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The Next Generation
Photography By: Lee Abel
First formed in 1998 GROUNDATION returns in 2018 after a 3 year hiatus; debuting accomplished new members, brand new music and that true to form improvisational Reggae/Jazz experience. A unique sound fans have enjoyed for two decades on the biggest stages all over the world.
Harrison Stafford, founding member, lead singer and guitarist for the group is eager to get back to creating this unique and dynamic sound which allows musical freedom, exploration, and creativity like no other form. Having embarked on several musical projects over the years GROUNDATION remains his first love.
Harrison remarks that “GROUNDATION provides a musical vessel that allows me to create and perform the music that I hear in my head”.
The sound comes in part from Harrison’s early childhood hearing Duke Ellington and Miles Davis from his grandfather and father who were both Jazz performers. He formalized his musical education at Sonoma State University (SSU) completing a degree in Jazz Performance, where he honed his skills for composing, arranging and producing. After completion Harrison went on to teach The History of Reggae Music at SSU before embarking on his own musical journey. A journey that would, by and large, comprise to date, of 8 studio albums and tours to over 40 countries across the globe with GROUNDATION.
A new generation takes the reins, you will find onstage: Harrison Stafford (Singer), Will Blades (Piano/Organ), Isaiah Palmer (Bass), Jake Shandling (Drums), Brady Shammar (Backing Vocal), Aleca Smith (Backing Vocal), Eduardo Gross (Guitar), Craig Berletti (Piano/Trumpet) and Roger Cox (Saxophone).
Having performed to a packed crowd at the Independent in San Francisco, CA, Groundation frontman, Harrison Stafford, aka ‘The Professor’, sat down with IRIE Magazine in the Green Room in the week hours to reason about Groundation… the Next Generation.
The time is now 12:45 am… and it’s February 6, 2019… Bob Marley’s and Bunny Ruggs’ Earthstrong!
Official Website: Groundation.com
IRIE. What is the Next Generation?
Harrison Stafford. They are great and talented musicians coming together once again. Groundation has a past… a big history of great musicians and musicianship. And these musicians are looking forward to living up to that past and building on to it and carrying it further.
The Next Generation is here for now and till the end of time. We are here to do the work.
I feel that the spirit is great and positive. The crew that we have, the individuals. It’s a great energy!
IRIE. Watching you perform on stage is like witnessing a preacher giving a powerful sermon that touches the spirit of every individual in the room . What inspires your actions on stage as you perform in front of the crowd.
Harrison Stafford. I don’t know man. I’m in a different place. You’re trying to open up two things. One… your improvisation… whatever is happening in the moment. And two… you are trying to channel something that is meaningful and has a purpose.
Not just adlibbing and freestyling and scatting but trying to make a point, if you can. That, to me, is some of the beautiful things about reggae music.
It’s this social experience, this type of upliftment that you are trying to put across.
IRIE. Groundation is from California however you don’t have that recognizable Cali Reggae sound that you so often hear. There’s a powerful maturity in your music which creates a clever fusion of roots reggae and jazz that gives you that special Groundation sound.
Harrison Stafford. My father played jazz piano and my grandfather played saxophone. For me, I didn’t want to play jazz. Reggae was my personal music. I wanted to have this social and political message while at the same time I knew that those chords and that jazz teaching is what is going to give you the tools to creating songs like ‘Vanity’, the first song on the album.
Growing up listening to Duke Ellington and Count Basie Orchestra is what was in my head to make this 12 note, 5 saxophones, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones symphony work to start the album.
And that is what sets aside Groundation apart. The two things you mentioned… Roots Reggae… it’s one drop. A lot of reggae today don’t play one drop. When you’re not playing beat one… when you’re doing the traditional Jamaican thing. At the same time with this jazz fusion, it has this polyrythmic and this harmonic movement that is not typical for reggae. So it makes Groundation very different and unique.
And I have always said that’s kind of the draw of Groundation… is that it’s so different and the kind of people who don’t like Groundation is because it’s so different.
IRIE. We love this new album! Groundation the Next Generation is a perfect example of how reggae music can evolve. When you listen to mainstream reggae music, the different bands seem to try to replicate what they’ve heard before; to capture that sound. This album is different. Each track is different… something new. That’s what makes this album special.
Harrison Stafford. I know that this is not necessarily a recipe for selling albums because it is a little bit more challenging for fans to catch on to. Especially some of the through composed pieces where nothing repeats. There’s no hook. It’s like “Where’s the hook? There is no hook!” Like ‘Smile’… I have a refrain where I say smile, but the song is a through-composed piece. There is no “oh, it goes back to that part.” There is no back to that part.
It’s deep and its’ rich. And that’s the music that I love! I just give thanks that through the years and through overseas (Europe, South America, Australia), through the support you say, “okay, I’m free to do this”.
It could have been that I tried these things and had this ideas in my mind and people didn’t like it. That I have to write more pop and more of what you hear on the radio as oppose to what I feel.
IRIE. Fans of reggae music can actually learn from listening to Groundation by opening their ears to discover that diversity and trying different things are good for reggae.
Harrison Stafford. You are getting all the reasons why I do it. Even trying to speak to musicians; to say “hey, try something new. We don’t have to do the cookie cutter, the status quo… you can try new things.”
IRIE. our guitarist is Eduardo Gross, who is from Sao Paulo, Brasil, like myself. We’re Paulisto. As you know, Brasil recently elected Bolsonaro to run the country which feels like the same backward move here in the US in 2016. There seems to be a free will to express negativity without any repercussions. What do you say to people to help them keep their faith in humanity?
Harrison Stafford. Yeah, I hear you… I get a lot of my strength through the music. In doing what I do it seems to strengthen people and it gives me strength too at the same time. So through the music I find my strength.
It seems like these are some real challenging dark times. When it comes to people who are of the mindset that the future is for more equality and more justice for all people of the world, we’re not going in that direction. People from California… we have a song from the new album called ‘Fossil Fuels’. People who have been conscious for years about the environment and what we’re doing. We can’t be burning and putting these greenhouse gases up in the atmosphere. Here in California we have been talking about this for decades and decades.
So it’s two of the same messages. But with me, I get my strength through the music and that’s where you have to. You certainly can’t look out politically as you mentioned Bolsonaro and Trump. You can’t really get it from our world leaders.
IRIE. As we push to become more earth-friendly, the technology behind the movement has seem to only benefit the Haves and not the Have Nots. How do we make the technology more affordable so that it’s available for everyone to participate in protecting our planet?
Harrison Stafford. That is a challenge to address. At a certain point we’re going to be force to address it.
I think at that point humanity is going to shift into supporting these more greener solutions. And then these power players and big money people are going to say, “okay, I can now make money so let me invest in making it affordable and making it for everybody. Because we really need to do something to combat what’s happening… as long as it’s not too late!