To say that Giant Panda Guerilla Dub Squad is a hard-working band is a bit of an understatement. Having done about 180 shows a year the past two years, including three weeks spent in Jamaica, they've become valuable contributors to the North American live music and reggae scenes. They've done some guerilla-style, unscheduled shows -- like setting up and using solar power to play in the campground at a festival. They'll even play multiple gigs in a day. This bright-eyed, motivated, friendly, creative bunch from Rochester, N.Y., aren't your typical reggae band, and they have come far in a short period of time, no doubt due in part to their busy tour schedule and explosive performances.
A GPGDS show feels like a giant outdoor party in summer, filled with friends and good vibes. Their mixture of roots reggae, dub and afrobeat, generates warmth that can make some of the coldest days seem sunny. The squad -- Matthew O'Brian on guitar and lead vocals, James Searl on bass and lead vocals, Christopher O'Brian on drums, Dylan Savage guitar and vocals, Rachel Orke plays fender rhodes, clavinet, melodica, and Aaron Lipp is on Hammond B-3 Organ -- have played from New York City to San Francisco and shared the stage with groups such as Toots and the Maytals and The Wailers.

Reggae in the winter can create quite a sensory juxtaposition. On one of the most frigid days of the year, some genuinely warm and welcoming reggae beats were being played at Higher Ground in Burlington, Vt. Before the show, Christopher, James and Matthew and I chatted about their adventures and what it's like to be a giant panda dub guerilla.

I kind of wish reggae were more popular than it is. Do you feel the same way?
Christopher: I do. That would be beneficial for all the music listeners out there, as well as myself being in a reggae band.
Why do you think it isn't more popular than it is?
Christopher: I'd say that reggae as a very broad, general term is not as popular because most of it is talking about religion and specifically Rastafarianism, so the main demographic is Rastafarians, but our music doesn't necessarily do that.
You guys definitely have a bit of a political angle, which a lot of reggae tends to have. Is that another reason perhaps, the politics?
Christopher: Absolutely. I would say the religion is the main factor, but definitely politics is also one.
I think it's fair to say that there's a jam band scene, culture, vibe, call it what you will… Is there a reggae scene?
Christopher: Yeah, definitely. And sometimes they meet together, and sometimes they're independent. Sometimes you'll be at the reggae scene show and you'll see the jam band kids. All the hippie festivals have a couple big reggae acts; that's usually a good staple of a summer festival. But I feel like that jam band demographic, another way to describe those people, is the main group of people that comes out and sees live music in North America.
So then, what's an example of a real reggae scene? I only really see it involved as kind of a jam band conglomerate.
Christopher: In Southern California there's a strong reggae-only reggae scene. There's reggae diehards all over, people that are just strictly roots music. And we'll meet people that really like our band and they'll say stuff like "You guys are definitely improvising a little, there's a little jamming and I am a reggae dude!" A lot of those people turn out to be our great friends, and that means so much to us to have these roots enthusiasts of like 30 years tell us they really enjoy our music. And we're booked at Reggae on the Rocks at Red Rocks in Colorado, so that should be great.
That's with some of the Marley brothers, right?
Christopher: Yeah, I'm ecstatic to play there.
You guys have spent weeks at a time touring in Jamaica. What was that like?
Christopher: Yeah, we went down there for three weeks in 2007, and it was about as amazing and inspirational as you might think for a reggae band from Rochester, N.Y., to be able to have that adventure. It was spring break, which is why we were brought down; there was a demographic to play to. It was just an amazing experience going to the birthplace of the music.
What was the reception like? Were there many locals?
Christopher: We were surprised how many locals came out to the show and checked it out, paid the price of the ticket and were really interested. And the Jamaicans loved it! It was awesome. We were a little anxious, but people that had never left the island before were like, wow, that's Jamaican roots reggae!
Is that mostly what people in Jamaica might be exposed to -- roots reggae versus dub?
Christopher: The new movement of Jamaican music is not like the style of Jamaican music that we play at all. People are familiar with the dance hall and the reggae tone. A lot of the bigger stuff now is more influenced by that fast, hard, driving beat, whereas we play like a '70s era roots reggae. That's hard to find down there. To find an original roots reggae band is few and far between.
Wow, that's kind of surprising. I almost thought the opposite.
Christopher: We were very surprised also. I think it's due to the lack of instruments. It's hard to get instruments down there, and when you have them, and that's what you want to do, you have to make a living with it, so there were a lot of Bob Marley cover groups at all the tourist attractions. That was what we ran into 9 times out of 10.