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Steel Pulse's David Hinds On Social Change, Movies & The Band's First New Album In 15 Years

David Hinds of Steel Pulse

Photo: Mike Martinez

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Steel Pulse's David Hinds On Social Change, Movies & The Band's First New Album In 15 Years

The frontman and lead songwriter of the GRAMMY-winning reggae band talks 45 years of fighting for social justice, the work that went into the new album, his acting ambitions and more…

GRAMMYs/Sep 24, 2019 - 09:38 pm

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.

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.

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.

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GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.

 

Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

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Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 GRAMMY.com

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or ticketing@grammy.com.

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy

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Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske
Seattle

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

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Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards