Catching fire

Deerfield Beach's the Resolvers turn reggae on its dreadlocked head

By Joanie Cox
City Link Metromix

The members of reggae band the Resolvers gather around the kitchen counter at bassist Steave Nieratka's Pompano Beach home. Drinking Heineken from Mason jars, the band's members reminisce about the day their group accidentally came together in 2007.

"We took the jam-band approach," guitarist Ron Eisner says. "We landed a gig at Kahuna Bar and Grill in Deerfield Beach, which was a dream gig for a reggae band. The band literally formed at the gig, but we were all friends first."

The band started out performing reggae versions of unexpected covers by Sam Cooke, Pink Floyd, Van Morrison and the Beatles. "You can reggae-fy pretty much any song," the 28-year-old Eisner explains with a laugh.

However, the Resolvers don't fit the stereotype of the reggae band. First off, four out of the five members are white. Eisner is an accountant from Tel Aviv. Keyboardist Dean Fishback grew up a country boy in Tallahassee, but became so deeply accepted by the reggae scene he has become the go-to guy for tours to Martinique and Hawaii with national reggae acts such as Glenn Washington and Wailing Souls. Drummer Nate Largent has a day job as a massage therapist. Nieratka is obsessed with science-fiction novels. And lead vocalist Ojay Smith is a skateboarding Frisbee enthusiast who is also the son of 1960s reggae singer Ernie Smith.

"For a while, we felt like we had to prove ourselves to sound authentic," Eisner says. "People would come out and say, 'This bunch of white guys is going to play reggae?'"

Just as Eisner is getting animated about the early days of his band, a fly lands in one of the Mason jars.

"You want to see a trick? I bet I can bring him back to life," says the 32-year-old Largent while fishing the insect from the glass. He dumps a mountain of salt on the fly and nothing happens. The other members of the band shake their heads in disbelief, study the pile for a minute and continue their stories.

"The hardest part of being a band is getting along," Eisner admits. "You get burned out down here. It took a while to finally get in the habit of rehearsing two to three times a week and writing some tunes. You put so many years into a project and in a second, it can be gone."

Fishback, 37 and considered the veteran of the band, says he never anticipated reggae to go so mainstream. "The punk rockers in the '80s loved reggae, not for its peaceful message, but because it was a rebellious thing," he says. "It's awesome, though, because now ska is making a comeback, and we're able to draw off each other's roots as musicians. Reggae music definitely came from some badass musicians."

With a mixture of rock, jazz and blues backgrounds, the Resolvers boast a traditional reggae sound with a punky twist. The band's debut five-song EP, "H'amsa," which means five in Arabic, was released last year. Two of the songs were featured on a TV show called "Island Hoppers," and the CD helped land the group a gig at the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival in Montego Bay.

"When you get off the plane in Jamaica with guitar cases, you get treated so good right from the airport," the 32-year-old Smith says. "There's such an appreciation for music there."

The Resolvers have performed with Estelle and Robin Thicke. They opened for the Original Wailers in Delray Beach and Key West in March, backed Mishka June 11 at Revolution and shared a stage with Yellowman, O Rappa, Less than Jake and Badfish.

"From day one, I was collecting e-mails and hustling to get a following," Eisner recalls. "There's a big reggae scene in Deerfield Beach. There's us, Spread the Dub, Kayaki, which is a Brazilian reggae band, and Stampede, who got their name because there's literally, like, eight people on the stage."

The Resolvers tend to deliver a positive message in their lyrics, as in the song "Clear": "People change/Maybe I should, too/Start today/Tomorrow won't be soon enough to clear up my mistakes." The band also manages to keep the lyrics relevant and its melodies less predictable than the standard two-chord reggae lick. The tune "Giving Into Love" features doo-wop-style R&B backing vocals.

"I think our four-part harmonies make us rare," Largent says. "We have a deep appreciation for old-school musicianship."

The band typically opens a set with "Sound Check," a smooth, feel-good tune that makes the tedious routine of testing microphone levels seem fun. While they go on about peace, fighting for your rights and spreading love as Bob Marley did, the Resolvers also sing about getting off pills, long-distance relationships and surviving the daily grind.

"We find it doesn't work for all five of us to sit down together and write a song," Nieratka says. "It works best if we pair up or individually come up with concepts. We'll throw some ideas around and come together on it. Then, it just flows."

That accidental sort of chemistry even explains the band's name. "We were Ova Dub, Under Dub," Eisner admits. "Then, one night, we were about to finish a big song and none of us came in for that final note except Dean. We called him the resolver to the song and then the name just stuck."

The Resolvers play an average of 13 shows a month and in August will travel to California to embark on their first tour. "Our new stuff has more depth lyrically," Nieratka says. "The structure of the music is more complex."

Smith, who often gets songwriting advice from his famous father, says his band has grown from the thriving reggae movement in Deerfield.

"We have a mature approach to our music," he says. "We just go with the flow and move. We're not letting egos or emotion hold us back."

Just as everyone seems to have forgotten about the fly Largent was trying to resuscitate with a salt pile, its wings slowly begin to flutter and it takes off out the window.

"I thought that was total bullshit, but it actually worked," Nieratka says, high-fiving Largent.

"Reggae is about optimism, freedom, it's uplifting," Eisner says. "It's the story of mankind. And apparently, Nate really is a healer."

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Tue 8/11/2009 8:32 AM