Photo: Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images The Recording Academy
5 Takeaways From GRAMMY U's Masterclass With Andrew McMahon: Be Bold, Build Bonds & Embrace Your Fears
Singer/songwriter Andrew McMahon and moderator Taylor Hanson discussed longevity in the music business, overcoming changes and advice for entering the industry.
In an industry as competitive and ever-changing as the music business, longevity is a coveted attribute. Many artists strive to achieve a career that spans decades, but only a select few truly succeed.
During SXSW 2023, GRAMMY U organized a Masterclass for its student representatives with Andrew McMahon of Something Corporate, Jack’s Mannequin and Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. Presented by Mastercard, the event was designed for students and young professionals who want to break into the music industry.
McMahon — who also founded the Dear Jack Foundation in an effort to initiate change and provide support for young adults who have been diagnosed with cancer — spoke with GRAMMY nominee Taylor Hanson, the Recording Academy’s Texas Chapter President, about the most important lessons he has learned throughout his varied musical career. His new album, Tilt At The Wind No More, is out March 31 and his tour begins in May.
Below are his top five pieces of advice for those figuring out how to start and maintain a successful career in music.
Don’t Give In To Fear
One of McMahon's crucial lessons was learning how to channel his fear into drive. The songwriter explained how he grew up feeling insecure and shy about his talents, but instead of letting those emotions have a crippling effect, he pushed himself outside his comfort zone.
"If you know something could be good for you, but you’re nervous, that’s when you have to lean in and say yes," he said.
There are always going to be people who don’t believe in you or your vision as an artist, but it is crucial to maintain a positive mindset. McMahon noted that some of the greatest lessons he has learned have come from the people who did not believe in him — yet those doubts simply motivated him to prove his nay-sayers wrong.
Build Life-Long Bonds
The people who have survived the longest in the music business are those who foster long-term relationships, McMahon said. He also noted the value of nurturing existing relationships over finding the next best thing because, "inevitably we all circle back to each other." After all, the stronger a relationship is, the more you can learn from it. "If you don’t take care of your relationships, then what’s the point," he questioned.
In addition to maintaining creative and working relationships, it is also important to find those relationships socially. Surround yourself with people who support you and your passion. Whether that be friends, family, or mentors, McMahon pointed out that having a support system is necessary for anyone pursuing a career in music.
"[My parents] saw the passion, and they were always very committed to helping me chase that." McMahon described his mom helping him search for producers when he was only 10 years old, allowing him to start creating a demo that he would send out into the world.
Allow Yourself To Evolve
McMahon has never been afraid to embrace change throughout his career. He began as the frontman of Something Corporate and, when the group went on hiatus, he formed Jack's Mannequin to explore a more mature and introspective sound. And when Jack's Mannequin disbanded, McMahon embarked on a solo career that pushed even further into new musical territory.
At the heart of his journey is a willingness to take risks — even when it means departing from what is familiar or comfortable. "It was so important that I made that change because it also gave me the strength to do it again," he said, referencing his shift from Something Corporate to Jack’s Mannequin.
Accepting change and stepping into the unknown allows for so many more possibilities to learn and grow, which is one of the many reasons McMahon has managed to maintain relevance and longevity in a notoriously fickle industry.
Use Technology To Your Advantage
"Technology has been a part of my music career from the beginning," McMahon said when asked about its influence on his development as an artist. Though he joked about being one of the first to create a band webpage, McMahon made sure to talk about how social media, does not come naturally to him.
One of McMahon’s lessons for the crowd was to embrace social media in a way that feels authentic and organic — whatever it takes to participate in some way. "If you want to compete in any space, whether it’s music or otherwise, you better be willing to meet the game where it’s at," he said, "[because] the only constant in the music business is that it changes every year."
Social media is about building a community with fans. McMahon pointed out that we live in a time where artists communicate directly with fans, which was not the case not too long ago. The important thing to remember is: "You just, as an artist, have to figure out where you fit and how you can make the greatest impact."
"Be Persistent, Be Relentless"
Before concluding the Masterclass, McMahon challenged students to lean into their passion. The songwriter was upfront about the difficulties of an artistic career, but encouraged audience members to accept that workload and prepare for it.
"This is one of the hardest businesses out there…[but] it’s actually one of the greatest industries to work hard in," he said.
In following what really excites you and talking to people who interest you, you will find mentors and strengthen your skills. McMahon’s advice was short and sweet: "Be persistent. Be relentless," a phrase certain to fuel the fire of hungry young professionals in music.
The full GRAMMY U Masterclass with Andrew McMahon, presented by Mastercard, is available to stream now. Watch the video to get all of McMahon’s advice for a long and successful career in the music business. Click here for more information on GRAMMY U.
Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Stringer / Getty Images
6 Deep Insights From Jacob Collier & Jessie Reyez' GRAMMY U Masterclass Conversation
The GRAMMY U Masterclass powered by Mastercard and hosted by GRAMMY-winner Jacob Collier and GRAMMY-nominee Jessie Reyez was dedicated to excellence in music and the development of talent through the industry.
Ahead of the 2023 GRAMMYs, like every year, GRAMMY U student representatives studying to pursue careers in music have gathered together in Los Angeles for GRAMMY Week, many to attend or help out at the GRAMMY Awards.
On Feb. 2, at the Novo venue in downtown L.A., GRAMMY U hosted its own Masterclass dedicated to excellence in music and the development of talent through the industry. Passion and creativity shined bright at the event powered by Mastercard hosted by GRAMMY-winner Jacob Collier and moderated by GRAMMY-nominee Jessie Reyez.
Collier and Reyez presented a rich and rollicking conversation, as well as a musical demonstration, that showcased their admiration for each other and for music-making. The Masterclass also highlighted the dedication, skill and vision of the GRAMMY U students themselves, who made the event and all its magic happen.
Read on for insights and advice from the GRAMMY U Masterclass.
Collaboration is key
"The GRAMMY U representatives work together to help build the vision of the program, including the featured panelists, conversation topic, venues, and overall vibe,” explained GRAMMY U Director Jessie Allen. “The most rewarding part of the events we produce is seeing the pride each Rep has as they see their vision realized."
And the vision for this Masterclass was impressive. The pairing of past collaborators Collier and Reyez was fantastic (Collier tapped Reyez for "Count The People" on Collier’s GRAMMY-nominated Djesse Vol. 3) and led to a deep, lively and illuminating conversation filled with live music and music theory 101. The musical components, which included a stunning demonstration of the audience choir Collier has been performing on tour, felt organic, spur-of-the-moment, and deeply captivating.
"For this Masterclass, we all knew that including live music was a top priority in how we created the event. Once we had Jacob on board, the program direction became clear pretty quickly and the Reps wrote all of the questions and script for him and Jessie. One of the first things they asked was for Jacob to do an audience choir segment, which was such a special part of the event. I was so proud to see them all soaking in every second, knowing that they helped to create it," Allen added.
In addition to shaping the event itself, other GRAMMY U students prepared great additional questions for the audience Q&A portion of the talk. A vibey selection of R&B, Afrobeats and house grooves, ala Beyoncé, Steve Lacy, Doja Cat and Black Coffee was provided by GRAMMY U student DJ, Anastazja before and after the main event as guests mingled and ate sweet treats of fresh churros, fluffy mini donuts, and paletas. The culmination of these collaborative efforts elevated the energy of the entire event.
Rules (and tools) were meant to be stretched
"I've always been interested in stretching all the rules. I've always felt they're quite arbitrary," Collier said toward the beginning of the chat, rocking a chevron-striped sweater and bright yellow Crocs that serendipitously coordinated the oversized chairs both artists perched in. "That gave me a lot of clarity."
The GRAMMY-winning singer, songwriter and composer took the captive audience back to the beginning of his musical journey, where the creative seeds for his GRAMMY-winning debut album In My Room were planted, with a mic and his first Casio keyboard in his childhood London bedroom. He explained that he loved to take apart classic songs he loved, like those of Stevie Wonder and play with them. He also explored all his keyboard had to offer, relishing in its presets which sounded out waltz and polka and horn instruments he'd never played before. This began when he was 10 and through his teenage years, and was a very inspiring and fun period of musical play, learning and experimentation for him. This was his happy place.
That bedroom musical experimentation was "a crucial part of my learning… What you like is one of the most important questions you can ask [yourself]," he said, emphasizing the importance of following your joy and the things and sounds that excite you.
Intuition is a superpower
Learning to trust and listen to your intuition was a recurring theme that both Reyez and Collier brought up when discussing the creative process and navigating the music industry.
"You have to make sure the little voice in your head is on your side," Reyez stated.
She continued, telling the audience not to accept “no” or let others convince them something won't work when they know there's a way. She stressed the importance of nurturing connections with themselves and their intuition, which is always the best guide.
When Reyez gets a no, she checks in with her intuition. When she gets stuck in indecision, instead of letting time continue to pass her by, she flips a coin. For her, this classic trick is a great gut-check and gives her initial insight into her emotional reaction to any decision. Either way, making a choice and moving forward is always more rewarding than doing nothing.
Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez / Stringer / Getty Images
Effective leadership creates harmony
Collier led the "presence and effortless flow" of the audience choir, which he demonstrated to powerful effect, a beautiful chorus of angelic voices that he conducted with simple hand motions and vocal demonstrations.
The demonstration sounded flawless and appeared nearly effortless. He expressed that leading the audience choirs has been a great learning experience for him, understanding how to boil it down to the simplest sounds and give instructions with clear and precise hand signals to result in unified sound.
Drawing parallels between conducting a choice and building out his creative and professional team, Collier mused, "How do I lead in a way where everyone's voice feels important when creating a team?"
Collier indulged the audience with one of many “music nerd moments” of the afternoon as he discussed and demonstrated triadic harmony, concluding with "Harmony's my ultimate crush from day one."
"Think about every problem as an unresolved chord"
Collier offered a great piece of advice someone on his team had once shared with him: "Think about every problem as an unresolved chord." For him, finishing a chord is second nature, so if he can "transpose that [knowledge] to other situations," he understands that all challenges have solutions, eventually.
"When you believe that it can happen, the universe does transpire to help you," Collier asserted, adding that the solution doesn’t always have to come through your mind. Striking the balance between head versus heart and learning to listen to both was a point the dynamic pair emphasized.
He related it back to the power of having a good team and openness for collaboration, which can support in making magic happen. "[It's about] reaching into your peripheral vision knowing something will be there," "The Sun Is In Your Eyes" artist said.
Reflect a perspective through song
"I'm longing for all that is already here," Collier said poetically, in one of his many musical demonstrations. "Longing and abundance…how do you express all that with a chord?" he mused from the piano, playing around with expressing that nuanced feeling, which was truly powerful to experience and let wash over you. "I love the feeling of transposing my experience to [song]," he said.
He activated the audience choir once again as he bounced around the stage which had become his musical playground, moving from the big yellow chair to the front of the stage to conduct, and back to the piano. It's clear that Collier thinks (and moves) in musical form. Speaking to the audience, his choir, he reflects: "The feeling of being a note in a chord, it's an interesting state, it's like being a person."
A question from a GRAMMY U student who is a voice major offered more illumination into Collier's music making mastery. Collier explained that when he was younger, he thought that writing lyrics was meant to be a personal monologue, but as he's developed in his songwriting, he sees it as a chance to share a perspective, and not just your own. It could be a dance between two characters, or a chance to explore a viewpoint completely different than your own.
"Embrace the weirdness of your perspective and others' perspectives," he encouraged. "And don't be right…being good is boring… push into the crumbly, strange, dark corners of your imagination." For him, that's the most exciting creative space to be in.
There were so many mic drop moments during the lengthy conversation, and if that wasn't enough, there were two more cherries to top it off. Collier closed out with a big, heavens-gracing performance of the classic "Can’t Take My Eyes Off You" just for the IRL audience (sorry livestream guests!). His interpretation of the song ended with one more audience choir.
Find out if Collier and your other favorite artists will take home a golden gramophone this Sunday, Feb. 5, at the 65th GRAMMY Awards.
Music’s Biggest Night will be broadcast live from Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles Sunday, Feb. 5 (8:00 - 11:30 PM, live ET/5:00 - 8:30 PM, live PT). It will air on the CBS Television Network, stream live and on demand on Paramount+.
5 Questions With ... Jack's Mannequin
Singer/songwriter Andrew McMahon discusses new music from Jack's Mannequin, the Dear Jack Foundation, and more
On Aug. 26 singer/songwriter and pianist Andrew McMahon of Jack's Mannequin was the featured guest for The Recording Academy's 5 Questions With … series during an installment of the GRAMMY Foundation's GRAMMY Camp — SoundCheck program. Held at the New Daisy Theatre in Memphis, Tenn., McMahon discussed Jack's Mannequin's new album, People And Things, advice for aspiring artists, key factors for success, and the Dear Jack Foundation, among other topics. During the program, McMahon performed a brief set, including "Amy, I," a track from People And Things.
"I think the key factor to success in this business is to wake up and put on boxing gloves everyday and fight for it," said McMahon. "You've got to be tough to survive this business. There's a perception that what we do is easy because it's so fun, and it is. But it requires a level of determination that you, to some extent, need to be born with or nurtured into having. It's a hard business."
Jack's Mannequin is the project of former Something Corporate frontman McMahon. Jack Mannequin's debut album, 2005's Everything In Transit, featured Mötley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee and peaked at No. 37 on the Billboard 200. That same year McMahon was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia and underwent a successful bone marrow transplant from his sister, a procedure that inspired McMahon to write "There, There Katie," a track that appeared on The Dear Jack EP in 2009. In 2008 Jack's Mannequin released their sophomore effort, The Glass Passenger, which peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard 200 and was named one of the most highly anticipated albums of 2008 by Alternative Press magazine.
Released Oct. 4, People And Things was produced by three-time GRAMMY winner Rob Cavallo and features guest vocals from Brandi Carlile. The album debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200. Aside from music, McMahon founded the Dear Jack Foundation in 2006. The foundation's mission is to be a "leader in raising awareness and supporting organizations and charities with the greatest need and highest potential for impact on young adult cancer patients." Jack's Mannequin is on tour in Canada and the United States through November.
Click on the "5 Questions With ... interviews" tag below for links to other GRAMMY News stories in this series.
Melissa Etheridge, Kevin Hearn and Justin Hines are three of the many artists overcoming obstacles to share the gift of music
(In the spirit of the holiday season, The Recording Academy invites you to consider making a donation to support musicians in need through its MusiCares Foundation or music education programs through its GRAMMY Foundation.)
In 1998, when he was recording Stunt with Barenaked Ladies, keyboardist/guitarist Kevin Hearn knew that something wasn't right.
"At the beginning of our recording session, I started having a cough, and loss of appetite," Hearn recalls. "I thought it was maybe just stress, but by the end of the sessions the symptoms got worse and I got a lot thinner. I started thinking maybe something was very wrong.
"When I came home, I had a full checkup and was diagnosed with leukemia. I was told that it might be life-threatening and I had to get to the hospital right away."
Over the next several months, Hearn endured "a few close calls where I almost didn't make it," and received a life-saving bone marrow transplant. Today, he is fully cured of the chronic myelogenous leukemia that almost took his life.
Hearn, who will release his latest solo album, Cloud Maintenance, in December, has since returned to his duties with Barenaked Ladies. He says the ordeal — one that he documented on his 2001 solo album H-Wing — put him in touch with his own mortality.
"I'm still going to die one day, just like everyone else," says Hearn. "It certainly helps you recognize how precious your time is here."
Hearn is just one musician who has conquered a career-threatening issue and rebounded to pursue his passionate livelihood, joining GRAMMY winners Melissa Etheridge, Olivia Newton-John and Sheryl Crow; self-described "toughest girl alive" blues singer Candye Kane; Jack's Mannequin's Andrew McMahon; Band drummer Levon Helm; and pop singer/songwriter Anastacia as cancer survivors.
But not all seemingly insurmountable obstacles for musicians are related to illness.
More than 25 years after losing his left arm in a car accident, Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen continues to pound out the rhythms for the multiplatinum UK rock band, thanks to an innovative kit devised by British electronic drum manufacturer Simmons.
Beach Boys songwriting guru Brian Wilson created some of pop music's most intricate harmonies despite being deaf in one ear and blind musicians — including Stevie Wonder, Raul Midón and Andrea Bocelli — have relied on their ears to overcome their visual deficit.
Jennifer Hudson refused to be derailed by violent family tragedies; Demi Lovato has weathered bullying and self-mutilation; and Kelly Clarkson, Paula Abdul, Lily Allen, Lady Gaga, and Elton John have admitted to battling eating disorders.
And the list of musicians who have endured rehab to conquer alcohol and drug dependencies could fill a page or two.
But once they've either recovered from their addictions, illnesses or personal issues — or, at the very least, learned to cope with them — many of these grateful fighters have given back, either publicly or privately.
"On a more personal, direct level, I've actually gone and visited patients," says Hearn. "I've found that I can answer questions that perhaps other people can't answer, because I've been through the experience. I also try to tell my story a little bit."
Since being diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2003, Anastacia became motivated to raise funds and awareness, specifically targeting younger women who are stricken with breast cancer or those who have no family history of the disease. As a result, she established the Anastacia Fund through the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.
One musician who has launched his own foundation to help others is Canadian singer/songwriter Justin Hines. Although he's bound to a wheelchair due to a genetic joint disorder called Larsen Syndrome, Hines says the Justin Hines Foundation, which is set up to raise awareness for individuals with disabilities who are in need, isn't focused on just one cause.
"We try to be inclusive of everybody, really," says Hines, who recently starred in his own PBS special performing songs from his 2011 album, Days To Recall.
"We're lucky to be in this position where we have a foundation where we can help out when we can. Depending on the organization or group that we partner with, we basically just try to do fundraising initiatives for specific causes. It's been pretty broad in its scope.
"The whole world needs help at some point in their lives, so it's really about broadening horizons and making connections."
Hines, who launched his career 15 years ago after winning a contest to sing Canada's national anthem at a Toronto Raptors NBA game, says he's "beyond grateful" for being able to pursue music.
"Growing up, even though I was obsessed with music, I never really thought I'd turn it into a career. Every day I do this is a bonus."
(Nick Krewen is a Toronto-based journalist who has written for The Toronto Star, TV Guide, Billboard, Country Music and was a consultant for the National Film Board's music industry documentary Dream Machine.)
Photo by Stephen Lashbrook
Living Legends: Stephen Marley On 'Old Soul,' Being A Role Model & The Bob Marley Biopic
On his new album of covers and originals, Stephen Marley recruited Bob Weir, Jack Johnson, Eric Clapton, and his own siblings. Marley spoke with GRAMMY.com about his multifaceted career, including supervising music for 'Bob Marley: One Love.'
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music who are still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with eight-time GRAMMY winner Stephen Marley. The reggae multi-hyphenate is the youngest son of Bob and Rita Marley.
Stephen Marley is a reggae Renaissance man. An eight-time GRAMMY winning singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Stephen's nuanced releases retain an authentic Jamaican identity while organically incorporating a broad range of influences. His latest album, Old Soul, continues this boundary-blurring trajectory.
Primarily recorded during the pandemic inside a garage on a family farm in Florida, Old Soul brings renewed luster to reggae classics and standards by the Beatles, Ray Charles and Frank Sinatra alongside stunning originals, each delivered with Stephen's warm rasp. It's an endearing and eclectic acoustic set, awash in filigreed guitar strums, tinkling piano keys, swirling flutes, and mesmerizing percussion patterns.
Old Soul’s reflective title track honors Stephen's musical inspirations — especially his father: "Fast forward to 1981, my dad moved on and so did I, inside I kept his songs alive, so they say I’m an old soul, tribute to the ones who made it all possible/inside me your legacy lives on." "Cool As The Breeze" is a heartrending tribute to Stephen’s son, reggae artist Jo Mersa Marley, who died of acute asthma exacerbation in December 2022 at just 31 years old.
Stephen continues to build upon his own esteemed legacy. The youngest son of Bob and Rita Marley, the 51-year-old's musical journey commenced at age 6 when he formed the Melody Makers with his older siblings, sisters Cedella and Sharon and brother Ziggy, the group’s leader. Rita managed the Melody Makers and Bob wrote their first single, 1979's "Children Playing in the Streets." In 1981 the spotlight shone on Stephen's precocious talents when he took the lead on "Sugar Pie."
A guitarist, percussionist, vocalist and songwriter with the Melody Makers, Stephen also assisted in the production of each of their albums including the GRAMMY winning Conscious Party (1989), One Bright Day (1990) and Fallen Is Babylon (1997). He went on to helm the production on projects by several Marley family members including youngest brother Damian’s GRAMMY winning albums Halfway Tree and the influential blockbuster Welcome To Jamrock.
Stephen’s long-awaited, self-produced debut solo album, the multi-genre spanning Mind Control arrived in early 2007 followed in late 2008 by the stripped-down Mind Control Acoustic — both GRAMMY recipients. Stephen dropped another GRAMMY winner, Revelation Part I The Root of Life as a celebration of roots rock reggae, in 2011. Revelation Part II: The Fruit of Life, released five years later, incorporates various styles that have emanated from reggae's core.
Old Soul is Stephen’s first full-length project since 2016 and he’s recruited an outstanding cast of collaborators including Grateful Dead founding member Bob Weir, singer/songwriter Jack Johnson, rock-reggae outfit Slightly Stoopid, his brothers Ziggy and Damian and Eric Clapton, whose bold, bluesy guitar riffs color Bob’s "I Shot the Sheriff," became a No. 1 hit for Clapton in 1974.
GRAMMY.com recently spoke to Stephen Marley about his illustrious, multi-faceted career including his most recent role as music supervisor for the upcoming Marley biopic, Bob Marley: One Love, due in theaters on Feb. 14.
Please tell me about the process of recording the Old Soul album.
It was during the thick of COVID-19; the walls were closing in so to speak. My uncle said "we need a farm" because we didn’t know what the next day would bring in terms of the control the government had. So, we looked and found a little farm.
During that time, I was very much distracted [with regards to making music], but when we came down to the farm, it was nature, escape and I caught back a groove. Old Soul wasn’t what we set out to do, but because of the circumstances, we started jamming in the garage and, well, it felt good, so we said, let’s give the people something to soothe them.
The choices of cover versions on Old Soul are fascinating. How did you decide which songs you would cover?
"Don’t Let Me Down" was suggested by [producer] Salaam Remi, he thought that song would fit in the acoustic style. I know that song from sister Marcia [Griffiths], she did an old version of it; I didn’t really know it was a Beatles tune. [Laughs.]
Most of the others are songs that I play in solitude or just go to songs like "Georgia On My Mind" or "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)." It was just part of getting back in the groove, with songs I would sing anyway. I love those songs; it doesn’t matter where they come from.
You also cover reggae classics. "Thanks We Get (Do Fi Dem)" featuring Buju Banton, is a Lee "Scratch" Perry composition initially recorded with his band the Upsetters in 1970. When was the first time you heard that song?
I first heard that song from Reggie [Upsetters’ guitarist Alva "Reggie" Lewis] singing it to me; I had never heard the record.
Reggie is one of the persons credited with teaching my father how to play guitar. This man lived among us, he was always at the [Bob Marley] museum, at [the Marley family-owned] Tuff Gong [studios] and at one point, he stayed at my house, too. He was always singing, "look what we do fi dem, this is the thanks we get, what an ungrateful set," that’s how I knew it; I never listened to the record until I was going to record it; that’s when I discovered that Scratch wrote it.
"There’s A Reward" is a poignant, motivational song, written by Wailers mentor Joe Higgs, who taught Bob, Bunny Wailer and Peter Tosh how to harmonize. Can you share some of your memories of interacting with Joe Higgs over the years?
From child to young adult until him move on [Higgs passed away in 1999], he was always encouraging. I vividly remember those days when he would come and see my dad. He was like an uncle, he always showed love and encouragement.
Doing that song was definitely one of the highlights of the album for me and Ziggy as well but I really didn’t know the song before recording the album. It really moved me, and I heard the similarities between him and Bob, so I said, yeah, I have to record that one.
Old Soul’s title track was originally written by Jamaican singer/songwriter OMI. What changes did you make to the song’s lyrics?
The song, as he wrote it, was pretty similar to what’s on the album, but it never had my birth year in it, when I graduated, all of those facts. In that sense, I put my life into it, but it already had Bob and Peter in the lyrics ("I knew every Nesta Marley line/You knew that Peter Tosh was fly, in diamond socks and corduroy").
OMI is a great songwriter, and the song was about people who influenced him, "tribute to the ones who made it possible," so he was already paying homage.
Your song "Let The Children Play" on Old Soul references the Melody Makers’ first single "Children Playing In The Streets." What are some of your fondest memories of your years with the Melody Makers?
It is such a significant part of our lives, so any memory puts a smile on our faces. One of my fondest memories is, there’s a place in Half Way Tree in Kingston called Skateland and every Saturday we would perform there. One Saturday, our dad came and watched us, and we didn’t know he was there until after. He wrote our first song, he was pretty into us. He wasn’t a man that would tell you too much, but he would tell his friends, "Yeah, them youth go on good," he was very proud of us.
The integrity that goes into our music has never changed. From the time we were kids singing "Children Playing in the Streets," we were always singing social songs, meaningful music. I am 51 now, so do the math.
As the music supervisor of the upcoming Bob Marley: One Love biopic, do you choose which songs are used or how they are used in the film?
I don’t choose alone in that sense. The movie is set in a time period, it’s not Bob’s whole life. There are scenes where he is remembering, and you see him when he is young, but the movie focuses on the Smile Jamaica concert (Dec. 5, 1976), the One Love Peace Concert (April 22, 1978) and the songs he was working on in those times. Anything to do with the music in the film runs through me.
I just came back from California to finish up some of the music. We did the music before the actual filming. What you will be hearing has to coincide with what you are seeing; like the live concerts, if the drummer hits the drum, you have to hear the beat at the same time. Some of the music was re-recorded for the film. Like "Smile Jamaica" is a live recording so we had to do some live overdubbing for the quality and the experience in the theater. It has been a great learning experience for me as well.
You produced the Celebrating Nina: A Reggae Tribute To Nina Simone EP featuring exclusively female artists, released in 2022; Nina Simone is an artist that you enjoy listening to. Who are some of the other artists you listen to when you have time to relax?
I listen to Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown. When I was 17, 18, those were the songs that played in my car. As far as our music, people like Toots, Burning Spear, Culture, Steel Pulse — all of those elders were great, and are still great musicians.
Your 1999 production Chant Down Babylon paired rappers with your father’s vocals on hip-hop renditions of his classic songs, such as the Roots on "Burnin’ and Lootin,’" Chuck D on "Survival a.k.a. Black Survivors." Was the album successful in terms of better acquainting the hip-hop community with your dad’s music?
It very much accomplished what I set out to do, especially with the young artists at that time. Lauryn Hill was a staple. I have a lot of testimonies from people about that. People discovered Bob’s "Turn Your Lights Down Low" because Lauryn was on the track.
Have you considered doing an updated version of Chant Down Babylon?
It’s funny you bring this up because Cedella [Cedella Marley, CEO, Bob Marley Group of Companies] just asked me if I can bring it together for Bob’s 80th birthday. It’s too early for details but definitely Chant Down Babylon 2 is on the table.
Damian’s 2004 single "Welcome to Jamrock" won a GRAMMY for Best Alternative Hip-Hop Performance, to date, he’s the only Jamaican artist to be so honored. The single was praised for its gritty lyrics depicting the politically divisive violence in Kingston’s poorest communities, while your production merged hip-hop percussion with swaggering reggae and influenced Jamaican artists including Chronixx, Protoje, and Koffee. How does it feel to have had such a profound impact on a younger generation of artists?
It is a great feeling to have your music recognized. I had the privilege of being around great musicians and engineers, the best of the best, so it is really passing down those lessons, showing what I’ve learned. To influence the youths coming up is a really great feeling but at the same time, I take it as a "we" thing, more than "I" did this.
Did you delay the release of your debut album Mind Control until 2007 because of the success of Welcome to Jamrock?
Yes. At the time, I was kind of conflicted: Did I want to stick to producing or become a solo artist, so to speak? Being in the Melody Makers from age 7 to then having kids and still being in the Melody Makers, I had to get used to it being about Steve.
So, I decided to put time aside and focus on my record, but it was very important to me to first make sure Damian, my youngest brother, was good. We are very close and if him was alright, then I can focus on myself. Before Mind Control, I put out a teaser, Got Music? "Winding Roads" was on that, but it didn’t make the album.
"Winding Roads" fits in beautifully on Old Soul.
Yes, that’s why I always tell my children that music is a timeless thing so don’t give up on any inspiration or creation.
How did Jack Johnson and Bob Weir come to be featured on "Winding Roads"?
My manager always liked the song, and he has a relationship with them. Bob Weir and Jack heard the song and were willing to be a part of it. I went to Bob’s studio, he is a great man, and a true musician. We did a few jams, but "Winding Roads" was the one he gravitated towards.
You released Revelation Part I: The Root of Life in 2011 — which included the anthem "Jah Army" — as a showcase of the revolutionary sentiments and musical excellence intrinsic to reggae. At that time, those standards were overshadowed by the widespread criticism of X-rated lyrics in some dancehall hits. In the 12 years since, have you seen any significant progress in quality Jamaican reggae receiving the recognition it deserves?
I do see a difference. As you mentioned, the youths them that rise up — Chronixx, Protoje, etc. — The Root of Life was a calling for that generation. Over the past 12 years, technology has progressed, social media, how people put products out there now is really different….The quality music is there but you really have to search for it because there are so many distractions.
That was one of the reasons for making the Old Soul record; it wasn’t a reggae album so to speak, but our Jamaican spirit is in the music. When people hear it, it shifts their meditation, appealing to a part of them that is kind of suppressed because of all of the distractions that are going on.