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Artist Spotlight: Culver City Dub Collective

“Everyone who plays an instrument, they get called by a different instrument,” says Culver City Dub Collective co-founder Adam Topol. “You kind of mess around with different instruments – like a saxophone or a guitar – but at the end of the day, they pick you.”

For Topol, it was the drums that beckoned him to play. He took to the instrument before he had even hit his teens, playing alongside records at his childhood home in Lake Tahoe. He “resisted” formal training at first, but soon relented, eventually making his way to Boston where he attended Berklee College of Music.

“It was very daunting,” says Topol of the experience. “I was just a kid from Lake Tahoe who just played in some clubs and junior college jazz ensembles.”

After his time at Berklee, Topol took part in a music program where he studied in Havana – living with a Cuban family, learning Spanish, and embracing the culture behind Afro-Cuban drumming. Upon his return to the States, Topol drummed alongside musicians like Joey Santiago of the Pixies, folk artist Piers Faccini and Jack Johnson, and recorded a Cuban folkloric album, Ritmo y Canto. Culver City Dub Collective formed after his music partner, guitarist/engineer Franchot Tone, built a recording studio in West Los Angeles.

“We just sat down and listened to a lot of rocksteady and King Tubby and [influential reggae label] Studio One stuff and thought that would be a really cool place to start, just an unobtrusive record that you could put on and enjoy your day by,” says Topol. “We did five songs, an EP, and it grew from there.”

The group released its first full-length release, Dos, in July of 2007. Keeping in mind the collective aspect of the band’s moniker, Topol and Tone brought in a slew of guest musicians, including former Studio One vocalist Winston Jarrett, Beastie Boys collaborator Money Mark, Ben Harper, and Johnson.

“The album is a different experience than a live show,” Topol explains. Onstage Topol, Tone, and their crew prefer to reinterpret the album’s standout pieces, rather than attempt to mimic the recorded renditions. Topol cites the track “Bad Reaction” as an example, noting that on the album, vocalist Jay Malinowski (of Canadian dub group Bedouin Soundclash) performs in a reggae style whereas live vocalist Chris Joyner adds “a more Booker T. and MGs or Ray Charles style to it.”

“When we first started playing the songs, we tried to make them like the record,” Topol says. “Then as we kept playing live, we would change little sections, little arrangements.”

As is common with Jamaican music, Topol’s drums remain at the front of the mix. It is an interesting move for someone whose professional career is best known for projects where the vocals take center stage.

“With Jack [Johnson]’s songs, for example, it’s a lot more like they’re very specific songs with really deep words and they tell a story. The drumming is certainly part of the whole,” says Topol. “With Culver City Dub, especially because a lot of the songs are instrumental, a lot of the storytelling is told by the different instrumentalists.”

The comparative rhythmic freedom Topol has with Culver City Dub Collective seems to suit him well.

“Drums just picked me, for sure,” says Topol of his instrument. “It was meant to be.”

Culver City Dub Collective plays Air Conditioned Supper Club in Venice on January 31.

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