Iration brightens Outside Lands with sunshine reggae

Adam Taylor self-assuredly saunters on stage, carrying his bass loosely in one hand. His other hand is raised high in the air, his thumb and finger extended to form the shaka sign. He is followed by band mates, guitarist Micah Brown, keyboardist Cayson Peterson, drummer Joseph Dickens and, finally singer and guitarist Micah Pueschel, who grins contentedly as he adjusts his mic.

It is Iration’s first time taking the stage at Outside Lands, but their laid-back confidence as they ease into their first song (“Wait and See” from 2010’s Time Bomb) appears as if they’ve mastered the crowd at Golden Gate Park a hundred times.

Their reggae-tinged rock is reminiscent of driving barefoot through island back roads, while still maintaining an authentic, gritty edge. Born and raised in Hawaii and based in Santa Barbara, the progressive reggae quintet has the low-key, laid-back vibe down pat, even though they have every reason to be big-headed.

The band has come a long way since what Pueschel calls “the beginning-beginning:” playing reggae covers in garages at college house parties. In 2008, four years after the band formed, they went on their first national tour. That same year, their second EP Sample This was the third top-selling reggae album on iTunes worldwide.

Though they put a lot of hard work into the band, Taylor said it was a delicate balance of timing and a little bit of luck:

“There were so many variables that luckily aligned for us. I mean…right when we were graduating from college was right when we started feeling a little success, so it was enough incentive to try to pursue it. If it had happened any later or any sooner than it might not have happened.”

The Hawaiian rockers have now put out three studio albums and three EPs, which serve as an accurate portrayal of their progression as a band. Outside Lands is their first stop on a slew of festival dates to promote their newest album, Hotting Up, which is to be released August 28. With only nine songs, Pueschel described the album as “cohesive and tight.”

He said the music is more up-tempo, danceable and beat-driven:

“I think we’ve matured a little bit and the music shows that. If you look at the musicality of a lot of our earlier records, we’ve just developed as musicians and as writers.”

Marked by zealous guitar riffs, steel drum, amplified keyboard and Pueschel’s smooth, melodious vocals, their sound has been labeled as reggae, roots reggae, rock and “sunshine reggae” — a subgenre used to describe upbeat, tropical music.

Taylor said the band members don’t mind the label, but don’t want to be generalized either:

“We wanna be able to flow in between genres.”

Whether their sound is classified as rock, reggae, or something in between, the band keeps it real on and off stage. According to Pueschel, it’s all about the music:

“We’re all about making good songs and we don’t care if it’s reggae or rock…we don’t care what the genre is, we just care about making a good song.”

Next to fellow Southern California reggae rockers Slightly Stoopid, Iration is the only band representing that genre on this year’s Outside Lands lineup — an honor Taylor said they recognize:

“That feels good to us because typically when you get on these big festivals, they’ll only pick one or two from our little subgenre. It feels good to kind of represent some of the other bands and bring something I guess a little different to the festival.”

Micah added, jokingly:

“It feels good to be taken seriously.”

The band grew up listening to a lot of “Jawaiian” music — a branch of reggae that marries Jamaican and Hawaiian influences. According to Pueschel, it includes a lot of classic reggae covers.

Though they are clearly inspired by traditional reggae tunes, the band members listen to a large range of contemporary and classic musicians. Pueschel is a big classic rock fan, noting The Beatles and Tom Petty as some of his biggest influences. Meanwhile, Taylor has Two Door Cinema Club, Chromeo and Tame Impala’s latest album on heavy rotation.

They also shamelessly admit they’re a sucker for pop divas. Pueschel told SFBay:

“We like a little bit of everything, but I also love Taylor Swift. 1989…that was a great record. Britney Spears, love her. Paula Abdul, pure talent.”

In fact, if they could create their dream festival lineup, T. Swift and Abdul would be headlining, along with Tom Petty, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones and Bob Marley and the Wailers.

On stage, the band is a punchy, cohesive powerhouse. They sway and bounce across the stage with a compelling fervor. A beach ball glides along the fingertips of the crowd onto the stage and a few girls in the front row extend their arms upward, as if to catch each chord Pueschel cranks out of his guitar.

The band’s bond is tangible. Pueschel and Taylor said they spend time together when they’re not touring and the whole band is involved when it comes to songwriting.

It typically starts with lyrics and a melody on an acoustic guitar, with each band member adding his own elements. Pueschel said they use a lot of their personal life to make their music relatable and relevant to their fans, which also keeps them grounded:

“I think with songwriting and art in general, it has to come from somewhere real, somewhere where you can relate to as an artist.”

Part of Iration’s appeal is their down-to-earth vibe — both musically and in person. Their outgoing, relaxed aura suggests they spend time strapping surfboards to a beat-up Volkswagen van and sipping beers on the beach when they’re not performing or recording music. They’re remarkably humble, which is apparent through their social media presence. They use Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter to connect with their fans, often reposting their tweets and pictures.

According the Pueschel, social media is a great way to give back to their fans:

“In this day and age, there’s so many bands out there, there’s so much music out there, and the cycles are so fast, it’s about connecting with your fans and being able to connect on a real basis and give them instant feedback and say, ‘We appreciate you.'”

Island life has also had a big impact on the band’s authentic outlook. According to Taylor, this perspective unites them as people and as musicians:

“I think honestly, growing up in Hawaii, humility was really valued and I think that’s just something everybody really strives for in the band. Just to stay humble and stay normal.”