Iration's Micah Pueschel Talks Roots, Fusion Reggae, and Their Writing Process

Hawaii-bred reggae rock group Iration take change in stride. Each of their albums explores a different side of their musical influences--ranging from drummer Joseph Pickens' love for Lamb of God to lead vocalist/guitarist Micah Pueschel's penchant for the Beatles--while keeping their roots in traditional reggae. Earlier this year in April, vocalist Kai Rediske announced he was leaving the band in the midst of recording Iration's third full-length album, Automatic, which came out July 2.

They surged forward regardless, going with the flow to push their boundaries even a little further by adding an undercurrent of edgier rock elements to some tracks. The band collaborated with Cage The Elephant guitarist Lincoln Parish, who is also featured on several tracks and helped co-produce select songs on the album, along with longtime studio partner JP Hesser of Castaway 7 Studios in Ventura, CA. Bassist Adam Taylor, keyboardist Cayson Peterson, and dub controller Joseph King round out the band alongside Taylor and Pueschel.

The band's bass-driven grooves, dance-inspired reggae rhythms, bluesy dub kicks and catchy lyrics always please crowds, whether they are opening for the Roots, like at this year's McDowell Mountain Music Festival, or for Sublime with Rome.

Up On The Sun talked with Pueschel about the state of current reggae, incorporating hard rock into Iration's newest album, and on future songwriting without Kai.

The state of reggae today is pretty interesting. We've got Snoop Lion and Eddie Murphy coming back into the mix, and a ton of fusion reggae. What are your thoughts on the current state of the genre? I think the state of reggae is, um...there's two different parts to that. What people think is reggae and what is actually traditional roots reggae. To me, the traditional reggae is being lost in the whole thing. The more modern reggae bands are fusion type bands from America, like Rebelution--I think those are the bands that are becoming a lot more popular and taking the reins.

So I don't know, Snoop Lion and Eddie Murphy...I haven't heard any of those songs or listened to them. But reggae music is a music that is universal and everyone can enjoy it, regardless of where you're from. I think reggae is in a good place right now, but obviously the older style of reggae, the roots, is being a little lost, but the fusion reggae is booming.

What are three ways that Automatic differs from Time Bomb for you personally? To me, Automatic is very very different from Time Bomb. It's still us, but what made Time Bomb a popular records was hooks, feel-good music, good rhythms--uplifting, for the most part. But we also wanted to do more songs that were geared to traditional roots reggae and have some rock influences. We wanted to experiment and do some acoustics.

One way it's definitely different is that Automatic is much more diverse and eclectic as far as style. Another way is that the lyrical content is more mature.

I feel like it pushes even further into the band's usual hard rock feel, and is darker and edgier in a good way. Does that derive from your hard rock influences, like your love for Metallica? Yeah, definitely. We worked with Lincoln Parish and he brought a lot of the rock. We wanted more rock. Every record that we've made has had a different set of influences When we first started out we were really focused on making reggae tracks. With Sample This and Time Bomb it was more pop and reggae.

And then we strayed from that sound a bit with Fresh Grounds. Then with Automatic we wanted to make a record that had all of things we've already done but with more of a rock element. We like rock; we do like Metallica and hard rock music.

What are some other hard rock influences do you guys bring to the table? We come from a lot of punk and metal. It's everything from System of a Down to Metallica to punk music, like Pennywise and NOFX. Our drummer really loves heavy stuff, like Lamb of God and Suicidal Tendencies. And we've played other styles, like Weezer, where it's rock but not hard rock.

When I saw Iration play at the McDowell Mountain Music Festival, you could definitely see that each member has different influences and that was what I liked about your sound. You guys brought unexpected things to the table here and there, especially in the individual instrumental solos. Thank you!

When did you first start playing guitar? We were all pretty late to the game. We all didn't start playing until college, I don't think. I didn't start playing the guitar until I was 19. It's been a process for me to learn, because it's constant. None of us are classically trained, and we're all pretty much self-taught musicians.

There are good and bad things about that, and we each have our own style that developed organically. But it's taken a long time to get where we are musically, because there's been a lot of trial and error.

Is there a track off Automatic that you're looking forward to playing live? We can't play all the songs off it obviously, but we've been playing a lot of new material, like "Automatic" and "One Way Track." I love playing "One Way Track" and "Back Around"; those are two of my favorites. I've always said that "One Way Track" for me is the most complete song I've ever written, so that's my favorite to play right now.

When it comes to the writing process, did you and Kai write the majority or is the entire band involved? Well, generally, this record it was me and Kai. We also worked with Lincoln on a handful of songs. But besides those, Kai and I would hash out ideas back and forth and write together, then send those demos to Lincoln. In the studio we would play them.

For the rest of the songs on Automatic, it was me writing by myself, or with our producer JP, or Kai giving me an idea and then we'd create the song. Generally it starts with an acoustic guitar, then the structure, then we bring it to the rest of the band and everyone comes up with their own musical part.

So do you think that your next album, which will be the first for Iration without Kai--is that something you're nervous about? I haven't started writing yet, and I am a little nervous about it. Only because, you know, it was comfortable having Kai bring material to the table. He was good at it. He's a good songwriter. Like, "Show Me," "Milk and Honey"...a lot of those songs were his, and then we'd develop them.

But as far as that goes, for me, I don't have a real problem coming up with material. I just have to be alone and in the right state of mind, focused and motivated. For instance, when Kai decided to leave the band, I had to go back into the studio and had two days to write more material to fill in the record. I wrote "Uptown" and "Go That Road" and one more... I can't remember what it was. [Laughs] So I know that I can be productive in that situation and I'm looking forward to it. But I will say I don't know how we're going to approach the next record yet.

What's your favorite band and the first time you saw them? The Beatles to me are the greatest. Beatlemania; my mom ingrained it in me as a young kid. I'm too young to have seen them live, but I saw Paul McCartney live in Prague and that was awesome. A pinnacle of my music life. The other one is that I got to see Tom Petty a couple months ago in LA at a small venue, like 1,000 seats. It was incredible.

Follow us on Twitter and friend us on Facebook

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Lauren Wise has worked as a rock/heavy metal journalist for 15 years. She contributes to Noisey and LA Weekly, edits books, and drinks whiskey.
Contact: Lauren Wise