Grammy-nominated Fortunate Youth to bring reggae to Boathouse April 23
By Alan Sculley
Lots of bands can say they started from scratch, booking their own first show, building up a local fan base and even self-releasing their first few CDs.
The guys in Fortunate Youth can say they started from pre-scratch, playing their first gig before they were even a band.
The story goes something like this. Dan Kelly, Travis Walpole and Jared Draskovich were seeing their band, Rude Boy Roots, coming to an end in spring 2009 after the drummer and bassist decided the group wasn’t going anywhere.
The timing struck Draskovich as a bit odd, considering Rude Boy Roots had recently landed its biggest show yet, opening for legendary Jamaican roots reggae group, the Abyssinians.
“We were like ‘I don’t know, this (breaking up) is kind of crazy. I don’t know about canceling,’” Draskovich remembered saying at the time. “Like it was our first big show playing somebody.”
But the drummer and bassist stood firm, throwing the Abyssinians gig into question.
Not long after that, the manager of Rude Boy Roots was throwing a backyard party to celebrate his birthday. As luck would have it, Draskovich’s brother, Corey, showed up at the party with members of his band, Irie State of Mind. This turned into an opportunity for an informal jam.
And when the now-ex-members of Rude Boy Roots teamed up with the contingent from Irish State of Mind, the manager took notice.
“There was no real, it wasn’t like ‘Let’s do this (band), guys.’ Like our manager was like ‘You guys didn’t sound so bad. Maybe you guys should play with the Abyssinians.
“We were like, that’s kind of like a little scary. We had never really jammed together so (we’re thinking) ‘We’re not sure of that one, coach,’” Draskovich said. “But we put it together. I’m not even sure if we jammed with a name that night. I don’t even know if we jammed as Fortunate Youth night. But we did play with the Abyssinians and that was our first show. I mean, the rest from there, we were like we can’t stop. I think we just had too much fun.”
There’s been a good deal of hard work since then to go with the fun for Fortunate Youth – which includes Jared Draskovich (keyboards), Kelly (vocals), Greg Gelb (guitar), Corey Draskovich (bass), Jordan Rosenthal (drums) and Walpole (bongos).
Looking to make their own luck, the group hit the road around the time their debut EP, “Up-Lifted,” was self-released in 2010 and hasn’t looked back since. Four studio albums, including a new self-titled release, have followed as the group has done more than two dozen tours, building an audience show by show over its seven-year history.
The growth in Fortunate Youth’s audience can also be seen in the commercial performance of the group’s albums. The preceding pair of albums, 2013’s “It’s All A Jam” and 2015’s “Don’t Think Twice,” both topped the “Billboard” and iTunes reggae album charts, with the former album also receiving a Grammy nomination.
Rosenthal, who joined Jared Draskovich for this early March phone interview, said the band at one point had a chance to sign with VP Records, a leading label for reggae and Caribbean music. But instead, the group chose to remain a largely do-it-yourself operation. The band members are all closely involved in booking tours, releasing and promoting its albums and handling merchandise sales.
Rosenthal, who spearheads the album-selling end of Fortunate Youth’s business, said he has watched the album marketplace evolve rapidly during his group’s history. Album sales have dwindled, the operators of social media have gotten more restrictive about using their websites to promote albums and streaming services have become major players in getting music heard. Such circumstances have forced the group to adapt to change and be creative in getting the word out about its music and shows.
“Over the past couple of years, it seems like people have relied too much on just digital-based media,” Rosenthal said. “They kind of lost the groundwork actually on the ground, like putting up posters. You have to let people know from every different angle, from social media, from walking down the street and seeing a poster, from going in a store, from hearing an ad and every way possible because it takes the fifth or sixth or seventh thing before finally the person goes ‘Hey, I’m going to check this out.’”
Fortunate Youth continues to fight the good fight with its self-titled album, which was released on Feb. 10.
The band is just getting started on a headlining tour that will hit every corner of the United States before wrapping up in late May. The new songs will be a major feature of the show, as will some swapping of instruments by the six musicians in Fortunate Youth – a long-time trademark of their shows.
“We’re going to pretty much play the whole album minus a couple of the songs,” Draskovich said. “And a couple of the songs that we have features on, like with Slightly Stoopid (the song “Irie State”) and Raging Fyah (“Dial My Number”), we’re going to implement some of the other bands that we’re traveling with to kind of like sing those verses. So there will be a lot of collaboration and a lot of jamming with each other throughout the whole tour.”
The songs on the self-titled album are strong enough to carry Fortunate Youth’s show. The songs have uncommonly well developed melodies to go with reggae beats that are more varied than one might expect. On “Be Strong,” the drums crackle, while “Friends & Family” and “One & Only” comes apply a lighter reggae lilt to their warm melodies. “Left My Love in California,” meanwhile, accelerates the tempo while retaining very much a reggae cadence. “Irie State” and “No Place Above” bring the echo and thump of dub reggae into the track.
In making the self-titled album, Draskovich said each band member brought in two songs, which formed the core of the album. Then for recording, Fortunate Youth tried something it hadn’t done in the studio before — tracking live as a band with the idea of upping the energy and getting the best rhythm tracks possible.
“We recorded the album with all of us plugged in and set up and kind of made Jordan the priority. If he got his drums where he wanted them on the pass, then we could move on,” Draskovich said. “We wanted to really get the drum sound.”
The drums and basic tracks were done at Henson Recording Studios in Los Angeles, a legendary facility founded by Charlie Chaplin, where a host of classic albums by the likes of Led Zeppelin, Carole King and Joni Mitchell have been made. The group then did
finishing work at 17th Street Studio in Costa Mesa, where the band has recorded before.
Draskovich said the band members felt the music they made so personifies the group that the album should be self titled.
“This one we felt like encompassed our message and we felt like we were at a point to kind of present ourselves in a way with the (album) name,” he said. “It’s a personal album and we kept with the vibe of staying true to ourselves. We thought that it wrapped it up. Everyone brought something to the table and we all got our piece in and that’s kind of how it came out.”