Schoen)

James’s bragging rights: he once survived a fall down 500 stairs (he got to ride to the hospital in a helicopter that night!). He invented whiskey thousands of years ago. He can play really fast. He makes really good chocolate chip cookies. His girlfriend, “Double-N,” is one groovy chick. He fashions things out of recycled rubber, saving thousands of lives every day. It’s true.

Most importantly and pertinently, however, James Hoy has contributed some brilliant songwriting to Steppin’ Razor over the years. He doesn’t write a lot of songs, but his tunes are always crowd favorites. Take “Guidance,” for example. Featured on our 2009 debut album, Gold in Rule, this song consists of a simple but captivating riddim over which Hoy glides, whammies, and spanks notes up and down the fretboard. As we did with the title track on our upcoming 2nd album, …Against the Current, Johnny and I put lyrics over the “Guidance” riddim, a fun basis for such a collaboration. Originally, I rapped a verse, and then I remembered that I’m a dork, so I wrote some simple lyrics I could sing, which fit the song much better. Hoy’s music is a lot of fun to sing over, because it’s not complicated – it’s catchy and in-your-face, and it’s repetition doesn’t wear on you, as long as you’re willing to let go, feel the groove, and dance (or whatever your body does when music comes on). He’s also that way in person: he doesn’t say a whole lot, but when he talks, he’s to-the-point, honest, and often sidesplittingly hilarious.

Here’s one of his greats, “Rise Up” (lyrics by John Myers), from …Against the Current (coming next month).

In With the New

With 2011 coming to an end, we just wanted to take a moment to reflect on another fun calendar year. We’re also looking forward to 2012, most of all because we’ll be releasing …Against the Current in the first quarter. It’s been an over-a-year-long recording project, and some of you have been a little impatient about this album. But it’s been a busy year, and here are some of the highlights:

February 25 – the night we opened for dancehall legend Barrington Levy. If you’ve been following us for at least a couple of years, you know we had a heartbreaking experience in 2009 when, so the story goes, Mr. Levy wasn’t allowed in the US in time to play the show at the Note. We were supposed to open that show, and this was perhaps the worst in a long series of letdowns for us. We may never have recovered from this disappointment and disillusionment, were it not for Jamaican Dave coming through with this great opportunity at the Blockley Pourhouse in Philadelphia this year. We’ll never forget the hundreds of faces staring at us when we took the stage as they impatiently waited for Barrington to arrive, their cold gazes melting away, much to our relief, when we started playing. But we couldn’t have enjoyed it so much without all the support from our friends and fans that night.

The first third of 2011 was a little slow for us, as our bassist, B. Hold, was wrapping up his thesis before graduating from Penn State. Inspired by his experiences with reggae music, and informed by two weeks of field research in Jamaica, this gargantuan paper, “We Black Build the Music”: Rastafarian Perspectives on Participation of Whites in Reggae and Nyahbinghi Music, was complemented by a 32-minute video documentary, Our Songs of Patience. Whether you’re a reggae musician or just a fan, we highly recommend this video to deepen your appreciation for this genre.

We did the usual Atlantic City beach bar gigs, which were fun as always, even though the rain seemed to downpour on us at the end of every gig, when it was time to take our gear across the boardwalk and back to the van. Luckily, we came away with no damage, enjoyed many a Sunday afternoon with fun-loving crowds on the beach, and made a few new friends in the process. But the highlight of summer 2011, without a doubt, was this:

That’s right, we got to open for Toots & the Maytals, legendary founding fathers of reggae music. Many of you were there, so we don’t need to tell you how incredible this was. The Blockley sold out that night, which is an impressive feat for a Wednesday night in July – but after all, it’s Toots we’re talking about.

The best things comes in threes – says this band that has never played a waltz (yet) – so it was only fitting that we got on the bill with John Brown’s Body, one of our favorite reggae bands, in November. All 4 Razors agree: JBB is one of the most talented and creative acts in reggae music today, far surpassing the majority of manufactured island pop that somehow passes as reggae. If you’re not listening to these guys, you’re seriously missing out.

Wondering what that picture is on the flyer above? Well, certain members of the band have these fancy Android-powered phones that have schmancy cameras with nifty special effects. On late-night drives home from gigs, especially in the torrential downpours we mentioned earlier, we take pictures of the road ahead of us. Mark made this flyer using one of his photos that looked especially cool and flyer-appropriate, but we have plenty more that, at least for us, symbolize the psychedelic exhaustion that comes from a long day at a gig in the hot sun, especially when you’re trapped inside of Morpheus (the band van) with James Hoy for a couple of hours at a time (you have to know the guy).

Speaking of the band van, we did have one sad moment this year (besides the loss of Johnny’s dreadlocks due to an unfortunate smelting accident). We had to say goodbye to our good friend, Morpheus. The old gray van has served us well for over three years, and we have many memories from within that we would be quite unwise to share with any of you. But here’s a shot from Labor Day weekend at the Getdown Festival in Mebane, NC, the furthest we’ve ever taken Morpheus on the road. Thanks to our friends Kim and Paul for letting us crash that weekend – Morpheus does not like to be slept in.

Morpheus Unloaded

Morpheus Unloaded

As we say goodbye to another great year, we look forward to an even better one. We’re starting it off with a show at the North Star Bar next Wednesday, January 4th – click here for your tickets! And in preparation of the upcoming album release, we’re posting a song on Soundcloud every Wednesday in January – the return of Reggae Wednesday, if you will. We already released track 1, “United Nation,” on Christmas Day. Please enjoy and let us know what you think.

Stay tuned for an official album release date announcement, have a safe New Years Eve, and look forward to 2012 with courage and thanks!

Johnny, Mark, James, and B. Hold

We’ve been a little busy lately, so we haven’t been able to catch some of the great shows coming to Philly. Ziggy Marley, The Mighty Diamonds, and one of our favorites, Midnite – those are just the most recent in this year’s quality reggae events in the area. We had the privilege of opening for Barrington Levy in February, then Toots & the Maytals in July, both at the Blockley Pourhouse. Both shows were packed to capacity, and it’s encouraging to see how Philly is showing up for conscious reggae music. We hope to see the scene continue to form in the years to come.

The best things come in threes, so it’s fitting that we open for one more of our favorite bands before 2011 comes to a close. This Friday at The Note in West Chester, PA, we’ll be opening for John Brown’s Body, along with Thunder Body (featuring former members of Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad). Both of these bands have some non-reggae influences – hip hop, rock, jazz, and West African sounds – but in terms of popular bands performing authentic, quality reggae in the US today, they are leagues above the rest. We hope you can join us in supporting the sort of thing we’ve been striving for from the start: original, solid, conscious music.

Here’s a likkle JBB to whet your whistle for this Friday night:

You can buy tickets here or get them at the door for $17. This is an 18+ show. Doors at 8pm, Show starts at 9.

Move On, Push On

I just listened to the latest mix of Against the Current, and it’s hard to believe how close we are to being done with our 2nd album. This is especially rewarding for us because many of these tracks were written even before Gold in Rule was released in 2009. I wrote “Songs of Zion” while camping in the fall of 2006. Johnny wrote an early version of “United Nation” even before that. Some of these songs were put on the back burner for a while before we revisited them, and others were toyed with over the years until they became the solid pieces we perform today.

There’s one song from early 2007 that has a great story behind it. James Hoy, aka P. Dub (long story for another time), had recorded a few ideas with his guitar and the built-in drum machine on his BOSS BR-8. One of these went on to become “Guidance,” another is “Rise Up” on the new album, and there’s one we haven’t worked on yet, which we labeled “P-11.” But there was a slower track that James recorded, and we called it “P. Dub’s Chant” because of the “ooh”s he added to it (yes, he can sing, too!). Just as we had done with “Guidance,” Johnny and I each wrote a verse for “P. Dub’s Chant,” exchanging our ideas over email.

My lyrical contribution was, to say the least, far from uplifting. I was going through a rough time, financially, had recently ended an unhealthy relationship, started watching my grandmother suffer from Alzheimer’s, and was disillusioned by a recent job change. This was reflected in what I wrote for the first verse:

I don’t feel at home no more
I gotta pack a few things, hit the road, throw away the key and lock the door
But I don’t know what I’m leaving for
There’s something out there, I know
I’ve seen it out on the horizon in the evening glow
And the longing just grow and grow
I’m never satisfied, I’m just a hypocrite
I sing, “Give thanks and praise,” but I get sick of it
And then I whine and bitch and take it out on others
When I’m envious of my more wealthy brothers
I’m told there’s a reason for the place I’m in
But I feel like I’ll never see grace again
Mama always said, “Just be patient, Ben”
But I’ll never learn my lesson unless I face the wind

And move on, against the current
Move on, against the serpent
Move on to a place where I’ll be positive
Move on to a place where I know Jah Jah live

Part longing, part confession, part last-ditch effort to motivate myself, this verse (and the chorus) reflected the sort of hopelessness I was going through. It didn’t help at all that it was February, and winter makes me virtually useless.

Then Johnny wrote back with an awesome 2nd verse:

I have to be honest,
I’ve never gone hungry for too long
Never had to worry ’bout where I’d be sleepin’
or where I belong
My parents broke their backs so I can live my life
the way I want to live
To express myself the only way I know how,
Through the music that Jah Jah give

For that I’m thankful,
It didn’t have to turn out this way
I could be roamin’ the streets with no direction
What will I be eatin’ today?
So everytime I’m down about life and how its goin’
I try to think of all the times
My parents stayed up late fussin’ and fightin’
Wonderin’ what tomorrow they’ll find

But they pushed on…against the current
Pushed on against the serpent
Pushed on to a place where they’d be positive
Pushed on to a place where Jah Jah live

This was exactly what I needed to read. He starts off by basically saying, “I may not exactly be able to relate to the hunger or the uncertainty about where you’re going to live in a few months,” but continues by remembering how much his parents went through so he could be where he is today. He didn’t give me the “how can you complain?” treatment, and he recognized that I was literally not eating enough. But he indirectly gave me the kick in the ass that I needed, showing me an example of perseverance and its fruits. I’m not sure if I ever thanked him for that. I’ll try to remember next time I see him.

This song eventually came to be called “Against the Current,” and it’s a regular in our repertoire now. When we were trying to figure out a name for the 2nd album, we had a few different ideas, but as soon as one of us said, “Against the Current,” I think we were pretty much all in agreement on it. Mark pointed out how it sums up where we are as a band, and that really rang true with me. In a world where egos dominate the radio (and yes, even the “reggae” “scene”) and originality is the direct opposite of profitability, we’ve often wondered if we’ll ever “feel at home,” if there is a place for the music we’ve put so much thought and love into. But there are always a few dedicated friends and fans who come out to support us, reminding us just how rewarding it can be to stick with what you believe in.

Several of the songs on Against the Current echo this theme, reminding us that there are far worse situations we could be in, so we need to make the most of what we’ve been given, and try to make the world a better, more just, and more hopeful place in the process. We hope you’ll reap the same inspiration from this album. You all deserve it.

Jah Guide,

B. Hold

Greetings and Love, Idren!

We hope you’ve all had nuff fun in the sun this summer. The weather has been strange here in the Northeast, but we’ve been blessed with some great times in Philly and at the Jersey shore once again this year, and we apprecilove all of you who have come out to support us and the upful message of reggae music. From an unforgettable show at the Blockley with Toots & the Maytals, to the lovely security guard dancing in front of the stage at Bally’s Beach Bar on 8/21, this summer has left us with a wealth of memories and laughs to last a lifetime.

But there’s really no need to post a typical, sentimental, end-of-the-season blog post here today. We have a couple of announcements to keep the good vibes rolling into the autumn (which, here in PA, is a beautiful season)…

 

The GETDOWN!

Got any Labor Day Weekend plans? Well, you do now! Come to Mebane, NC on Saturday, 9/3 to see us at The Getdown Music Festival and Campout, with a great line-up of bands from all over the eastern US. Or make a whole weekend out of it and camp out from Thursday to Monday. We’ve heard of a lot of these bands through the Home Grown Music Network, so we’re looking forward to a variety of sounds and a really good time. For more information, go to thegetdown.org.

 

Almost there…

Many of you have been patiently waiting for (but frequently asking about) the new album, Against the Current. Well, it is coming along very nicely, to say the least. Johnny has given us all some rough, rough mixes to listen to, and I can’t stop listening to it. Mark has come up with some killer album art, too. It’s so close we can almost taste it, and we definitely smell it. But you know we want to give you a solid album once again, so we’re not rushing it. There’s no official release date yet, but I will say this: you’ll definitely have it in time to gift-wrap several copies and put them under the tree for your family and friends; you’ll hopefully have it in time to give thanks for it with a side of cranberry sauce; and you may even find yourself dancing to it in your Snookie costume.

Stay tuned for more info on Against the Current and our CD release parties. In the meantime, you can read some of the lyrics from both albums on our Lyrics page.

 

Give Thanks,

B. Hold, James, Johnny, and Mark

Steppin' Razor at AC Hilton Beach Bar, 8/13/2011

photo by Brett Schoen, One Light Imaging

I’m no web designer, nor am I particularly versed in HTLM, CSS, or any of the other web language acronyms. Should I become proficient in them, I may be able to update our website, but in the meantime, I’m going to try to figure out how to configure THIS site with the newest news and info. Then, I’ve got to figure out how to get our domain name to forward people here. Shouldn’t be too difficult, but we’ll see. Until then, here’s our latest newsletter:

GREETINGS!

How’s everybody doing? Hangin’ in there? Good to hear, good to hear. What have we been up to? Good question. Well, we’ve been booking shows and working on our follow up CD to 2009′s Gold In Rule.

A new CD?! We want DETAILS!

Yes, we’ve been mentioning it for some time, and while we would’ve like to have had it done before now, some things just can’t be rushed. The title will be Against the Current and it should be done by the end of summer 2011!

So, where you playin’?

5/22 – Super Adoption Day, Philly – Noon
5/22 – The Drake, Jenkintown – 5 PM
5/26 – The M Room, Philly – 9 PM
6/12 – Bally’s Beach Bar, AC – 4 PM
6/26 – The Drake, Jenkintown – 5 PM
7/3 – Bally’s Beach Bar, AC – 4 PM
7/17 – The Hilton Beach Bar, AC – 1 PM
7/20 – The Blockley w/Toots!, Philly – 9 PM
7/24 – The Hilton Beach Bar, AC – 1 PM
8/13 – The Hilton Beach Bar, AC – 2 PM
8/21 – Bally’s Beach Bar, AC – 4 PM
8/27 – The Hilton Beach Bar, AC – 6 PM
9/4 – Bally’s Beach Bar, AC – 4 PM
Labor Day Weekend, The Getdown Fest, Mebane, NC

What, you want the highlights? How about all of them?! Okay, okay, we’ll break it down for you:

This Sunday, May 22, we’ll be performing for Super Adoption Day, an event put together by Citizens for a No-Kill Philadelphia. This is the single biggest pet adoption day in the city and we’re very excited to have been asked to be a part of it (thanks Wendy!) We’ll kick off the event with a 1 hour set at noon, then we’ll be heading to The Drake in Jenkintown for 3 more sets out on the deck from 5 to 9! Oh, and both shows are FREE.

Thursday, May 26, we’ll be debuting at the M-Room, 15 W. Girard in Fishtown (right by Johnny Brenda’s). We’ll be joined by Delaware’s Brixton Saint and M’Balia. We should be hitting the stage around 9 PM!

Another BIIIIG event will take place on Wednesday, July 20, when we open for the legendary Toots and the Maytals at The Blockley in Philly! Get info and tickets HERE, and get ‘em quick because let’s be honest, they won’t be around for long!

And last (for now), Labor Day weekend, we’ve been invited to play at the GetDown Music Festival in Mebane, North Carolina! The final lineup has not yet been confirmed, nor have we gotten the final confirmation on when our set will be, but we’re pretty stoked!

That’s it for now. Please check out some of the links and thank you for supporting Reggae music. Do Good.

-Johnny, Mark, James, and B. Hold