See-I finally releases its debut album after 20 years

:: See-I ::
:: Aggie Theatre :: April 1 ::
:: Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom :: April 2 ::
:: 320 South :: April 3 ::

By Timothy Dwenger


Sometimes a story has so many twists, turns, stutter-steps and false starts, that you can get lost in the intricacies of it, and such is the case with the story behind the D.C.-based dub and reggae group, See-I.  They are releasing their debut album in June on Fort Knox Recordings, but the band, fronted by brothers Zeebo and Rootz Steele, has been around, off and on, for 20 years or more in one form or another.

The story begins when the brothers were in high school, in the days before either of them had dreamed up the name See-I. “Me and my brother had a junkyard band, and I mean real junkyard. We had milk jugs and our cymbals were hubcaps off of cars. It was like straight up Fat Albert, I’m serious,” Zeebo said laughing when The Marquee caught up with him in his home studio. “Then we got to college we were like, ‘Yo man, we should start a real band.’ We was talking shit then, but the next thing I know I was playing bass and my brother was playing drums and pretty soon we started getting some gigs. It was maybe three times in a year, but it was like, ‘Yeah, we played three gigs!’”

Zeebo and his brother have come a long way since those days of gigging three times a year, and the name See-I has become synonymous with the Steele brothers and the various incarnations of the band they have been fronting around the D.C. area for years.   “Just about every reggae musician in D.C. has played with me in a band as See-I,” said Zeebo. “Just about all of them know me as See-I.”

Unless you are a D.C. musician, the Steele brothers are probably better known as the duo of vocalists that sing on most of Thievery Corporation’s reggae flavored tracks. In fact, according to Zeebo, they have been part of the Thievery family since the very beginning.  “Eric Hilton came to watch See-I in Georgetown a long time ago,” he said. “After that, we used to get together with him and record some stuff and that’s how our relationship with him started. Then Eric met Rob and they started something called Thievery Corporation.  I’ve been around the scene ever since Thievery started, in fact me and Rootz were the first vocalists in Thievery, along with Pam Bricker. We used to tour like that, with them on the decks and us on vocals. Thievery played like that for years.”

As a result of the longstanding relationship with Thievery, it makes sense that Zeebo and Rootz have tapped several members of Thievery’s touring ensemble to join them as their touring band, including bass player Ashish “Hash” Vyas, saxman Frank Mitchell, and multi-instrumentalist Rob Myers. Rounding out the eight-piece live band are former Thievery conga player Javier Miranda, Jeff Franca and Enea Diotaiuiti on drums and keyboards respectively.

While Diotaiuiti is touring with the band, it was Zeebo’s son Salem who handled keyboard duties in his father’s studio when the band was laying down tracks for the album. “My son Salem has been playing with me since he was a kid, he is sorta like the music director, so if he’s around to direct the music then it’s gonna be pretty easy for the rest of the band to pick it up,” said Zeebo. “He can show them exactly what the feel is, or exactly what keys to play, and it translates a lot better than if I had something on a tape and said, ‘Listen to this and try to play it.’ He basically built the new band.”

With Salem’s help, and a cohesiveness gained through several tours over the past few years, the band has gelled nicely and was able to lay down a very solid record without much influence from outside forces. “I wouldn’t have made an album if I had to go to someone else’s studio and there aren’t many producers out there who could have produced this sound out of us,” said Zeebo. “To record, I’ve got to be where I want to be, I’ve got to be in the zone that I want to be in. I can’t have somebody telling me this or telling me that, it ain’t gonna work like that ’cause I have to be in that zone with my own engineer and babysit that process until I can get it out.”

Zeebo stressed that many of the songs that make up the record are not technically “new songs” and in fact some of them have been around for 20 or more years. “We’ve got songs that some people may think we just wrote, but we didn’t just write them. We may have just modernized them into the time we are in, but some of them are songs that probably go way back. Even some of the songs that I might do with Thievery and somebody thinks is new, like ‘.38.45 (A Thievery Number),’ that’s an old See-I song, way older than Thievery.  It used to be a See-I number,” he chuckled.

While they have more than 20 years worth of material to draw on, the fact that they haven’t released an album until now makes perfect sense to Zeebo. “This record represents me after 20 some years,” he said.  “I’ve always looked at See-I as a live entity, a live band. Recording is cool, too, but my love of music is rooted in playing live. That has a lot to do with why you haven’t seen a project like this from See-I. It’s nothing to me like playing live.”

:: See-I ::

:: Aggie Theatre :: April 1 ::

:: Cervantes’ Masterpiece Ballroom :: April 2 ::

:: 320 South :: April 3 ::


Recommended if you Like:

• Thievery Corporation

• Fort Knox Five

• Damian Marley

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