If self-producing an album isn’t challenging enough, try growing a family, moving across the state, and fighting cancer at the same time. Those were the hurdles that the Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz-based reggae band Soul Majestic had to face in the recording of A Better World, their third CD, with a release celebration concert at SOhO on Friday, June 5.
So explains Soul Maj’s Eric Iverson, who was born in Goleta, attended Santa Barbara High, moved to Santa Cruz with the band Lightning Bug Johnson in 1996, and, six months ago, moved his family back to S.B. The band’s battles are evident in the album’s lyrics, said the tall, dreadlocked lead singer. “The biggest difference is that the last album focused more on worldly issues,” he explained. “There is some of that with this album, but it’s more of a story of our personal lives. It’s about kids and babies and the next generation. It’s about personal struggles with health and money and careers, and just how much of an impact music has positively.”
Health-wise, Iverson is specifically referring to his co-singer and wife Oriana Sanders, who was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma during recording. “It totally hit her by surprise,” said Iverson. “Her life was just flipped 180 degrees.” Luckily, that form of cancer is highly treatable, so six months after the diagnosis, and rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, Sanders was essentially cured. Along the way, it was music that kept her moving, and the song “I Rise” is a tribute to her fight. “There were times when she came out of the cancer clinic and went right into the studio,” said her husband, adding that they kept their tour on schedule, too. “We played Reggae Rising in front of 5,000 people, and she was up there with a scarf on her head singing away. It was pretty heroic.”
The album itself is what we’ve come to expect from Soul Majestic: quintessential reggae with a lush backdrop of horns, vocals, and drum and bass, complete with guest stars such as Sly and Robbie, Tony Moses, and Trinidad’s Queen Omega, whom Iverson calls “the Aretha Franklin of reggae.” Unlike 2004’s Until that Day, which was recorded at Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong Studios in Jamaica, A Better World was laid down mostly in Santa Cruz’s Million 7 Sound studios. “This time we decided to bring it full circle and bring it back home,” explained Iverson.
Family is another big theme, largely because Iverson has a four-year-old son, and another three core members of the band-which ranges from five to 11 players depending on the show-also have children, some of whom occasionally go on tour. Being a family band is “pretty rare,” said Iverson, “even shunned upon a little bit.” He’s friends with Jack and Kim Johnson, who seem to be spearheading the bring-the-kids-on-the-tour-bus movement, and they’ve talked about “how unique it is to really involve the kids in our career. For so many others, there’s a big separation. It’s kind of a new thing for music artists to be able to embrace the fact that they have a family and they are part of this experience rather than back at home. It’s a great holistic thing happening, rather than living these dual lives.”
The Soul Majestic family is currently accepting new members, and you can join in by attending their June 5 concert, by buying some songs when they hit the iTunes catalogue on June 21, or by picking up the whole album when it blows into stores nationwide on July 1.
As to whether Iverson expects big labels to come a’knockin’, he explained, “We’re open to whatever comes our way, but we’re happy with where we’re at.”
Soul Majestic releases A Better World with a concert on Friday, June 5 at SOhO (1221 State St). Call 962-7776 or visit soulmajestic.com.