Members: Harrison Stafford, Isaiah Palmer, Jake Shandling, Brady Shammar, Aleca Smith, Eduardo Gross, Craig Berletti, Roger Cox, Zach Morillo, Matt Jenson, Karene Brown, Thamar Williams, Jeff Cressman, Rich Armstrong, Michael Ver-Steegt
Interviewee: Harrison Stafford
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, guitarist, producer
Recent release: Groundation's One Rock is out via Roots Creations.
Recommendations: I would say The Congos' “Congos Ashanti” and Israel Vibration's “Unconquered People”.
If you enjoyed this interview with Harrison Stafford of Groundation and would like to find out more, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram, twitter, and Facebook.
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I began writing music in high school, I had a group named “Human” that would perform in the Bay Area here in California. The first musical influence from birth was Jazz music of the 1940s and 50s, this music was a big part of my father’s and grandfather’s life; so music was encouraged and nurtured in my family.
My discovery of roots reggae music, Rastafari music, changed the course of my life. It had a rich philosophical message along with a capivating, hypnotic, slow pulse (because of the half time feel of the one-drop).
Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?
Music is pure emotion … that to me is what every note is conveying.
I believe there is a music that will unite the world throughh its powers and emotional connection to the listener …we have not found it yet, but reggae has a part of it …and jazz too has part of it. This higher vibration.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
I am trying not to repeat anything that I have done. With each album my aim it to find a new concept, new groove, and new way of composing and arranging the songs.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
I really identify and connect with a music that is saying something, both lyrically and musically. There are certain music ideas that you listen to and at first listen you digest what is happening.
Then there are others that no matter how many times you listen the song gets richer and deeper … those are the types of songs that excite me.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
Surprise yourself. Think outside the box. Learn from the masters and legends of the past, known what they did and where they came from. Then lose yourself in the music and whatever comes to you, you embrace it.
How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?
Yes I am very much into knowing the “tradition” and heritage of this thing we call music. When I started Young Tree Records in 1998 the motto was “preserving the history and integrity of reggae music.” So to me having a great knowledge of the past is crucial to making a statement for the future.
As far as “perfection” goes, there is no “perfection” within music. We record on the analog 2” tape machine so the whole concept is excepting of imperfections.
As far as “innovation” and “originality”... this is what I look for in music.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
Tool number one is communication; Talk with all members and be open to new ideas.
Really the human voice is my instrument so treat it well; rest, honey and ginger, good healthy food. Musically, if you have large arrangements ideas learn a notation program like Sibelius as they really do help you to get a clearer idea of what you're hearing.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
These days have been very challenging, most of my days are spent taking care of my family; my wife and three children ages 9, 7, and 5. Over the last 2 plus years we have lost so many good close friends and family members. We have had our own trials and tribulations. But still we’re so blessed and fortunate.
I keep myself healthy exercising daily and running 4-5 miles. I love my family and every moment with them is pure joy. Also the new GROUNDATION album brings hope and strength into my life; I cannot wait to be back on the road, traveling from city to city in celebration of life through music.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
Usually in my song writing something speaks to me instantly.
With “Weeping Pirates” I was driving in my car when this verse idea came to me … I began to sing “To all those weeping pirates, oh your words shall fall on deaf ears now. For we hear Mount Zion calling, the man higher to the world. Chanting words they spoken softly of the dragon …which conquers my soul.” I recorded the idea while driving using my cassette tape recorder (today I just use my iPhone).
Getting back home I went for my guitar and found the chords. This is also when I realized “oh, the song goes to 3/4 for a couple bars in the middle … cool” That week I presented the song to the band as an open vocal improve jam but once you hear me say “to all those weeping …” we go to this form …and that’s how it happens … the ideas just come.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
I love creating music both alone with my guitar and also working with others. Typically I would get an idea alone, and then bring to the group and expand on it, working from everyone's perspective to get the best result.
Also generally alone I seem to create the slower, more mellow songs and then improvising with the full group the higher energy, faster pieces.
How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?
My music is a reflection of the world as we are living it today. Themes and perspectives change. I still use a lot of Bible references within the lyrics at times, but recently evolving into a more universal voice and speaking on the human condition and common experience.
Good, conscious music is the cornerstone of a healthy society. Speaking about reality and equality; justice … this leads to a more harmonious world.
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
Sure. In ways that cannot be put into words. For this reason music is more powerful than words alone. It carries a deeper vibration that can reach the listener on a very spiritual level. My music is my music and how it reaches people is a mystic … I go to places in the music, spaces I cannot describe, I live the music.
A few songs that reached me and changed me: Van Morrison’s “Beside You”, Stevie Wonder’s “If it's Magic”, Bob Marley “Babylon System”, Miles Davis’ “Concerto de Aranjuez”, Pink Floyd's “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” (part1), and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.
There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?
Science has given us the knowledge that sound waves reverberate as vibrations; so much so that we use ultra sound to give us z-rays and ultrasonic waves to break away things like kidney stones. Also these things we call musical instruments make sound waves and they too have an effect on the human being.
However I do not see there to be a scientific approach to music making … the song in all its parts and identifiable elements does not necessarily make a great and lasting song.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
Music is not a mundane task. Music is the highest experience of life … I feel it deeply on stage, every night.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
Music is the combination of the physical vibrations which effect our bodies as I mentioned before, as well as tone and melody which can reach deep into a listener making them feel and experience things they never new existed.
You could think of it as in more ancient times when humans would cast spells over each other.