Pre-order is now available for my new double A side 7 inch single “Sunday Never Comes/ Take Off Your Bandages”. Love on ye, RHxhttps://t.co/JzUoz3h9AR— Robyn Hitchcock (@RobynHitchcock) February 15, 2019
Chances are, you've never met anyone quite like Robyn Hitchcock. The beloved British singer/songwriter has spent the better part of the last five decades earning a sort of self-adjudicated PhD in all things rock and roll, poetry, folk, America, philosophy, the human condition, psychedelia and, of course, the Beatles.
"If there was a genre called 'Beatles music' rather than called '60s pop or psychedelia or something, that would be what I play," Hitchcock said. "There are other influences there, but the harmonies, the guitars, the tempos, the sounds, essentially, in my head anyways, [come from the Beatles]."
But don't let Hitchcock's reverence for the Fab Four fool you – he's one of the most imaginitive and original artists of his generation, which is saying a lot for someone who came up in the hotbed of '60s rock. From his early–and highly influential–work with the Soft Boys in the mid-'70s to his impressive catalog of 21 albums, either solo or backed by incredible bands such as the Egyptians and the Venus 3, Hitchcock has consistently released records that inspire the imagination, delight the ear and defy the norm.
These days, Hitchcock calls Music City, U.S.A. home, and plays with the aptly named Nashville Fabs. He's also recently diversified his psychedelc folk portfolio, penning the haunting number "Sunday Never Comes" for the remarkable Rose Byrne and Ethan Hawke 2018 movie Juliet, Naked, and releasing a new collaboration EP with XTC's Andy Partridge just a few months ago titled Planet England.
The Recording Academy had the surreal honor of speaking with Hitchcock over the phone from his home in Nasvhille to hear about his ongoing project with Partridge, his love for the Beatles debates, John Lennon's looming legacy, and why what he's working on next is keeping him "incrediby busy."
By moving to Nashville, you bring an eclectic flair to its ever-widening creative scene. But what has living there brought to your life?
Well, it's brought great people to play music with. And you can also get anywhere in the bloodstream of the United States and Canada, anywhere east of the Rockies in about two hours by plane, which is fantastic. It's a very good place to tour from. Touring the States is my job, it's what I do for a living.
But I think all of the recent recordings I've done have been here with other people based in Nashville, and it's a joy that a great bunch of people just come around and run through songs in your living room. And then you find some other place to play, and then you can do a show or make the record. I haven't been in a community, such as small local, specific community of people all engaged in the same thing, since I was at what y'all call high school in my teens.
I see, regularly, people that do the same thing as me, and that I work with and play with. There was a little bit of that in the Soft Boy days in Cambridge, which was another small scene, but [Nashville] is bigger than that, much more professional. Very few musicians make it out of Cambridge alive. And Cambridge, U.K., it tends to kind of eat its own sons and daughters. But Nashville, it's a great hive. People are swarming, taking off and landing and get to the airport and it says, "Welcome to music city!" I love that element. It is great.
Being surrounded by songwriters like that, has it changed your writing process?
No. No, not at all. I haven't done that thing of getting into a cage with another songwriter and trying to co-write. Nashville wears a Stetson for publicity purposes, but all kinds of music goes on here. I think the commercial end of it is still quite country-ish. And my connection to country music really doesn't go any further than "Sweetheart Of The Rodeo" by the Byrds, which I love and gave me a crash course in some elements of country, but it doesn't influence me on the whole. Every so often I'll come up with a kind of pastiche country song, but I don't have to be in Nashville to do that. I think the last one I wrote, my last faux country song was written in Norway and probably the one before that, I was living in London. Being out here hasn't made me any more twangy.
"Nashville wears a Stetson for publicity purposes, but all kinds of music goes on here." -Robyn Hitchcock
Yes, I thought I heard it for a couple notes of twang on your new EP with Andy Partridge, Planet England, but I was mistaken. Maybe I was looking a little too hard for the Nashville influence, but I'd love to ask you about that project, too. You've said it could have been made any time in the past 53 years. Why was now the time for you and Andy to do this together?
I think because of the stage in our life cycles that we're at. We actually wrote those songs and did the basic recordings 12 years ago. We were in our early-to-mid-50s, but we didn't finish it off until last year for a whole variety of reasons.
I think Andy and I probably were quite suspicious of each other when we were young indie rockers, and then we were kind of both on the alternative charts in the States in the 1980s. By the time we were over 50, I think we were kind of able to approach each other really. Now we're heading into our late 60s. I go around to his house in Swindon when I'm back in Britain, which is fairly often. It's just down the road from my sister. So I could easily see a day's gone where I can meet him in Swindon and get back to Bath. And I've got country roots anyway, so you know, it's my parallel life. It's two old psychedelic pensioners rocking away in a shed in a back garden. It's just everything that Americans probably dream of, these quaint little Brits in some damp shed in a backyard with primitive equipment.
But actually Andy has the equivalent of the entire firepower of Abbey Road's Studio One in his shed and has always maintained it completely state-of the-art sonic libraries. So he's capable of summoning out any kind of sound that we want for our proto-psychedelic music. We're two guys who had been 17 when the Beatles broke up, still looking for that missing Beatles album. And so we're sort of basically trying to make it ourselves. I mean both of our careers have been that to some extent. And we think that the Dukes of Stratosphear [Partridge's band] really nudged it.
When I make a rock record or I play with a band, it's always some kind of basically playing Beatles music, and there are other influences there, but the harmonies, the guitars, the tempos, the sounds, essentially, in my head anyways is just kind of- If there was a genre called "Beatles music" rather than called '60s pop or psychedelia or something, that would be what I play and largely what Andy plays and, As we're getting the arc of our careers, we're getting to the point where that's what we really like making. So fingers crossed, two songs into another project and I'm supposed to see him in Britain at the end of next month so we'll see what we can do.
The Beatle gene runs deep…
Well you know, again, it's what people have in common. I've got this show tomorrow night with my band the Nashville Fabs. They're all Beatles freaks, and we do a ton of Beatles encores with guest singers, and I'm doing one. Everyone just disappears into the corner of their own mind trying to work out whether something is a major-seventh or a relative minor-third. Is it a minor-sixth or is it actually a seventh of the relative-fourth? I mean, it's fantastic watching people debating and playing. Now they've all got the Beatles on their phones, and they just sort of hold the phone up to the microphone, and we can all hear this transistor radio sound, on whatever it is, "You Won't See Me," or something. "I think it's a minor-" "No, it's not actually, it's-" "Oh, gosh, they're singing a D over B or is it a B over D?" You know, nobody's ever completely sure. I love that, they get excited about defining it.
Yeah, it's like one, big, first chord of "Hard Day's Night." Everybody's going to be debating what it is until the end of time.
It is! It's the library in Alexandria that the Romans burnt down, the repository of all human knowledge, hanging on the first chord of "Hard Day's Night."
Well, we're coming up on the anniversary of John Lennon's death [Dec. 8, 1980]. I thought maybe you could say something about what John, specifically, meant to you.
John Lennon, to myself and probably millions of other kids, including probably Andy Partridge, was a sort of an elder brother, you know, he was the cool, daring, kick-ass, wise-but-foolhardy older brother, the one who took the risks, the one who went out and got hit, the one who challenged authority, but also the one who had success, you know, the trappings of success. You could think, "Oh wow, John Lennon's got a house. John Lennon's got a plane. John Lennon's got a beautiful wife. John Lennon's got a drug habit. John Lennon's paranoid. John Lennon's beautiful. John Lennon's falling out with Paul McCartney. You can look at anyone you admire and the way they are on a pedestal, you can never be them. In another way, they're just like you, if somebody's too alien, they're very hard to kind of connect with, you know?
And I think there's that thing about idols with feet of clay. I think people do want a vulnerable hero, and John was just that. He was vulnerable, and in the end he was killed. How's vulnerable is that? It was awful. I am still grieving Joan Lennon much more than I grieve my parents. And you know both of them lived a natural lifespan. I mean there's so much now for John Lennon to live up to, that if he came back, he couldn't. Since he's died, he's been the good cop. McCartney's had to be the bad guy because he lived on. It's been "St. John" for nearly 40 years and you know, he obviously wasn't.
But he, as Richard Lester [director of 'Hard Day's Night' and 'How I Won The War,' both featuring Lennon] said, he made you care about him. I think he's a real emotional touchstone. The Beatles always make me feel very human. A lot of people I like, Captain Beefheart or Syd Barrett, they're kind of elsewhere, or David Bowie, there is more of a kind of, "I'm outside of this human orbit. I'm not down there in the mud with you lot. I'm somewhere apart." And Bob Dylan, you know, they're kind of insightful, mythical creatures on the edges of things. The Beatles are right in the center, and John was right in the center of the Beatles. And then he couldn't keep it together, couldn't keep up with Paul, who was actually probably tougher than him, but didn't get the knocks. John was the ice-breaker, he was the one who started it, but also [got knocked].
But I also don't think John was better than Paul, you know. I think it works because they were so evenly matched. And then George, became as evenly matched as them, and it was too much, a mouth with too many teeth in it, time for them all to leave home. But the tension on that journey is sort of, John starting it, and then Paul coming up, and then George coming up – what that did to them still produced incredible records. I love the Beatles. Really. Lennon could rubbish the myth all he wanted. It doesn't really matter what you are, it's what people think you are, especially once you've gone. It was for him to demolish the Beatles, but even he couldn't really, the myth is as strong as ever. And you know, as you can see, I have a lot to say about John Lennon.
Indeed. It's a tough time every year when this anniversary comes around to remember that loss.
It's awful and I feel for Yoko [Ono], and Julian [Lennon], and Sean [Lennon] because it's a personal loss for them. And for the rest of us, we're all sort of projecting, a person we never knew but had a relationship with.
Absolutely. I also want to ask you about "Sunday Never Comes," specifically the new video you've made, which leaves you with a very beautiful and disconnected feeling, much the way the song does. You wrote it for a film, but how did it feel to have the song survive that process, and kind of come back to you in this way with the video?
We deliberately decided to do a proper recording of it because the only thing that was out was my demo for the Juliet, Naked movie, and I really liked the way Ethan Hawke sang it, but I wanted to see what it'd be like if I did it properly. So I recorded it with the Nashville Fabs, and then our friend Jeremy [Dylan] actually did that video. He was our roommate for a while, and he very sweetly makes these videos for us. He made that in Sydney. My partner Emma Swift, who sings with me sometimes and is working on her first full-length record here in Nashville – in fact we're doing some recording in LA next week – Emma's in there as my kind of- I'm this artist in an abandoned apartment somewhere. Nobody's decorated since the 1960s. Somehow the electricity is still connected, and I'm watching obsolete programs on dead televisions, and then Emma appears, my muse, but I can't get at her. She's somewhere else across the world looking desolate.
Most of my videos have always had some humor in them. I don't like taking things that seriously, I guess. I just think there's always got to be a laugh in there somewhere, or it's- Life is pretty unbearable [laughs]. And this one, we didn't put any jokes in. There's nothing funny in there at all. It's just me. I start drawing her at one point, and then I see her on the telly, but it's very unresolved. Sunday never comes, and Emma never turns up, whatever Emma represents, my enigma, my muse. But it's quite a sad one for me, but I'm sure whatever I do next will be a million laughs. [laughs]
Well, you latest LP [2017's self-titled album] was not only your 21st album, it was one of your best. What are you working on next? What are your goals and interests these days?
Well, whatever I put out, if I put out a 22nd one, I want it to be as good as the 21st. So right now I'm rather avoiding that by working with Andy and working on Emma's record, and whatever I've actually written. I never write the songs that I want to write. I write the songs that appear. "Sunday Never Comes" was a commission. But even then I didn't know what I was going to write. They just said, "Write a Robyn Hitchcock song." So that's what popped up. So what I've got lying around or what I'm working on is a collection of piano songs, rather somber piano songs. And I guess when Emma's record is done, because I'm part of that, I'm part of the hive mind working on that, guitar and arrangements. And once Andy and I are well into the Partridge record, hopefully next year, I will start recording these piano songs.
"I never write the songs that I want to write. I write the songs that appear." - Robyn Hitchcock
I bought a four-track cassette machine and a reel-to-reel. I want to do it on hissy, compressed tape with tape delay so it sounds like something that was done years ago. I mean, I know Elliott Smith was doing it 20 years ago, there's nothing new about retro sounding. But kind of how I used to take demos in the 1980s, I want to kind of get a sound that's all my own before I bring anyone else in. And then, you know, it might be a long time before anything comes out, but I'm totally working on it. And I've got lots of other projects, visual stuff. I'm supposed to be doing some paintings, and I'm got a collection of lyrics with illustrations. That's probably going to be the next thing to be "on sale," if you like.
So I'm incredibly busy. You wouldn't think so, but actually there's a hell of a lot going on. Plus, I play a hundred cities a year and I have to get to them all. So I've got L.A., Chicago, New York before New Year's and then it all starts up again.
Robyn Hitchcock will be playing at Largo at the Coronet in Los Angeles on Friday, Dec. 13, and tickets are available here.
Meet Sierra Lever, a young music professional primed to make waves in the industry. As Associate Marketing Director at Columbia Records, she already has worked on such major releases as Tyga, Polo G, Chloe X Halle, Chase B, and previously at Motown Records on Migos, Stefflon Don, Zaytoven, and more. She's also featured in the latest episode of :NEXT, the Recording Academy’s new digital short-run series featuring the future of the music industry.
Her journey began back home in Portland, where she put on parties to showcase local talent. She began booking more artists, big artists, such as Too $hort and Big Krit on her college campus. Her DIY spirit and interest in the behind-the-scenes workings of the music business led to her joining GRAMMY U and eventually taking an internship in the Recording Academy, where she worked in the Awards department and the Executive Office.
This wide range of experience helped illuminate Sierra's path into marketing, where she could learn how to tell artists' stories in a way that helps spread the word about their music. And while going to a Spice Girls concert as a little girl that lit the initial spark of Sierra's interest in music, it was a seminal hip-hop album that showed her the way to a career in the industry.
"Kendrick Lamar's Good Kid, M.A.A.D City was the album that really inspired me to enter into the music industry," she said. "[It] really tells his story. And it connected to me, and it connected to so many, It really represented the pressures of our environment that we live in… the minute I listened to it, it was on repeat. There's really no skips for this album. It's very thematic. It has all these different themes from the Bible to street violence to love and lust, all those different elements."
Sierra felt she was part of something when she listened to that album. Not content to be just a fan, she wanted to share that sense of belonging. She drew inspiration from the artists she loved and channeled those storytelling concepts into her own career on the business side of music.
"You have to be a student of the game," she said. "That is what really shows. You see these artists and you see how them studying the game really translates to their evolution over time, and I feel like that's the same for me working as a professional in music, [finding my] individuality [and] really taking risks."
Sierra first heard about :NEXT as an intern at the Academy. As her eligibility for GRAMMY U was coming to a close, Lever thought it'd be the perfect segue into a professional career. She was right.
"The best part about being a 'Nexter' is really being able to connect with your peers and see your peers evolve. That is a big thing for me, to be able to support each other, to know that you do have a support system," she said, adding, "We have panels, we have these industry vets that we get to have that face time with and connection with."
Sierra also talks fondly of her mentor, Recording Academy Washington D.C. Chapter Executive Director Jeriel Johnson. "He is someone who is really connected in the urban [music] space, someone who is a leader within it. I identified with him in the sense of, this is where I want to go and where I want to grow," she said.
"The most valuable lesson I learned from him is to always try," Sierra said. "Always go with your foot forward in the sense of, 'I'm learning and I'm going to be successful.'"
Now, Lever is striving to pursue her dreams in the music industry, and being a part of :NEXT has helped her stay on course. She compares the support she's received—and given to her fellow young music professionals—to that of a family.
"I will say this: The GRAMMYs, they are a family to me. There are so many people who have seen me evolve over time," Sierra says.
Her long-term vision is to continue to tell artists' stories, and she's off to a great start. She puts it best when asked what else she's learned from Johnson, her :NEXT mentor, about being successful in music:
"When you strive for success, you never fail, you just learn."
Hero The Band perform at the Recording Academy Atlanta Chapter Annual Membership Celebration
Photo: Marcus Ingram/WireImage
The future, as they say, is now. And for music makers around the world, building a future for themselves often starts at home, in their local creative community and in the city where they live. While technology has expanded communication and made the world smaller, cities continue to grow, making planning for the future a critical cultural mission of the present.
To that end, a new report by global organization Sound Diplomacy titled "This Must Be The Place" examines, "The role of music and cultural infrastructure in creating better future cities for all of us." The 37-page deep dive into community planning and development highlights the importance of creative culture in what it calls "Future Cities."
"The government defines ‘Future Cities’ as 'a term used to imagine what cities themselves will be like," the report states, "how they will operate, what systems will orchestrate them and how they will relate to their stakeholders (citizens, governments, businesses, investors, and others),'"
According to the report, only three global cities or states currently have cultural infrastructure plans: London, Amsterdam and New South Wales. This fact may be surprising considering how city planning and sustainability have become part of the discussion on development of urban areas, where the UN estimates 68 percent of people will live by 2050.
"Our future places must look at music and culture ecologically. Much like the way a building is an ecosystem, so is a community of creators, makers, consumers and disseminators," the report says. "The manner in which we understand how to maintain a building is not translated to protecting, preserving and promoting music and culture in communities."
The comparison and interaction between the intangibility of culture and the presence of physical space is an ongoing theme throughout the report. For instance, one section of the report outlines how buildings can and should be designed to fit the cultural needs of the neighborhoods they populate, as too often, use of a commercial space is considered during the leasing process, not the construction process, leading to costly renovations.
"All future cities are creative cities. All future cities are music cities."
On the residential side, as cities grow denser, the need increases for thoughtful acoustic design and sufficient sound isolation. Future cities can and should be places where people congregate
"If we don’t design and build our future cities to facilitate and welcome music and experience, we lose what makes them worth living in."
For musicians and artists of all mediums, the answer to making—and keeping—their cities worth living in boils down to considering their needs, impact and value more carefully and sooner in the planning process.
"The report argues that property is no longer an asset business, but one built on facilitating platforms for congregation, community and cohesion," it says. "By using music and culture at the beginning of the development process and incorporating it across the value chain from bid to design, meanwhile to construction, activation to commercialisation, this thinking and practice will result in better places."
The report offers examples of how planners and leaders are handling this from around the world. For instance, the Mayor Of London Night Czar, who helps ensure safety and nighttime infrastructure for venues toward the Mayor's Vision for London as a 24-hour city. Stateside, Pittsburgh, Penn., also has a Night Mayor in place to support and inform the growth of its creative class.
What is a music ecosystem? We believe the music influences and interacts with various sectors in a city. We have designed this infographic to show how music ecosystems work and impact cities, towns and places: https://t.co/0DIUpN1Dll
— Sound Diplomacy (@SoundDiplomacy) August 14, 2019
Diversity, inclusion, health and well-being also factor into the reports comprehensive look at how music and culture are every bit as important as conventional business, ergonomic and environmental considerations in Future Cites. Using the Queensland Chamber of Arts and Culture as a reference, it declared, "A Chamber of Culture is as important as a Chamber of Commerce."
In the end, the report serves as a beacon of light for governments, organizations, businesses and individuals involved in planning and developing future cities. Its core principals lay out guideposts for building friendly places to music and culture and are backed with case studies and recommendations. But perhaps the key to this progress is in changing how we approach the use of space itself, as the answer to supporting music may be found in how we look at the spaces we inhabit.
"To develop better cities, towns and places, we must alter the way we think about development, and place music and culture alongside design, viability, construction and customer experience," it says. "Buildings must be treated as platforms, not assets. We must explore mixed‑use within mixed‑use, so a floor of a building, or a lesser‑value ground floor unit can have multiple solutions for multiple communities."
David Hinds of Steel Pulse
Photo: Mike Martinez
Many passionate social advocates mellow over time, but not David Hinds. Nearly 45 years into his role as leader of GRAMMY winning British reggae outfit Steel Pulse, Hinds is still working hard for change. While their message has always been a global one, Hinds has doubled down on his passion for progress to match the modern state of world and updated his method to the current creative flow of the band, keeping his nose firmly to the grindstone. The result is Mass Manipulation, Steel Pulse's infectious new album and first in 15 years.
— Steel Pulse (@steelpulse) May 17, 2019
We spoke with Hinds while on tour to find out what he poured into the new project, where his working to make an impact on his next tour, his interest in movies and TV, what his future plans involve and more.
Why was this the right time to record and release Mass Manipulation, the band's first studio album in 15 years?
The recordings have been staggered. But because of the circumstances throughout the world for the past five, ten years, informed by activists with regards to terrorism, with regards to racism, with regards to police brutality, and regards to all these setbacks, so many countries being taken advantage of by superpowers.... All these things have always been templates years ago that made what we were doing automatically timeless. We had a year to go, and after recording several tracks, we thought to ourselves that there's still three more tracks that would have made the album right in the pocket as far as things that were happening, really on an escalated scale with things just stepped up a notch.
Although things have been happening systematically over the past years, it was stepped up a notch. As in, you can see over the past two or three years, there's been a lot of mass shootings taking place across the United States and other parts of the world. There's other protests and demonstrations going on as well. We witnessed that for the first time back in 2011, when we saw the Middle East uprising with taking over from the people that govern them, the dictators of several decades, whether it's Tunisia, whether it's Egypt, whether it's Libya, where in all these countries, all of a sudden, people are realizing that they've got a say. So "Rize" and "Stop You Coming and Come" were based on my Ethiopian experience. I was in Ethiopia for the very first time in mid-2017.
After that experience, I was so overwhelmed, I thought it was necessary to express my views and put that song down. And then we just wanted a song also that had a solution, a conclusion to it. We didn't think the album concluded anything and we decided to do the cover version of Steve Winwood's "Higher Love." And obviously we formulated the lyrics differently and called it "Higher Love (Rasta Love)."
When it comes to Rastafarian philosophy, it is the most unifying thing for mankind when it comes to music, period, across the board. So we just thought it was necessary to record the three to four extra songs and complete the album.
Was this album intended to be so global or did it just come out that way? And why do you feel like your message is so universal?
If you go then back through Steel Pulse's albums that we've done, the messages have always been global. We've always been universal. And maybe because you're trying to differentiate between how the Jamaican acts, those that actually record and produce songs in Jamaica I mean, their lyrics are not exactly global in a sense, but a lot of it's to do with just being from Jamaica. Where Steel Pulse is coming from a British background, so it's easy for us to adjust and create songs on that merit and on that kind of platform, because we are coming from a cosmopolitan country. First of all, England as a first world country, as a Western world country was always up to speed with what other countries has been doing whether it's political, whether it's social, whether it comes to business and enterprise. So it was easy for us to keep churning out songs. That was always going to be a given from day one. I mean the very first, album, "Ku Klux Klan" was on that and you don't find that in the United Kingdom. So that tells you straight away that the band has been international or trans-Atlantic from the get-go.
Because of the weight of that message and because of Steel Pulse's legacy within reggae, the actual songwriting isn't talked about as much, but you're an extremely prolific and accomplished songwriter. After 45 years of the band, is your songwriting process the same as it was back when you were writing those early songs? How has your songwriting process changed?
I would say it varies, it ebbs and flows, but the principle has changed somewhat. Whereas in the earlier years, without a doubt there were songs that were written where the lyrics were written first, and then the music. And then there were songs where the music was written first and then I added lyrics to them, like the song "Ravers" from the True Democracy album, for example. That was an instrumental before and I added lyrics to it. And take "Sound Check" from the Handsworth Revolution album. That was actually a rhythm groove and I decided to add lyrics to it while in the studio.
This time around it's a bit of me supposing, focusing on punchlines and melodies and trying to make the lyrics as constructive as I possibly can. That can be a tendency where one can dry up when it comes to the potency and the substance that a song can have and I made sure that I wasn't drying up in that domain. That's what I'm saying. In the early years, like I said, there were a lot of times we'd base the band's lyrics on rehearsal and jamming.
But since the format isn't like that anymore, I tend to be a recluse in my home and I'll wake up in the middle of the night, maybe two, three, four, five o'clock in the morning and jot down lyrics that I found stimulate me, or that I thought provocative. And sometimes I'd purposely write without intentions of recording it, thinking if it's that strong of a song, I'll still remember it by the morning. Then I realized that was not such a good idea. Some damn good ideas I've had, and I should've held on to them so to speak. So I got the iPhone now, the iPad, and hum the melody into those machines, and you wake up the next day you capitalize on what was an idea in the middle of the night. So that's how it's been now.
Early years, a lot of the time the music was there and I added the lyrics to it. It seems to be more difficult for me sometimes. I tend to write the lyrics, having a melody in mind in the first place, and a groove in mind, and then I hear out of the tempo of delivering the songs as the words, and try to match a beat to that and then that's how it goes for me. I'm more concerned about the strength of the lyrics than melody a lot of times. In actual fact both should be supplementing themselves.
Can you tell me about this tour you're planning? As I understand, you're choosing to perform at Native American reservations and juvenile detention centers…
Well, you've heard of the term bucket list. These are the things from the beginning of the band's career, especially when we touched down in the United States (by the way about a year from now is going to be the 40th anniversary since we arrived in the U.S.) that it's always been on my mind to pursue those avenues because those have been always our major concern. We wrote songs like “Soldiers” based on how the Native Americans were decimated, and their land desecrated. Then we've always thought that there was some kind of a bond with ourselves and Native Americans with regards to the slave trade that took place in Africa, and colonialism. So there's always this thing saying, “let me hang out with these guys and see what they are about, and see how they're coping with situations.”
And then there was the other side of things as well, where for instance, I've read up on prisoners, political prisoners in different countries, and people that I've admired over the years were once political prisoners. When you think of all the African leaders for example, that took over Africa, once Africa got independence. They were all prisoners at one point, Nelson Mandela, Kwame Nkrumah, Patrice Lumumba, Jomo Kenyatta, all these guys at some point served time for their beliefs. So I've always had this thing about going inside jailhouses and seeing how people are coping with their predicament. Especially because a lot of times I don't think prisons are really addressing the situation, what really goes down within the mind of someone who's being seen as a criminal.
New tour dates announced! Tickets on sale Friday. Tag a friend you want to bring with you and be entered to win a pair of ticket to any of the shows listed here...#steelpulse #massmanipulation #newtourdates #wisemandoctrine #rootfire #rootfirecooperative pic.twitter.com/3U7bdohfpx
— Steel Pulse (@steelpulse) August 21, 2019
I don't think programs have been set in earnest to rehabilitate guys like this. But I've always been intrigued by trying to get into the minds of the incarcerated... And a lot of the time someone just had a bad break, a lousy break and just needed that second lease of life and needed a program to turn their life around for something positive. I mean you'd take the situation of the Central Park Five, who were five youths sent to jail for an alleged rape that took place in New York and Central Park back in 1989.
For all five guys there was not enough evidence for time in jail, but because certain factions of the police wanted to get brownie points, they were put away for a crime they didn't commit. So these kinds of things, I'm always focused in on situations where it's evident that someone didn't commit a particular crime, or if they did, what is it you can do to help their cause. I mean, obviously if they've committed murder, and the United States said it's the death penalty, you can't do anything about that, because that's the law so to speak. What I'm talking about is those where there is hope of them being rehabilitated...They come out of jail only to find themselves back in there again, because they weren't given a fair crack at the whip.
And there's a movie based on the Central Park Five, When They See Us. One of them got out of jail and God knows, he spent so many years trying to get a job, and he had that stigma hanging over his head, because they said he committed that crime he knew he didn't. After a while he had no choice but to stand on the side of the streets, selling crack like everybody else. So what I'm saying is, because he didn't do it in the first place, but got ostracized by family, got ostracized by God knows what else and he went out there trying to make a go at life. Once again, couldn't get a job. And before you know they're scraping back up again for another sentence because he didn't have that fair crack of the whip. He had to go out and try and make his ends meet. So these are the things I'm looking at, and this is why I'm taking an interest.
With all of these intense and heavy issues you and the band are addressing, what are some things you do to take care of yourself mentally, whether it's to relax or to make sure that you're mentally healthy?
Well, that's another good question, because right now as it stands, I'm sort of managing the band. I've done a lot of overhauls, I've changed the landscape, the backdrop of what's Steel Pulse's been about, I've changed management, changed the agency, changed certain members of the band. And it hasn't been easy, trying to do all this and still trying to create. You still try to stay focused and have the energy, the physical energy to go out there and perform, because doing this is a 24/7 kind of scenario. Once you're performing, and you've got a rest spot, you know you're not doing that, because you've got to start doing the business side of things until proper management kicks in.
So I try to make it a rule of thumb that I don't let anything stress me too much. Before, I'd be irascible, when I started out in this business, the moment something wasn't the right way, I would go apesh**. And now that's been reduced a heck of a lot, because I'm a total believer in Murphy's Law, trying to compensate and correct it, number one. Number two, I'll say, “all right, you did this much, and how much can you expect to do for the day? You're not getting any younger,” and try to just chill out a bit. So I've managed to put on a different head in how I perceive things. In my spare time, I still do a relative amount of reading in regards to what's going on in the news.
I tend to really wind down when I'm watching a couple of bad boy movies and stuff… I like watching movies in my spare time on Netflix recently, before that you see other ways of trying to access a movie. And that's how I wind down. It takes away from the reality of the world, you see how someone's living in their world in the sense of film.
Lastly, you're coming up on 45 years of Steel Pulse. What are the goals for the future of the band?
Finances being our biggest deficit, I'd like to know that there's enough money generated financially, that I can start to really be more active in other areas in regards to, for example, charity. I mean we dabbled in it, sold T-shirts or presented other avenues in generating funds for certain causes, like the earthquake that took place in Haiti, nine years ago. We did a donation for hurricane Gilbert, but that was in bloody 1988. But I'd like to know we stepped up to the plate some more in regards to certain causes, is what I'm saying. That I'd like to know. For myself personally, I'd like to know that the band's songs get featured more in movies around the world, or documentaries, and be that kind of a force when it comes to reenacting the songs that we do, with the lyrics and all that kind of stuff.
Then I'd also like to be participating in acting. When we first came to the United States, my dream was to participate in one or two movies or TV shows.
And at that time in early 80s throughout the 90s it was very difficult, because the dreadlocks were not a palatable thing in the United States and in film at that time. And then whoever became a dreadlocked individual in Hollywood had a fake Jamaican accent. They had a stereotypical kind of thing going on. I had one or two close shaves trying to get into proper selective roles. There was The Return of Superfly. That storyboard, that script was presented to me when it came out. Never happened in the end, but it was presented as an idea. And I've already managed to do acting for a brief moment in one particular film, called Rock Steady, for which, I actually wrote the title track. So that's what I'd like to know. I like to know we're a bit more active in these domains.