Keyser Soze
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Keyser Soze

Reno, Nevada, United States

Reno, Nevada, United States
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By Tony Sauro July 23, 2009 Record Staff Writer July 23, 2009 12:01 AM
The last time one of Jammal Tarkington's bands played in Stockton, murder suspect O.J. Simpson was being pursued by police on a Los Angeles freeway.
"Yeah, he was in the Ford Bronco and we were watching on TV," said Tarkington, laughing and sounding a bit amazed at the rapid passage of time.
That was in 1994. Time sure flies by when you're having so much fun playing the good-time rhythms of Jamaican music in a band whose name was inspired by "The Usual Suspects."
"I'm looking forward to being with a lot of family and friends," said Tarkington, a Stockton native and Lincoln High School graduate who brings Keyser Soze, his seven-piece Reno ska band, home for the first time Friday at Valley Brewing Co.
"They've been hitting me up because they'd like to come out. I'll see a lot of people who haven't seen me play there. Half of my family's there. Easily 100 of them."
Stockton's Soul Simple opens the show. Tarkington, who was playing in the Mudsharks in 1994, has musical roots that dig deep into Stockton.
Three of the 36-year-old saxophone player's uncles (Ron, Rick and Keith Tarkington) were members of the California Malibus, a popular Motown-style vocal group formed four decades ago at Edison High School.
His dad, Edgar, was a drummer, and his grandfather, Edgar Tarkington Sr., provided a constant source of encouragement and inspiration.
"I got it from my family," said Tarkington, who left Stockton to pursue his musical muse and education at University of Nevada, Reno. "They've always been pretty musical. My dad and mom always would take me to jazz festivals. There was always music. There was a lot of church music, too."
He started playing his horn as a Fremont Junior High School seventh-grader, being tutored by Mel Won there and then at Franklin High for a month.
After transferring to Lincoln, he kept progressing, eventually making it to California's all-state honor band.
"Art Holton (then Lincoln's band director) was pretty serious about the jazz band," Tarkington said. "He had a large portion of being responsible for my music education."
He's not done yet. Tarkington plans to pursue his master's degree at UNR and "do some teaching." For now, though, it's mostly playing his saxophone and singing. In three groups.
Keyser Soze, named for the mysterious villain in "The Usual Suspects," a 1994 movie, was founded in Reno, playing a mix of ska, reggae, jazz and rock.
That was in 1998, after Tarkington's ska-punk Mudsharks, formed in 1990, had demonstrated his affection and acuity for Jamaican and Caribbean music - which, he noted proudly, drew partial inspiration from the same American soul styles his uncles once sang in the Malibus.
"The Jamaicans were imitating doo-wop," Tarkington said.
Some of that influence will be felt in "But Not for You," Keyser Soze's second full-length album that's due out in late September.
"It's a little more traditional," Tarkington said. "Like the Skatalites and doo-wop. The other half will be reggae, rock-steady and dub. Desmond Dekker, early Wailers (the late Bob Marley's band), Prince Far I, Inner Circle, the Heptones. That's kind of where we've been digging in."
Tarkington started digging Jamaican music while listening to KUOP-FM when he was in high school.
"I'd go to Reggae on the River and Reggae Sunsplash," said Tarkington, who also got ska-punk inspiration from San Jose's Skankin' Pickle and Long Beach's Sublime. "Having it in your face like that and being so close to it, it just happened, yeah.
"I realized how much of jazz there was in it. You look back at the Skatalites and they were heavily jazz-influenced. There were a lot of horns in ska. I was attracted to that."
Tarkington got the idea for the band's unusual name from a friend who had roomed with Brian Singer, director of "The Usual Suspects," at USC.
"Every band name is pretty stupid," said Tarkington, who also plays in Verbal Kint, another "Usual Suspects" reference, and Who Cares, a jazz-hip-hop duo. "I saw this movie and said to the other guys, 'You gotta check this out.' After they saw the movie, they were down."
Keyser Soze has been through an unusual number of changes, most of them refreshing.
Tarkington, Rodney Teague, 35, from Santa Barbara (trombone/vocals) and Ryan Hall, 36, from Los Angeles (guitar) now combine their riffs with younger guys - Ruben Garcia, 26, of Truckee (trumpet); Kevin Lum, 25, from Orange County (Rhodes piano/keyboards); Jon Hall, 24, of Carson City (drums); and Asa Dakin, 28, from Dayton, Nev. (bass).
"It's been pretty cool," Tarkington said. "We've got a younger tradition with some of the cats who've been playing with us. It's going really good right now."
It should continue for a while. Tarkington said that, after he gets his master's, he might make the Bay Area home so he's closer to his family.
"We try to have goals," said Tarkington, whose band has played recent shows with Los Angeles' Ozomatli and the English Beat, a Birmingham, England, band that was part of the late 1970s ska (2-Tone) movement in the United Kingdom. "We're trying, as far as recording, to hit it hard.
"You know, what that means is what we're making is worthwhile. It's moving somewhere. It isn't just staying stagnant. Hey, we can't complain. We're having fun."
For now, Tarkington - who once promoted shows at the Valley Brewing Co. and wants to bring his band home more often - is content in Reno.
His bandmates constitute his "family" up there, though. "No wife. No kids," he said with a laugh. "Just a couple of saxes, a flute, a bass clarinet and a bunch of vinyl." - Stockton Record


Who is Keyser Soze? Reno music followers have answered that mysterious question--from the 1995 movie The Usual Suspects--for more than four years now.

Keyser Soze is one of the most well-known Reno bands. Its members have made a name for themselves with trademark high-energy shows and a musical style that adapts itself to the ears of many listeners.

And now the sextet is trying to take the next step and bring their music into the homes and cars of people in Reno and beyond. The band’s first full-length album, Revenge, comes out in style on New Year’s Eve at the Little Waldorf Saloon. Band members say the album is overdue.

“We’ve been waiting too long,” says singer and saxophone player Jammal Tarkington. “Seventy-five percent of the roots and music for the next album are already done.”

A new record may be just the thing to push Keyser Soze to the next level, says guitarist Brian Trotter.

“This one was a long time coming,” Trotter says. “Our primary goal now is to establish a regional presence.”

This won’t be Keyser Soze’s first venture into recording a CD. The band has already self-released a seven-song EP titled Who Is Keyser Soze? which sold 2,000 copies. The songs on the EP have been re-recorded for Revenge. But while some songs on Revenge may be familiar to the Keyser Soze faithful, band members say that growing is an important part of keeping people interested in their music.

“Now that the band has reestablished itself, we have to find a way to evolve so the next record isn’t Revenge: Part II,” new drummer Matt Mayhall says. Mayhall took over for Eric Olivas, whose work appears on the album.

Rounding out Keyser Soze is Rodney Teague singing and playing trombone and Louis Bertano on bass. Keyser Soze has also brought in Eric Sasz--known to many in Reno as DJ Saurus--to give the band more musical styles to work with. Having turntables allows the band to use sampling and scratching, among other aspects of deejaying, to add another layer to their music.

The band also uses some guest musicians on the new album, including local saxophone favorite Brian Landrus. Other guests include Grant Levin on piano, Mike Souliere on trombone and Ryan Hall playing guitar.

Keyser Soze’s mix of ska, reggae, jazz, Latin, hip-hop and punk resonates well with listeners. While the music isn’t too aggressive, it certainly isn’t going to lull people to sleep, either. And though their music has certainly kept many fans interested, their live shows are where they have made a name for themselves. Keyser Soze’s shows almost always draw a good crowd, and they do their best to send audiences away happy.

Keyser Soze is also looking to bring more bands in from out of town, and they hope the new album will get out-of-town bands more familiar with the Reno music scene. The members of Keyser Soze also say they would like to see more Reno bands making the trip over the Sierra to play shows.

Tarkington says that bands like December and Fall Silent have helped push the local music scene by going out on the road, and he would like to see more follow.

“Try to record some music and give Reno a name," he says. "Play out of town. That’s what people have to do."
- News & Review


Discography

Who Is Keyser Soze
Revenge
But Not For You

Photos

Bio

Keyser Soze has an original ska/rocksteady sound with strong jazz and soul influences. The 7-piece ensemble was originally formed in 1998 in Reno, NV by Jammal Tarkington and Rodney Teague. With the success of their first two releases, "Who is Keyser Soze?" (1999) and "Revenge" (2003), the band has made a strong presence for themselves touring regularly throughout the west coast. The group’s addictive sound has placed them in the position to share the stage with some of the best drawing headliners, including Michael Franti, The Wailers, Ozomatli, The English Beat, Toots & the Maytals, Steel Pulse, The Skatalites and Burning Spear. In 2010, Keyser Soze released their new recording, "But Not For You". The album features several striking vocal performances delivered by Tarkington and Teague. The single, "Next To Me", has received significant air-play on college radio stations and reggae radio shows across the nation. This new 11 song LP is one of the most heavily promoted albums to date through video, file sharing sites, & relentless touring. Keyser Soze will be bringing their incomparable style & infectious live performances to summer festivals, scooter rallies, ska-fests, & professional venues across the globe.