As promised here’s the rest of the interview with Adrian Sherwood which was done in the first half of this year, long before he was headed to NZ. Please do check out the published feature from Volume magazine which is online here
, as usual I have kept the quotes distinct so that may explain the gaps in the flow of conversation.
If you’re after something more recent where he talks about what he’ll be doing on this tour etc check this
If you’re in Auckland or Welli and not at these shows later this week, I sorry for you. DO NOT MISS OUT!!
How’s it going boss?
“I’m very good, very good thanks. Im getting ready for…gearing up ofr quite a lot of activity this year”
It’s been a while Guv, I reckon it was about 16 years since the Audio Active/Tackhead/Mark Stewart etc tour
“Oh jeez that was a strange tour”
That it was…. I can’t forget the gigs but my fondest personal memory was having pretty much the whole lot of you up guesting on Tranquillity Bass for the whole show.
“That was anarchic, the whole thing was anarchic (laughs)”
Indeed, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then and now I’m talking to you in Ramsgate, is that right? Why Ramsgate?
“My youngest daughter, her mum is originally from here and she moved down here. So I was coming down here all the bloody time to see her, or to collect her, or bring her to London. In the end I thought ‘shit things are so mad if I don’t have these years with her now they’re gone”. I wish id come here 10 years ago. I’ve got a really nice house that would be a 1 flat bedroom in London. I can see the sea out of my bedroom window. On the road I’m living it’s nuts – there’s Clem Bushay who I’ve know since school, who produced Tappa Zukie and Dillinger. 30 yards down the road from me is Adamski . 30 yards the other way is Congo Natty/Rebel MC who’s my friend, he followed me down here. Then at the end of the road theres Ghetto Priest who moved down here too. So in the space of 100 yards we’ve got 4 studios and a little artist community, its wicked. Everyone’s kids and grandkids all just play with each other. Its only and hour and fifteen to Kings Cross on the train. I do gigs with Congo Natty and Ghetto Priest, I had Adam doing some keyboard and synth bits on the last African Head Charge album, he’s really good at that and Clem’s building a mad studio under his house. So there’s about 6 studios in the town, all home ones and I’ve got a really good one as well”
It sounds idyllic. One thing that’s become more apparent with every record is your ability to get the best out of Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry. What has also become apparent is that no-one else does, what’s the secret? (Check the Volume piece for more on this…)
“ Ultimately I care about it, if I’m producing someone I try to put an effort in to get something good out of it.”
I just find it quite stunning how obvious it is that other people just let the tape run and how unsatisfying the results are…His stuff with the Mad Professor is basically unlistenable..
“I think Neil, with the greatest respect I think his attitude is ‘OK that’s what he does, record it, mix it, it’s done’ I can’t think anything like that. If you listen to him (Perry) its actually quite terrifying because the lyrics are great, what he’s speaking about is relevant, it’s powerful.”
(Apologies for the jump in topic here, once again the Volume piece fills in the gaps) The effect of hip hop on Jamaican music has been profound and awful…
“Its like fucking wallpaper music hip hop now. Its started off really dangerous and now its just like sorry. You’ve still got some angry rappers – that’s really good, conscious rappers. I can’t remember all the names, but my sons coming through with all the hip hop, he comes down every weekend from London, producing, doing his own rhymes and he stays up all night by himself, or with me, studying mic techniques and all that, its brilliant, I can’t wit to hear what Max will come up with.”
With your current set up are you running Pro Tools like the world and his wife these days or do you still use a lot of outboard gear too? When I listen to some of your latest recordings I reckon I can still hear some of those distinctive trademark effects and whatnot..
“Yes,Basically now I sold lots of bits because I didn’t have the space but I’ve kept all of my favourite bits – AMS’s, Mutron Biphase, RSP 550s, spring reverbs. You know I’ve got all that shit still, and I own good plug ins I use in conjunction Pro Tools HD2 which I can’t even operate. I get my engineer and tell him what to do because I cant be arsed to look at the screen. I keep part of it ‘in the box’, run it up the channels on the desk, and then take things out of the stereo image ‘in the box’, take it across the desk and mix it analogue.”
Best of both worlds!
“Thats how I get the sound because if you stay ‘in the box’, you can do great things but it still sounds a bit linear to me.”
Listening to your recent records the sound of them still stands out. You don’t need to be told it’s an On-U production, you know..
“Well I’m proud of em but the difficult thing now is getting people interested because theres so much music. What used to happen with On-U was you’d go in a record shop and someone would be playing one of my records in the shop, the owner of the shop, and they’d turn someone onto it. Now you haven’t got that, you’ve got so much stuff that people are bombarded by, sound and snatches of sound, that it doesn’t flow over them properly. I’m not complaining, that’s just how it is. So the discovery of things where you know if someone goes in a shop and they’re playing like, I don’t know if you know the Harry Becket album? (I do) If you walk in and someones playing it, everytime someone buys it. Some bloke from Brighton, he wants 25 copies because he says every time he plays it, someone buys it – but those outlets are going. You know its like if I had a coffee shop and I played the instrumental Ethiopiques album, I’d sell it all day long to people who love music because its a beautiful album. I’d imagine every time, because they’re beautiful albums. You know if you put anything great on people will get turned onto it.
That’s how I tried to make the records, listening myself on the other side of the speaker not trying to fit something to please a radio programmer or some bollocks like that, I make records for myself really. I’m not really that bothered, I’m still not that old, I can still go on for a while making tunes. I like to think that you go though an apprenticeship, and mature into things, and that its your job to keep the flame alight and to keep moving on. So for me I’m going to keep working on the area that I love, which has that reggae underbelly to it, very much at its heart. And I want to keep working in the area that I love, and it’s good with all the new movements with the dubstep and things. It kind of keeps me alive as well the interest in that. It makes people move sideways and go ‘oh wow that Harry Becket album is interesting’, ‘that Head Charge album is interesting’ whatever, thats good for me. I really love it because lots of people who are passionate are operating in a similar arena to me, I love it.”
3 The Hard Way – Steve ‘On The Wire’ Barker, Adrian Sherwood & Dennis Bovell – the force is with them!!
Here we get into a bit of a ramble about dubstep and how some of those original key players and linksmen (like our mutual mad mucker Tony ‘Moody Boyz’ Thorpe) have put a bit of risk and excitement back into what was becoming a BBQ affair.
“In the 80s they weren’t if you look in the are of dub, you mentioned Neil Fraser, there was him, Shaka, myself and a couple of others. Not many doing it with a load of edge to it. On-U was probably more edgy than most, or more adventurous, but now there’s lots in the arena, and its really great and I love that. Even though everyones struggling for crumbs, theres still a few coming out who are doing very very well, thank you very much, like Digital Mystikz are actually very very good. Proper reggae underbelly and its not coincidence he’s got his dreads, he’s great. I get on very very well with Mala, he’s a good lad and he’s doing very well and I’m glad to see that. We need others to be a big success and hammering it who are really good…we don’t everyone to be a fucking failure, that aint going to work!”
After a quick interruption while Adrian discusses hard drive issues on another line with the mighty Congo Natty, giving me a little insight into Ramsgate’s unlikely and previously unheralded status as dub central… we resume.
I’ve often felt in recent times that one of the issues with dub that has led to a lot of stodgy steppers tunes or even the dreaded (though not actually dreaded, far more cropped if you get my hairy metaphor) BBQ dub has been that producers don’t actually strip tunes back to make the shadow or ghost version, they start with that intention and so the result is somewhat lacking – just through the process itself.
“Well that was me I started in 77, and I made an album Dub From Creation, Creation Rebel, all I did was I took the name of a Burning Spear song and pretended it was a band and I hummed the bassline to a bass player and made my own dub album and i think it was just a fan. I was once described, as an insult, as a fan who got his hands on a mixing desk and I actually thought it was a compliment, because it WAS! you know. Thats what it was, and I literally made a designer dub album. I think the English who were consuming the dubs, because it wasn’t like an album genre that big in JA, it was English record companies run by Jamaicans people like Chips Richards
, whats is name at Fame Music – Winston Edwards
, they put these dub albums together for a market outside of Jamaica who were all sitting round their houses smoking weed and then the genre of dub albums became quite big in England they started making the producers just give them dub version, knocking together albums and just giving them names.
Cause all those things like the Scientist albums, they weren’t real albums, Junjo Lawes just put a load of his dubs together and stuck the name Scientist on them, just as a thing, they weren’t seriously thought out dub albums they were just a series of dubs. Lots of records were like that, that was how they were made and it was made for a market outside there (JA). We were just consumers, we liked it,I was listening to things like Ital Dub by Augustus Pablo which was a proper crafted dub album or King Tubby Meets Upsetter At the Grass Roots Of Dub which I think was the first ever one, and these things captured your imagination ‘ooh dub’ and then everyone was going to make dubs, you know 10” dubplates, and it all belonged to us, to us lot, thats how we thought.”
There definitely was a sense of bridging the gap back then with the artists you were using and even some of the rhythms that were familiar to JA and the UK – it was all part of the gateway for idiots like me that made Jamaican music less imposing and distant but I’m still curious about how it all came about. The Prince Fari links were obvious and well documented but how did it all actually go down?
“The first recordings I did, I did all in England. So when Style (Scott) was coming over with Gregory (Isaacs) I’d save up to pay him, hire the studio and pile in and cut as many tunes as I could. I always paid him quite handsomely to cut rhythms for me. Then as the years passed and it went from the 70s to the 80s he wasn’t particularly getting on as well, between you and me, with Flabba (Holt), because if they’d been really tight they would have been making a fortune together, but they each had different ideas I think. And then he got less and less happy touring, and he got more and more interested in the Dub Syndicate because it was more fun for him to be honest. Then he said I want to cut some rhythms in Jamaica, so I financed him for that, then he’d bring the rhythms over and I’d be saying keep it more minor, major/minor whatever, so the rhythms I liked I’d start overdubbing, put vocals on, and samples, and started mixing ‘em, that was from the period of Stoned (Immaculate). Prior to that everything I’d been cutting in England up to 87 probably. I think the first batch he cut over there was 85/86 but we didnt really put them out. Then the next batch half of them constituted the Time Boom album, but half of that album I cut in England. To be honest with you I took the easy way out because after Fari got murdered in 83, I kind of, to be honest with you, I’d already cut a load of rhythms that hadn’t come out so for the next couple of years they still came out but then I got into the Tackhead thing for the next 5 years and really just let Style cut a few rhythms in Jamaica and didn’t cut that much stuff in England again.”
(I strongly recommend you check the Volume piece here as he elaborates on this time, his disillusionment with reggae and Jamaican violence after the loss of Prince Fari and how that led into the Tackhead era).
Moving closer to the present I had to ask Adrian about his work on the Fire In Babylon film..
“I helped oversee the music. Fantastic film, honestly really brilliant its really wicked its all about the empowerment of black people through the cricket, went on for 15 years. Never in team sport in the world has one team remained unbeaten for 15 years in test cricket, 15 years without losing a series.
And upcoming releases?
Little Axe, just finishing that today and tomorrow. Then the Lee Perry with all the weird and wacky versions. There’s a new New Age Steppers album which I made before Ari died, there’s a little movie with that, DVD thing, which I filmed in Jamaica, so that’s mad and an all women album, all sung in non English (Dub.. No Frontiers). 16 women from all around the world I’ve been working on that for two and a half years.”
Let The Robots Melt? (A project featuring Primal Scream with Lee Perry, Dennis Bovell, Pempy, John McClure, Carl Barat, Mark Stewart, Deeder Zaman, New Age Steppers)
“That’s coming on nicely, I couldn’t get permission for a couple of things I wanted to use so it put it on pause a bit I wanna get back to that, its a bit noisy and edgy that one.”
T’was an absolute delight to talk to Adrian again and he remains one of the best and most innovative after over 30 years not just in the game but leading the game. Get to the Powerstation on Friday and give your ears the Xmas treat you know they need.
It’s late and I may well update this post but for now, for you lot ..I’m sure the words will be enough. See you Friday.