Producer, artist and songwriter, Starita has collaborated with many icons in the scene including A Tribe Called Quest, Childish Gambino, Los Amigos Invisibles, Michael Franti & Spearhead and more, whilst reaching #1 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart, GRAMMY for Best New Age, and nominated for Best Latin Urban/ Alternative and Song Of The Year in the Latin Grammy Awards. His new remix of Seán Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band’s eclectic ‘Dark Night’, originally released on his Be Still Records imprint in 2021 from the album ‘Mystery’ welcomes a heartfelt and meaningful addition to his growing repertoire.
The original track was made in memory of Seán Johnson’s brother Jeremy, offering up a heartfelt affair surrounding the unexpected turns of grief. We caught up with Starita and Seán Johnson to discuss his ‘New Dawn Remix’, the production process and heart-wrenching story behind it as well as upcoming releases and more.
Hey Starita and Seán, thanks for joining us here at DMC World Magazine. Let’s start by talking about how you are and where are you based right now?
Starita: I am currently based in San Francisco and have been for 25 years now already! There was no better place in America to spend your 20s than San Francisco, I can say that. I’m originally from Jackson, Mississippi and at 20 years old migrated to the west coast after landing a production job at a studio that had a house music label. I was lucky enough to spend my days making tracks for various artists on the label which was a dream come true. Oddly enough, I’m finding myself working more in the south again. Specifically in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the birthplace of southern soul music, with a number of soul and pop artists. The retro soul sound never really dies and tends to saturate or influence a great deal of modern music.
Seán: It’s a fascinating time to be alive, and I’m feeling all the feels. Through the joys and challenges, I’m grateful for the medicine of music and spiritual practice, which I have the blessing of being immersed in through my roles as a chant-inspired musician and yoga teacher.
I’m a proud native of New Orleans, born and raised, and based here. I spent my twenties living in many different places including a school in Olympia, WA and Oakland, CA. One of my favourite places to travel to is Ireland, where I go each year, to tap into my ancestral roots. One of the highlights of my life right now, in addition to making music with my band, is being a father to my 4-year-old son Finn, who lights up my heart every day.
Starita, you’ve recently released your ‘New Dawn’ remix of Seán Johnson and The Wild Lotus Band’s single ‘Dark Night’ which was originally released on your label Be Still Records. How did this renewed version come into place?
When I first heard Dark Night it was clear that it was about a deep experience. Seán told me the story about it and we actually went through some rounds of how to make the original song stronger to match the story of his brother passing away in a drowning incident. Needless to say, this was a very special song. Not only a song but a way to grieve the loss of a loved one.
After the album release, we began discussing different artists to select for remixes and I wanted to take on Dark Night specifically because of the deep connection this had to the loss Sean had. It felt somewhat like I was meant to do it given my close relationship with Seán. Honestly, I was a bit nervous because I knew it had to do the song and Jeremy justice. I saw it as a gift to Seán and his family that would hopefully bring some light into the grieving process.
Seán, the single was made in memory of the passing of your brother Jeremy and it’s a heartfelt affair and the release fuelled a strong friendship between yourself and Starita. Can you tell us a little bit about the connection between you two and what the ‘New Dawn’ remix means to you?
Starita and I bonded as soon as we met about 7 years ago. Something about both being from the south – with a shared love for music, spirituality, yoga, and meditation. I’ve always loved people that are both passionate about spirituality and also down to earth, humble, and with a great sense of humour, and we clicked in that way. During the pandemic, Starita reached out and asked me to collaborate on a song he had written called “The Search,” and since then have explored other creative ways to collaborate musically.
I love his sound. It’s big, atmospheric, spacious soundscapes. There’s a dreaminess along with a cityscape quality to his songs that often has a touch of melancholy and longing. The way he blends ambient, electronic layers, acoustic instrumentation, and evocative vocals is really consciousness-altering. When I started talking to Starita loosely about a potential remix project – he immediately said that he’d love to remix “Dark Night.” I was really touched that he felt inspired to re-imagine this song — especially because he knew how personal it was to me and my family. In a sense, it felt like a brave and serious commitment to take on. On a personal level, I trusted him to really take it to heart, and on a music/production level, I was excited to see how he would give the song another life through the soundscapes he’s so skilled at creating.
His “New Dawn Remix” version of Dark Night is an incredibly powerful new rendition of the song. When I first listened to it, I got goosebumps all over. I wept and I danced. I love the way that Starita took the momentum and feeling of my vocal track and built a new electronic music arrangement around it to help propel the emotion of the song. I feel in a sense – that through the new arrangement – he answered the prayer that is being called out in the song by bringing in more light, radiance, and life. To transform a lament into a dance tune is incredibly cathartic.
When I told Starita that I cried the first time he heard it, he said he also cried throughout the process, and I was really touched by that. It’s honestly one of the most meaningful and one of my favourite pieces of music I’ve been a part of, and I’m deeply grateful for that. I also know that if Jeremy can hear the song, he is loving it, and dancing to it in the mystery.
Starita, your work has won a GRAMMY award and an artist that has worked with the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, Childish Gambino, Los Amigos Invisibles and more. What have been your personal career highlights and can you tell us what it was like to work with huge artists in the music scene?
Starita: While I’m grateful and it’s nice to have my work win a GRAMMY and gain 2 other nominations, those awards don’t really give any validation to the quality of art. It’s the culture and people that make being an artist and producer so fulfilling. I’d have to say the biggest highlight in my career was working with Phife Dawg on what would become the final A Tribe Called Quest album and his own final album ‘Forever.’ That led to a collaboration on my first single ‘Rules’ with Jarobi White of A Tribe Called Quest and a long, very rewarding relationship with the Tribe family. Another highlight was working with my dear friends Los Amigos Invisibles. It’s always a pleasure to get outside of my comfort zone and working with such a talented group of latin musicians definitely filled that need. It also made very clear that no matter the culture or language, music is universal as cliche as it sounds.
Starita, we are aware you’ve been super busy this year with multiple gigs and performances. What are your most memorable gig highlights from this year and have you managed to get any downtime in-between?
Yes, I think it’s safe to say this has been one of the busiest years of my life and I’ll take it! Spending a total of over a month in Muscle Shoals between Fame Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound had a profound effect on the way I approached production this year. It became much clearer that art and expression do not come from the mind. It’s the artistic spirit or muse that we all have within us that’s guiding the process and you’re either listening to it or not. Art tends to make itself if you are listening to it but begins to become a battleground if you’re not. I learned how to let go and trust much more this past year when it comes to creating and producing.
My wife and I value making time to go into nature and travel so believe it or not, between all of the projects, we managed to make it to Costa Rica and Hawaii for a month along with shorter trips into the Sierra Mountains of California to see the stunning fall colours.
Starita and Seán, the remix of ‘Dark Night’ has incredible production and we’re interested to hear more about the production process behind it. Can you tell us how the remix was made from start to finish and the inspiration for the new version?
Starita: I knew this wasn’t going to be a typical remix given the energy and story behind the song. There was actually quite a bit of self-inflicted pressure because I knew I had to really dig deep and make sure I was creating something that was a true, authentic expression of the original while taking to a new place. So I began to imagine myself in Jeremy’s place, having passed away and entered a new beginning or world; unexplored, completely new and quite possibly a very exciting and positive place.
I began to ask the question ‘What’s next and how would that sound?’ So, you will hear that the song starts very introspective, signifying the moment of leaving this earthly body and beginning to realize you have moved into a new territory for lack of a better term. I didn’t want to take the circuitous path of dwelling in grief but signify the joy and celebration of a rebirth and how exciting it must be to explode into a new world. That being said, I began to explore the sonic elements to express that so the song clearly builds into a massive wall of sound and celebration. This ‘new’ exploration is actually something we have all experienced when we entered this world as a child. The sound of a bird or even the doorbell was new, exciting and filled with wonder. We all deep down yearn to return to that sense of wonder and innocence so maybe the passing of this life is that return we’ve all secretly missed?
Seán: Starita and I had some conversations as he was beginning the process. I could tell how seriously he was taking it, which meant a lot to me. My perception was in the beginning he was experimenting with a couple of different possible directions with the remix when the creative lightning struck, and he knew he was on the right track, and built the whole soundscape that would become “New Dawn Remix” in a flow state. During this stage, he shared that Orbital was one of his muses during the process, and his connection with their music was a big inspiration for the direction that the remix took.
The track is also accompanied by an alluring official music video – can you tell us a little bit about this?
Starita: The video’s creative direction was envisioned by our creative director, Tam Starita, who wanted to capture the visual evolution from darkness to light; mirroring the sonic progression of the song. She had envisioned capturing the initial scene in an intimate space whereby the focus was on Seán blanketed in darkness. With Seán as the only subject lit, the moodiness and drama of the journey — conflict, struggle, reflection, and awareness — is heightened and spotlighted. As the journey crosses over into light, it is bridge with the ‘New Dawn’ Remix and encompasses Starita into the visual story. What was important was to maintain the spaciousness and organic elements of the journey over time. Hence, Tam captured and incorporated timelapses of numerous nature scenes – lunar eclipse, ocean, wind – as integral parts of the video’s evolution. When Starita, Seán, and Tam got together to film the video, all the elements fell into place effortlessly.
What else can we expect from Starita and Seán Johnson next year? Are there any upcoming releases or gigs you’d like to share with us?
Starita: Wow, do we have some great things coming up! I am in the midst of production of my next full length album which includes talks from the archives of J. Krishnamurti that the foundation provided surrounding the subject of death along with several songs featuring Seán on vocals but also the rest of The Wild Lotus Band which I am very excited about. You can expect some of the similar compositional ambient sounds from The Wake Up Call but with a much more IDM focus similar to the New Dawn Remix.
Seán: The band’s schedule is heating up and we’ll be headlining a bunch of festivals throughout the year. After a three year lapse, we’re also excited to revive an 8 day experience in New Orleans we host called The BHAKTImmersion which is all about holding a fun, deep, supportive space for people to open their hearts, embrace their innate creativity, and learn to express themselves through music, poetry, dance, and more. The band has some remix collaborations being released this year, and we’re excited to begin working on some new material with a focus on creating music that is a little quieter and more spacious than a lot of our previous material. I am super excited to be working with Starita again on songs for his upcoming album, one of which I’m approaching in the songwriting as a kind of a sequel to “Dark Night.”
US-BASED GENRE-BLENDING MUSIC ARTIST, STARITA REACHES ACROSS BORDERS ON A VIRTUAL COLLABORATION WITH INDIAN INDIE ARTIST PRATIKA GOPINATH OF EASY WANDERLINGS AND MUSIC RENAISSANCE MAN, ROBIN APPLEWOOD; RELEASING THE FIRST SINGLE ENTITLED “CHANGING” OF NEW AGE ALBUM ON NOVEMBER 18TH, 2020 …
Photography/Cover Art Direction Credit: Tam Starita
‘One of electronic music’s rising stars just so happens to be a Southern boy at heart. Mississippian Starita has wowed international crowds with his innate knack for blending acoustic instruments into an electronic song, which he argues is indicative of his roots.’– PopMatters
“Changing” is the first single release from Starita’s new avant-garde, ambient, new age album, “The Wake Up Call”; a body of work that expresses his journey of introspection across the various stages of the human experience (from openness and curiosity in childhood to pain, closure, resistance, and darkness in adulthood), leading to awareness, acceptance, and awakening on the search for peace and freedom. Due to the reflective nature of the message, “Changing” is the most open and approachable song on the album. While this neo-classical and ambient soundscape direction differs from his previous releases, Starita’s signature sound blending resonates clearly on this track and album, as he masterfully combines acoustic and electronic elements using analog synths and sound design. This is also a well-matched global virtual collaboration between US and India artists; featuring the soulful and jazzy vocals of Pratika Gopinath, lead vocalist of the group, Easy Wanderlings of Chennai, South India, guitarist and musical renaissance man, Robin Applewood, of the San Francisco Bay Area, US, and genre-blending artist, Starita, also residing in the San Francisco Bay Area, US.
“The basic premise agreed upon by all of the collaborators for this track and album was to allow the song and its elements to flow together naturally with no force from the mind; letting the heart lead. As a result the song, in a sense, wrote itself,” says Starita. “It started with Robin Applewood who channeled the guitar part masterfully; played on an old classical guitar that was left to him by a close deceased friend. Since it has the original strings that came with the guitar, there was an inherited energy, meaning, and vibe to the sound, even though most would say that the strings are dead or need to be changed.” Starita expanded. “I wanted the guitar piece to create a pillowy bed of clouds with layers of arpeggios that could be expanded upon,” Applewood added. “From this, I built electronic elements around the guitar piece, leading to the theme of the song. As this all evolved from a natural flow state, I invited Pratika Gopinath to collaborate as the vocalist after hearing her performance with Easy Wanderlings through Rolling Stone India. I was blown away by the purity, soulfulness, ease, and spirit of her voice. Nothing about the collaboration and making of this track was planned. This container allowed us to effortlessly unleash the uniqueness and qualities that are within each of us as distinctive artists… to create music that is pure, interesting, and honest.” Starita concluded.
“After listening to the opening track on this album, I want the listener to close their eyes and sink into the song. Instead of thinking about their opinions of it, I want them to feel the song, take note of where the song takes them, and be in the moment. Music is powerful in that it offers us the opportunity to feel instead of think, yet we often don’t allow ourselves to do so. As this track is called ‘Changing,’ and is about the journey of new beginnings, it’s the perfect opportunity to try something NEW.” says Gopinath.
Starita’s “Changing” is available across all digital service providers on Wednesday, November 18, 2020.
Starita, is a Mississippi born, 2-time GRAMMY®/Latin Grammy recognized multi-talented producer, songwriter, and artist whose work spans a multitude of genres. His work and unexpected collaborations with Childish Gambino, A Tribe Called Quest, Madame Gandhi, Rebelution, Los Amigos Invisibles, Michael Franti and Spearhead, and many others, offer a unique genre blending style incorporating electronic elements blended with live instrumentation that stems from his deep roots in electronic, ambient, classical, and new age music. Fans are often pleasantly surprised by the unexpected outcome; an out-of-the box production resulting in a lush yet complex soundscape.
Singer-songwriter, Julian Roy, known for his modern R&B/Neo-Soul sound, joins GRAMMY® /Latin Grammy recognized producer-artist Starita, marked for his unique genre-blending production style, to deliver a distinctive Lo-Fi Pop/Alternative/Electronic introspective collaboration. From vocals to production, Roy and Starita worked to create a free floating lush soundscape, intertwining melodies with counter melodies that played well off each other. “While the lyrics are left intentionally vague, there is a touch of sadness to this song. We wanted to mimic that emotional roller coaster through sound; capturing a personal journey of ups and downs, when there’s nowhere else to go, our only choice is inward,” says Starita.
“The song is about choosing where to place our love and more specifically relying on ourselves for that love. I’ve noticed in my own life I’ve been dependent on other people for love, instead of searching inward. I have done that introspective work. But until I stepped away from some really loving situations did I look in the mirror and realized I needed to dig deeper into myself, and ‘SAVE ME,’ says Julian Roy.
Unlike Starita’s prior collaborations showcasing harder, more explosive vocals, Starita put the spotlight on Julian Roy’s laid back vocals to draw the listener in. From production to delivery, this track carries the dynamic soundscape that fans have come to expect from Starita. Even though this is an electronic track, there’s a lot of focus on songwriting. This track, while huge in soundscape, is counterbalanced by Julian Roy’s mellow vocals and anchored with Hip Hop beats, Reggae bridge, and Dub elements.
Recognized for Starita’s diverse collaborations with lead vocal powerhouses, this is the sixth track released as an artist following “Rules” featuring Jarobi of A Tribe Called Quest and vocalist Trent Park, “Lights On” showcasing American singer/songwriter, Trevor Hall, ‘The One’ in collaboration with R&B singer/songwriter Trent Park, “HUMAN” with the explosive vocalist/MC RyanNicole, and “Too Strong,’ headlining bi-lingual singer-rapper-songwriter of LatinX group BANG DATA and Zion I Crew, which premiered via Billboard, Yahoo! Music, Magnetic Magazine, Pop Matters, and HipHopDX, respectively.
UnderCover Presents was founded by Lyz Luke in 2010 and has rapidly established itself as an inspirational collective that gathers musicians and artists from every facet of San Francisco Bay Area’s creative community. Since its founding, UnderCover has paid tribute to 14 albums, worked with over 150 local bands, and presented to over 35,000 audience members throughout San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. UnderCover has won Best of Awards from SF Weekly, SF Bay Guardian, East Bay Express, and has also attained two (2) Mayoral Proclamations for Green Day and Sly & The Family Stone at their tributes. UnderCover has become a true public celebration of local music, which is evident by their sold-out shows.
The concept is simple, one distinctive band per song reinterpreting an entire classic album from start to finish. A selection committee decides on the bands to be included in the tribute based upon their locality, distinctive sound, established following, among a variety of other criteria. With each tribute, artists are highly encouraged to put their own sound and personality on their rendition. The result is a cross-pollination of cultures, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, writers and visual artists that doesn’t typically happen on one show bill, or for that matter even festivals.
This time around, UnderCover Presents is honoring A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Midnight Marauders,’ an album that bridged the gap between hip-hop and jazz. Given that the album just celebrated its 25th anniversary, UnderCover felt it appropriate to continue to introduce this classic record to new audiences. Not to mention that the messages embedded in this album continues to echo resoundingly as we witness all that is taking place in the world. The collective is collaborating with Starita as music producer for the album recording, based upon his deep production experience across a multitude of genres in addition to his relationship and last work with Phife Dawg and ATCQ. For the first time, UnderCover will be releasing a double vinyl to commemorate this tribute. Today UnderCover Presents shares the first cover for “We Can Get Down” by high energy soul rock band Royal Jelly Jive. You can listen on Soundcloud.
With this ATCQ’s ‘Midnight Marauders’ tribute, UnderCover has united 13 local bands from a wide range of genres, 7 MCs (including Gift of Gab,Lateef the Truthspeaker, Karega, Starita, RyanNicole, RAV-E Sandhu), over 100+ artists, 9 engineers, 5 music studios, and 1 vinyl pressing plant, to produce an album within 65 days, from pre-production to mastering. The result is a one-of-a-kind and unexpected soundscape of reinterpreted tracks for a mixed genre collection – Experimental Orchestral, World, Cumbia, Reggaeton, Latin Hip Hop, New Orleans Jazz, R&B, Soul, Indie Folk, Rock, Funk, Future Soul, Alternative Rock, Jazz, Electronic, Dance, Ghangra and Afrobeat.
UnderCover Presents: A Tribute to A Tribe Called Quest’s ‘Midnight Marauders’ is out 4/26/19.
A Tribe Called Quest Week will feature 3 shows, starting on Thursday, May 16 through Saturday, May 18, 2019 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco, CA followed by an After Party at 7th West, Oakland, on Sunday, May 20, 2019. UnderCover will dedicate Friday as “Phifeday” in honor of Phife Dawg. Details are below, tickets can be purchased here.