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Published on March 21st, 2014 | by Ballard Lesemann


The Scotch Bonnets Jam on Punk-Sprited Soul and Reggae

Singer/guitarist Kristin Forbes may have been enamored by punk rock and indie bands while growing up in the Washington, D.C. area during the ’90s and 2000s, but she’s aiming for a different kind of groove these days.

As the front lady for the D.C./Baltimore-based reggae/rock combo Scotch Bonnets, Forbes (nicknamed “Lady Hatchett” by her bandmates) can belt it out with punky vigor, but she tends to lean toward the soul side or reggae, ska, and soul.

“I loved reggae, but I didn’t really know how to do it by myself when I was a young musician,” says Forbes. “I wasn’t really thinking of it that way. I was always really drawn to the groove of reggae. More than just about any style, you can play a reggae jam almost forever and have it sound good. When people know how to give-and-take with it, something amazing and propulsive can happen. The classic grooves get used again and again because they work. They’re so good.”

Forbes delved into punk and rock ‘n’ roll while attending school in Boston, and she collaborated with several punk-minded musicians and songwriters in the late 2000s after returning to the D.C./Baltimore scene. She worked a bit with Travis Morrison from the Dismemberment Plan before veering into reggae-oriented projects with members of longtime Baltimore ska/reggae ensemble the Players — most notably, multi-instrumentalist/singer Pablo Fiasco (also of the Pietasters).


The Scotch Bonnets (photo by FrankieLoveProductions)

Since forming the Scotch Bonnets in 2009, Forbes has both dodged and embraced different sides of reggae, punk, and soul. Musically, her own songs incorporate elements of all of those styles. Stand-out collaborations with two giants of the American punk/reggae scene — H.R. from D.C.’s legendary Bad Brains and Angelo Moore of L.A.’s long-running Fishbone — have enhanced Forbes love and enthusiasm for exploring the common ground shared between the genres.

In 2011, Forbes embarked on a series of road trips and jam sessions with Fishbone’s longtime co-leader, singer, and sax player Moore, including a month on the Vans Warped Tour. Since the early ’80s, Fishbone has been jamming on a wild mix of reggae, ska, funk, punk, metal, and soul. Moore’s outlandish and often eccentric performance style was a major part of the band’s personality.

“Part of the the experience of playing with Angelo Moore involved total chaos, which is par for the course with Angelo in general, but it was a lot of fun,” Forbes says. “I think I wrote some of my best stuff while touring with Angelo. It was intense and crazy, and I learned to work and write under pressure. It was great.”

In the summer of 2012, the Scotch Bonnets partnered with H.R. (short for “Human Rights,” the adopted name of Bad Brains singer Paul Hudson) for several tours, including a trek that led them to the Tin Roof for local bartender/promoter/punk singer Johnny Puke’s annual birthday show. It didn’t matter which way attendees leaned, whether it was reggae, punk, or whatever; the Bonnets/H.R. performance was a smash success.

“I first met Kristin at the W.E. Fest in Wilmington, N.C., where she was a performer,” says Johnny Puke. “She was part of a big group we shared a house with. Since then, we’ve always stayed in touch. I’ve booked her solo here in town and with the Scotch Bonnets. Kristin is a great songwriter, but I think the reason people still talk about her around the Tin Roof is that she is a pretty transcendent performer. At my birthday bash [in 2012], most people were there to see H.R., yet Kristin was who everyone talked about. To outshine H.R. from Bad Brains as a front person is pretty high praise from an audience.”

According to Forbes, it took several years of getting acquainted and building mutual trust and respect before she and the Bonnets felt confident about forming an official musical alliance with H.R. Away from the Bad Brains, who were very off-and-on during the 2000s, H.R. had battled mental and financial issues before settling down in Baltimore with support from musicians and colleagues.


“It’s true that H.R. fights some demons, but in his own personal struggles, he hasn’t had much of a positive environment from which to try to tackle them,” Forbes says. She resided in a band warehouse/rehearsal space alongside H.R., and the two eventually became close friends. “He came to Baltimore in 2006 and stayed at Pablo’s for a while. They developed a sense of trust over the years.

“I tell ya, H.R.has natural powers, and he definitely has an aura about him,” Forbes says. “He can be unpredictable, but when he’s on, it’s amazing. I think there is such a history of tension between H.R. and the other guys in the Bad Brains that they tend to fight like brothers. He’s kind of passive-aggressive when he gets upset, but when he plays with me and Pablo, he’s so happy. Only once have I seen him kind of freak out on tour. Otherwise, he’s so awesome and so good. I think it’s unfortunate that he gets a bad rap. He got married a couple of years ago, and his wife has been very nurturing. H.R. just seems to be better and better every time I see him.”

While H.R. pursues his reggae adventures this year, Forbes and the Scotch Bonnets are on well on their own track, promoting their latest recordings. They recently issued a debut EP titled Live Ya Life, which features four tracks — the soulful ska tune “What Becomes Mine,” a mid-tempo soul reggae number titled “Song 4 U,” a fun dance jam called “Pim Pim Pim” (on which Angelo Moore provided extra saxophone), and the slow-beat, positive-vibed “I Do.”

“I was always really drawn to the rocksteady stuff — the slower stuff that came out of Jamaica in the late ’60s,” Forbes says. “I loved the lead vocals and the harmonies. It’s like a different version of great soul music. That’s what we’re into these days.

The Scotch Bonnets perform at the Tin Roof at 9:30 p.m. on Sun. March 23. Admission is $5. Visit thescotchbonnets.com for more.




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About the Author

Ballard Lesemann

is a musician and writer. Born and raised in Charleston, S.C., he spent years playing in bands and working for Flagpole Magazine in the bustling music town of Athens, Ga. He returned to his hometown and served more than seven years as the Charleston City Paper's music editor. He's better at drumming than he is at playing guitar.

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