Reggae Roots Review talks to Ric and Jason, owners of Grand Ancestor, the Washington, D.C. and New York-based record label.
If GA001 means anything to you, then you are part of a select club that are tuned into the releases of New York and D.C. based record label Grand Ancestor. Label owners Ric and Jason specialise in heavy reggae and dub limited edition single releases, in fact so limited that if you don’t hit that buy button straight away you will more than likely miss them. Reggae Roots Review caught up with the duo to find out a little more about Grand Ancestor, their music and what is on the horizon.
With just a cursory flick through Facebook you get the impression that Ric and Jason have many projects on the go, in fact their musical graduation followed an unfamiliar path. Jason kicked off, ‘I’m 26 years old with roots in the Washington D.C. area. I studied economics and music technology at George Mason University. I’m particularly interested in sound design and operation and the continued development of Grand Ancestor Sound System.’
Jason cut his DJ-ing teeth in the clubs of Washington D.C., before starting his Computa Age radio show on the mighty Sub.fm in 2012. Jason explained his vision behind Computa Age, ‘I focus on sound system culture and over the past three years I’ve hosted the likes of Jahtari, Adam Prescott, Vivek, Brother Culture, Shinehead, Jane Bee, Alpha Steppa, Dbridge, Subatomic Sound System, Victor Rice of Easy Star All-Stars, Joe Nice, DJG, Dark Tantrums, Ishan Sound, Neek, Dub-Stuy Sound, Deadly Dragon, Blind Prophet, Malleus, and more.’
Ric added, ‘In addition to running Grand Ancestor with Jason, I also run TUBA, a bass music and dubstep vinyl imprint based in Brooklyn. We’ve released the likes of J:Kenzo, Truth, Compa, and several other artists. I also produce my own tracks under the name Bakir, and back in the day I founded the label Dubs Alive with Dubsworth.’
The Grand Ancestor singles have subtle differences in reggae styles; you can hear a great appreciation of the sound in the grooves. With that obvious love of sound system culture, I asked them why reggae has such a special place in their hearts, what got them excited by the sound?
Ric opens, ‘Dub is what got me really excited about reggae, especially the studio work of King Tubby. I really wanted to start a white label project after hearing heavy UK steppers and getting more involved in sound system culture.’
Jason agrees, ‘Jah know! Nothing gets me moving like a proper riddim! I began collecting reggae in high school, the positive message; the space, the skank, and the focus on drum and bass left me obsessed.’
‘In terms of one song in particular, I’ll never forget my good friend Matt playing Little John & Billy Boyo – ‘What You Want to Be’. Everything about that song moves me and it never leaves my bag. Even as a youth, I was always fascinated by sound systems. When I was around 5, my Dad would mess with the EQ knobs in his Nissan Z, saying “watch this” as he would kill the bass and bring it back in. From then on, the bass always had to sound proper. I think I’m now on my fourth car audio system along with Grand Ancestor Sound System in the works.’
My first brush with Grand Ancestor was when Alpha Steppa posted his GA001 remix on Facebook; it was definitely a track that had an instant impact on me. I remember at the time it seemed to create a real buzz; were they overwhelmed by the response to their first single?
‘To be honest, I was feeling really optimistic going forward with this imprint, particularly because of Alpha Steppa’s involvement on the first record. We also did our research on distribution and came up with a great strategy to get the records out there.’
Jason added, ‘Simply put, yes. Give thanks! Big up to all sound people supporting this movement and supporting this sound. Without you, we cannot be. In terms of expectations, we didn’t have many. We knew we had an incredible original from NY-based Cuttle and a great contrast with the Alpha Steppa remix on the flip (the GA VIP isn’t too shabby either). We both had solid avenues in place, and when we began sending promos to distributors, we were definitely encouraged by their responses… but we never could have predicted this.’
With the first two singles completely sold out I asked Jason if it was deliberate to release them in limited runs and whether the plan was to create ‘collector’s items’, something immediate and limited? ‘Indeed, we’ve always intended for this project to be in the moment and personal. Limited white labels, strictly vinyl, no repress. If you were meant to have a copy, you got one. We want Grand Ancestor to really mean something to people and we’re putting in the work to make sure that’s the case.’
Ric reinforced this ethos, ‘Yes, this is a guiding principle behind the label. We don’t re-press and we limit the runs of the records. We don’t do any digital sales either. Strictly vinyl.’
If you are familiar with Grand Ancestor and the releases, you will probably know the singles more by their catalogue numbers; I wondered whether that added to their mythical quality. Jason answered, ‘I believe it does. To me, it shows that the listeners are more concerned with what they’re hearing rather than whom. When we started this project we wanted it to be all about the music, minimal, no glitz, no glamour, let the music do the talking. This is why, with the first two releases, there is no labelling at all. We are slowly unveiling more hands-on art to the project as you’ll see with GA003 and have more additions in the pipeline, but we’ll keep to a minimal approach.’
I have to agree with Jason on the simple style of the releases. There is something intriguing, mysterious and a little sexy about vinyl with a simple white label and a plain sleeve. It certainly makes you want to find out more. Ric added ‘This is music for the heads, for the people that know. The people that buy the records know the artists and the track names; we don’t need to call it out so much.’
When news of the next Grand Ancestor release starts appearing on social media, there seems to be quite a lot of excitement generated. It’s interesting to know whether Ric and Jason have a deliberate strategy for marketing releases, or whether the online power of word of mouth does the work.
Ric says, ‘We announce the record and get test presses out to some key people. We’ve had support from J:Kenzo, Adam Prescott, Iration Steppas, and Mungo’s Hi Fi, so that’s been how we’ve gotten the word out.’
Jason adds on the importance of getting the test presses to the right people, ‘Our marketing strategies have been fairly minimal to date. We like to keep pretty quiet, perhaps that feeds into the excitement for each release. We give the people the info they need via our Facebook page and that’s about it. Word of mouth, signing quality music, our radio shows, and getting test presses into the right selector’s hands have been the biggest catalysts behind the success of the label. Our chief concern is to expose our audience to new and interesting music from around the world and ultimately promote sound system culture both worldwide and here in the States.’
So what of the future, GA004 sounds like it is on the horizon, what can we expect to hear on that one? Jason gives us the heads up, ‘Yes, we hope to slide GA004 in just before the close of 2015. It will be our second 7″ white label release and we plan to stick to the format of pressing proper vocal / version cuts on to 7″s. Expect to hear an anthem!’
He continues ‘On the buttons we have the return of Netherland’s finest, the Illuminated, alongside Russian badmon, Distant Roots, inna jump up steppa style. The vocal cut features the lyrical stylings of Canada’s up and coming Clinton Sly who serves it up proper with his message, “The sweet sweet sound gwan straight to mi brain, when mi play the music, say me feel no pain!”‘
It’s plain to see that Ric and Jason have a real passion for what they are doing. Speaking to other producers, label owners and artists, you get a strong impression that it’s not easy selling records these days, particularly for a rather niche sound.
A lot of hard work is involved but if you have some good connections, a sound model for promotion and most importantly some killer tunes, then you can succeed in this age of throwaway digital crap. Cream will always rise to the top in this industry I think.
Log on to Grand Ancestor’s SoundCloud site, you will not be disappointed. All Ric and Jason’s releases are featured, gems that you may have missed and big tunes for the future.
Big thanks to Ric and Jason for the interview, please use the share buttons below, help spread the gospel!