As a founding member of the Vermont-born, Boulder-based the Samples, Jeep MacNichol saw his share of patchouli-soaked fans. The Samples sold millions of units in the late 80’s and early 90’s based on relentless touring and truly grassroots show-by-show album sales.
MacNichol’s reggae-influenced drumming propelled the Samples’ pop-hybrid sound, a driving factor of their early popularity, and a formula successfully employed by younger bands such as O.A.R. Their popularity was such that the Samples toured alongside Phish and Widespread Panic and hosted such flash-in-the-pan opening acts as the Dave Matthews Band.
A handful of years after leaving the Samples, MacNichol embraced Jah by journeying to Jamaica to collaborate with preeminent reggae artists like Sly and Robbie. Those sessions became his first recording under the pseudonym Mr. Anonymous. The eponymous first release and 2009’s Mr. Anonymous 2 feature a bevy of reggae guest stars and a signature studio-knob-twiddling-sound.
MacNichol recently announced on his blog that both albums are available for free download.
After the jump, City Paper speaks with MacNichol about his career and his music.
Washington City Paper: Mr. Anonymous is mostly a studio animal. Do you miss touring? Do you do any live gigging?
Jeep McNichol: It is a studio animal but we do perform live and are planning on doing some touring this year. The way we do it live is with me on drums and my DJ/co-producer Ben Bussard on turntables. It is presented as kind of a live dub sound system, and sometimes we bring a singer with us and sometimes just the two of us. I approach the music, drumming-wise, as kind of a dub-meets-ministry vibe with a lot of tribal beats on toms to augment what the DJ is doing.
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“Good Vibe” – Mr. Anonymous
WCP: Mr. Anonymous 2 sounds like it has an added layer of studio craft than your first release. Was that intentional?
JM: The sound of Mr. Anonymous 2 is a huge step above the first album in terms of experimenting and pushing the limits of the music…and it WAS intentional in the sense of me working with Ben. He has an approach to everything he does as a live DJ (DJ Psychonaut) and as a producer (21 Dread) that is like nobody else I have heard… and I feel like he and I have the same ear for trippiness and psychedelia and “less is more”. His biggest asset as a mixer, first and foremost, is that he hears the beauty in the “song” and vibes off of that more than anything. My vibe on the Mr. Anonymous music is that it has to leave you with a feeling, kind of like watching a classic movie or looking at a beautiful painting and seeing new images every time you see it….and Ben steers the mixes with that same vibe!
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“Senegal to Jupiter” – Mr. Anonymous 2
WCP: So why reggae or dub? Why not find influence, say, in Stax or the punk movement?
JM: Reggae and dub have always been my favorite music. The vocals, drumming, etc…I love it all…and before that old R&B like Stevie Wonder, Zapp, and The Gap Band. The first album I ever bought was Talking Book by Stevie Wonder. I do listen to Minor Threat and Husker Du though…I would love to do a project with Bob Mould or Ian McKaye down the road…maybe Mr. Anonymous 7 will be a punk collaboration. I don’t have any preconceived limits on anything musically. I like to flow with what feels good to me at the time and the reggae sound has ALWAYS made me feel good!
WCP: You’ve written and spoken about working with reggae legends like Sly and Robbie. What’s something about working with a collaborator that surprised you?
JM: My biggest surprise was working with Ranking Roger from The English Beat. I went to Birmingham to do the tracks with him and instantly we felt like we were best buddies with the same views and taste for music and everything. We drank coffee, ate curries, and went to record stores and hung out for a couple days just as friends before we even did the first song…It felt like hanging with an old buddy from 3rd grade playing with G.I. Joes with Kung Fu Grip. He and I are planning on doing more music together for sure, and I’m in the midst of organizing a west coast tour with him as the singer…It was a pleasant surprise linking up with him.
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“Mr. Anonymous” – Mr. Anonymous
WCP: Do you still have people who recognize you or contact you from the Samples?
JM: I do get emails from Samples fans for sure, and I’ve recently been reaching out to a lot of those folks. A lot of Mr. Anonymous fans remember me from my drumming days in that band, so it’s cool for me to still keep in touch, especially since I’m back on the drum throne when I play live. As far as walking down the street getting recognized I would say no. I’m actually opening for the “new” Samples in September down in Denver which will be fun because I can share my new vibe as a drummer and musician to a lot of folks who think I’ve disappeared over the last 10 years.
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“Little Silver Ring” – The Samples
WCP: Do you look at the success a band like O.A.R has had and think the Samples were ahead of their time?
JM: I don’t know much about O.A.R. but I have heard the name…I assume they are kind of a jam band..? As far as The Samples, I don’t feel like we were ahead of our time necessarily. I think we started up with an original sound for sure. We were always linked in with the “jam” bands, but we had more of a pop sensibility with the songs. We also brought in a lot of world, ska, punk and reggae elements to the music. The biggest difference to me was that we were more of a non “noodling guitar solo” band than some of our cohorts at the time like Widespread Panic, Phish, etc….so maybe in that sense we inspired similar vibes that followed us.
WCP: You’ve got a regular spot DJing for a Boulder radio station. A look at your playlists shows a heavy dose of reggae. Is there a non-reggae band/ artist that you’re enjoying listening to?
JM: As far as my music taste, I am very seasonal with what I listen to. I am a huge fan of jazz and bebop in particular, so I tend to listen to a lot of Miles Davis
, John Coltrane
, etc. in the fall and winter months…I also LOVE the band Sugar
(Bob Mould’s former power pop band) and hip-hop like Tribe Called Quest
, the fantastic new Mos Def
, and some new dancehall artists.
WCP: What’s your take on the current state of reggae music? Do you get a chance to listen to what the Easy Star All Stars are doing with their tribute albums?
JM: Yeah I like the Easy Star stuff for sure. As far as the current state of reggae music and dancehall in particular, I think there are a lot of hugely talented singers with amazing skills…Sean Paul has some SERIOUS skills along with Beenie Man, Buju Banton, etc. My biggest complaint with a lot of it though is the music behind what they are doing. I feel the same way with hip-hop in this country. This is partially why I do what I do with Mr. Anonymous because I try to showcase that vocal talent in a different context with melody and depth. Some of the grooves coming out of Jamaica are slamming for sure but a lot of them for me get a little boring and redundant, at least for my taste. I hate saying anything is good or bad when it comes to music because it’s all just art and as long as even one person enjoys it, that’s everything!