In the time the Simpkin Project has been around, many bands in the Huntington Beach reggae scene have gone from teenagers to touring artists to parents working day jobs to support their families while playing the local bar scene on the weekends. But ever since beginning in the early 2000s, vocalist/guitarist Phil Simpkin and his merry band of cohorts have gained a unique following in the local reggae community. Their fusion of reggae vibes and psychedelic classic rock-like breakdowns and melodies have delighted fans since the beginning, and much of that crowd already knows they’ll like the group’s new record, next month’s Beam of Light.
“Some fans who’ve been seeing us for a while have heard some of the songs live many times, but there are still some songs in there that are going to be new even for the Simpkin fans who come to all of the shows,” Simpkin says. “It was a really interesting new process for us because we worked with a label and an outside producer for just a small handful of the songs to just give us a new tint or a hue.”
Although working with a record label and outside producer was certainly a different experience for the DIY band, the entire process was still a very Simpkin-like experience. Instead of Simpkin having to write most of the lyrics himself, he collaborated with his fellow bandmates for most of the work. At the same time, keyboardist Shawn Taylor usually doubles as the band’s producer and lead engineer, but they were both willing to share their responsibilities for the betterment of the new album.
“Being the soundscape designer for the albums, I always think of the album listener, the headphone listener, the person who’s going to invest themselves into the journey of the album like we would with Dark Side of the Moon,” Taylor says. “I use hand-made recording equipment — most of it made in the United States — made by crafters who are looking to hold on to that recording heritage of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s.”
For Taylor, one of the other primary focuses when crafting the sound of a new Simpkin record is making sure it sounds just a little bit different from everything they’ve ever done before — including their live performances. Never wanting to recreate the past, the band goes as far as ensuring that every concert is slightly different than the ones before by throwing in some spontaneous improvisational parts each and every night. For instance, fans who see them at the Mint in LA on Friday evening will almost certainly get a different set than those at the Constellation Room on Saturday night and San Diego’s Moonlight Beach on Sunday.
“We have a couple of places in the show where we do improvisations like a Grateful Dead or Phish tear-off,” Taylor says. “It’s one way to make a show unique, because what happens in that fuzzy area one night may be completely different than what happens in that fuzzy area the next night — or if that fuzzy area is even there the next night. It creates a little level of spontaneity, which is refreshing in a music scene that’s often contrived or cookie-cutter where you’re going to get 20 of your verse-chorus-verse and your four-minute arrangements, and then you’re going to call it a day.”
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Of course, out of the three shows, the Constellation Room is the real stop for the hometown crowd. It’s one of Simpkin’s favorite venues, and the entire band expects fans both new and old to be there checking out tunes from the entire catalog — including a few that may be played for the very first time.
“The Constellation Room is kind of our stomping grounds,” Simpkin says. “We love the sound in there, and when the Simpkin fans come out, we love the feeling in that room. We’re looking forward to that, and it’s going to be high energy.”
“If you’ve never been to a Simpkin show, this weekend is the time to go,” Taylor adds. “We’re going to play a lot of songs — from old ones to new songs that we haven’t even played in front of an audience yet — so I’d say if you’re a new Simpkin fan, this is going to be a great way to connect with our music on a simple level. It’s singing and dancing music, and it’s not hard to learn the first time you hear it.”
The Simpkin Project will be at the Constellation Room inside of the Observatory in Santa Ana on Saturday, August 19 at 9:00 p.m. Tickets cost $12 and are available through the venue.