cached copy of:
Document ID: 2265_5997708_1399491013 Item Time: Wed May 07, 2014 19:30 UTCLast Indexed: Mon Aug 15, 2016 03:17 UTCFirst Indexed: Wed May 07, 2014 19:38 UTCSize: 52589 bytes Last http status: 200

Big Mountain rises up again |

Big Mountain rises up again

Veteran San Diego pop-reggae band seeks to expand its musical horizons with new album and tour. The group performs tonight at the Belly Up.

Quino, at right, the co-founder of veteran San Diego pop-reggae band Big Mountain with fellow band member Tim Pacheco. Photo by David Brooks / U-T San Diego DAVID BROOKS / UTSANDIEGO Zuma Press copyright 2014

Is Big Mountain's upcoming new album a case of: "Goodbye, Jamaica, hello, Americana?"

Well, not quite.

But the veteran San Diego pop-reggae band -- which in 1994 scored an international hit with its lilting, island-flavored version of Peter Frampton's "Baby I Love Your Way -- is making a stylistic shift of sorts. Fans here can get a sneak preview when Big Mountain performs tonight, Wednesday, May 7, at the Belly Up.

"It’s going to be a departure from previous Big Mountain albums," said Joaquin “Quino” McWhinney, the band's lead singer and driving force. His son, Jakob, 23, will perform at tonight's Belly Up gig.

"You know, we’re just trying to stay fresh," Qino elaborated. "We’re putting a lot more … after 20 years of trying not to sound American, um, we’ve got a lot of Americana elements in it! A lot of acoustic guitar, lot more rock elements, maybe even a little twang, I guess you could say."

Quino and veteran singer-percussionist Tim Pacheco, one of Big Mountain's newest members, discussed the band's past, present and possible future in a recent edition of "Live from the Fourth Floor," U-T San Diego's ongoing series of music interviews and live music performances.

The duo also performed an infectious new song, "Perfect Summer," that sounds tailor-made for kicking back in the sunshine, no matter how close to (or far from) a beach you may be. Their new album is the 11th by the band, which was largely inactive between 2003 and 2012 and is only now gearing up for a quest to try and reclaim the high profile it enjoyed in its heyday.

"The way we’re attacking things, the way we’re writing and performing, we’re not as sweet as we once were," said Pacheo, a former member of such notable San Diego bands as Wise Monkey Orchestra and Psydecar, which he founded.

"Quino and I have been playing together for over 20 years. He’s a big hero for me, as a musician and songwriter. When we finally got to get together to do stuff, it was so easy that it wasn’t like we talked about anything (ahead of time); we just did it and it came out really nice... Whatever he needs, whatever the song needs, that’s what I’ll do. I’m not going to force myself on his music. Wherever I’m needed, then I’ll be there."

This might have been the perfect cue for Quino and Pacheco to break into a Jackson Five jam, but they didn't, although Quino did later sings a few impromptu bars of "Blue Skies," the Irving Berlin classic from the 1926 musical "Betsy." Quino's pre-Big Mountain band, Shiloh, had recorded a version of "Blue Skies."

"Blue Skies," by coincidence, is also the name of Big Mountain's new album, everywhere but in the United States (although its title track is a band original, not the Berlin-penned chestnut).

Asked what Big Mountain's new album will be titled when it's released here, Quino shook his had grinned.

"We have a group of people that help decide all this stuff for me," he said. "As you can imagine, the name of the album can get kicked around a lot. It's like that with the art work; we’re having trouble deciding exactly what the art work is going to be. But, right now, we’ve been focusing on the live shows, so I hate to be drawing blanks like that for you, but I don't know yet."

Big Mountain's international success as a pop-reggae band in the 1990s led to the band becoming the only reggae band from California to headline Jamaica’s famed Reggae Sunsplash festival.

While the group's potent new album incorporates some American elements, the band's infectious remake of the 1976 Toots & The Maytals' gem, "Reggae Got Soul," suggests Quino and company aren't quite ready to turn in their righteous riddims for flannel shirts, pedal-steel guitars and cowboy boots. It also features a new, very laid-back version of "Baby I Love Your Way," along with Big Mountain's versions of Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay," Carole King's "You've Got a Friend," the bossa nova standard "Girl from Ipanema," and more.

"Of course, it’s hard for us to get away from cover tunes, because we’ve had so much success with them in the past," Quino acknowledged.

"As you might know, and as some of our viewers might know, Toots kind of has a little bit of that folky, country-reggae type of feel. We were really trying to hit that, something that would work with where we’re at in our lives right now, which is we're much more into jamming and, sort of, the whole song/composition thing. I guess you could consider us a pop-reggae band. It was all about songs, we were on a major label back then and (had) a lot of pressure to produce stuff that would be easily accepted by radio.

"It’s just nice not to be in that world any more. It really is. This is going to be our first album, really, that’s not on a major label. We left Warner Bros. – we did three albums with Warners and then we did six albums with a label in Japan. So, it’s a strange feeling, not having A&R directors or executives sitting there being critical of your music. … It’s also a little nerve-wracking! Before, at least you had someone saying:No, we want less of that,’ or`We want more of this’. So it’s been a wonderful experience recording the album over the course of the last year and, um, we're really excited about it. The Toots cover (version) just seemed like the right thing for where we were heading. We really wanted something that had that just folky, organic feel to it."

Quino hope the new Big Mountain album will be released in this country sometime in June. It was funded by fans through a Kickstarter campaign.

"We did a Kickstarter thing a year ago and the funds that we raised in that whole campaign are really what have made it possible for us to be where we are," Quino said. "Albums, you know, they are a lot of work. We’re almost there. We thought we were going to have it done and released by May, but you never book your album release party until the CDs are at the manufacturer.

"We’re releasing the international version right now. We’re going to hold back the U.S. version. The U.S. is a tricky market. Internationally, it’s a lot – it’s not as critical. We have some really strong pockets, all over the world. Here, over the course of the last year, we’ve been kind of learning a lot more about what’s going on, who is touring. I mean, there’s been a lot of catch-up for us because we’ve been taking a break. When you come back into a scene, it takes a while, one, to warm up in the studio. But we’re really excited, very excited about the future, excited about having Tim with us. We’ve got some good tours happening this summer and, you know, we’re just excited about keeping this moving forward."