A zeal for social justice has long been essential to Steel Pulse's flavor of reggae music, and some 42 years into their music career, it shows no signs of letup. The Birmingham, U.K., reggae band, led by singer and main songwriter–and only remaining original member–David Hinds, are in the process of recording their 12th album, their first since 2004, and one of the issues he's tackling this time is George Zimmerman's trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin.
Talking to Hinds at a Lake Forest recording studio, where he's tracking down horn parts, he is quick to turn the conversation to the trial: “American justice is in the balance with the outcome of this trial,” he says. “It's not about right or wrong right now. It's the shenanigans of the lawyers that's going to probably wrap this up, as opposed to the truth, so to speak.”
His meter quickens and his brummy accent grows more intense. “The wound was immediately fatal,” he continues. “But there his body was, yards away from where the assailant was allegedly having his head beaten. All that is going to have to be explained. They're lucky I'm not the lawyer out there.”
Now 57, Hinds still harnesses the same rigor and passion he had as a teenager in the mid-1970s, back when the English Caribbean clubs wouldn't book Steel Pulse because of their overt political bent. Back then, Hinds found kinship in the burgeoning U.K. new wave/punk scene, sharing bills with the Clash, the Stranglers, XTC and the Police, and the band rose to fame on the strength of punk-tinged reggae songs such as “Ku Klux Klan,” penned in protest of the National Front, the European right-wing group that piped slogans such as “Keep Britain White,” an obvious affront to a band composed of English-born sons of immigrants from the West Indies.
His newest batch of tunes includes a reworked version of “A Who Responsible,” from the band's 1982 True Democracy record, with an updated spin connecting it to the Zimmerman trial, as well as an original tune dedicated to Martin titled “Put Your Hoodies Up for Trayvon,” on which his son, Orange County-based rapper Baruch Hinds (a.k.a. Terror Dreezy), raps.
San Juan Capistrano musician David A. Elecciri Jr. produces Baruch's records, and David has tapped him to record a few tracks for the new album. For Elecciri, this brings his music career full circle. "These guys were my favorite band as a kid,” he says. "I saw them at Irvine Meadows opening up for INXS. I had their records, and I knew their music, but I had never seen them live, and man, that was it. It was over.”
Which gets at the heart of how Steel Pulse have survived long after the late-'70s Grammy years and are maintaining a presence in the age of flatlining record sales. They've always been a hot live band, touring the festival circuit with a tight horn section, pulling off cool musical tricks such as bending the tempo mid-jam, and executing relatively complex compositional elements while at the same time keeping the crowd hyped with chants of Rastafari activism. Life on the road works for a band such as theirs, which is why they tour, tour, tour–and record wherever they can.
"It's been a case where papa is a rolling stone,” Hinds says. "Wherever I lay my hat is my studio. But time is working against us; it is an overdue album. I'm in my late fifties, and I don't know how much longer we're going to be out there rocking and rolling.”
Steel Pulse performs this Saturday at the Pacific Amphitheatre. Full ticket information available here.