Catskillist Interview: Neenee Rushie, The Big Takeover
Catskillist: So Neenee, thanks for coming out tonight to talk.
Neenee Rushie: Thank you for having me!
Catskillist: So you guys are getting ready to celebrate The Big Takeover’s 10th anniversary?
Neenee Rushie: Yes. So we were at our practice yesterday and we were just talking about when we officially started, and we decided that it was it was mid October when we first started The Big Takeover 10 years ago.
Catskillist: And how did you guys come together?
Neenee Rushie: I moved to New Paltz. I grew up in Jamaica and I went to college in New Paltz and when I was a freshman I met Sam Tritto our original drummer and our bass player Rob Kissner. I met them just, you know, like in town and I met Sam on campus and we realized that we had similar interests in music and we became friendly, and we just had this I guess this special bond out of nowhere and we decided that we were going to start our band. You know it took us a little bit of time to actually figure out what our vision was or what our focus was. But you know, after a couple of years we started playing shows together we got other people that were interested in the same thing that we were going to do and we put together The Big Takeover and we started playing around town and people liked it. And the Wailers came into town pretty soon after that and we were asked to open up for them. And then after that happened, then we realized that this is really something that we want to pursue. So then we just gave it our all and we just never really stopped; it kind of became a part of us and we don’t know how to stop (laughs).
Catskillist: That’s amazing. So your first big recognition was from The Wailers?
Neenee Rushie: Yes. We had just been playing like the bars around town mostly in New Paltz and you know the crowd in New Paltz, or the type of people that live in New Paltz, or go to school in New Paltz are a very eccentric, interesting crowd. So when we came out and we started playing they immediately responded to us and they liked it and they danced and they loved it and we just kept we would go back and we would play all the time and because we were playing the style of music that we were playing. It was unique. There weren’t many groups that were doing that style of music, so people heard about it and they wanted to be part of it. So when a reggae band like The Wailers came into town and we were chosen as the band to open up for them, and that put us on a pretty big stage. And then from there it just kind of kept the ball rolling and really made us realize that it was something that we had to do.
Catskillist: So when you guys first got together as a band was it as a reggae band?
Neenee Rushie: Yes, it always was a reggae band. I grew up in Jamaica and I was surrounded by that style of music and I listened to other styles or you know, a lot of different American music but my mother loved the 60s and 70s rocksteady and ska. And I grew up listening to it out in my home and for some reason I just really loved it even as a child, like young young. I just really loved that style of music but it wasn’t a popular style of music because it was all the older music. So and then when I moved here and I was I was living, I lived in New Rochelle for a little bit and I went to school there, and I never really found anybody that I could relate to that shared that same interest in that style of music. When I went to New Paltz and I met Sam and Rob and they’re these two white boys that grew up in Beacon, NY and they really got my attention when I realized that they not only knew so much about the style of music that I loved so much but they loved it too. So that was where our bond came from, and when we started our band it was reggae. Like the night that I met Sam he didn’t even know me but somebody told him that I knew how to sing, and I sang for him and he said, “you know what I’m going to start a reggae band and you’re going to be the singer”. That’s why he said to me.
Catskillist: And he was right.
Neenee Rushie: He was right. (laughs) Yeah.
Catskillist: So what about the other band members talk a little about who they are and what they bring to the party.
Neenee Rushie: Well, l we have actually had quite a few line-up changes. I can tell you about who we’re playing with now. We’ve changed and guitar players; our first guitar player was John Klink was like a bluesy guitar player, he was very, very talented, and he actually gave us that initial interesting sound very, very talented and he actually gave us that initial sound, that interesting sound that we had years ago when we first started. We went through a few different guitar players. Jose Lopez was playing on one record and he has a very interesting style as well. Kerry Shaw actually just finished playing with us he put in a long time, the longest guitar player we’ve had. But right now we have Guthrie Lord. He actually just joined and we haven’t recorded an album with him yet so he hasn’t gotten a chance to really put a stamp or his stamp on our sound. So that’s guitar players. Sam obviously started the band as an original drummer and Hector Vocera played with us for several years after Sam left and then now we have Batu Attila, he’s from Turkey and he’s just so interestingly cool and he just brings a very cool suave vibe to the whole thing, and he’s excellent. And of course Rob Kissner, original member, kind of like a backbone to the whole thing, and Chas Montrose, saxophone, another original member, and he plays with Andrew Vogt, trombone, and they actually are childhood friends who grew up together. So they have their own little bromance going on. They’ve been friends forever. They’re so funny they’re like ying and yang they’re so different but they have that certain kind of admiration and love for each other where they can disagree on something but still respect each other’s views and I think that’s kind of what makes their horn section so magical, because their dynamic is really cool.
Catskillist: Yeah. They rock they really do. The whole band. You’re this synthesis, like you said, reggae/ska/60s sound/rocksteady you’ve got Motown, I mean it’s just about fun. Was that what you meant to do from the beginning was just have it be like an up, good time?
Neenee Rushie: Yes. We wanted to do an interpretation of Jamaican music because that’s what we love. That’s what we started off doing. And when we played our music and we saw that it made people move and feel happy, then that was the direction that we wanted to go and we wanted people to forget about–it’s kind of like an ongoing theme that we have always had for our shows and for our records, just to present something to people that just gets them to let go of whatever they’re worrying about in their mind or in their brain. You know, we can’t help it, but I know that movement and music are really strong remedies for things like that so we always try to support that. That’s always our overall objective is to just get people to be happy and move their bodies.
Catskillist: Very cool. So you mentioned shows. You started off with The Wailers. Not a bad start. (laughter) Talk about some of your other gigs, your tours, people you opened for, states you played in.
Neenee Rushie: You know, it’s really such an awesome ride and I feel so grateful that I am getting to live this. It’s really a dream come true. It’s amazing we’ve had the chance to open for many people that I consider to be like music royalty a very legendary reggae artist like Beres Hammond, Inner Circle. We opened up for the Original Wailers and The Wailers, we’ve opened up for The Slackers. I can’t even think of the top of my head. There’s like a bunch and then we shared the stage with Pete Seeger on a few different things. We didn’t really open up for him but he was like on the same bill as us.
Catskillist: Was that the Summer Hoot?
Neenee Rushie: One was the Summer Hoot, and then there was another one that we played in Beacon. I think it was either before him or right after him or something like that. And then there was one time we opened up for Jefferson Starship (laughs)
Catskillist: Go figure. (laughter)
Neenee Rushie: We drop that name sometimes you know. If you were to ask me who I haven’t opened up for that I want to. The list is short. It’s just like that maybe Toots and The Maytals, Sharon Jones recently passed away but she was actually a big inspiration for when we first started the band. When we first started the band, we were a little unsure of if we really wanted to, because it’s hard work. And Rob actually saw Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings play like right when they first started getting popular and he called me up and he was like, “I don’t know what we’re doing but we need to do this”. Like that band inspired me so much. So I would have loved to open up for her. I saw her many, many times. So yeah, Between that. It’s a short list. I feel pretty lucky.
Catskillist: It’s a good list. You might get there; you’ve got many years ahead of you, sounds like.
Neenee Rushie: Hopefully.
Catskillist: Let’s see, you put out a record this year, you’ve played some more shows and festivals and things like that. How’s the record doing?
Neenee Rushie: The record is doing pretty well. It’s getting some play on radio stations around the country. We did a little campaign. Speaking of that we actually went on tour West this summer that just passed and we got to stop in some very cool cities like Portland, Oregon and San Francisco, California and we did stops in New Orleans and Texas and we got to see the country together and that was fun and it was awesome to like bring our music to different ears and get welcomed by these people that really wanted to see our show and really wanted to hear our music. It was really refreshing and we actually saw that that part of the country responds differently to the style of music that we play, it’s more of the norm for them. They actually really like that type of music, so we were really lucky about that.
Catskillist: Very cool. Any plans to play Jamaica, go back home?
Neenee Rushie: You know, we don’t have plans for that but we’re really open for anything. We actually would like to leave the country and bring the music to other places. I actually was just on Instagram and I found the video of this girl singing one of our songs and the caption was in Spanish and I translated it. Turns out she’s in Venezuela. And I’m like how did you even get our music? That’s amazing. So we would really like to go to Europe and we heard that like Central America, South America is really big on reggae, Asia…so we’re just open to anything, we’re happy.
Catskillist: So that’ll happen sometime in the next 10 years?
Neenee Rushie: Hopefully. Yeah. Yeah I hope so.
Catskillist: So you’ve got a 10 year anniversary show coming up. Tell us about that.
Neenee Rushie: Yes. That show is actually coming up on the 22nd. It’s going to be at BSP and we’re really excited about it. We’re going to be playing music from our previous records that we don’t really play that much anymore, mostly because we were always promoting one our records. So we’re going to be bringing back some of the old stuff that people have been asking for that we haven’t been able to deliver. And we are going to be having some of our original members joining us as guests. It’s going to be a special night. I’m looking forward to it.
Catskillist: That sounds very cool. Sounds like a great way to start off the long Thanksgiving weekend too. Very cool. So what is next for The Big Takeover besides like plans for a possible world tour?
Neenee Rushie: Well yes, we want to tour more. We’re working on another release. We’re hoping to get into the studio and start putting that down so that we can release it. We’re just trying to keep it keep the ball rolling really.
Catskillist: Well, I’m sure you will. Congrats on the 10 years and good luck on the next ten. Thanks, so nice to talk to you.
Neenee Rushie: Thank you for talking to me.