Adrian Sherwood Interview

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.

Mulatu Astatke Interview – Exclusively for StinkInc


“Lets talk fast because it can disconnect with these phones.”
The first words from Mulatu Astatke, the 66 year old don of Ethiojazz, prove to be sadly prophetic. Perhaps a bit of prophecy is appropriate for a man who is talking, on some very iffy phone lines, from the cradle of civilization, Ethiopia. The last few years have seen a massive jump in greater public awareness of Mulatu’s music with Jim Jarmusch’s extensive use in the ‘Broken Flowers’ OST, readily available vinyl and the continued celebration of his ‘Volume 4’ of the Ethiopiques CD series getting long overdue credit and sales. However 2009 has been a veritable bonanza for Astatke – a show with Malcolm Catto’s frequently stunning outfit The Heliocentrics last year evolved into a 10 day recording session that yielded the ‘Inspiration Information’ album, and Strut finally managed to do what Soundway had attempted a couple of years ago, and released a quality retrospective – ‘New York- London- Addis The Story Of Ethiojazz 1965-75’ (though Soundway gaffer Miles Cleret did write the sleevnotes).


My first encounter with Mulatu was on a tape from 80’s (possibly emanating from the Small Town Thunderers/Jackdaw With Crowbar axis) though at the time I didn’t know who it was because it was simply called ‘Ethiopian track’, or something similarly generic. It was a solitary clue that there was something different there to all the African music I had heard. That was followed by a few, probably slurred, enquiries on late night taxi rides over the years and locales with Ethiopian drivers about what on earth they were playing, leaving hazy memories of some great tunes but not many names the next morning, that problem remains.


The next proper connection was made when I guested on the Hotpot Radio show with my pal, the venerable Trevor Whatevea, and his co-pilot Mnsr Scruff in Manchester in 2003. Scruff had the Worthy Records, ‘Mulatu Of Ethiopia’ album (surprise, surprise…he has just about everything) and played a track, on one of the several shows they were recording that day. My interest was severely piqued, thinking this sounds like that track I used to have on tape, and sure enough there was ‘Netsanet’, the very song that had hooked and absorbed me a decade or two previous.
That day looked a bit like this.


A fruitless and frustrating search for the vinyl in the record shops of Manchester, Birmingham and London followed, before I discovered it in the unlikeliest of locales on my way back to NZ at the house mecca, Dancetracks in the glorious old L.E.S. of Manhattan. I’m pretty sure it’s the re-issue, but even they were scarce on the ground then. One of only a fistful of doof-free discs in that entire legendary shop, I was made up, and naturally it lit a fire underneath my proverbial record searching ass – for Mulatu and more music and knowledge about Ethiopia, which continues to this day.
I had tried to make contact for an interview with Mulatu a few years ago, and put my hand up when the Heliocentrics album dropped (even though I was initially a tad disappointed by that one, possibly down to unreachable expectations of that pairing) but this time the circuits connected, and a time and date was set. I’ve been on the interviewing game for some time now, and like DJing, it takes something fairly monumental to get me clammy handed. Talking to Mulatu ranked up there.
With a monstrous delay, and sufficient crackle to make the next Burial album, as an obstacle to free conversation, plus enough failed connections to require a bionic dialing finger, the Ethiopian telephone service did its’ level best to not let this happen. We both persevered and got very frustrated by that along the way, but there was actually a lot more salvageable dialogue than I first thought. Below is the un-edited conversation, his words are exactly as he said ’em, and I understood ’em, only minus a couple of bits that were impossible to decipher above the tele-noise. There may well be a part 2 to this, and soon, but for the meantime read on.
I began by thanking him for his music, like the groveling fanboy I truly am.
“You get the last one, the compilation records?”
Indeed I have and I think it may be the one to introduce a lot more people to your music
“I think so too, I’m very happy. Which music are you thanking me for
Well all of it really, though I can’t go beyond the Golden Era classic Ethiojazz stuff, like the the Budha comp and L’Arome Productions vinyl albums, and of course the re-issued Worthy album. (I think I may have struck a nerve here by not simply bigging up the recent releases, not an ideal start, he sounded kind of understandably potentially grumpy at this point)

“Well I don’t follow that very much seriously. I have only recordings on the Ethiopiques, number 4, that’s my collection but the rest I don’t know very much about that. Budha records are producing those music, and I don’t follow the other ones”

Righto. Having lived through the Emperor Selassie’s reign and a brace of successive dictatorships with martial law and all the rest, I wonder how much of a presence his music currently has in Ethiopia media?

“I’m a prominent composer, arranger and I had radio programmes I also had before, a television programme, I wrote for a play, I’m in different… you know bands, I release CDs and I travel.”

Why is Ethiojazz, and in fact most Ethio music, so different to other African forms, is it just the isolation?

Well now with Ethiojazz it has been 40 years I have been creating it you know. Why its different, why we are different to most is we have one mode which is called Anche Hoye, which is not found in any other part of the world at all. And also we use five tones to compose our music, five tone scales. What I did was I use also twelve tone music, so this is five tone against twelve, that’s how Ethiojazz is. The area I’m talking about is when you have three or four cultures, trying to put them together you really have to be very careful that one doesn’t dominate another one, and you must have a feel. My feel is Ethiopian mode, Ethiopian scales. So what I did was, I combined with twelve tone but I have to collect my own progressions, I sort of like have to create my own voicings, so that it doesn’t really disappear the Ethiopian modes at all. So you know it’s been very interesting but hard work, but now it’s very big in the world.”

How was working with the Heliocentrics, obviously you have been working with Either/Orchestra in Boston for some time, was this a considerably different bag?

“Well you know it’s just what I’ve been doing, that’s actually just Ethiojazz music, what we’ve been doing now together but its only the orchestration is a bit different. We use more electronic now, I use a lot of acoustic before, but it sounded really nice. I think it’s a beautiful combination, and actually when am I doing the arrangement for different bands I do it different ways. When I do the Heliocentrics now we are really very much together. I write so it could suit the Heliocentrics.”

Is your project adapting traditional, pentatonic Ethiopian instruments to play the twelve tone scale ongoing?

“Yes that’s a very interesting project, which I’ve actually got about 70% now, because you know, I’ve been touring, I’ve been doing something else so I just let it go for awhile. We managed to play ‘Mercy Mercy’, ‘Never On A Sunday’, you know ‘Summertime’, those kinds of things, playing with a krar, which is so interesting I tell you. It was on the television and the people loved it and it was really great.”
A krar


You really are changing music by doing this.

“I’m trying my best my friend. And also there is one very interesting thing, actually its going to come out on my new CD (Mulatu Steps Ahead). I’m going to London next week, to complete my new CD you know. You see there is this tribe in the south of Ethiopia we call them Dirashe . This tribe they play a diminished scale, my friend. So they’ve been there for centuries and centuries. What I did was I bought them up to the city, to Addis, and I filled it with jazz and made a beautiful programme on television. So this has been so interesting, its going to come out on my new CD you know, and I’ve been doing that, and also I have done an opera. Very interesting opera , written when I was at Harvard. Its about the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the whole story is about a conducting stick. We used to conduct music in 380AD, it’s centuries ago, when there was no symphony orchestra in the world. So the whole idea is Ethiopian contribution to the development of the whole of music. So I used this stick, I took about forty or fifty minutes from the part where we used the conducting stick, with violins and cellos and everything, and the choirs as well, and that has been conducted with that stick which makes it so interesting. So I’m trying to finish my opera as well now.”

There was more here, but the Ethio telco was doing me no favours, I understand there is also an electronic component to the opera, and he has already presented a portion of it at Harvard. I did know enough to offer another slightly informed question when we had stopped yelling ‘Hellooooo’ at each other (I think I may have some Ethiopian cussing on tape, there was certainly a bit of blue from yours truly, as I ran through the best part of ten calls getting connected, and then having one side go down immediately… somewhat frustrating)
Is this the Yared Opera that you plan to perform in the Lalibela churches (said with some very hesitant, but apparently correct pronounciation, just don’t start me on some on the names of some of those singers!)

“Yeeeeesss, exactly, that’s what I’m really working to put it on at a Lalibela church. You know about them?”

(As seen above the churches in the sacred city of Lalibela are literally hewn from the rock, rather than rock being broken down for construction, the rock is removed to reveal the structure. This is some architecturally awesome, devotional digging and stonemasonry on a stupefying level.)
A little, with buildings made entirely of stone the acoustics would be unlike anywhere else it would be incredible?

“I know, I know it will be something beautiful because the architects work on that is so interesting, and if we also show the mekwamia there – what you call this, the conducting mekwemia, that’s really an Ethiopian contribution to the world. The architects of the conducting.”

Saint Yared’s foot stabbing incident (hit the Yared link below for the scoop on that!)


I’m not entirely sure whether he means, the architects of the incredible churches in the sacred city of Lalibela, or as the architects as in modern music (in particular Saint Yared, who is believed to have been the first to write musical notes, centuries ahead of Western civilisation, and a great deal more. Don’t start me on the rasta/reggae links here, I’m stopping myself from rambling on about everything from Bob’s ‘Three Little Birds’ to Prince Fari’s chants), as he references at the end. Never mind, he’s on a roll.

“Especially the Dirashe is so interesting. When we studied jazz at Berkeley, they were telling us how Charlie Parker created the diminished key to create modern jazz, and the great composers Debussy, Bach and all this, been using a diminished scale for composing you know. So what is really very interesting is this tribe have been there for centuries and centuries, so what I wanted to know is, is it Charlie Parker? or is it these tribes, or who? what? Creating the diminished scale, so that is one thing I am working on in the future, answering that.”
And then the line went dead, time was well past done, boohoo sob sob.

You can buy the new Strut compilation and much more Mulatu from Conch


I hope I haven’t taken liberties in writing this up, the line was wack and the connection was weak, the delay was insufferable.. transcribing was no barrel of laughs. The name of the tribe he refers to, and the YouTube clips are of, is an informed guess, as I cannot find a direct reference to them and their diminished chords online. I’m no expert on this stuff but I have learnt a little about Ethiopia over time, researching for the interview and this post has increased that and led me down some interesting web wormholes (it’s also prepped me for round 2). Hope you enjoy it, and buy that crucial compile etc.
Big thanks to Marty @ Border.