In the backdrop of Orange County's sunsets, surf and palm trees, reggae music is a staple, and East Coast act John Brown's Body are worthy of any beachside playlist. The octet has been bridging the sounds of Jamaica with modern reggae for nearly two decades, snagging fans worldwide with live dubs, layers of brass and a solid rhythm section. On Wednesday, they'll fill the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano with their trademark future-roots sound.
"I love touring here," saxophonist Drew Sayers says of Southern California's reggae-friendly crowds and atmosphere. "The roots of our identity are definitely in upstate New York, Boston and New York City. But people in Southern Cali definitely have their own thing going. There's special vibes coming from here, and it lends itself well to what we do."
John Brown's Body are one of the most interesting reggae acts to emerge from the '90s, although their evolution into a more progressive sound didn't occur until the amicable departure of former songwriter Kevin Kinsella in 2006. Current front man Elliot Martin spawned a new direction that embraced an edgier quality to their music, which helped them define themselves as purveyors of experimental roots music while maintaining their ties to traditional reggae.
In 2013, the group released their 10th studio effort, Kings and Queens, arguably their most successful to date. They also released a dub version last month, aptly titled Kings and Queens in Dub, that's a track-by-track reinterpretation of its predecessor, featuring a wish list of producers, including U.K. dub legend Dennis Bovell and New York's lauded sound engineer Ticklah.
The project was launched by Sayers with full support from their label, Easy Star Records. It was a natural progression given John Brown's Body's affinity for live dub, which has been an element of their stage shows since the band's inception. Their unmistakable style has landed them on tours with Dave Matthews Band, Further and STS9.
"It's an integral part of our live show, to have the dubs happening. It's similar to what the engineers and mixers did on the dub album, only it's being done live on the mixer at the front of the house. You see the influence that it has," Sayers says.
The band as a whole holds an appreciation for Lee "Scratch" Perry and King Tubby, who were among the first to cultivate the dub sound in the late '60s. "Electronic music, for me, really owes itself to the dub producers from Jamaica," Sayers says. "They were the innovators of using effects, electronics, applying these things to music. They're responsible for developing what became dubstep and the rhythm-and-sound stuff, all of these different subgenres that have sprouted up."
Sayers shares that a five-song EP has already been recorded and is slated for release before the end of the year. The upcoming EP will feature fresh songwriting from Martin, plus new songs and vocals from guitarist Jay Spaker. If it catches the momentum of the previous two John Brown's Body records, fans are in for a textured sound that's rooted in reggae while reaching into the progressive waters of dub and trip-hop.
John Brown's Body perform at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, Ste. C, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930; www.thecoachhouse.com. Wed., 8 p.m. $15. 21+. For more information on John Brown's Body, visit www.johnbrownsbody.com.