GRAMMY-recognised, artist and songwriter, Starita has collaborated with many icons in the scene including A Tribe Called Quest, Childish Gambino, Los Amigos Invisibles, Michael Franti & Spearhead and more, whilst reaching #1 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart, GRAMMY for Best New Age, and nominated for Best Latin Urban/ Alternative and Song Of The Year in the Latin Grammy Awards. His new remix of Seán Johnson & The Wild Lotus Band’s eclectic ‘Dark Night’, originally released on his Be Still Records imprint in 2021 from the album ‘Mystery’ welcomes a heartfelt and meaningful addition to his growing repertoire.
The original track was made in memory of Seán Johnson’s brother Jeremy, offering up a heartfelt affair surrounding the unexpected turns of grief. We caught up with Starita and Seán Johnson to discuss his ‘New Dawn Remix’, the production process and heart-wrenching story behind it as well as upcoming releases and more.
Hey Starita and Seán, thanks for joining us here at DMC World Magazine. Let’s start by talking about how you are and where are you based right now?
Starita: I am currently based in San Francisco and have been for 25 years now already! There was no better place in America to spend your 20s than San Francisco, I can say that. I’m originally from Jackson, Mississippi and at 20 years old migrated to the west coast after landing a production job at a studio that had a house music label. I was lucky enough to spend my days making tracks for various artists on the label which was a dream come true. Oddly enough, I’m finding myself working more in the south again. Specifically in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the birthplace of southern soul music, with a number of soul and pop artists. The retro soul sound never really dies and tends to saturate or influence a great deal of modern music.
Seán: It’s a fascinating time to be alive, and I’m feeling all the feels. Through the joys and challenges, I’m grateful for the medicine of music and spiritual practice, which I have the blessing of being immersed in through my roles as a chant-inspired musician and yoga teacher.
I’m a proud native of New Orleans, born and raised, and based here. I spent my twenties living in many different places including a school in Olympia, WA and Oakland, CA. One of my favourite places to travel to is Ireland, where I go each year, to tap into my ancestral roots. One of the highlights of my life right now, in addition to making music with my band, is being a father to my 4-year-old son Finn, who lights up my heart every day.
Starita, you’ve recently released your ‘New Dawn’ remix of Seán Johnson and The Wild Lotus Band’s single ‘Dark Night’ which was originally released on your label Be Still Records. How did this renewed version come into place?
When I first heard Dark Night it was clear that it was about a deep experience. Seán told me the story about it and we actually went through some rounds of how to make the original song stronger to match the story of his brother passing away in a drowning incident. Needless to say, this was a very special song. Not only a song but a way to grieve the loss of a loved one.
After the album release, we began discussing different artists to select for remixes and I wanted to take on Dark Night specifically because of the deep connection this had to the loss Sean had. It felt somewhat like I was meant to do it given my close relationship with Seán. Honestly, I was a bit nervous because I knew it had to do the song and Jeremy justice. I saw it as a gift to Seán and his family that would hopefully bring some light into the grieving process.
Seán, the single was made in memory of the passing of your brother Jeremy and it’s a heartfelt affair and the release fuelled a strong friendship between yourself and Starita. Can you tell us a little bit about the connection between you two and what the ‘New Dawn’ remix means to you?
Starita and I bonded as soon as we met about 7 years ago. Something about both being from the south – with a shared love for music, spirituality, yoga, and meditation. I’ve always loved people that are both passionate about spirituality and also down to earth, humble, and with a great sense of humour, and we clicked in that way. During the pandemic, Starita reached out and asked me to collaborate on a song he had written called “The Search,” and since then have explored other creative ways to collaborate musically.
I love his sound. It’s big, atmospheric, spacious soundscapes. There’s a dreaminess along with a cityscape quality to his songs that often has a touch of melancholy and longing. The way he blends ambient, electronic layers, acoustic instrumentation, and evocative vocals is really consciousness-altering. When I started talking to Starita loosely about a potential remix project – he immediately said that he’d love to remix “Dark Night.” I was really touched that he felt inspired to re-imagine this song — especially because he knew how personal it was to me and my family. In a sense, it felt like a brave and serious commitment to take on. On a personal level, I trusted him to really take it to heart, and on a music/production level, I was excited to see how he would give the song another life through the soundscapes he’s so skilled at creating.
His “New Dawn Remix” version of Dark Night is an incredibly powerful new rendition of the song. When I first listened to it, I got goosebumps all over. I wept and I danced. I love the way that Starita took the momentum and feeling of my vocal track and built a new electronic music arrangement around it to help propel the emotion of the song. I feel in a sense – that through the new arrangement – he answered the prayer that is being called out in the song by bringing in more light, radiance, and life. To transform a lament into a dance tune is incredibly cathartic.
When I told Starita that I cried the first time he heard it, he said he also cried throughout the process, and I was really touched by that. It’s honestly one of the most meaningful and one of my favourite pieces of music I’ve been a part of, and I’m deeply grateful for that. I also know that if Jeremy can hear the song, he is loving it, and dancing to it in the mystery.
Starita, you are a Grammy-recognised artist that has worked with the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, Childish Gambino, Los Amigos Invisibles and more. What have been your personal career highlights and can you tell us what it was like to work with huge artists in the music scene?
Starita: While I’m grateful and it’s nice to have my work win a GRAMMY and gain 2 other nominations, those awards don’t really give any validation to the quality of art. It’s the culture and people that make being an artist and producer so fulfilling. I’d have to say the biggest highlight in my career was working with Phife Dawg on what would become the final A Tribe Called Quest album and his own final album ‘Forever.’ That led to a collaboration on my first single ‘Rules’ with Jarobi White of A Tribe Called Quest and a long, very rewarding relationship with the Tribe family. Another highlight was working with my dear friends Los Amigos Invisibles. It’s always a pleasure to get outside of my comfort zone and working with such a talented group of latin musicians definitely filled that need. It also made very clear that no matter the culture or language, music is universal as cliche as it sounds.
Starita, we are aware you’ve been super busy this year with multiple gigs and performances. What are your most memorable gig highlights from this year and have you managed to get any downtime in-between?
Yes, I think it’s safe to say this has been one of the busiest years of my life and I’ll take it! Spending a total of over a month in Muscle Shoals between Fame Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound had a profound effect on the way I approached production this year. It became much clearer that art and expression do not come from the mind. It’s the artistic spirit or muse that we all have within us that’s guiding the process and you’re either listening to it or not. Art tends to make itself if you are listening to it but begins to become a battleground if you’re not. I learned how to let go and trust much more this past year when it comes to creating and producing.
My wife and I value making time to go into nature and travel so believe it or not, between all of the projects, we managed to make it to Costa Rica and Hawaii for a month along with shorter trips into the Sierra Mountains of California to see the stunning fall colours.
Starita and Seán, the remix of ‘Dark Night’ has incredible production and we’re interested to hear more about the production process behind it. Can you tell us how the remix was made from start to finish and the inspiration for the new version?