Reggae is not monolithic. Yet — a little like country music, hip hop or punk — stereotypes exist about how reggae should sound, how the music should be played and even how reggae musicians should look and act. Eugene reggae-rock act One Dollar Check tells me they hope to dispel some of these notions with their latest release, Fill the Void.
The new recording is the band’s second studio album and the first for Roots Musician Records, a Southern California record label specializing in contemporary West Coast reggae. Partnering with Oregon-based Smile Movement Presents, One Dollar Check is headed for an extensive tour of the Western U.S. The band will celebrate the release of Fill the Void Jan. 19 at WOW Hall.
One Dollar Check bassist Elijah Constantinescu says a lot of West Coast reggae bands get accused of being just a bunch of white guys playing a style of music popularized on the island of Jamaica. Based on many of Eugene’s most popular bands, it’s tempting to agree. But Constantinescu feels One Dollar Check embraces the culture of reggae while adding enough elements of rock and their own Northwest style to stand apart.
So what’s unique about Northwest reggae? Talking with the band and me at the band’s home in north Eugene, Smile Movement Presents representative Jonathan “Gorilla” Morton calls the Northwest “an island in the continent,” and along with California reggae’s blend of rock, punk and ska, Morton feels you can hear the working class, tight-knit roots of reggae coming out of the Northwest. He also says you can sense “a high level of community support,” something One Dollar Check is grateful to receive in the Eugene/Springfield area. On top of all that, of course, is plenty of ganja.
Vocalist and lyricist Gared Sanne was first exposed to reggae in Hawaii, where he grew up. Hawaiian reggae is a little too “lovey-dovey” for Sanne’s taste, so he draws from personal inspiration for his music, such as on the track “Blame it On Me.” He says Fill the Void has a “really good balance of emotions,” and that the band had a lot of struggles going into making the record. A tough lineup change saw a founding member leave the group, and Sanne says he recently beat cancer with the help of medicinal cannabis. “Every song has a different formula,” he adds.
The rest of One Dollar Check’s lineup, including Aaron Pierce on guitar and Charles Gallegos on drums, come from Lane County and know each other either from high school or from the local music scene. Outside of reggae, One Dollar Check’s influences range from death metal to rap. Constantinescu says he knew the band would work because they all had a “similar sense of humor.” Recalling their first time playing together, Sanne says simply, “We made up a song and we liked it.”
“I don’t see us as just a reggae band,” Constantinescu says. “We like to pick up the speed,” Gallegos adds, and Sanne says it best: “Music shouldn’t set boundaries.”
One Dollar Check agree they make conscious music, blending personal subject matter with global awareness. The band’s getting noticed around the West Coast and beyond.
One Dollar Check plays with rising Northwest reggae-rock acts Chiefed and The Resinators 8 pm Friday, Jan. 19, at WOW Hall; $10 advance, $12 door, all-ages. Fill the Void is out Jan. 19 on all online music streaming services, onedollarcheckmusic.org,and wherever else music is sold.