It would be easy to label The Alchemystics as another stereotypical reggae band, but you simply wouldn’t be doing them justice. With a feel-good sound that blends reggae, dub, soul, and hip-hop, these guys sound as diverse as they look.
Formed in 2003 in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts, The Alchemystics have evolved over the years into their current six-piece lineup, which includes three vocalists- an emcee and two singers. The ensemble has gradually gained notoriety over the years, frequenting dozens of colleges throughout the Northeast as well as some high-profile venues such as Pearl Street, The Iron Horse, The Middle East, and the Paradise Rock Club. Their travels have seen them share the stage with a myriad of well-known artists, such as Damian Marley, Busta Rhymes, and Bonnie Raitt.
Amidst final preparations on their latest full-length release, drummer Demse Zullo and emcee Force were gracious enough to take a moment and enlighten us on The Alchemystics.
LMN+R:First of all, can you take us back to the roots of The Alchemystics? When did you meet each other, and how did you form as a band?
Force:Well Demse could field this one a bit better since I wasn’t there in the beginning, but I imagine it was sort of like the Big Bang- just without all the stars, planet explosions and such. Hmm, now that I think about it I guess it was a little bit like the Big Bang since the band started as a core group of three- Demse ( drums/percussion), Garrett-(bass), and Phaze (vocals), and slowly expanded over time to include Jason Metcalf (keys), then myself on vocals and finally Ian I (vocals) and Ras Jahn (vocals). Right now we’ve got a solid group in place, but who knows the Alchemystics universe might expand again.
Demse:Yeah back in 2002 Ras Jahn, Garret and I were playing with a Kora player from Senegal named Youssou Sidibe .When that group broke up Garret and I joined Ras Jahn’s long-standing reggae group Loose Caboose. Simultaneously I hooked up with original member Phaze, we started listening to each others beats and I asked Garrett to come out to see if he’d like to form a group. It worked out well. We wrote some tunes and started to have weekly jam sessions at my house in East Hampton, MA. Through those jams and opening up the space we started playing with Jay on the keys. Then we built and built and built for two years. We really started building a name for ourselves at Bishops Lounge playing and jamming on reggae and hip hop tunes. We would regularly invite anyone willing to get on the mic up to the stage. Through opening up the space for others to get involved at Bishops Lounge we met Force. He must have heard about us because we were hot even back then! He came out and rocked with us a few times and I liked it… So we asked him to come in and it worked and we grew… Phaze left in 2005 so to keep the music moving I called Ras Jahn and Ian-I, Force called Souljah T and we moved forward as we began with the rhythms as the guiding force of the music. With four singers things got complicated and we lost Souljah T along the way.
LMN+R:Had any of you had any experience as professional musicians prior to The Alchemystics?
Demse:One of the interesting things about this group is the different kinds of musical backgrounds we have and the individual experiences we carry. I can say that between Ras Jahn, Garrett, and I… and Ian to an extent we have been performing, touring, recording, and teaching professionally for quite a number of years. Both Force and Jay were involved in music prior to The Alchemystics but I don’t think to the level that we have taken this group. Where as the rest of us has had a long run of it.
Force:Not only were a few of us pros before but a little known fact is that the Alchemystics were all part of a secret CIAmusical assassin training program. I can’t really divulge too much information but let’s just say that’s why we’re so naughty at what we do.
LMN+R:What was the inspiration behind your band’s name?
Force:Well as much as I’d like to say that we were struck by some awesome idea from the heavens, in actuality we just got lucky. I personally think it was meant to be since our name really encompasses our sound and group dynamic. We are a group of very diverse elements who are able to somehow combine and create this unique music and live experience. Demse was there in the beginning so maybe he can shed some light.
Demse– So anyone who tries to come up with a good band name will tell you it gets silly really fast so you wind up sitting there just laughing at all the stupid names you could be. So we created two lists of words that could work together and one of Jay’s old roommates Scott put together alchemy and mystics. The Alchemystics huh? It totally fit our musical mission, as both individuals and artists.
LMN+R:Were you guys always reggae enthusiasts? Are there any moments that stand out when you first felt a connection with reggae?
Demse– I really got heavily into listening and studying reggae around 1996. Again between Ras Jahn, Garrett, Ian and I we have been at it a while. Ras Jahn has one of the longest- standing reggae groups in the country. Ian’s former group Soulution was at it hard for 10 years. Garrett started out in a ska band Not for Resale back in 1994, following that he lived and toured throughout the Caribbean. I started back in 1992 playing in New Englandhardcore group Jasta 14 and in recent years I have studied percussion in Cubaand worked in a variety of musical styles out side of reggae as well… Reggae music is essentially the rhythmic force of the earth and it is a rich culture. It takes years to understand reggae and how it moves because there is such large history to the music. The majority of the band has studied and performed a wide array of music from the African Diaspora. All this experience comes out in how we play and perform the music.
LMN+R:What musical artists- past or present- have had the most impact on your music and your development as a band?
Force: Hmm well that’s always a tough one to answer. I mean I could go on for quite a while listing some of my personal influences and I’m sure Demse and the rest could as well. I guess I would have to say every artist I’ve listened to has contributed to my growth, I’ve got a mixed bag of musical listening but honestly my heart and soul lies in Hip Hop. I’m an Addict and I admit it. Hey I know I have a problem. Yea I know it’s a cop out but the list would be huge. Hmm maybe I’ll blog about it though, stay tuned and maybe I’ll let the cat outta the bag.
Demse:Too much music to mention. It makes me dizzy thinking bout it all. Truly for the entire band our lives are family, friends and music. Music is what we all live. So the influences that come in are way beyond just music alone. For me I can go from The Beatles to OLD Metallica to James Brown to Curtis Mayfield to Coltrane to the Bad Brains to Sly & the Family Stone to BDP & Pharcyde to Eddie Money to Roy Orbison to Baaba Maal to Erika Badu to Prince Far I to D’ Angelo to Elvis….I could do this all day.
LMN+R:You appear to have a lot of diversity within your group. Does this translate to the music in any way?
Demse:It permeates everything that we are. So, yes, it comes out in the music in how we present ourselves, in the crowds we draw.
Force:Heh, the Alchemystics are the poster boys of diversity. We’re like some 2010 Beneton ad. I really think diversity is the key. So many artists out there are very one dimensional and one of the best things about the Alchemystics is that we are able to display a lot of different sides. I think our music is pretty much a reflection of how diverse we are as individuals. We’ve got dance music, positive uplifting roots, a little hip-hop flavor and so much more. In the end all of those elements combine to form The Alchemystics sound. We’ve even got a new song “Elements” which really delves into that aspect of our music. So much effort is spent on putting things in boxes or finding genres for them now that it’s a shame. What we do is show that music is beyond categories and is a very personal thing that can be shared by anyone no matter race or background.
LMN+R: What advantages does your diversity give you?
Force: It’s our secret weapon really. I think it’s one of the big things that set us apart from any other band you have seen or heard before. Being so diverse allows us to create new refreshing music constantly. We’ve got so many dimensions as a band that I think it’s very hard for us not to think outside of the box and come up with music and concepts that have not been tried yet. One of the best things about being in the Alchemystics is that I am constantly pushed to expand my musical boundaries and knowledge and that means I have to keep coming up with new ways to top what we just did before.
Wanna read a review about the Alcehmystics recent show in Northampton, MA? Check it here.