Why Diplo Fell For the Frightnrs' Take on Seventies Reggae Rhythms

The Frightnrs
The Frightnrs
Photo by Mackenzie Greer

There is a song called “Which Way” on the Frightnrs' debut EP, Inna Lovers Quarrel, that has a falsetto vocal that is pure Junior Murvin, the late rocksteady great who sang the iconic “Police and Thieves.” “Which Way” has that classic windswept rocksteady beat and the sweet high call that takes the ear straight to Jamaica in the early Seventies. As Diplo — whose usually EDM-stocked Mad Decent label is releasing the Frightnrs' EP digitally this month — put it, “If you close your eyes, you get transported to Kingston, Jamaica, 1971."

The Frightnrs, a four-piece whose members are based in Queens, Brooklyn, and out on Long Island, have never been to Jamaica. But Chuck Patel, who plays organ and piano, and his brother Preet, the band’s bassist, did once live in Jamaica, Queens. “Eventually we’ll go,” he says from his home in Kew Gardens. He and Preet, along with Frightnrs singer Dan Klein and drummer Rich Terrana, had just finished rehearsal for the EP release gig at Swing-a-Ling, an all-day vintage-reggae event at Pioneer Works this weekend. “I’ve researched so much about Jamaican artists. I’ve got books and books on different ska artists. There were so many different types of music from ska, soul ballads, rocksteady, and reggae — so many great things.”

Like many kids, Patel first discovered Jamaican music via California’s Nineties third wave of ska, the crest that brought Sublime and No Doubt into mainstream rock and pop — but not before he’d ingested a lot of different music. “I was just a big music fan, and I’d dig around a lot. I got into Sixties garage rock like the Zombies and the Animals, and also the Beach Boys,” he says. “At the same time I got into Rancid and those kind of bands who were around when I was growing up. Eventually, I discovered the Californian ska scene, but ska music is different here, it’s watered down.”

Then he found the real thing. Patel continued digging and digging and found more and more great music. “Rocksteady and reggae parties started happening in Brooklyn. Record collectors would play their records and some bands would play,” he said of the underground sound system scene. The more he dug into the roots, the more he knew what he wanted his band to sound like: pure, authentic old-school rocksteady. It’s a refreshing sound in a digitally manipulated, tricked-out musical era.

A big boost in creating their sound profile was hooking up with producer Victor "Ticklah" Axelrod, a founding member of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra, and the Easy Star All-Stars who contributed to the legendary Dub Side of the Moon album. Aside from this month’s EP release, earlier this summer saw a vinyl-only single release of the Frightnrs' ska cover of Etta James's “I’d Rather Go Blind” on Daptone Records.

“We pride ourselves in playing the music how it was played in the Sixties and Seventies. We try to play our instruments and really listen to what we’re playing. Our producer, Victor, really helped us as a band — because no one in the band is a trained musician, it’s kind of like we’re playing along to this music we’ve heard and tying it all together. We play off our own vibes, really.”

Recording to analog tape, not digitally, and doing it live as a band also helped achieve the warm vintage sound. “We record to real tape and record bass, drums, and guitar at the same time. We do some overdubs later, some guitar and percussion, too. We just try to mock what they did so that it sounds authentic,” Patel says, referring to his rocksteady forebears.

But playing it straight means being ripe for reinvention and manipulation, and the EP includes a jungle/dub remix of their song “Admiration” from English producers Cadenza and Toddla T. The Frightnrs aren’t opposed to remixes by other artists but, overall, they want to concentrate on their classic sound. “The goal is to sound super timeless. We almost don’t want people to think they are listening to a record from today. We want people to think, 'Wow, this is a record I never heard from the Seventies.' "

As for the band’s exceptionally cool name, it’s not inspired by the dubious 1996 movie starring Michael J. Fox (The Frighteners), but by street lingo from across the pond. In London, it’s a typical East End gangland threat to “put the frighteners” on someone, meaning send the heavies 'round for some not-so-gentle persuasion.

“I’ve always wanted to use that as a band name,” Patel giggles. “I loved that English ska band the Specials. They had this whole creepy vibe. They did black-and-white videos and had that song 'Ghost Town.' I fell in love with all that stuff. But most of the songs we write are love songs." He laughs. "I like the whole aesthetic of the heavy name and then people hear that we just write love songs.”

The Frightnrs play August 16 at Pioneer Works. For ticket information, click here.

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Pioneer Works

159 Pioneer St.
New York, NY 11231



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