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Local News

Isla Vista Reggae Rockers The Olés Embark on First Regional Tour

Following in the footsteps of bands like Iration and Rebelution, The Olés are taking the vibes of Isla Vista beyond Santa Barbara County

The Olés play at the California Roots Music and Arts Festival in Monterey for the first stop in a seven-state tour.
The Olés play at the California Roots Music and Arts Festival in Monterey for the first stop in a seven-state tour.  (Contributed photo)

From packed house parties to negligent landlords to simply spending an afternoon in the sun, the full spectrum of the Isla Vista experience is unabashedly expressed in The Olés’ discography.

The reggae rockers are following in the footsteps of other I.V.-birthed bands like Iration and Rebelution, and taking the vibes of their formative college days beyond the South Coast.

The Olés, who combine reggae, rock, hip-hop vocals, and brass horns, have embarked on their first regional tour, hitting stops in California, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Colorado, and Arizona between May 28 and June 17.

The 18-stop tour kicked off May 28 in Monterey with the California Roots Music and Arts Festival, one of the largest reggae music festivals in the U.S.

From there, the band is playing a whirlwind lineup of 17 shows in 17 days in seven states, finishing up with the Live Oak Music Festival by Lake Cachuma.

Taking the stage is Matthew Tweed on vocals and rhythm guitar, Nicholas Marks on horns and keyboard, Daniel Kearney on bass, Westin Byerly on drums, and Cole Leksan on vocals and lead guitar, who spoke with Noozhawk on his way to Monterey.

In 2014, The Olés released an EP, Westward Bound, and in January, they released their debut full-length album, Strictly Speaking.

Though only half a square mile in size, Isla Vista has produced more than its fair share of musical artists. Reggae bands Iration and Rebelution — the latter headlined Day 3 of California Roots — got their starts jamming in I.V. garages, as did soft rocker Jack Johnson and electro-house artist Steve Aoki.

The Olés trace their roots to UC Santa Barbara’s Santa Catalina residence hall.

“It was just me and two other friends on my floor who just played guitar all the time and had a pretty passionate interest in reggae music and hip-hop,” said Leksan, who started off as drummer.

Soon, he and Tweed were writing and recording music in their dorms. The I.V. adventure began when they moved onto Sabado Tarde Road their sophomore year.

The Olés play at the Chilla Vista event earlier this year in Isla Vista. Click to view larger
The Olés play at the Chilla Vista event earlier this year in Isla Vista.  (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

That year, the band, whose lineup has witnessed a handful of changes since its inception, played its first house show and recorded its first record, cementing along the way the passion for music and performance that Leksan said was instrumental in taking them from backyards to big stages.

“The addition of the brass section, when we added horns to our band — that was probably the biggest jump in terms of people listening to our music and coming to our shows,” Leksan said. “When we added the horns section, (the addition was) so, so tight, that people were just like, ‘Damn, you guys are actually worth going to see’, and it brought us to a whole new level.”

It’s hard to understate the influence being born and raised in a seaside college town had on the band. The easygoing and live-in-the-moment milieu, Leksan said, could be most readily expressed through beach-style reggae and rock music.

Isla Vista cornerstones like “surfing, the beach, partying, the tons and tons of cultural expression that take place” provided plenty of inspiration.

While in college, Leksan worked an internship with a downtown recording studio, kicking off some handy music-production networking that introduced them to other artists, musicians, and, significantly, numerous promoters.

In addition to their backyard concerts in I.V., The Olés took their sound to popular downtown Santa Barbara venues like Velvet Jones, and played at recent, local festivals like Santa Barbara Earth Day.

“We reached out to like 200 festivals, and we got into three of them,” said Leksan. “And from there, we figured out, okay, we’ve got this many days between these festivals — could we string a tour together? Could we book some shows and maybe get some supporting bands, or, better yet, open for a bigger band so that we get in front of people?”

Despite the full-time jobs the band members work, their acceptance into California Roots presented them their best opportunity yet to put themselves out there, and they purchased a used cargo van off of Craigslist.

“It’s just sort of a grind, I guess,” Leksan said. “It’s just us pushing toward that ultimate goal of trying to figure out how to make the transition into being full-time musicians.

“I still don’t think we’re anywhere close to being able to do that, but we’re having a ton of fun and learning along the way, and it’s actually falling into place more and more often.”

The dream, he said, is to eventually live off the fruits of their music.

“The mentality here has just been like, ‘Alright, let’s actually get out on the road; let’s put some time into making money off the shows so that we can promote ourselves more,’” he said.

“We never pocket a single dollar from any show; We put it back into the band.”

Noozhawk staff writer Sam Goldman can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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