Rebelution Drummer Wes Finley Talks Isla Vista Past


Kyle Roe
Arts and Entertainment Editor

Before becoming one of the most successful reggae bands based in the United States, the members of Rebelution were University of California, Santa Barbara students living in Isla Vista. Like us, they lived in extreme proximity to thousands of other liberally sober students, were tempted by the greasy and expensive restaurant culture, and rode their bikes through crowded bipedal traffic on school days. However, Rebelution also regularly played backyard shows throughout the one-square-mile community limits, accumulating a following within the town’s local reggae scene that expanded until they became its most famous sons. A little more than a decade after their formation, the only bandmember still residing in Santa Barbara is drummer Wes Finley, who was able to sit down for a chat with The Bottom Line in anticipation of the group’s homecoming show at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday.

About what year did you start performing?

What year did we start performing. Ooh man, I would say it was 2003, 2004, but it’d be safer to say 2004.

Were there any places in Isla Vista where Rebelution played consistently?

Yeah, we all lived at 6587 oceanside [Del Playa Drive], so we played there a lot just because we lived there, and in addition to that we played some shows at 6507. There was the Dolphin House too.

That’s cool, so a lot of oceanside shows then.

Yeah, it was always fun. I’m the drummer, so like, my back was always against the “Danger Beware: Cliff” sign.

Were there a lot of reggae bands playing in Isla Vista at the time?

Yeah. What made me want to move to I.V. was that I was visiting a friend who was a freshman at the time, and when I was there, there was a band playing like every other house we walked by, there was music everywhere. And it was still kinda before the whole Cali reggae thing blew up, but right around the time we started playing, Iration was playing before us. Obviously they had a different lineup at that time, but Iration was there before, probably by at least a good year, but they were playing IV for sure. I think maybe Fuzzy Lattes was the name of another group. So I would say there were like a handful of reggae groups that would play consistently in IV.

At what point would you say you moved from being seen as a local Isla Vista band to the famous reggae band you’re seen as today?

I remember the transition pretty clearly. We were living at 6587 and we had just gotten an offer to play in Hawaii, and that was like our first out of state show to play. And we like couldn’t believe we were being paid to go to Hawaii, and play music and be listened to. The radio spots for the show were like blasting out of our speakers at our house. They were playing our music and saying, “Rebelution’s going to be here,” and it was just a really exciting moment for us that I’ll never forget. It felt like the first time we were getting out of somewhere that was our home base.

And then we were on tour for the first time with the Expendables, and that was our first tour, we were still living in I.V. and Goleta and starting to tour, and it was like, “Whoa, what is happening man?” We just rented an RV and went at it.

Did you visit IV before you started going to SBCC?

No, I visited a friend at the time who went to UCSB, I’d say I visited three or four times. I lived there in 2003 I think it was. We, us four members [of Rebelution], all went to Santa Barbara City College and transferred to UCSB, where we graduated. Before that I went to a community college in Monterey, Monterey Peninsula College.

What were some of your favorite classes you took at UCSB?

Well I’d have to throw Human Sexuality on there, right? I like how they make it really challenging. They have to actually make it pretty difficult, so I could appreciate that. I used to be an anthropology major so I took anthropology classes that were offered. I also took a lot of music classes. I took theory and piano, and I liked a lot of the ethnomusicology stuff like music of Turkey, music of China and just the cultural side of that.

Did some of the music you learned about in those classes influence your music that you make today?

Maybe a little bit. I ended up writing about a lot of reggae. A lot of my papers were about reggae, just because I was immersed in that music at that time, so I kind of went both ways in a sense. I’ve been a fan of different types of music my entire life, so I don’t even listen to a lot of reggae at this point in my life. It’s hard to say exactly how much something weighs into your playing.

What are you listening to now that you’re not really listening to reggae?

A lot of indie rock bands. Right now what’s on my playlist is St. Lucia…Foals is another group I’m really hot about right now, and then Local Natives and City and Colour.

You’ve said in other interviews that you mixed together influences outside of reggae on your newest album [Falling Into Place]. What are some of those influences and how did you include them?

This time around our recording process was a lot different, like we worked with producers for the first time, to try to collaborate and try something new and different. The song “Santa Barbara” that we have on the album was made in collaboration with a producer in Jamaica too, so I’d say being open to collaboration was a big part of how this new album sounded different.

Why did you choose to work with different producers on this album?

We had other bands work with producers and tell us how their experience was, and we just wanted to…not be forced to write how we normally write, and just see how other creative minds could push our music, push our musicality.

Obviously you think you know what is best, but it’s another thing to set aside your ego and have someone tell you to do “this” instead. You don’t really think of music like that, in terms of getting coached or being told to do something.

Who did you work with on this album again?

We ended up mostly working with a guy named Supa Dups. He had previously worked with Michael Franti and SOJA. We had friends in those bands, and they’d had good experiences with him, and we’d actually tried some other producers, but we didn’t like their vibe or the way they were taking the music very much. We really liked working with him a lot. It was really comfortable to work with someone who was more accommodating and not judgmental.

What’s your favorite song on the new album and why?

That’s a tough call. I liked “Inhale Exhale” a lot, it’s a lot of fun to play live and correspond with our fans, like the weed anthem or whatever. So that’s our weed anthem of that album, so it’s pretty popular right now. “Break Out” is the last song of the album. I like that one a lot because it’s so much different from the other songs on the album, it’s more like a rock ballad. I got to stretch out more on drums on that one.

Are there any parties you went to at UCSB that kind of stick out in your mind as especially unusual or crazy?

Yeah, I mean I lived next to a frat, and they had a Copenhagen [Chewing Tobacco]-sponsored party one time, and I couldn’t believe it. So that was a weird one.

There was another party I went to that was sponsored by and off-brand of condoms, and that was a party that we played at. It was at the Marley House, and by the end of the show when they were cleaning up there were just so many dirty condoms, you didn’t know which ones were used or which weren’t. Most of them weren’t used, but it was like, what the hell is this.

There was this one crazy party that had an upstairs, it was like a two-story apartment complex, and the upstairs was Heaven and the downstairs was Hell. So it was like this weird themed party.

What would you say was your favorite restaurant in Isla Vista?

I still go to Freebirds. No shame. I still live in Santa Barbara, I’m the last guy left, I live in between Turnpike and Patterson, so whenever I want nachos I just hop on 217 and just go to Freebirds. I have no shame in saying that Freebirds nachos are some of the best nachos in the area.