Vasana Haines, Gordon Bazsali, Jeffery Beattie, Angela Crebbin, Ben May, Russell McConnell, Sean Devlin and Benjamin Adriance of One Drop East
BUSAN, South Korea – Riding the wave of domination at last year’s Battle of the Bands and a funktifying performance at the Busan Live ‘World Famous’ series, One Drop East is straight up on FIRE. The pioneers of the thriving music scene in Korea’s second city are flourishing into the must-see band of Busan. But for ODE, it’s not about the fame, it’s about their friendship.
All eight members are supreme comrades that share laughs, inside jokes, and a genuine love of life that is contagious. It just so happens that they are excelling at what originated merely as a spare-time creative outlet. Blending reggae, dub, funk, soul, Motown and R&B, this octet pumps out addictive rhythms that make your blood boil and your booty shake.
One Drop East might very well be the most globally fused band in Korea: three Kiwis, three Yankees, an Aussie, and a Canuck round out the eight-piece crew. New Zealand native Russell McConnell brings the heat doubling up on alto sax and vocals. Delivering that sweet skankin’ sound, fellow New Zealander Sean Devlin scratches the reggae guitar. Vasana Haines serves as the final New Zealand rep, hammering the funky organs and grooving the basslines on his keys.
Belting out the soul of Aretha Franklin and Alice Russel, Angela Crebbin of Australia is the only female in One Drop East, but she certainly holds her own amongst the rowdy boys. Hailing from the US, the horn section consists of Ben Adriance on tenor sax and Gordon Bazsali Jr. on trumpet. Floridian Ben May bangs the drum kit, with help from Canadian Jeffrey Beattie on congas and percussion. Haines and Bazsali are classically trained musicians, and Devlin and Adriance have been playing their instruments since they were in grade school.
They claim two origins to their uncommon name: One Drop East is the title of an album released by the New Zealand group “Salmonella Dub”, serving as a major influence to the band. The one drop itself is a reggae cadence pattern made famous by Bob Marley’s rhythm section, the Barrett Brothers. The bass drum and the bass guitar don’t play on the 1 of the beat in 4/4 time, they “drop” the “one” so to speak. Their progressive reggae style is shaped by adoration for the Black Seeds, Fat Freddy’s Drop, Katchafire, Otis Redding, and James Brown. But most importantly, they are doing what no one else in Korea does – they can perfect the ‘dub’ sound without the help of computers and samples.
Sean Devlin explains, “Dub is created mainly through electronics, but we are able to pull it off live with instruments.” And pull it off live, they certainly do.
The members of One Drop East have a soft spot in their hearts for bar and club owner Kim Dong-Ha. Originally covered in the December issue of Busan Haps, Dong-Ha laid the foundation for what has become the prosperous music scene of today by relentlessly recruiting musicians to play live at his many establishments including Soul Trane, Vinyl Underground, Crossroads, and Ol’ 55.
“Ten years ago, there was very little live music in Busan. But Dong-Ha changed that by inviting people like us to play at his clubs,” says Ben May.
Most of the guys in ODE met at Open Mic Night at Crossroads, and built upon those initial jams sessions to form the band. Mojo, a rock and roll outfit, and B-Funk, a soul and funk conglomerate, were the two original bands that evolved into One Drop East.
Playing gigs under the latter since 2006, their compositions have become much tighter over time, and their old leisure activity has matured into a skillful execution. According to Jeffrey Beattie, “We’ve all been playing together for years now. We used to play just for friends, and we knew a lot of people that could come out and support us. It grew from there.”
They’ve championed the “telepathy” that fine-tuned musicians can achieve. They know, without having to say a word to one another, the direction that they are going in on a certain song or jam.
Devlin, reflecting on the background of each musician, states, “We’re one of the oldest bands in Busan age-wise, and we’ve been playing together in one form or another for a very long time. We’re also really diverse in terms of where we come from.”
They have all been living and working in Korea for what seems like decades at this point, and playing live has kept them light years away from burning out on Asia. Angela Crebbin describes the band as her “sanity saver.”
Ben May will tell you right away how much he appreciates the life he has in Busan. “Talk to anyone that has been here five or more years and they love it because they have that hobby that keeps them going.”
They take pride in their hard work and Dong-Ha’s inventiveness for developing the modern Busan music scene. McConnell and others in the group agree. “The scene is excellent. The quality has really improved over the years.”
Devlin believes that, “Right now the timing is perfect. Years ago, it was tough to see three good bands in a month, whereas now, you can catch three good bands in one night.”
They give props to Lady Goodman, Kilickitat, the Southbay, and Poko Lambro for being the other workhorses that drive the scene. Playing with those bands is a thrill for ODE and for the fans. When they jam together, people get to see such different styles, but at one easy location, and the crowd is glowing by the end of the night.
ODE sets are jam packed with grooves, typically squeezing in around 15-20 songs per night. Devlin chuckles as he points out, “Most of the time there is a planned setlist, but we wing it a lot, too.”
Those preplanned and improvised calls include covers of their reggae influences, but they bust out bizarre tunes that no one would ever guess could be pulled off in that distinct dub-soul style. Their wicked version of The White Stripes “Seven Nation Army” is a head scratcher, simultaneously inducing the crowd to go wild.
McConnell is focusing on writing more originals in the future. “We are developing more (songs) on top of the ones we have right now. We also want to begin recording soon.”
McConnell gave some details on how they compose their own material: “One person comes up with a core idea for a song, then everyone else adds in their bits and pieces. The songs we write are about life, relationships, and struggles….we deliver the messages of unity and oneness in our lyrics.”
These chiefly positive morals dominate their covers along with their originals, and combine for a downright electrifying feeling for fans at their concerts. Make sure to come get down on that ‘Irie’ vibe they buzz about next time One Drop East takes to the stage.
Photos by Mike Dixon