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The band on its inspirations, PorchFest performances, and future plans

(Somerville Wire) – Pressure Cooker produces music that people are meant to dance to. According to lead vocalist Craig Akira Fujita, the band’s tunes are able to appeal across demographics, breaking down barriers of age, race, and religion. What’s important to the group, which plays roots reggae, rocksteady, and ska music, is their investment in writing original songs, though they have collaborated with key influencers from the genre. Fujita lives in Somerville, and the band was most recently seen performing by his house at Porchfest and also participating in the SomerStreets Monster Mash. I asked him to break down what Pressure Cooker’s versatile style is all about.

Pressure Cooker has been performing original music since 1997.  What inspired you to form a band that performs roots reggae, rocksteady, and ska music?

I met one of the original Saxophone players, Lana C., in a record store where a friend was working. I had dropped by to look at some records, and although he had extensive knowledge of Reggae music, he asked if I could help one of his customers who was asking specifically about some early Jamaican record labels and producers, as he knew it was my passion. I noticed she was looking at some important pieces of vinyl and suggested a couple of choice selections. She and I got to talking and found we had a similar interest in ska and rocksteady. In my opinion, there is nothing that quite matches the distinctive sounds from producers like “Coxone” Dodd, Duke Reid, and Prince Buster (amongst others); the birth of “Dancehall” music was not only historically significant but maintains its timeless and soul soothing sounds with a power like no other. Studio musicians like “The Skatalites” were crucial in the ingredients (we later utilized our connections indirectly and directly, when drawing on relationships with “originators” like Lloyd Knibb and Roland Alphonso, as featured on our album “Committed”). As we talked more, Lana invited me to a rehearsal. I realized that this group was one invested in the roots and originators of the genre. I showed up one day, and the rest is “history,” as they say.

Who writes your music, and what is that process like?  Could you tell us the story behind some of your favorite songs?

Zach B. and Michael O. write most of the songs, and I have a couple here and there. We have some other contributors with the horn players across the albums as well, but we all have given input at one point or another. We think of it as the Pressure Cooker machine: when you have an idea, you put it through the machine, and it comes out a Pressure Cooker song. Some of the best songs came out of rehearsals which really gave birth to the feelings and emotions that were being expressed. It really helps in a lot of cases when the songwriter can provide direct input, and the rest of that band can shape the tune all at once. I remember when we played “You’re the One” for the first time. It was really a pretty rough idea at first, but it quickly blossomed into a great tune. It was a combination of simple guidance and lots of feeling. It was captured, I believe, on a low quality cassette recorder, but the performance is one of my favorites. I intend to make it available publicly at some point.

What has it been like to be part of the Somerville music scene?  You’ve performed at PorchFest and most recently, at the SomerStreets Monster Mash.  What do you like about the music world in Somerville?

Pressure Cooker has been performing in Somerville for quite a while, probably a couple decades, if not longer. We had regular gigs at Johnny D’s, where we had a bunch of successful, and very fun New Years Eve shows. We have always felt welcomed in this city. I moved here about 7 years ago and played a residency with a different group at the time, with Zach B. on keys. For every concert I can remember in Somerville, there were folks dancing for the entire duration. There is nothing better than getting energy like that from an audience.

We have had some very successful PorchFest turnouts. A few years ago, they blocked off the street, and it was packed. There was even an ice cream truck that parked across the street. There were literally hundreds of folks that came through that day. My neighbor Laurence Scudder and Spotted Tiger helped make that year a big success. This past PorchFest, we were the only band on the block, but it was great to see a rather large crowd who was clearly enjoying the music and we again had people dancing in the streets. We were really energized that day, especially because gigs haven’t been as plentiful. We probably could have played 5 hours straight.

The Somerstreets Monster Mash was our first official Somerville Arts Council Stage appearance. Everyone involved was very supportive and positive. We were very lucky to have Johnny D’s original sound engineer Dana doing sound. We almost got rained out, but the sun broke through, and we were graced by a double rainbow. The crowd came back and we hit pretty hard. We also had a chance to rock our “Celtics” style Pressure Cooker uniforms made for a Halloween show in 1998. It was lots of fun creating new memories. It also made it great that my 4 year old son Remy was out in the audience dancing with his friends. Somerville is one of the only cities where I can perform for my kid at a festival and also have late night residencies with faithful audience members who will come every week for a decade plus.

Has the pandemic changed the way that you rehearse, create, and perform music?  How has it affected your work as musicians?

The pandemic has put a huge damper on music in just about every aspect. Pressure Cooker has been trying to play outdoor events and venues. We are grateful to promoters like “The Reggae Takeova” who have kept live music going during these times. It has been difficult, but we have been working on a new album and piecing it together, having some remote meetings, which has been good for connecting with our now West Coast representative Michael O. So in some aspects, our process has broadened. However, it’s still best for me when the songwriters and most of the band is in the room, which was proven again, recently, when getting some “scratch” (first draft) vocal tracks recorded. We will definitely continue on in this limited way as we can, but I seriously miss playing live on a regular basis. It’s probably the most difficult thing I have ever had to live without. It has heavily impacted creativity for me as well, although the sparks really shine when it’s dark out.

What steps do you see Pressure Cooker taking in the near future, and what is on the horizon?

We have a new batch of songs, as I mentioned ,that we are planning to release as a full album. We may release a song or two as singles to promote and get things rolling. We are looking to play as much as we can and love to see and grow our local fanbase, as venues navigate the next seasons. We all hope for a safer environment for concerts in general and look forward to playing as much as possible, acknowledging the hard work of the promoters and organizers who are trying to make it happen. We are excited to find a way to celebrate our 25th anniversary and to keep spirits up and bodies moving as we proceed through this next stage. More than ever, it seems everyone needs to release some pressure and stress, and as we see it, music and dancing is some of the best therapy out there. So the music will play on—“It’s Rocking Time Again!”

This article is syndicated by the Somerville Wire municipal news service of the Somerville News Garden project of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism.

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Shira Laucharoen is assistant director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and assistant editor and staff reporter of the Somerville Wire.





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