Prior to a friendly batting-cage showdown, Moe Trains Tracks’ Moe and KinG B (Team Exclesior) interview Raul, Trey, Jiro, and Asdru of Ozomatli.
Interview with Ozomatli (Moe Train’s Tracks)
Tre, Raul, Asdru, Jiro (Ozomatli), Monty Wiradilaga, Brian Kracyla
Manchester, TN – Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival
M: We’re sitting backstage with Ozomatli…
R: I’m Raul. I play guitar and sing some songs.
J: My name’s Jiro. I play percussion.
A: Hi, I’m Asdru. I sing some songs and play trumpet and play piano.
J: Yeah, you’re at Bonnaroo!
M: Main stage at Bonnaroo, what were you thoughts, looking out?
R: Yeah, man, it was nice. The last time we played here we were the first band on the main stage and people were barely awake. It was a lot nicer. It’s a great festival.
M: What do you think about playing with all these amazing bands the whole weekend?
R: These festivals are always good for that. You run into, it’s funny, you may know a lot of musicians actually over the years but you never really see each other, except for at spots like this. Now you actually get to see each other, maybe have a moment to check each other’s music out. And I always like to come here and see what’s happening and what’s new that I haven’t seen.
M: Do you guys bounce around to the different shows?
R: No, we haven’t had a chance all day. We’ve been running around.
B: Yeah, sorry we’re making you guys miss B. B. King right now.
R; Yeah, thanks a lot dude.
M: Hey, we can all go over there and just watch it right now if ya want to. Don’t Mess With The Dragon been out for a little while now, how the reception been for the album?
R: I think it’s been cool. The interesting thing about us is that none of our records have been like top of the charts or anything like that but it’s always pushed us into different into different audiences, it’s always helped us grow. So that’s what we do. We’re barely starting to get some new songs together for more recordings and hopefully that’ll start happening soon, ‘cause I’m definitely ready to start doing that.
M: What do you think about album sales versus being culturally-relevant?
A: Album sales is kind of a weird thing nowadays. It’s almost a thing of the past.
R: We don’t really look at it that way because I can name a few bands that don’t need that and they survive just fine without it. We’re a traveling band. We’re a live show.
A: I think what would probably fit us more is having a Vegas show with dancers.
J: Well, selling records is not necessarily longevity. You can be at the top of the charts, be here today and gone tomorrow, you know, and that’s one thing about our band is that we have a live show and so, whether we sell one record or not, we still make a living from that.
M: And have a good time doing it too.
J: Yeah, and having a good time to. We here at Bonnaroo!
M: There’s a lot of shitty bands that sell a hell of a lot of records but are done next year. You’re like, “Who in the fuck was that?!”
J: But don’t get me wrong, we like to sell records! (Laughter) We just don’t.
M: You’re guys show encapsulates a lot of different genres; Reggaeton, Banda, Duranguense. Think about your influences over all those genres…
R: When we first got together it was a bunch of individuals who showed up and we just kinda like, well, what do you know, what do you know? And if you didn’t really know, you just kinda figured it out. As people and as musicians we were just open to different things. I don’t think we’re purists in the sense where we have to play styles exactly traditionally. I think that we respect music enough to learn a little bit about it but we’re open. Wherever we go, wherever we travel, we’re always looking for new music. We’ve taken a lot of trips this year. We’ve been all over from India to Nepal, parts of South America to the Middle East, and we ask the locals what they like, what they listen to. There’s a music called Murga, it’s this African music in South America that I’ve really been into lately. We just get into it. That’s kinda the way it works for us.
M: What’s it sound like?
R: It’s definitely like this Africa carnivale music, but it’s slower. It almost sounds kinda drunk. It’s kinda like…(emulates the sounds of the music). It’s really cool.
M: You guys are into the political movement, your guys music opening doors. You guys were one of the first bands to go into countries and play in Nepal, or play in Timbuktu, or wherever it was…
M: Katmandu, yeah, that’s right! How was it going into those countries and being one of the first?
J: It was great. This past year we have gotten to a lot of cool places that a lot of bands don’t get to travel to, like; Tunisia, Egypt…
M: Indonesia too?
J: Yeah, Indonesia.
M: That’s my background.
J: Oh, cool. Yeah, we were just in Indonesia. We got a chance to play with bands like Slank, who we had never heard of before, and they’re huge there. We got to make a song with them. That’s part of the beauty of traveling the way we do is that we get to meet musicians like that, local musicians, and get to interact like that and get to meet people from all around the world.
M: What was it like to see those hot Indonesian chicks singing your song?
R: It was a song called Can’t Stop and it was a radio contest. The girls who won showed up in these little nursing outfits…
J: It looked like something out of Speed Racer, it was a trip.
A: It was really cool man. It was an honor for them to learn the song and actually sing it.
M: I was pretty impressed. I was heard the song and I was like, wow, they’re singing this really well. Then I sent him (gesturing to B) the video of it and was like, see, there’s hot Indonesian chicks.
B: Wait, I never said that there wasn’t hot Indonesian chicks, don’t pigeonhole me like that! (Laughter)
M: Your writing process, it’s gotta be pretty crazy. You guys have had so many members of your band, all those influences like you say, you’re drawn from so many different angles, how in the hell do you guys finish a song?
R: It is a long process for us because I think people need to feel connected to it. When you bring in music it has to inspire everybody else. That’s kinda that songs that get picked to record, the ones where everybody looks at each other and says. “Oh, yeah yeah, I get it.” The ones that half of the people say, “Ah, I don’t like it” and half of the people say they do, it’s just not worth the battle. So we say, okay let’s pick something else.
B: So, you’re approaching thirteen years now, are you guys sick of each other yet?
R: We love each other. It’s like we’re family. You know, there’s ups and downs all the time but we are totally committed.
A: Well, it’s nice that some of us live really so away from each other. So we don’t have to visit each other or ride in a cab together.
B: Oh, you guys don’t picnic together every Sunday when you’re not touring?
A: No, we all have our own lives. The three of us are dads here. You see us, it’s kinda crazy.
R: You see the person you work with more than you see your lady at home, that gets weird.
B: Yeah, the wifey’s not too happy with me being down here with him (gesturing to Moe) all the time either but…
R: But you do what you gotta do!
M: I’m single. I get to go places, he’s (makes whip sound). Nah, it’s not bad.
B: Alright, rather than asking you guys questions about yourselves, I want to get your guys opinions of each other. Asdru, why don’t you tell me a little bit about Jiro.
A: Jiro is probably one of the sexiest guys in the band. I think that, if I went that way, I wouldn’t mind.
B: (to Jiro) How do you feel about that? You guys have to share a bus together.
J: Hey man…
B: Jiro, tell me a little bit about Raul.
J: Raul is hurting right now. He’s burning up, but he’s a trooper because he’s out there doing it no matter what. That’s a little inside… see he went running the other day, running right through a patch… see he was on a roll, he was like, “I’m running as far as I can today!”, and we were at a festival in Kansas and he went through the woods and I think he was taking a leak or a crap or something, came back with a little rash. (all laugh) That’s what he tells us at least. It looks like it’s true.
B: If it has three leaves, don’t squat near it!
R: Dude, the truth is, I am hurting. And I am a trooper!
M: Yeah, I saw you walking over pretty gingerly. I was like, what’s a matter, did he fall off the stage or something.
B: I think it was you (gesturing to Asdru) that I heard doing a little acapella when I was walking by earlier. Do you guys do anything like that in the back, any specific acapellas or something like that, that you guys do to warm-up?
A: We should! All these years, you’d think that we’d learn that that we be a good thing to do. But no, we don’t. Maybe as individuals we do, but not as a group.
J: Check us out next week, we’ll see what happens.
R: Yeah, we’re a regular barbershop quartet before we go on stage!
A: I prefer warming up voice then warming up my trumpet, even though I should be on my horn a little more. It works out somehow. If everyone else worked out enough of their stuff then we would sound great. I think we could sound better, we always could.
M: Saw you guys playing on Dancing With The Stars.
A: That was hot, that was dope. I learned two things. Number one, I’m not in shape. I mean these people were like amazing. And number two, I don’t know how to dance. Nobody in the band can dance compared to these people. I got to give it up, there was this one couple that came in who were guests and they were these champions, and I saw this dude, he started from the floor, she was lying on top of him, and with one arm he got up on one knee and with a fluid motion stood all the way up and stretched her out into the sky.
J: I can do that.
A: No, the way that he did it, nobody can do that shit. I can throw somebody but I don’t think I could do it as graceful as this cat did.
M: Was it weird being in that situation where you guys were on TV with people dancing?
R: It turned out way better than I thought. At first I was like, that’s corny, but then we were there and everyone was really nice. The other half of the band said there’s twenty million people who watch it. I said, okay then, I guess we’re gonna do this. It was cool. It was totally like the magic of TV. The stage set itself, it doesn’t look really nice, there’s kinda these bleachers, but on TV, you see it on the camera, it looks awesome! And the great thing is all these musicians, there’s all these bad-ass musicians from L.A. who are on so many records. It was kinda cool to be hanging with them all day.
M: I wanna know how in the hell you guys kept your concentration with all those hot girls shaking their asses right there in front of you?
A: The twenty million people watching was kind of a big motivator.
R: Yeah, if you fuck up, these twenty million people are gonna be like, “What did you do?!”
B: It’s definitely not like you guys weren’t having fun up there. You stand up, you’re doing kicks back and forth, you’re just partying. It really comes through that you guys really like what you’re doing up there. I’d have to say that you guys had the most fun, more than any other band I’ve seen so far (at Bonnaroo).
R: We always do. We play this stage, we play the small stage afterwards. We’re just having a good time. We’re playing music, it’s not brain surgery, we’re not digging ditches, and there’s people here to enjoy themselves. We’re very happy that we get to do this for our lives.
B: I must be the only guy, probably on this farm, who didn’t know who Beetle Bob was…
J: And now you do.
B: That was awesome that you guys gave him a shout and had him come out.
J: He’s funny.
B: He said he’s seen like 50,000 shows!
J: He’s from St. Louis and he’s… I don’t know if anomaly is the right word… he’s kind of a thing all to himself.
M: He’s an amorphous being.
J: He’s just a lover of music. He comes out to all our shows, so we give him props.
M: Asdru, you say, facial hair and a beard is a key to success! (Laughter) First of all, how stoned were you when you made that video?
A: Oh, you saw that. It’s funny, I wasn’t stoned, I was actually…
M: Tired, delirious?
A: No, I actually was really depressed at that point there, I was in Jakarta (Indonesia) and I had too much time to kill. So I started listening to all the classics and I came across Michael McDonald. Then I started watching this old podcast, I guess they got a cease and desist order at some point, and it was just a whole spoof on how smooth music came around. They all had this facial thing going! Like Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, they had that really cool facial hair, the Bee-Gees.
M: So you tried to grow a big massive one or what?
A: Well, I tried but then I started looking kinda funky and my wife said, “You gotta cut that shit.”
M: How am I doing?
A: You’re doing great. See, that’s Kenny Loggins right there! But that was the thing, because I realized that all these cats, like the Beach Boys, the Beatles…
M: So how’s got the best beard at this festival? Willie Nelson, probably.
M: Anybody else?
A: B. B. King. I like his, it’s classic.
J: Yeah, he’s got facial hair, but it’s on his back! (Laughter)
A: It comes in a V-neck.
M: Raul, I was gonna bring my German Shepherd to the interview but…
R: Ha. Yeah, he’s (Moe) watched all the videos. Yeah, I got bit when I was a kid by a big ass German Shepherd and ever since then I’ve always been freaked out by dogs. I’ve had to learn how to really chill out around them. I’m learning.
B: You guys are, right now, in your longest tenure with a label. How’s that relationship?
How does it compare to Interscope?
J: Oh, it’s much better. What happened with Interscope is that we kind of fell into them. Our first label was Almo Sounds. Jerry Moss and Herb Alpert kind of got out of the business and in doing so we kinda got folded into Interscope. With them we were kind of a round peg in a square hole. We didn’t really fit into that machine really, along with September 11th and a bunch of other excuses, so we got dropped by them and got picked up by Concord. Concord is music lovers, they just bought Vanguard, Stax, all these classic catalogs. They give us space and let us make our music. They give us suggestions and stuff but they’re not like, “Where’s the hit?!” They’re not like that. They say, “We love this record and we’re gonna put it out.”
M: I know you guys recorded for the Dodgers…
J: We took a song of ours that they actually liked, they came to us, they were like, “We like the song but can you change it into more of a Dodger theme?” So we changed the song Magnolia Soul into Go Dodgers Go! (Laughter)
M: But you’re wearing a Yankees shirt!
J: Oh, this isn’t the baseball team, this represents being American more.
R: A yankee go home kinda thing. (Laughter)
M: Hey, we’re yankees.
J: They asked us to put it out there and they’re playing it this season.
M: Awesome. I don’t know if Brian told you guys about our plans but we’re gonna take you guys over to the batting cages and we’re gonna challenge you guys, Ozomatli versus the Excelsior crew, to a hitting contest.
J: Aw shit!
R: A hitting of what, baseball?
M: It depends! Either way, we can go a couple of rounds! Let’s do it.
At the batting cage:
R: I used to play when I was a kid. My father was a coach. I played all the way up into high school. But I never really practice or anything. I was good, but I haven’t really played since then. I haven’t really swung a bat since last time I was here probably, which was like two years ago.
B: Trey, let me talk to ya for a sec dude.
T: Alright, cool, let’s do this.
B: You need to get some mic time. Gimme a prediction about how Asdru’s gonna do (in the batting cage). He’s taking it pretty seriously!
T: I know, he really focused!
B: He’s dialed in.
T: This is crazy. I’ve never seen him this focused about sports!
B: So, Trey, how did you get involved with Ozomatli?
T: I was actually hanging out with G. Love, of G. Love and the Special Sauce, and he was like, “Yo, Trey, why don’t you come and jump on stage with me.” So I went and I got up on stage with him and Ozo was there and they were like, “Yo, man, why don’t you jump up with us.” I was like, alright, cool. So, I jumped up on stage with them.
B: So what did you do, did you freestyle? Did you have a couple of things in your pocket?
T: I had some rhymes to share so I said I’d do it. So we did that and then the next day they were like, “Yo, why don’t you come with us to Santa Barbara?” I was like, fuck, alright, cool. On that day they were like, “Well, hey, what are you doing? Cuz we might need a MC to travel.” I was like, I’m not doing too much of anything, so if you want me to travel, yeah no problem, now’s a good time. So that’s how it turned out. It’s pretty awesome.