The LA artist and Jamaican reggae legends recount memories and lessons learnt during the making of their collaborative album 'Icon Give Thank'.
Cameron Stallones, aka Sun Araw, and bandmate Mark ‘Ged’ Geddes Gengras are in Denver, Colorado. They’ve just taken a trip across the desert from New Mexico, where a glitch with the drum machine has culminated in a last-minute repair job and time out to chat on the phone, while they wait. It’s just one of the perks of life as a touring musician.
“Yeah, it’s pretty rough, man,” Cameron laughs, having picked up where he left off four hours earlier, when we lost a phone network connection somewhere in the desert.
“Life’s a trip but it’s heavy too. I just quit my job I’d been working full time for a while, finally. So I’ve been saying yes to everything out of financial needs and also just because I finally can. But it’s a lot of work. We’re on the road for another few weeks here and then I’m flying all over the place the next month.”
“The whole thing was shrouded in mystery, like all things are. Communication is spotty internationally and it’s a totally different mode of being down there.” Sun Araw
There’s reason Sun Araw has more touring to come. The release of the highly anticipated ninth volume of RVNG Intl.‘s collaborative FRKWYS 12” series, ‘Icon Give Thank’, features Cameron’s live collaborator and friend Ged and, most notably, 70s reggae roots icons The Congos. There have already been a number of innovative configurations including Blues Control and Laraaji for Volume 8, as well as David Borden, Daniel Lopatin, Laurel Halo, James Ferraro and Samuel Godin together before that on Vol 7. This one promises to be an even more original and exciting an alliance and Cameron can’t even really explain how it happened.
“I just made a super long list. Matt [Werth, RVNG Intl. boss] scoped it out and we talked about it. The people on the list included The Congos but it didn’t seem remotely possible. His vibe is like ‘anything you can think of, let’s go for it’ and he happened to know somebody who had just been down to Jamaica. By happenstance they ran into them and had their contact details. So Matt hit them up and they were kind of into the idea. As far as I know that’s how it went down.”
It’s two years since that idea. What has come of it is two trips to Jamaica: one nine-day stint recording with The Congos and another as a “family gathering and meeting of minds” a year later. The outcome is a surge of fragmented dub beats immersed in the desert psychedelia from Cameron and Ged’s ‘New Weird Californian’ foundations. The famous falsetto and baritone harmonies of The Congos resonate through a seam of boundless energy. Misshapen synth lines and jerky signals give tracks like Food Clothing and Shelter and Thanks and Praise a sense of elasticity in ways both familiar and strange, echoing a collaborative relationship that is equally strange and amorphous.
“The whole thing was shrouded in mystery, like all things are,” says Cameron about the lead up to his first meeting with reggae idol Ashanti Roy and company. “Communication is spotty internationally and it’s a totally different mode of being down there. We had some ideas and tried to get information, figure out a strategy of how to make the record and how it was going to be but it didn’t work out that way, which is great because that’s how the universe is.”
“We had some ideas and tried to figure out a strategy of how to make the record but it didn’t work out that way, which is great because that’s how the universe is.” Sun Araw
With so little prior knowledge of their situation, Cameron, like most things insecure and unforeseeable in the life and times of the modern artist, just let it take its course. “What ended up happening was we went down there and brought as much equipment as we could, based on what they told us they had, and it worked out that we would make all the music and they’d do all the vocals. So we just set to work immediately.” Now on the other side of that experience Cameron has no regrets, and he and Ged have returned to tireless touring and live performance.
A trailer for Icon Eye, a film made about the making of the album
Just outside of Kingston, The Congos’ Ashanti Roy is at home at ‘DI CONGOS H.Q.’ in the town of Portmore, warmly receiving cold calls from journalists and sharing his thoughts about his experience with Sun Araw in laconic, ambiguous sentences, delivered in a thick, at times impenetrable, Jamaican accent.
“They learn a lot from The Congos. But their type of music is new to us, you know. But I like it.” Ashanti Roy, The Congos
“They learn a lot from The Congos,” Ashanti says about Cameron and Ged. “But their type of music that they play is new to us, you know. We are like reggae artists. Their style is more like some new type of sounds they’re creating. But I like it,” Ashanti offers gently, while asking, “Cameron is the guy who play the music, right?”
“Those guys are in touch,” Cameron counters, across time and space from his Colorado pit stop a day earlier, “Music is a jobless endeavour for them. They’re completely in touch with the root and source and are clinging to it in a way that is really meaningful and making music about it that is really celebratory of that present-mindedness, just because they understand.”
Staying ‘present’ is something that is a major preoccupation of Cameron’s. If he isn’t exploring the restrictive nature of modern Western concepts of time, he’s contemplating the joy and intensity of a life lived rather than planned.
“Music is a jobless endeavour for [The Congos]. They’re completely in touch with the root and source.” Sun Araw
“Travelling and the experiences of touring in general, it’s such an instructive and magical thing,” he says about the transient existence of the itinerant traveller. “I don’t know what people think about it but a lot of times people will be like, ‘oh man, you’re travelling, it’s amazing’. And it is, it’s completely amazing but it’s also really hard. I’m sleeping on floors every night. I lost my pillow a week ago and I’ve been rolling up a sweatshirt. It’s not comfy.”
“There’s a lot of adversity. I’ve been rushed into town right now in a panic to try to get this drum machine fixed before the show tonight. But also, when you open yourself to it, the lessons are all there. It’s about learning to stand in power, to not let issues push you but learning to stand in their midst. I find it really helpful for living and it’s the only thing I enjoy doing this much.”