By: Jacob Elyachar, jakes-take.com
It is a pleasure to welcome Los Angeles-based rock-reggae group SayReal to Jake’s Take.
Fronted by Voice alum Naia Kete, SayReal’s line-up includes Naia’s brother, Imani Elijah (percussion, keyboards, and vocals), Lightfoot (guitar, percussion, and vocals) and Lee John (bass, percussion and voice). Former American Idol judge and music producer Randy Jackson discovered the group while watching them perform an impromptu set at Hollywood’s Hotel Café in late 2014.
In addition to releasing their debut EP, Unarmed and Ready, later this year; SayReal is the hosts at Harvelle’s Reggae nights every Tuesday at 9 PM PST in Santa Monica. At the Reggae Nights, the group recognizes local California artists and musicians as they appear throughout their set.
In this edition of A Conversation, the group shared its origin story and what it is like to be a band in the Los Angeles music scene.
Jacob Elyachar: Could you describe SayReal’s origin story to my readers?
Imani Elijah: Naia and I are siblings, so we’ve been creating music together for as long as I can remember. She attended an all-girls rock and roll camp back in our hometown in Massachusetts. Lee John, her future boyfriend, and SayReal bassist, would engineer at this camp and ended up recording her first solo album. The chemistry was there from day one and post my graduation from high school we all decided to take a leap of faith and move out to California to further pursue our dreams in the music industry. We began performing and recording immediately and eventually started busking on the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. This is where we started to amass a substantial following, push our CDs and had the opportunity to meet the legend that is Lightfoot. He was performing out there as well, doing his solo act, but we soon realized that combining our forces created a force to be reckoned with. The final and most important piece to the puzzle was teaming up with our manager and friend Jordan Richardson. Since taking over manager duties, he has gone above and beyond what is typically called for. He has invested countless hours of work based on faith and belief in our project and cause. We now have a weekly residency at the renowned Harvelle’s Nightclub in Santa Monica and are eagerly looking forward to releasing our debut EP and adding more chapters to our SayReal story.
JE: Naia, many of my readers, remember you from “The Voice’s” sophomore season. How have you grown as an artist since your time on the show?
Naia Kete: Funny enough, I feel like since the show I’ve found my voice regarding who it is that I am as an artist, the messages that I want to express through music and how that all comes together in what I say and sing. Being on the show was an incredible experience, but almost didn’t even feel real. Since The Voice, I’ve done a lot of hard work on my own and with SayReal developing our craft and sound. I feel so blessed to be where I am now, playing music that is truly meaningful to me, with people who are family. We are so lucky to have such an amazing fan base (RealSayers) that continues to grow day by day!
JE: What are some of the biggest challenges that you faced breaking into the music industry? How did you overcome them?
Lightfoot: I think the biggest challenge is staying mentally and spiritually centered while you’re broke and paying dues. But, it teaches you to create your momentum and not let circumstances affect your stoke for the music. Surrounding yourself with the right people is crucial, love keeps you elevated through the lows.
JE: What are some of the pros and cons of being a band in the Los Angeles music scene?
Lee John: As far as the scene here in LA goes, there are many pros. It being the central music hub of the west coast is an obvious one (perhaps also a con, however). Another is how easy it is to meet new people at shows due to all of all the tourism here, especially in Santa Monica where we play every Tuesday night at Harvelle’s. There are many opportunities to play in a city with such a diversity of areas and an abundance of venues, and this gives us the freedom to carve out our scene in such a large amalgamation of communities. The only major con I see to being a band here is how the market is totally flooded (a side-effect of it being a music and showbiz hotbed). There are so many bands, and people, in general, trying to make it here that it can be easy to feel washed away in the current of it all. Our undying passion for doing this, however, is what has kept us going and will continue to keep us going no matter the challenges we face in this city, or in the rest of the world for that matter.
JE: Which artists, bands or producers are on your band’s dream collaborators list?
IE: I mean that could be a list that goes on for days! The band has so many influences that have contributed to our sound and what we are about, but here are a few: Damian Marley, Pharrell, Kendrick Lamar, Usher, DJ Kilmore from Incubus, Skrillex and, more recently, Alessia Cara. That girl is killing it, and we love her message!
JE: If you had the chance to meet with an aspiring band who wants to enter the music industry, what advice would you share with them?
NK: Our advice would be to allow yourselves to develop fully something that is unique to you, something genuine and something you all believe in. Also, know that it’s going to be a lot of hard work, and you are going to need each other, so stick together! It’s not going to be easy all the time, but if you stay open and honest with one another and continue to put the music first, it will be so worth it. We all know how healing and inspiring music can be, and a great show can always give you that extra spark and motivation that you need to keep going. There’s a lot more advice we could give, but we’ll start there. Put yourselves, each other and the music first. The rest will follow.