Get down with The Getdown Underground

The band brings reggae to Columbia.

By Gabrielle Lipton | March 19, 2010

Tags: Band interviews Music

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As a band plays at a dark house party, one of the guitars lights up, flashing colors in the dark, and the crowd goes crazy. It's Patrick Smith, the lead guitarist in Columbia's native band The Getdown Underground, and the band jamming out its reggae songs.

Comprised of seniors Justus Lacewell and Patrick Smith, junior Sam Niehaus and Columbia resident Dave Barbero, The Getdown Underground formed formally in July 2009 and has been playing locally since, fusing genres into a distinctive sound.

"There's more going on than just reggae," Niehaus, the band's drummer, said. "I wouldn't even consider us a straight-up reggae band."

"I'd say we're rock-reggae," said Smith.

"Yeah, rock-reggae-funk," added Lacewell, guitarist and lead vocalist.

After frequenting open-mic nights playing his own music, Lacewell decided to form a band. Smith and Barbero, the band's bass guitarist, joined him in February 2009, and Niehaus became the final addition in the summer.

In person, members of the band are as harmonized as their sound, tailing off each other's thoughts and playing off each other's humor. This concord is a component of their creative process as well when they originate their music.

"When I get a pinching to write a song, it happens immediately, and I write the basic chords and what the words are," Lacewell said. "It's just like a raw skeleton when I take it to practice, and then everything just gets filled in and it goes pretty quickly from there."

With 13 original songs as well as some covers, the band has played at multiple house parties, Earthdance Festival, Truman State University, Mojo's, Eastside Tavern and The Blue Fugue.

"I think we've got a niche audience going on here a little bit, because we're the only thing with reggae going on right now," Lacewell said.

Their next big gig is March 24 at The Blue Note, where they will be opening for the Wailers. As a reggae band, that is a big honor.

"It's like you're learning the sitar and Ravi Shankar comes and says he wants to play with you," Lacewell said. "It's like a little mark of where we are, how far we've come. It's pretty cool."

Their fan base also reflects their success as a band. Known for getting people to dance, some of the band's listeners have yet to miss a show. Lacewell said a striking moment was when a Nepalese couple that attended a show at Truman State came up and complimented them. Smith's guitar — which includes a touch pad, flashing colored lights and distortion features — doesn't hurt either.

In conjunction with reggae's roots, the band views the added effects as a bonus and prefers to keep their sound true to the basics.

"I think of the sound effects guitar like a toy, like its cool and creates cool sounds, but bottom line it's our musicianship that makes our music good," Smith said.

Lacewell said he could not use audio processors such as Auto-Tune and still think he has made music on the best level.

Smith's dad has his own studio in Springfield, Ill., and the band hopes to record and have a CD release show before Smith and Lacewells' May graduation. With Lacewell's plans to move to Colorado, the band will no longer continue together, but they all agree that each will keep playing music.

"Getting paid to do what you love — you can't beat that," Niehaus said. "Dream job."

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