Building an audience for their unique brand of roots-reggae-rocksteady outside of those diehard fans of the music has been a labour of love for Spencer Cleave and Phonosonics.
The Victoria-based band, whom audiences have seen at Rifflandia and can groove to at this year’s Victoria Ska and Reggae Festival in June, are hoping to attract some new listeners through performing on Rise Up, a globally distributed TV show (Sony/EMG) that aims to introduce the world to the personalities, sights and sounds of artists of all genres and ages from Canada, the U.S. and Europe.
“In the reggae market in Canada there’s a sense that you’re only going to touch a certain number of people,” says Cleave, a practising family doctor in View Royal and former member of Tequila Mockingbird Orchestra. “There is a loyal, small following of fans in every city.”
Phonosonics will be part of the first of 12 episodes of Rise Up, May 20 at the Victoria Event Centre (1415 Broad St.). Subsequent live shows will be taped at venues across Canada, winding up in Montreal on June 2.
While this local band won’t be riding the bus with the core group of musicians and crew making the cross-country trek, Cleave and company are looking forward to the opportunity.
“We’re really excited to be a part of it and excited to work with all these other musicians. We’ll get broader exposure than we’ve had before,” he says, noting that so far most of their outside market coverage has come in the reggae-ska hotbed of the U.K. “Hopefully we’ll find some more fans.”
Cleave, 32, has an interesting background, having minored in jazz while at the University of Victoria, before med school. Once he graduated he decided he had to get back into music. He began making recordings in his basement studio in 2014, playing all the parts himself, and gradually attracted the group of musicians who make up Phonosonics’ current seven-piece lineup.
Cleave handles vocals and saxophone and is joined by David Schwab on guitar, Al Udell on bass, Anthony Shackell on trumpet, Ned Saric on drums, Ellen Crossley on backup vocals and more recent addition Will Lynch on keyboards.
Not satisfied to simply play what’s popular, they focus on bringing an authentic interpretation of early ska and reggae to local audiences, with both original and cover material.
“We really try to stick to that to maintain the authenticity,” he says. “We don’t want to do a California/Sublime type of thing or do a glib attempt at it. We cover a period of inspiration from 1955 to 1972 in Jamaica. What I’m trying to accomplish here is to shine a modern spotlight on what I feel is an underappreciated form of Jamaican music.”
The band recently performed for Limbic Studios’ Quadratic Concert Series (find the footage on YouTube) and a new EP is expected to be released in May, featuring “six tunes that represent where we’re at right now,” Cleave says. A release party is slated for July 14 at Vinyl Envy.
To keeps tabs on this band, check out their website at phonosonics.ca.