The Coachella Valley is known for the desert-rock scene and those big festivals. The area is not known for reggae—even though there’s a vibrant reggae scene here.
Bands like MoZaiq, Crucial Culture, Higher Heights and Unity Frenzy played almost every weekend back when shows were more common, and the one-off Desert Oasis Music Festival brought both locals and big names like Damian Marley and Rebelution to the Empire Polo Club.
Now another band is joining the fold of local reggae artists: Bradley Burton (Captain Ghost), Spade Haivyn (Empty Seat) and Ryan Alexander Diaz (Crucial Culture, Unity Frenzy) have formed The Ill Eagles. Of course, when I got on a group call with the band, I had to ask about the name.
“I would rather leave it up to the listener to determine the meaning,” Burton said. “It could have many meanings; the word ‘ill’ could be considered as physically ill—or dope. Eagles are freaking awesome; they represent the U.S., and we’re American. It could also mean the illegals, describing whatever turmoil is going on in the States, or whatever issues we might have. I like how, if you’re not reading ‘Ill Eagles,’ it almost sounds like the word illegal. That frees us up to kind of go either way with it.”
For Burton and Haivyn, the reggae sound marks a big change from their previous, harder-rocking bands. Still, they said the vibes have been there all along.
“I’ve been writing reggae songs for quite a long time, and I’ve had a few that have been ready to go,” Burton said. “I used to perform quite a few of them back in the day when I was a jam musician who just played for fun. I actually tried to bring it up with the guys in Captain Ghost, but they wanted to keep it more of a rock band. I think in some of the songs, you can hear the influence, like a little bit of ska in ‘Last Day’ or the beginning of ‘True Blue.’ But as far as just straight-up reggae, we kept it out. I’m glad I did—because now I have another avenue for that, which has been so much fun.”
The Ill Eagles were formed thanks to the pandemic, too much free time—and Facebook stalking.
“I was out of work last year on an injury, and I had a shed built in my backyard,” Burton said. “I left it empty for weeks, because I was just flowing in there as far as songwriting. That’s my favorite place to try to write music—just an empty room. I had a few reggae songs that I was inspired to write, and that’s when I got excited about the idea of trying to start a reggae band. I just started going through Facebook—the friends that I had on there, and the reggae bands that were in the desert. I talked to Dub Wallace (MoZaiq, Blasting Echo) and saw that he started a skate company. I rode my bike over to his house. … I didn’t even know he played in a reggae band at the time. I talked to him about music, and then I learned that he plays with MoZaiq, and after I checked them out, I was like, ‘Wow.’
“I started going through and watching videos of different reggae bands performing in the desert, and of course, Ryan’s all over the place. I was super-impressed by his drumming. Jerry Whiting, our producer, is the one who pushed it and said, ‘Hey, hit this guy up.’ I started creeping on Ryan’s Facebook—and then we started rehearsing. We only did one rehearsal with Dub, and then he gracefully bowed out. He said he was too busy with his skate company. It did take us a long time to find someone else, but Ryan and I just decided to keep going with it, because we were having too much fun.”
How did Haivyn get involved?
“I know him from Empty Seat, and we’re friends on social media,” Burton said. “He is a big supporter of Captain Ghost, and he’s a bass player, so I started creeping on his profile. I’m totally creepy, but it worked out.”
Since the band members are already quite busy—especially Diaz—I was curious how easy the decision was to start The Ill Eagles.
“I love reggae to death,” said Diaz. “The other groups I’m in are a different kind of reggae. I like the fact that, in this one, we’re trying to aim more toward the surf and skate culture—that ’90s-style reggae, like Sublime and Pepper. We’re going toward what we call the ‘Cali roots.’ I was excited to join when Brad hit me up; I knew Captain Ghost, and just from being in quarantine, I needed an outlet. It sucked not being able to do shows with my other groups, so when Bradley hit me up, it was kind of a blessing.”
Haivyn’s answer? “My other band is not that busy, and like Brad said, I was the superfan of Captain Ghost. I’d send him notes after his performances; I was probably a little too much in love with that band. When he asked me, ‘Hey, do you play reggae?’ it was a fucking automatic yes. Being a bass player, how do you not like reggae?”
The lack of shows helped lead the band to focus on recording for the time being.
“We’re going to shoot for a debut EP in the beginning of August,” Diaz said. “The focus is having a product to show, so that when we decide to do shows, we’re going to have something to show people. We want people to listen to us before they actually see us live—and have some kind of good impression.”
Burton said he thinks studio-first, shows-second is more of a traditional way to do things. “It’s definitely nice when you go play a show to have something to offer. If people really did like it, then they can go and listen to it more. My other band, Captain Ghost, did it backwards.”
The Ill Eagles are set to release their debut single, “Set Free,” on Friday, July 2.
“It is an older song that I wrote when I was younger, and it took on new life,” Burton said. “On this track, we actually got a saxophonist and a trumpet player, and they go by Jah Connection.”
Diaz elaborated: “They’re actually a mainstream horn line for big reggae names like Tribal Seeds, Slightly Stoopid and Iration, but they also do horns for pretty much any reggae band that wants some horns, which is kind of a cool thing. Brad reached out to them, and they helped us build the song, which is coming out killer. We’re definitely impressed with it.”
The Ill Eagles pride themselves on being professional, they said.
“Sometimes it’s hard to work with other musicians,” Burton said. “There are always, like, egos and bullshit like that. With these guys, we just keep that out—and we just want to work. We work really well together, and everyone’s suggestions always seem to work out. These guys are real professionals.”
Haivyn added: “Everybody is a pro. We’ve got our shit together, so it’s really easy working with these guys.”
Burton said feels extremely lucky.
“I scored big, man; it’s been so much fun,” Burton said. “Captain Ghost is my first band; I did that a little bit later than most people (who are) in their teens or 20s or whatever. I think I took that project a little too seriously. I worked really hard to accomplish everything that we did, as did everyone else in the band. With this band, I just want to make sure that I don’t put too much stress on myself. I just want to keep it fun—because it’s really fun music to play.”
Added Diaz: “Reggae is all about good vibes, good people and a good environment. That’s what we kind of want to represent—the Cali culture out here, with the skating and the surfing and the barbecues.”
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/theilleaglesband.