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ugly lion wakarusa

Interview Conducted by Erin & Caitlin Jones
Photo Credit: Erin Jones

Talk about a group with shared passion and charisma. We walked in to greet the band, who were all sitting in a cohesive circle in the artist green room at Wakarusa, and the energy we felt from them was charming. They all wore smiles and chimed in on the questions asked. Brandon seems to be the initial motivator in bringing the band together to share the passion for reggae love and the words of wisdom the music can bring to the world. It was a pleasure to interview this group, and watch them live on stage. We would play their records or hang out with these guys anytime. 

How does it feel to be back at Wakarusa?

Kyle Atkinson: Stoked, it’s been a long term goal of ours to get here as we are today.

Kyle Atkinson: Yeah, absolutely. Vibes are much better this year. Everything is a little more relaxed.ugly lion3 wakarusa

What were you new inspirations for the new EP?

Brandon Chustz: It’s like the world as it is now, all the problems we are facing. That’s our main goal, is letting people know what we think.

Any issues in particular?

Brandon Chustz: Global poverty, starvation, biogotry, racism, people trying to kill each other.

Where did Ugly Lion come from?

Kyle Atkinson: Funny story actually, a Rasta came up to me at a grocery store and slapped me on my shoulder and said “Oh, you are ugly like a lion.” So when we started this band we went through a bunch of different names and that was one of the first suggestions I threw out there and it ended up sticking. It was appropriate for the aggressive style.

What were other names you went through?

Brandon Chustz: Oh we don’t want to go through those. Nothing worth mentioning.

Kyle Atkinson: Nothing else fit on the knuckles. (showing both hands)

How does the songwriting process work with you guys?

Kyle Atkinson: Starts with an idea and then (Brandon) takes it and brings it back to us.

Mike McDonald (w i Z a r d): The last two songs came out of the studio. We are recording an acoustic album and our new album and we will just start jamming and then Brandon will off the top of his head start singing stuff, and then say ‘wait, we should be recording this.’

Brandon Chustz: What happens is, I start a progression and they say ‘that’s stupid’ and then we change it for the better.

Kyle Atkinson: It’s definitely a collective effort as far as the whole process.

Paul White: The creative process doesn’t stop we are constantly revising.

Kyle Atkinson: Since these guys have joined we’ve rearranged old tracks we’ve been doing for years. For the better for sure, we like the new music. We’re starting to have a tight band again.

What influenced you to become a part of reggae?

Kyle Atkinson: Reggae changed my life. Me personally, I got into it after I met Brandon. We played percussion separately at different times with our old drummer. When I figured out the message, the roots music, it changed my life. It’s a way of life.

Mike McDonald (w i Z a r d): I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be in a reggae band. I had a little studio and Kyle and Brandon came over to record with the first recruits of Ugly Lion and then they asked if I wanted to put some keys down, and I said, yeah sure, and then Brandon came over with a hard drive and told me to listen to all (of it). Everyone comes from different backgrounds, we’re a reggae band, but I play electronic, they are grunge rock, rock and roll….

ugly lion3 wakarusaPaul White: I was a reggae fan my whole life, I was kicking it in my bedroom. I was Brandon’s neighbor, that’s how I got involved.

Brandon Chustz: Basically I got all yall into Reggae, is what you are telling me.

Mike McDonald (w i Z a r d): Reggae changed my life. Me personally, I got into after I met Brandon. We played percussion separately at different times with our old drummer. When I figured out the message, the roots music, it changed my life. It’s a way of life.

Brandon Chustz: I found a real close link between Rastafarianism and Judaism. And after that I started listening to all these old reggae songs and was like that’s all Old Testament. I hear my rabbi talk about that every week. So it was just so natural for me to think that it’s world music. The message was exactly was I was looking for….I needed it bad.

Mike McDonald (w i Z a r d): For me it’s a really accessible genre to get the message we are talking about at the core really complex and far reaching, but with reggae you can reach a wide audience and make that message really accessible and easy to understand in as few words as possible.

Paul White: The message is just as important as the music, that’s where we are most traditional.

Kyle Atkinson: Sometimes I feel like there are a lot of reggae bands out there that don’t….some might say that we might not be roots reggae music wise, but the message is definitely there. Reggae is the best platform. It’s a way of life. It changed my ideals greatly when I started listening to reggae and learning about Rastafari movement.

Brandon Chustz: It’s church music, it’s gospel, it’s truth.

Who do you plan to see?

Primus, Soja, Split Lip Rayfield, Firtz and the Tantrums, SouLive and Lettuce, Edward Sharpe (everyone talking at once, can’t tell who says what. )

Kyle Atkinson: Pretty much everybody, it’s an amazing lineup.

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