Bringing Island vibes to the world
Kees Dieffenthaller might sing about wining and relaxation, but the man works hard. And it’s especially true this week. The dreadlocked leader and frontman of Trinidad’s Kes the Band is in the States entertaining crowds, writing music, and building his network. Already a household name in Trinidad and Tobago, his goal is now to bring his band’s soca stylings to the wider world.
Jam-packed itinerary notwithstanding, the 2011 soca monarch took a moment to chat with MTV Iggy about collaborating with Snoop Dogg (among other big names), how music helps him chill out (even though it’s his job), and how playing in a covers band helped make him the artist he is today.
Even at 8:15 in the a.m., when our interview was scheduled, this consummate performer was on, despite a recording session that went until the small hours the night before.
Are you recording in Los Angeles?
I am. I’m actually doing a bit of everything in Los Angeles right now. We just had a session with Poet. DJ Poet did “Boom Boom Boom” and stuff with the Black Eyed Peas. He’s just a ball of energy, so he had us up until 4 a.m. And I was like “You know what? It’s going to be hard to get up this morning.”
Today’s going to be a crazy day as well. We’ve go at show at Zanzibar and I have few things to do before then, so thank you MTV Iggy for waking me up.
Are you recording for anything special?
We just came out to the West Coast. You know, we have a lot of good people out here that we just needed to be working with. I’m writing music for singles, just trying to make it to the next step musically. We’re known in the Caribbean and different parts of the world, but now we just want to expand it and make new friends. The States is something different. You have to come here and meet new people and work with different producers.
How does performing in the US and other parts of the world compare to performing in Trinidad?
Trinidad definitely is its own world. When we perform in the States it usually something Carnival related, so the crowds are very Caribbean. What we enjoy as well is mixing it up with more American stuff, clubs that don’t necessarily know too much about what we do, so we can translate our thing for the masses. We enjoy doing that. It’s just a little different. You have to dig a little deeper because they don’t know the stuff, but it also makes you reassess what you do and see how the world sees what you do.
Do you do covers?
Oh, definitely! Years ago we did a version of “Crash Into You” by Dave Matthews. We added pan and there was a reggae vibe to it as well. What we do is just add our twist to music. We do something called island pop. It’s like island vibes mixed with pop and rock. It sounds like that pop song that you may know, but there’s a strong Caribbean twist to it. We mix it with soca, dancehall, reggae, but you’re going to get that heavy pop influence. It’s made us accessible but very different.
Is there a difference between writing a great soca song and writing any other kind of song?
I don’t think there’s much difference because a good song is a good song. It’s an exciting time that we’re in right now because genres are being mixed and lines are being blurred. Everybody is writing everything, so some people just need to sit and listen. They would get it.
Soca music is very tied to an experience. It’s very tied to Carnival. So, if you come to Carnival you’re always going to get it a lot better, but nowadays, how soca is being written, it’s just being written as good songs.
What makes a soca hit?
It’s got to carry you somewhere. Soca has a feel. The best way to describe it is happy. It’s happy music and it’s got to carry you to that place. It’s a simple feeling, not something that’s too confusing. That’s a big factor for soca music. You can’t be thinking too much about emotional stuff. Soca music is really about unplugging and having a good time. And if you capture that in music, that fun and happy vibe, I think you have a strong hit.
Like your song “Stress Away.” Say, how do you relieve stress?
Sing! Sing, anything. That’s a part of me as well. I might sing-talk to you about anything. I could be making a sandwich or something and I’m singing about it. Music has really been my avenue to de-stress, even though it is a cause of a lot of stress too. I’ve found it to be a remedy as well.
How did that collaboration with Snoop Dogg come about? He had a verse on the “Stress Away” remix.
It was crazy. Listening to Snoop Dogg when I was small, playing Doggystyle over and over and then hearing him say your name. It was just crazy.
We say that Trinidadians are everywhere and they are. Part of Snoop’s team was a Trinidadian and he was like “What do you think of the possibility of doing something with Snoop?” And we were like “Well, yeah, for sure.” We didn’t have the track yet though. We didn’t know what song to use.
And then when “Stress Away” came we said this is the perfect song for Snoop. Then we sent two tracks to Snoop and Snoop obviously leaned toward the “Stress Away” track, because he has no stress and he vibed on it really good. I was glad that he was open minded enough to do a soca song from Trinidad. I thought that was amazing of him because it’s a totally different world. But Snoop has always been experimental, he’s been doing dance and all kinds of things these days.
You got your start playing in a successful covers band. How did that help prepare you for where you are today?
I bless every step that we’ve taken. We’ve played in a heavy covers band, we’ve also played our own music. You know that time when you are making zero dollars and you are eating the cheapest possible food to survive. All these things are tools that come all together. Everything that happens in your life adds up to this moment right now. We covered a range of music from hard rock to R&B, soca, reggae, dancehall. And covering this music helped me to study song structure and study my range as an artist. So when it comes time to express myself, it’s really a span of all these things, so you are going to hear dancehall, you know me chanting dancehall, but the chorus is going to be a very hardcore chorus. That how I’m going to express myself because I grew up feeling different kinds of music. And the more I use more elements from all my influences the more unique we sound.
How was Carnival this year?
Carnival was crazy. It was a defining year for us back home as well. We’re pretty known. 2011 was a huge year for us too. We had a track called “Wotless.” From there we really broke down a few doors and made some noise. So the following year we had to do the same thing. But we didn’t want to do the same thing. We never do. We did tracks like “Stress Away” and another track infused with dance called “Precision Wine.” So, it was just a defining year for us. And we stood. We stood up and just expanded ourselves more. We got more into the dancehall market as well.
Everyone is saying, “Oh, success!” And I won all these things, but to actually maintain success is even harder to do. But I’m very proud of the team this year and we’re on to better things.
So, what is the next big thing for you guys?
My next level is just to write hot singles that represent how I feel. I can sing a track that everybody will understand everywhere around the world, but I’m not away from who I am as an artist and a Trindadian.