By Jeremy Hallock
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By Observer Staff
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Fortunately for Sub Oslo, since Veliz and Holloway were there from the beginning, the nascent band had already located the puzzle's corners, and most of the edge pieces as well. At its slow-beating heart, dub music is mostly drums and bass, an endless, slithering groove. With a dead-solid-perfect rhythm section already on board, filling out the rest of the group was less of a problem, especially when the duo hooked up with soundman Nuckels, the man responsible for dub's signature on-the-spot remixes. Not that Sub Oslo became a fully functioning group right away, or that Veliz and Holloway cared much, letting their newborn band grow up in public. They figured it was better to do back-flips off the high dive than to spend all day wading in the overcrowded shallow end. If nothing else, people might come to see them risk their necks.
With that in mind, the band almost immediately found itself at Dave Willingham's studio, The Echo Lab (the facility formerly known as 70 Hurtz and Transcontinental Recording Company) in Argyle. Willingham liked Sub Oslo so much that he and his partner, Philip Croley, offered to put the band's music out via their Two Ohm Hop label. The resulting three-song EP Sub Oslo (released in 1998) was the sound of a handful of dub-music fans--Veliz, Holloway, and Nuckels were still the only permanent fixtures in the band at that point--learning how to become dub musicians themselves. And slowly, more musicians wanted to learn too. When the vinyl-only record came out, the group still had a fairly manageable roster. Now, there might be as many as a dozen musicians onstage when Sub Oslo's playing. Veliz is still a bit surprised by it all.
"When we first talked about doing it, it was [Quincy] and I, and at the time, we were both frustrated with our 'rock' bands or whatever," Veliz says. "We were living together, and that was one of the things we had in common, listening to a lot of dub and old-school roots reggae. We were sitting in the kitchen one day, and our drummer was like, 'So what do you wanna do now?' I was like, 'I don't know. I kind of wanna try to go and do dub. I just don't know how to do it.' And he said, 'I'll do it with you. I don't know how we're gonna do it, but I'll do it.'" He laughs. "It was cool. We ended up finding other musicians who were into the idea and willing to give it a try. It surprised us a lot when so many people were responsive to it. It gave us more motivation to keep going.
Gypsy Tea Room
"And we've just expanded on it," he continues. "When we first started, as far as regular musicians on stage, there was only three of us on stage, with the mixer and the lights and stuff. For the first few years, we'd always run into people after shows that were like, 'Man, I'd like to sit in with you guys, jam or something.' And we would do that a lot. There happened to be a few people who ended up sticking. If we liked them, we'd be like, 'Hey man, come to the show. All right. Hey man, you gonna be at the next shows? OK. Hey man, you gonna come to Austin with us? All right.' Next thing you know, they're part of the band."
Because of the band's elastic lineup of musicians that sit in and keep sitting, Dubs in the Key of Life doesn't necessarily reflect the band as it stands today. Recorded during a few months at the end of last year and beginning of this one at Nuckels' Sueno Studios in Denton, Dubs in the Key of Life is the product of a group of musicians (joined by Gregory Lange on slide guitar and Reade Dawson on mandolin) finding its groove and getting comfortable in it. They give the songs room to stretch out--"Mi Familia re-dub," the shortest song on the disc, clocks in at a little under 10 minutes--and air to breathe, letting the melody wander in and out of the song, sometimes disappearing for minutes at a time. All that space leaves plenty of room for Nuckels' busy hands; I spent a good 10 minutes trying to decide if a phone was ringing in the office or on the disc. I'm still not sure.
All of which makes Veliz extremely happy, just as much as he was when he first heard the band's debut EP. To him, both of them did exactly what they were supposed to do.
"They both just represent certain periods in our evolution," he says. "I mean, the first one, there's only four musicians on it, outside of the mixing and stuff. And that represented, really well, what was going on at that time. This album took longer to record, but that was just because we had the opportunity to do it at home, at a home studio where everything was real laid back; there was no rush or anything. I think it represents that time really well, and how we were all feeling, with the new members in the band and getting to know them really well. Everyone was just clicking so well. What's awesome about it is that they represent these times in our life that we spent together."