Brooklyn’s Dr. Israel emerged onto the music scene in the mid-Nineties amongst the dub label Wordsound, with the help of Bill Laswell, his Greenpoint Studio, and the ability to construct a unique sound after taking a spiritual journey to Jamaica. BTR hooked up with Dr. Israel to see exactly how his journey helped him grow into the artist he is today.
BTR: When did you begin performing under the name Dr. Israel? What is the significance of the name?
Dr. Israel: Around 1996 I took a spiritual pilgrimage to Jamaica, and was given the name Israel by elders at a Nyabingi compound in Scotch Pass. I already had the nickname “doctor” because, at the time, I was mixing a lot of records for the New York dub label Wordsound. I did my first solo record 7-tales of Israel for Wordsound soon after my return from Jamaica, and was trying to figure out what I should use as an artist name. When I told Skiz, the owner of Wordsound about my trip to Jamaica, he said that’s it, your Doctor Israel. I guess it just kind of stuck.
BTR: As a Brooklyn artist, what influenced you to begin performing Dub music?
Dr. Israel: I think that at that same time, around 1996, a lot of us in Brooklyn were really interested in doing something different. We were all influenced by hip hop, but didn’t really have a desire to create hip hop; other people were doing that. We wanted to do something dark, serious, political, and subversive, and dub just made sense. Also, at the time, Bill Laswell had his studio in Greenpoint, just north of where we were in Williamsburg. He ended up being a big influence, and a big help, so that was a factor as well. Also, for me, I grew up with reggae, and hardcore as well, so dub seemed like a natural way to fuse a lot of the elements that I wanted to see in my music. It’s important to remember that a lot of the dub stuff that came out of Brooklyn at the time had a different flavor from the European, and older Jamaican stuff. It had a more hip hop aesthetic.
BTR: Your sound fuses many genres together. What do you think causes this?
Dr. Israel: Music is just music. Major record labels and big corporate radio invented the idea of genre, because they think it makes music easier to sell, but in reality musicians just play music. There isn’t really a kind of music; there’s just music. If you really look at genre titles, they start to come apart, and sound ridiculous. For example the term “world music” – what does that mean? There’s a world, and people in it play music…
BTR: In 1999 you released Inna City Pressure, sold 10,000 copies, topped the CMJ charts and toured. After all that success, what was it like to make a follow-up album?
Dr. Israel: Well, actually at the time I had made two records; one was Inna City Pressure, which got a lot of recognition, and the other was Next Step, which got very little, but I think was a great record as well. Inna City Pressure was on a label that had some money, a staff, a budget for promotion, and Next Step wasn’t, so…
I’ve done a lot of recording since then; some records that very few people have heard of and others that have had some great success on radio, et cetera. In all honesty, Inna City Pressure was a certain ‘idea’, and I haven’t made a follow-up album to that ‘idea’ yet. Instead I’ve chosen to explore some other ideas. For example, Patterns of War was very successful as well, maybe a little bit more successful on the the radio, but it was a totally different idea. I’m actually working on the follow up to the Inna City Pressure idea currently.
BTR: Inna City Pressure was re-released in 2005 right before Patterns of War was introduced to the world. Tell me about this time period…
Dr. Israel: Well it was an interesting time. With Inna City Pressure, the record label at the time went out of business, while I was on the road, and when I got back I ended up being pretty disillusioned with the music business. I also had a bunch of nightmare experiences with managers, booking agents, band mates, et cetera, so by 2001/2002 I was in a pretty dark place.
I think I responded by touring extensively, and really trying to do deals with small underground labels. Around 2005 I started to do a bunch of work with Bill Laswell, and he made an introduction to ROIR. It seemed like it made sense so I licensed Inna City Pressure, and the newly completed Patterns of War, and used that relationship as a sort of stepping stone to get a little more visible in the market. In particular Patterns of War set me up for a lot of touring, opened up some new markets, really helped to expand my fan-base, and set up for a lot of collaborations as well.
BTR: You have collaborated with the likes of Rancid, Bill Laswell and Sepultura. What exactly have you done with them? Why do you think these particular artists wanted to work with a dub musician?
Dr. Israel: Well with Rancid and Sepultura, I did collaborations. Rancid was a coincidence – I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and thing worked out. Also, the Rancid guys are big fans of reggae, and great musicians, so it was really natural. The guys from Sepultura had heard a Black Sabbath remix/interpretation I had done being played in an underground club in Brazil, and they got excited and contacted me. In terms of Bill, I have done and am in the process of doing a lot of different things. I’ve been fronting one of his newest projects, Method of Defiance. I sing on the new Praxis record. I did some beats for a Herbie Hancock remix record, and am currently working on a few new Dr. Israel projects as well. In terms of Dub, Bill kind of Interprets, re-interprets, and defines it.
BTR: How has extensive touring affected the sound of your music?
Dr. Israel: Touring is key; in all actuality live music is the most real thing. Being on the road allows you to see what is happening, and what’s real. In all actuality a recorded CD is really just a representation of music; it’s what happened in a studio on a specific day, or over the course of a few specific days. When you see live music, it’s real. The sound, the vibe, the smell, it’s all there. I love being on the road because I love playing music live, and also because I like to see music played live. It’s also a great way to collect and generate Ideas.
BTR: Who do you cite as your influences?
Dr. Israel: I’ve got a lot, but I think the biggest ones are probably Black Uhuru, the Bad Brains, Peter Tosh, and Johnny Cash.
BTR: What are you currently working on?
Dr. Israel: I’ve got a lot of things on the table right now. In terms of music I’ve been touring a lot. Solo shows, shows with Dreadtone International, shows featuring Guy Licata, shows with Method of Defiance, and some shows fronting the San Francisco-based Heavyweight Dub Champion.
I’m back in the studio right now working on two new solo projects; one will be a follow up to Inna City Pressure, while the other is a more rock-oriented project. Both are going to have some pretty incredible collaborations, but it’s a little too early to give out any details. In 2007 I completed a short film with Producer/Director John Kraljevich entitled “Ascend into Zion”, which was picked up by Palm Pictures VOD, and is now on the festival circuit. As a result, I’ve been approached to act in and co-write a few feature films this year. In addition, I’ve been developing a few book ideas, which I plan on having completed at some point this year.
BTR: Is there anything else you would like to add? Also, please let us know about any live appearances!
Dr. Israel: The only thing I’d like to add is, with the state of the world today, music as a universal language is probably our best, and maybe last chance for peace, so remember to treat one another well, and support independent music.