If you were to imagine a local reggae band fronted by a singer from Jamaica, students from TCU probably wouldn’t figure into your mental picture. But that’s where local reggae artist Lion Eye made his first foray into production, and it’s where he met most of the players who would later crew his band.
Lion Eye is the brainchild of producer Paul Gordon. Born and raised in Kingston, Gordon began singing in church at age 7. Later, after he had changed to a nondenominational Christian church, he lent his pipes to a Christian rap group popular enough to appear on Jamaican television.
“People would stop me on the street because they recognized me,” Gordon said.
He came to Fort Worth to attend TCU, graduating in 2005. After that, he spent about four years “doing the 9 to 5 thing” selling advertising for a company in Irving. But during that otherwise typical collegiate and post-college experience, Gordon was also indulging his love for music by teaching himself to produce.
About 12 years ago, while living in an apartment with his then-girlfriend, now-wife Jacqueline, Gordon first tried his hand at recording, learning to “make crappy beats on a PlayStation 2 and a little Yamaha keyboard.” The PS2’s beat-making game wasn’t exactly standard-issue recording studio software, but it taught him a lot about production.
Though he commuted back and forth to Irving for what was a decent job that paid enough for him to buy a house, he knew where his heart was, and eventually he built a formidable home studio, mic by mic, squares of noise-canceling foam one at a time. Making music was Gordon’s exit strategy from the day gig, yet even before he bailed on the daily drive up Highway183, he was busy creating tracks, some of which ended up as backing vocals for famous Jamaican artists like Sizzla and VoiceMail.
Once Gordon said bye-bye to that Office Space life, he briefly joined local rapper Dru B Shinin’ – a friend he knew from TCU – in a hip-hop group called Mount Olympus. Gordon played drums. When that band dissolved, he hit up Dru about a new project, and that’s how Lion Eye started in 2013.
“The first iteration of Lion Eye was myself, Dru, and this other rapper, Young Zeus,” he said. “I always wanted to get a reggae band together to go back to my roots.”
He said the group’s model was the collaboration between Damien Marley and Nas that resulted in 2010’s Distant Relatives. The trio recorded a sample-heavy blend of Gordon’s reggae toasting and Dru’s and Zeus’ raps, an album called Babylon Burn, in 2013. After what Gordon refers to as “drummer issues,” the band went on hiatus until a couple of years ago when Gordon reached out to some other buddies from college, guitarists Jordan Hesse and Josh Vandenberg and bassist Paul Garza. While they were all at TCU, the three musicians had a jammy, reggae-influenced band called Free the Leaf. Gordon thought they would be a great fit for what he wanted to do when he rebooted his band.
Besides the former FTL members, Lion Eye’s grooves come courtesy of area drummer Marley Sun. Then there’s backing vocalist Shavon Cormick, whose soulful exhorts and harmonies help Gordon’s vision of an old school reggae sound come to life. But though he is drawing on classic, ’70s dub-inspired sonics, he’s also trying to make reggae that’s relevant to 2017.
“It’s kind of a reaction to the way the world has been the past couple years,” he said. “The newest single is called ‘Big Bad Wolf,’ just released two months ago. It was inspired by the political climate in the U.S. at the time.”
Should the band be able to align schedules – a difficult task considering it’s a septet – Gordon would like to record additional tracks in Kingston, possibly even at the legendary Tuff Gong Studio.
“Hey, it’s a possibility,” he laughed.
Sat, Mar 19, at High and Tight Barber Shop. 2701 Main St, Dallas. $10. 214-741-1744.