It’s hard to write about reggae bands without acknowledging the fact that reggae music, a genre firmly rooted in the Jamaican culture, carries with it the associated stigma of dreadlocks, red, yellow and green, and, of course, marijuana. These things aren’t bad, but in the American mainstream music scene, where tradition gets thrown by the wayside to make room for the “next big thing,” it makes it difficult for rising reggae acts to make a splash in the vast pool of musical culture.
The genre is very much alive, and thanks to weekly residencies like Bull’s Tavern’s latest installment of Good Vibes Thursday, organized by Elusive Groove’s Brett Bolejack, it’s probably not going to take a desperate reach for life support to maintain popularity in the area.
In its adolescence, Bolejack has tapped Myrtle Beach’s Treehouse, a reggae trio that has been maintaining a steady touring regimen that allows the three lifelong friends to focus on honing their craft.
“If we are going to put any energy into [music], we might as well put it all in there,” said Jeremy Andrews, vocalist and guitarist for the six-year-old band.
Andrews takes control of the vocals in front of bassists Matt Link and drummer/ percussionist Trey Moody, both of whom he has known for nearly all of his life. Whereas the three friends were once playing in other bands (Andrews and Link once played in a power-core band called First Degree Burnouts while Link was maintaining the beat in Shatter Resistant), the trio came together through open jam sessions in their hometown of North Myrtle Beach and Treehouse was born.
“What we do now is what we call reggae-jam-rock,” Andrews said. “I think we still have a healthy element of rock in that, and it’s an element that still plays a part in what we do … We took all those styles into what we are doing now, and still exploring what we can do.”
In that exploration, Treehouse has grown into a full-time act focusing on touring the eastern seaboard, as well as inland, spreading a message through their music.
“I think marijuana played a big part in that shift — it’s really hard to play hard rock and metal when all you want to do is get a little more stoned,” Andrews said.
Andrews’ first time smoking pot was at the age of 13, and the location of this first session was actually his treehouse (and now it all comes together). Having acquired a small bag, Andrews and some friends played the age-old game of “Hey Mister” outside of a gas station and got someone to buy them a blunt wrap.
“It was definitely a rag-tag-Frankenstien,” Andrew laughed, nodding to the amateur twisting job of the first blunt — a life-changing moment perhaps.
Moody’s first time was a little later in life at the age of 16, but the first time was not very memorable.
And Link’s first time was right around the age of 16, too. “I had a bunch of friends and all of us — none of us smoked weed ever — got a quarter bag,” he said. “It was a little arts and crafts day trying to roll joints.”
“Yes, we all smoke marijuana, but we don’t scream it at people,” Andrews said. “But we are all definitely advocates for legalization. It’s our right to exercise, in our opinion.”
Unfortunately for Treehouse, marijuana is still very much illegal in South Carolina, something that the act feels is a pointless waste of money.
“We’ve had some unfortunate run-ins with the law with officers talking down to us, like we are immoral or something. It’s degrading,” Andrews said. He went onto explain that he believes it (the use of marijuana) is one of our civil rights.
“There’s been a lot of state money that’s gone toward propaganda ads, and that’s a lot of money people are spending on bullshit,” he added. “It’s ingrained in a lot of people’s minds out here that it’s wrong. It’s a money thing, and they can’t make money off it.”
That doesn’t necessarily stop the band from writing songs about it. The acts latest album, Lifted, features a track called “Irie Smiles,” the first word taken from Jamaican Patois meaning “powerful and pleasing.” It’s also commonly used in reference to smoking weed and the culture of burning sacramental cannabis.
“Wildman Rastafari” is another track, and although the trio doesn’t hail from Jamaica, and whose barrier of entry into the culture could most likely be traced back to the likes of bands such as Slightly Stoopid, Sublime, and other acts that have boosted the skank guitar sounds into the spotlight, their music spreads a positive message.
So, when the act comes to the Triad, a geographic region Treehouse tries to make it to at least three times per year, they will only strengthen the clout of reggae music becoming a staple in cities across the country.
“We believe it’s a strong scene on the east coast,” Andrews said, adding that it’s important for bands to stick together, work together, and use all resources available to build the scenes, nodding to the fact that they were tapped for Good Vibes Thursday thanks to connections built over the years.
At the end of the day, though, marijuana is illegal. But the music isn’t, and if spreading the seed of awareness through their music slowly changes the stigma associated with pot smokers and the genre of reggae, then it’s only a good thing that Tre ehouse is expending so much energy to carve its way into the annals of change.