Even without an LP on which to hang their hat, Glendale-based reggae band Black Bottom Lighters have opened for Flogging Molly on St. Patrick's Day, toured the West Coast, played the local stage at True Music Festival, and headlined a pre-Thanksgiving show at The Marquee. Suffice it to say few bands experience such success without even releasing an album. But the six-piece has found a way to break through locally behind an EP and impressive live shows.
Not to mention their month as Reverbnation.com's featured band, their opening slot for Rebelution and Atmosphere two weeks ago, and their headlining appearance on Jacksonville, Florida's Big Ticket Music Festival's "B" stage. And in the short time between my interview with the band and the publication of this story, Black Botttom Lighters were announced as part of the lineup of Tucson's Wild Wild West Fest in April. In other words, you have to pay close attention to keep up with their busy schedule.
"It's rewarding, but scary at the same time," says singer Ryan Stilwell. "Because you have to keep doing bigger and bigger things. We are just trying to figure out how to keep topping ourselves and going up." With their upcoming album, 2 or 2,000, and a date performing this weekend's McDowell Mountain Music Festival, Black Bottom Lighters seem poised to join Phoenix band KONGOS at the next level.
"It was one of the best feelings you can have as a band, to get picked for McDowell Mountain. It's a goal that's been accomplished, and not only that, but to have the best time slot of any local band that day [8:30 p.m. Saturday, March 29], it's an honor. It puts the pressure on us, but we've had the pressure, so it gives us an opportunity to overcome," drummer Ryan McPhatter says. "I think it was a good choice because we are going to bring it. We have a big set planned. They didn't make a mistake — we will show everybody why we got that spot."
The band's sweet, irie sounds mixed with Stillwell's distinctively raspy voice really make the band's more subdued reggae tracks, like "Astronaut," "Home Grown," and current single "Carousel," stand out. But then tracks like "Nuclear" come off with a harder edge that leans more toward ska.
Mix a familiar reggae sound, Stilwell's memorable voice, a passion for partying with fans, and a certain green plant, and the formula for BBL's success becomes readily apparent.
"They aren't fans; they're all friends," Stilwell says. "One giant group of friends, and we are constantly expanding."
Whether they are fans or friends, the numbers are unmistakable: BBL sold nearly 800 tickets for its March 15 date at Tempe Beach Park and more than 500 for the headlining set at the Marquee. "Headlining the Marquee was, honestly, the big one, because when you get your own night there, that's huge. I've seen so many of my favorite bands on that stage, and I was always like, dude, I want to do that. For all the guys who grew up in Arizona and knowing what a staple the Marquee is in local music, that was just awesome," McPhatter says.
However, Stilwell says in referencing the title of their debut full-length, the amount of concertgoers does not matter to BBL. "First thing that Taide [Pineda, rhythm guitar] said to me when we first started out at our first gig at Calico Jack's. I was like, 'Dude, this place is dead. There is literally like two people in here.' And he was like, 'Dude, two or 2,000, we are going to rock it just the same."