Irie. In Jamaican patois, the word refers to “feeling great,” and that’s where the St. Petersburg, Florida-based septet The Hip Abduction likes to point its listeners. “We aspire to put people in their happy place,” says the band’s bassist, Chris Powers. “It might be your spot on the beach, or up in the mountains, but just that positive social context, that positivity.
“It’s amazing to be the purveyor of that. I think that positivity is what unifies everyone at our shows. That’s what our own unity is. We’re such an odd group of people to be playing together — if we can get together, all these different minds, and live in a van, do all this stuff … it’s a good message for humanity — hopefully we can get along a little better in the future.”
Powers met the band’s lead singer, David New, in 2007. “He and I were into roots reggae music and things along those lines,” Powers recalls. The eventual inclusion of Pat Klemawesch on kamale ngoni (“young man’s harp”) gave the band a new twist — a West African flavor. Saxophonist Dave Johnson, keyboardist Paul Chlapowski, drummer Matt Poynter, and percussionist John Holt III complete the group. “There’s a very strong reggae-rock scene in St. Pete, but that what we try to diverge from a little bit by bringing in the world element and the indie-pop element,” the bassist explains. The result, he says, “is more of a contemporary sound — as opposed to just playing that So Cal reggae vibe.”
Several members of the band help with songwriting, but the main voice of The Hip Abduction has always been New. “[David’s] constantly bringing stuff to the table. I drove for six hours yesterday, and he sat next to me with Logic [recording software] up, writing the whole time, with his cans [headphones] on, right in the van.”
However, the bassist also says the band “tries not to get too attached” to the songwriting process. “We get it out and move on to the next melody, the next notion. … I think the new record is real chill, a good vibe for sure.”
Gold Under the Glow brings in elements of indie-pop and synth-pop, at times hinting at The Beach Boys’ iconic album Pet Sounds. “Brian Wilson is a huge influence, especially when we start thinking about vocals,” says Powers. He started on bass at 11, and was drawn to all genres. “I was connected to Paul Simon, to The Beatles, but also at an early age to Bob Marley,” he says. “I loved the sound and the tone of [Marley’s backing-band leader and co-producer] Family Man on all of those records. That was definitely the beginning. Then after I got into the production thing I listened to Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, Tubby, getting into dub. That further developed my taste for the dub bass sound.
“Bass is the loudest too — that’s why I like it,” he laughs.
Powers’ favorite jazz bassist is Charles Mingus, and he cites the work of modern bass players such as Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and Marcus Miller. “We’re not like a shredding band. All of us could play something more progressive, but we’re focused on playing together, and the tone,” he says. “We saw Flow Tribe on Saturday for the first time — a great Fender Jazz bass, great warm tone. I appreciate the sound of the bass no matter where it’s coming from, but it’s cool to be on the road and actually see some of these bands play. The bass player for Huey Lewis & The News, his tone was killer, it was an unbelievable sound.”
The Hip Abduction became a full-time venture in 2012, but band members still have other interests. Powers worked for Harvard University’s World Teach in Micronesia for two years, and now teaches two philosophy classes online. “I have to grade some papers today on the road. We all do what we need to do. I teach two classes this summer — one is a social-justice class called ‘Justice: What is the Right Thing to Do?’ And the other is a ‘History of Ideas’ course that focuses predominately on Plato and Aristotle,” he says. “It’s fun, man. It’s part of what I do. It’s completely plausible that I wouldn’t do that and just play with the band, but why? I love doing both of those things.
“The experiences that we have on the road, the people that we meet, impact what I teach as well. It’s always an interesting way to start a conversation with a group of students, saying, ‘Oh, I was just in Dallas,’ and talk about what happened.
“When you’re on the road,” he says, “there’s always a mission.”
The Hip Abduction headlines the final Rhythm & Brews concert of 2016: Thursday, September 15, 7pm, on Main Street in Hendersonville. Big Block Dodge performs at 6pm, and Emily Bodley opens the show at 5pm. Free. downtownhendersonville.org or thehipabduction.com.