Self-described as a group with “a samurai’s vengeance and a stoner’s smile,” BONZAI has been able to bring their new age reggae pop-rock sound to sold out shows all over the U.S.
In 2019, Chris ‘Keela’ Case, Robert ‘Taco’ Moore, Madison Bryson, and Taylor Whitney came together to form BONZAI. In less than a year and a half of making music together, the West Tennessee-based group has been able to tour with reggae rock mainstays Kash’d Out, Tropidelic, Bikini Trill, Cydeways and Sensi Trails. The unique group is seen as the genre’s rising “it” group, and recently signed to Last Minute Music.
Their latest single, “One Margarita,” featuring Kash’d Out, aims to be a party anthem that keeps summer rolling. Their accompanying music video perfectly mirrors the song’s fun beach vibes and enhances the message and catchy melody.
We got to chat with Keela and Taco about the new single, the origins of BONZAI, their favorite tequila, and more.
So being a reggae pop-rock act in West Tennessee seems like a unique combination. Can you talk about the origins of BONZAI and what/who inspired your musical direction?
KEELA: The origins date back to the years Taco and myself have cultivated our own unique version of the reggae genre, and brought that to the BONZAI brand. Definitely unique to have this style where we’re from, but we always leaned toward the California reggae-rock sound with the early years of Sublime, Long Beach Dub Allstars, Pepper, 311, etc, but also drew inspiration from the Memphis rap scene, which was huge in our area. Just melted a lot of our surroundings together to get what you get now.
TACO: I don’t wanna speak for everybody, but I myself was inspired by the heroics of Nate Diaz and Tom Brady respectively. If they can take beatings like that for me, the least I can do is make the best party bangers possible that come through super clutch.
Let’s talk about your new single, “One Margarita.” How did the idea come about and what was the influence behind it?
KEELA: When I wrote the songs some years ago, I remember being out at a cantina and drinking heavily one night, and just came up with for every margarita we drink we have to do two shots of tequila. Needless to say, that ran up the bill quick, but was well worth it. At least I think I remember that it was. The next day I still had that one margarita, two shots tequila stuck in my head, so had to write it down and make it into something, and that something’s what you hear now.
And how did you get hooked up with Kash’d Out and what made you want to team up?
KEELA: So we were in talks after a collaboration we did with Bret Bollinger of Pepper, and he suggested that we give Greg from Kash’d Out a holler to dive deeper into writing. We sat on that idea for a couple of months, and then decided to give him a shout and chop it up with him. Upon meeting up in Orlando, we clicked. It took him awhile to ‘get us’ because we’re not your normal breed of musician, and sometimes can be a little out there with style and conversations, but he adjusted and quickly became more than collaborators, because we boys.
TACO: I just remember meeting at a club.
Can you discuss the vision behind the music video for the new single? Where was it shot?
KEELA: The main inspiration for the music video was the song itself. The director of the vid, Waheed AlQawasmi, just wanted to not think too much and just wanted to let the fun happen, and let the video represent the attitude of the song. We shot it in Memphis, TN, in two different locations, but the pool scene was at this gorgeous mansion that our photographer Jase Harshman hooked up and was spot on for the video.
You mention that you have toured all over the U.S. What’s your favorite part of performing live, and do you try to do something extra special in each city?
KEELA: The energy. LOVE the energy when performing live. It feeds us and we like to reciprocate that feeling back to the people.
TACO: We try to get intimately entangled with the local populaces as we breeze through… basically become locals ourselves. Vibe to what they vibe to, eat what they eat, etc. Music is that great communicator that supersedes all borders and boundaries, and I think we all tap into that.
What does a day in the life of the band’s songwriting process look like?
KEELA: Usually it’s Taco bringing an acoustic riff to the table with a song idea, or myself bringing a beat with a song idea and lock ourselves away, whether in a car or room, and just put the music on repeat until we get that right idea we both vibe on.
What’s your tequila of choice?
TACO: Sammy Hagar tequila is the only tequila I care to know going forward. Santo Spirits/Tequila, which is in collaboration with Guy Fieri and distiller Juan Eduardo Nuñez.
KEELA: Has got to be anything top shelf for me. When drinking something like tequila, I’d rather pay for it now instead of paying for it later if you know what I mean.
What does success as a musician and songwriter mean to you?
TACO: Success to me is having a slingshot to cruise beachside and a castle in Thailand on an island, which is my personal Dojo and meditation zone. That or just being extremely happy every day, either or.
KEELA: Success for me is the overwhelming positive feedback from the people. Also the moment you let someone hear a song for the first time and their eyes give you that ‘holy shit, THIS is a banger’ look.
Can fans expect this single to be on an upcoming EP or LP?
KEELA: Yep yep. This will be on the full length album coming spring ‘23
What are some of your goals – whether musically or otherwise – for the rest of the year?
TACO: I definitely want to line up a fight with a Paul brother. Musically, I’d like to let the world feel our energy. I want to get the chance to spread our brand of unbridled positivity to anyone who craves it. So many of us want to be happy and do positive stuff, and sometimes you just need to let loose with your pals to get your mind right and then jump back in the game.
KEELA: Musically have the new album all wrapped up and ready to explode on the scene for ’23, and really just wake up New Years’ Eve without a crazy hangover and with the sense of “2022? Yep, killed that year!”