Troubadours of transformation
The Alchemistics on stage.

Troubadours of transformation

Following several harrowing losses, Massachusetts reggae and hip-hop luminaries The Alchemystics return to Brattleboro with a show at The Stone Church

BRATTLEBORO — After a series of tragedies that threatened to derail the long-established Northampton, Mass.-based band, The Alchemystics are now back on track with a new tour, including a concert on Dec. 22 at 8 p.m. at The Stone Church.

The Alchemystics fuse reggae and hip-hop “to form a beat-laden mold of world conscious groove music,” as the band says on its website Rooted in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts, this dynamic band combines “diverse individual styles, backgrounds, and experiences into a unique and uplifting sound.”

In a news release for the upcoming concert in Brattleboro, the band elaborates on their music-making: “Fueled by their passion to explore beyond the edges of traditional musical boundaries and their diverse ethnic and musical backgrounds, The Alchemystics blend reggae, politically infused hip-hop, gritty soul, hard-driving rock, and pulsing Jamaican, Cuban, and Trinidadian rhythms into an utterly unique and distinctively original new sound. The result is modern-day roots music with global appeal - an alchemy of ancient musical traditions; intricate, intelligent wordplay; elementally raw soul; irresistible hooks; deep, driving rhythms; and old-school vocal harmonies - fired by The Alchemystics' unique blend of intensity, passion, and sheer artistic chemistry into a powerful, contemporary, and unmistakable sound.”

Overcoming adversity

The Alchemystics have shared the stage with reggae luminaries such as Stephen Marley, Sister Carol, and Burning Spear. Currently, The Alchemystics are Garrick Perry aka Force (vocals), Ian Cooper-Pettys aka Ian I (vocals), Ilana Morris (vocals), Freddy McCondichie (drums), John Corda (keys), Chris Ball (bass), and occasionally Matt King on percussion.

“The Alchemystics were formed in 2004, so the band has been around a long time together,” Perry told The Commons. “We have been through some rough times recently when we lost members of our band. In the past two years we suffered many losses. Demse Zullo, our founder/drummer/ producer, passed away in May 2015 in a van accident along with our roadie, Budzy. Ras Jahn Bullock [who provided vocals] passed away this April due to cancer.”

While the band found itself stunned by these horrible events, Perry believes that The Alchemystics have learned to overcome adversity and persevere.

“We have come to see that The Alchemystics is larger than any individual,” he says.

And over the years, the band has always found ways to respond to change.

“Overall our themes stay the same, although the way we may approach it varies,” Perry explains. “Beginning as a reggae band, we made room to blend musical genres and expand our music into diverse areas such as soul and even folk. As new members join us, we invite them to take their musical loves and throw them together into the pot. Each brings with him new interests and ideas, and so our musical complexion changes a bit. Like in our name, we see our music making as alchemy, combining and changing disparate elements, with a result that is different but still appealing to our same core fans.”

Musical mélange

Perry recently told John Powell for a review of The Alchemystics' album Spread Hope in Angelica Music, “We don't really fit a category. We're not easy to place.”

Now a six-member band that has had various permutations over the years, The Alchemystics originally consisted of four musicians who wanted to create reggae music with an urban feel.

“When I joined the band, rapping was my forte, and it soon was incorporated into the music-making of the band,” Perry says. “At that time The Alchemystics had just finished their first album, but they decided to scrap it and start over from scratch with the new sound I was adding to the band.”

Garrick comes from Boston and Washington, D.C., and moved to the Pioneer Valley, where he attended Amherst College and studied English literature.

“Yet I always had a love of music,” Perry says. “In my freshman year at Amherst I was approached by a band at college who heard I rapped and asked me to join. It was a great experience. Most rappers don't have the pleasure of performing with a live band.”

After school, Perry became part of several smaller bands before joining The Alchemystics.

“My becoming a member of The Alchemystics is a bit strange,” he explains. “I went to one of their concerts, and asked if I could rap with them in the performance. They agreed and it turned out fine. The next day or two they called me and said they had a show and would I like to join them, which of course I eagerly did. I didn't know their music and had to make up my part as I went along. This too worked out well because soon after I became a permanent member of the band. It's odd to realize that now I'm the longest standing member of the group.”

Exciting new venue

The Alchemystics have often toured the east coast, but haven't been in Brattleboro for years.

“I love the Brattleboro area and have long wanted to come back,” Perry says. “The trouble was finding the right venue for us. When the offer at The Stone Church came our way, we were quick to jump on it. We like to support smaller and up-and-coming venues.”

Recently renovated, The Stone Church at 210 Main Street in Brattleboro has become a lively venue for live music and other events.

As the new performing space proclaims on its website, “Brattleboro ... has long been home to many world-class musicians and artists, both home grown, and transplanted. However it has also long been lacking a proper venue to support these artists, and allow them to play close to home.”

The mission of The Stone Church is “to become that venue that artists want to play, and the show that music lovers don't want to miss.”

This new performing space has “breathed new life into one of the most lovely buildings in the region, by creating a modern venue in sound and comfort, while maintaining the character and beauty of the original church.” Located in a renovated Victorian Gothic church, formerly the All Souls Unitarian, The Stone Church has a decor that “expresses the culturally inclusive nature of the original congregation, mixing elements of the Renaissance, with Gothic Revival, with Celtic and Scandinavian folk designs.”

The recent restoration process of The Stone Church “has been, and will continue to be, a dance between creating a modern venue and preserving the patina and soul of the 140-year-old building. Whenever possible, original materials [were used] in order to maintain the spirit of the room and blend new features into the old. When you set foot inside we believe you'll be transported back in time, and to a place to create your own story.”

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates