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Down From The Mountain: Kevin Kinsella on Great Design

Photography by Jeffrey Foote

Kevin Kinsella’s passionate but laid-back character is apparent from the beginning, as he steps out of his home studio to discuss his album Great Design, his third solo album and one of many in the musician’s catalogue of reggae and folk. As one of the founding members of John Brown’s Body and a singer and player in 10 ft. Ganja Plant, Kevin is not only a great musician, but also a music historian. All his knowledge, love of music, and range of influences is apparent on Great Design, but it’s when you meet the man behind the music that you more fully understand its contents.

I’ve loved your music from the beginning. I had been into Culture and was learning Marley, and then my friend played me John Brown’s Body. I was like, reggae isn’t just out of Jamaica anymore.

Reggae is a powerful force that went to the four corners of the earth and I’m one of those people where the seed fell on some fertile soil. That was a very long time ago, for me. I had a band called The Tribulations before John Brown’s Body, with Elliot [Martin], Tommy [Benedetti], Josh [Newman], and Lee Hamilton. We played reggae for a long time. We love it. It’s a spiritual calling. It’s because of dudes like Joseph Hill, to be honest. Seeing him in 1989, checking out Two Sevens Clash on Shanachie- that was one of the first LPs I ever had. I’d just sit on my bed and meditate and listen and play it twice, or three times. My brother would come in and say, “Are you going to play that record again,” and I was like, “Yes, I’m going to play that record again!” (laughs)

Years later, we got signed to Shanachie, maybe ten years later, so that was a dream come true for me at the time. Shanachie Records is a big part of the American reggae scene, distribution and import. They had a distribution deal back in the day, so then we got all these Scientist records, Eek-A-Mouse records, Yabby You records. It was a big label for us.

Kevin Kinsella | Itown is Gorges

All Time was on my record label, I-Town. And then we put out Among Them on I-Town, and that’s what got us signed to Shanachie. I went to that meeting and met Randal Grass; I mean, I read his liner notes for Two Sevens Clash. It was an honor to meet him and say, “Hey, you were in my life before I met you.” It was cool from the get-go.

I’m also a big fan of Winston Rodney. I could go on and on. I esteem them so much, and like, they’re just people like you or I, and they know that too, but it’s just like the vibe is awesome. But the world is affected by this and reacts to this, for what, sort of like, forty years now. I’m just one generation, and now there’re new bands out there. Every day a new reggae band from America starts up. It’s a very big thing, starting with SoJa, to Rebelution, Groundation, Tribal Seeds. The list goes on: Slightly Stoopid, Sublime, that whole tree… The Aggrolites… (Laughs). I don’t want to leave anybody out!

You get my drift. Back in the day there wasn’t such a plethora of this generation of reggae music: Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad, you know, I mean, there’s so many. Back in the day, when we were doing it, it wasn’t like that. There were bands like Bahama Mama, which became The Majetics; there was The Killer Bees. That was one era. So much good reggae.


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