Star Alaniz: The Steppas, Their Inspiration & Cali Roots

IMG_1563Hailing from Hilo, The Steppas have made a name for themselves as one of Hawaii’s most-loved reggae acts, playing alongside the big names like Fortunate Youth, Tribal Seeds and The Green. Their last album, To You From We, earned a #2 spot on the Billboard Reggae charts as well as the #1 spot on iTunes. Their progressive, yet rootsy brand of reggae, as well as four nationwide tours in over 60 cities, has built their fanbase far and wide. My first live experience with The Steppas was last month in Oahu, when they opened for Ooklah the Moc. I caught up with their lead singer and axe, Star Alaniz, to ask him some stuff about their upcoming album, west coast tour with Inna Vision, and headlining the official Cali Roots first night after-party at Planet Gemini.

AA: Hey! Thanks for talking with me. So, I wanted to ask you about the album you’ve been working on and any influences that you guys may have had…

SA: We’ve currently been working on the album since the end of last year, but we were also touring and practicing a lot so it’s been on hold. So we work on it [whenever we can]. We’re probably about halfway into the album and we’re looking at a late 2016 release. Everywhere we go has been a major influence on our music as well as the different bands we tour with; we had the honor of touring with The Skints from the UK and their genre of music is way different so that had an influence on us a bit. Also, Fortunate Youth and Tribal Seeds and of course, the Inna Vision boys, so we’re kind taking all the things that we’ve seen and learned on the road and trying to incorporate it into our music and make it better and up our game a little more.

AA: That sounds awesome … I’ve been listening To You From We (2014) and I’m all about it, especially “Empress Love”, so I can’t wait to hear what’s next from you guys. How would you say your sound has evolved in the last five years? It’s been about five years since you guys got together, right?

SA: Yeah, this coming August will be five years. It’s definitely evolved a lot, when we first started we were really heavy roots. If you’ve ever listened to our first album, The Steppas EP, which we called the Good Roots EP, it was super rootsy … Our mentality was like, “we’re going to play what we love to play whether people like it or not”. And then the more we started looking out at other bands and other things and looking at life more and the world, and everything in general, we were like, “maybe we need to make our sound more listenable for people who don’t necessarily like reggae, but we can make them like reggae.” So we evolved into more of a worldly reggae now, but we still keep our roots influences in it. We bring other genres into it, so we have a little bit of rock, a little bit of poppiness … to bring a more worldly melody to our reggae riddims.

AA: So interesting and amazing you say that, because that’s essentially what Cali Roots is about. It’s not just a reggae festival, and it’s really cool that they’re able to blend sounds together and make it an event for people who like reggae, but also enjoy other genres

SA: Yes, for real. That’s why I love Cali roots so much, there’s so many different types of bands and music going on and everyone has that hint of reggae, but it’s so versatile and you can enjoy everything … You can hear everyone’s different influences in their music.

AA: Very stoked to see you guys play the first night Cali Roots after party with Inna Vision; it was so much fun shooting you all in Oahu last month

SA: We will be playing Friday night at Planet Gemini, which is right across the street from the fairgrounds, with Inna Vision, and The Steppas will be headlining that. Starting May 11th we’re going to be on tour with Inna Vision, starting in Hermosa Beach and going all the way up to Vegas, Oregon, Washington and our last show will be this performance at Planet Gemini for Cali Roots. We’re super stoked for that and it’s always good linking with the Inna Vision boys, this will be our second tour in America with them.

AA: What an epic show to end a tour with.

SA: Last year we ended our tour there too, and we did an acoustic set in the festival, but we didn’t get to stay because we had to fly home for a show. This time it’s even more epic to be playing at the after party. It’s going to be amazing.

AA: It’s funny you say that; that’s what I was going to ask you about next because I heard about your jam session at the D2PC booth last year and how it drew such a big crowd and how cool it was. Will we be seeing something similar this year?

SA: Yeah! I’m pretty sure were going to do it again. Carlos [Verdugo (drummer of Tribal Seeds and founder of D2PC, a lifestyle apparel brand that gives back to less fortunate youth)] is a good, good homie of ours. I think we’re going to try and make that happen Saturday or Sunday. Hopefully we can do that again

AA: Yeah that would be wonderful, I know I’m not the only one that would love to see it. Do you think this is part of the reason Cali Roots is differs from other festivals? What do you think makes it special?

SA: For me, it feels like more of a family gathering than anything else. It kinda reminds me of home gatherings here on the island. We all get together and everyone jams and has a good time. That’s how Cali Roots feels to me; seeing familiar faces … seeing friends, meeting new friends, it’s such an ohana vibe. It’s such a warm feeling. It’s different than other festivals, I’ve been to and seen a lot [sic] and with Cali Roots, everyone is so open-minded and so down-to-earth. I’ve never seen anything negative happen on the grounds there, ever.

AA: Good vibes only. I said the same thing about Dry Diggings this past year. There was just no negativity from anyone … It was a great experience. There’s something extraordinary about Cali Roots events.

SA: Yeah our first time playing was three years ago, and we didn’t know what to expect. When we got there we were super surprised with everything: how well the staff takes care of everyone, how well everyone gets together after sets no matter how big the bands are and everyone shows so much aloha. Everyone hangs out, everyone shows respect to all the other bands, people are always nice … Cali Roots is the most amazing festival ever.

AA: Okay last question, If you could see any artist, any genre, dead or alive play at Cali Roots, who do you choose? Besides Bob, Bob’s out.

SA: For me, a big influence in my music from when I first started when I was like fifteen was Jacob Miller. Jacob “The Killer” Miller, from the Bob era and he was my first major influence before I actually started listening to Bob Marley. I would have to say him; I love his stage presence and everything about that guy.

AA: I have to check him out now! Dude, thank you so much. I really, really appreciate it.

SA: Of course. Aloha!