Meet L.A.B – New Zealand’s chart-topping reggae band

NZ reggae. It’s New Zealand’s style of reggae music which has birthed some of the nation’s brightest stars since its development in the 1970s.

L.A.B is among its constellation, and the five-member group has been shining on music charts and across various stages over the last year.

The band is currently promoting its 12-track L.A.B IV album which debuted in December.

The project features the groovy number Why Oh Why which spent five consecutive weeks atop the NZ Top 40 Singles Chart upon its release.

Why Oh Why remains on the chart 24 weeks later, currently sitting at number 22.

L.A.B’s lead vocalist and guitarist Joel Shadbolt said the feat caught them by surprise. 

“We never expected it to be a chart-topper at all, it was our fans who really helped make this track massive,” he told BUZZ. “It was super surprising for us, too, that pop radio in New Zealand started playing the song. It’s one of the first times a reggae-heavy song was played on pop music stations.”

Shadbolt said the track was inspired by the band’s desire to write a reggae song which reflected the “UK-reggae style” by which they are heavily influenced.

Why Oh Why was one of those songs that came naturally; a happy feel good song… It was actually the last song we finished for our album and one that came out super quick.”

Their chart success also includes the 2020 dreamy hit In the Air, a more funk-jazz-pop display of L.A.B’s eclectic style. The song also earned the band the top spot on the End of Year NZ Official Music Singles Chart, beating The Weeknd’s Blinding Lights

Speaking on the origin of their relationship with reggae music, the members, further comprising bassist Ara Adams-Tamatea, drummer/vocalist Brad Kora and keyboardists Miharo Gregory and Stu Kora (vocalist), said they all grew up on reggae music, which is affixed to New Zealand culture. 

“For myself and Miharo, being from a younger generation, we grew up listening to a lot of NZ reggae which was hugely influential as we started playing and making music,” Shadbolt said.

“I would say reggae is definitely one of our stronger influences, but the overall sound we go for is a roots-based sound. We like to touch on anything from soul, blues and funk to reggae, rock and jazz. Nothing is really off limits for us. We just play what makes us feel good.”

It’s an organic formula that adds to their live experience.

L.A.B has become one of the most popular and busiest acts in New Zealand in just five years, performing at major festivals and sold-out headline tours of Australia.

The band recently performed for a sold-out crowd at Mount Smart Stadium in Auckland.

“It was the biggest show we’ve ever done and it was crazy to have it sell out…” Shadbolt said. “Our music is made for anyone who wishes to listen to it. One of the best things about playing live is seeing the crowds and the type of people that come along. It’s always rewarding and interesting to see the different walks of people that are attracted to us.”

And they just attracted three sold-out venues upon the recent announcement of winter shows in Hamilton and Wellington.

They’ll also be heading to Australia in October.

Visiting the Mecca

Unlike Jamaica and the rest of the Caribbean where concerts have taken a virtual route because of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Zealand has cut itself off from the world which allows them better control of the virus and, ultimately, the continuing of mega festivals. L.A.B has been doing the rounds all year and hopes to visit the land of reggae in the future.

“We’d absolutely love to one day. Jamaica is such an iconic place for us and the home of some of the greatest music ever. It would be a spiritual experience.”