Lee Scratch Perry
PureHoney was given the opportunity to ask LSP a few questions in advance of his upcoming shows in South Florida!
PH: You worked with artists from a wide range of music styles: the Beastie Boys, Moby, and the Clash to name a few. Do groups who aren’t traditional dub or reggae artists listen better to your direction and advice?
LSP: Right. They listen to my advice and that is good. They listen to my advice, and they do what I tell them and they enjoy it best. People who don’t listen to direction I can’t work with. If you can’t listen well then you can’t make music well.
PH: Some people believe that cats are aliens. Do you agree?
LSP: Cats? Yeah. Well cats come to kill to the birds because cats are aliens and aliens are jealous of birds. The cat kills the birds to eat meat. Aliens are meat lovers and cats are bird lovers and cats are my enemies. Aliens are also reptiles and reptiles are also my enemies.
PH: “Super Ape Returns to Conquer” is in some ways a return to the style and experimentation that you are famous for. Do you think making experimental music helps to rein in or make sense of more traditional music styles?
LSP: It makes sense because experimental music is science. Science and magic and logic make sense. Make experimental music and see what it can do for you instead of working with obeah. We make spiritual music, science music, to heal people.
PH: What has been your most fun collaboration with another artist and why?
LSP: When the artist is smart. Bob (Marley) was the most fun and Maxi (Max Romeo) was also fun too because they have humor. If you show them a thing they pick up and dem deal with it direct. You show them and they like what you show them and it manifest exactly and that’s it.
PH: You typically used analogue recording equipment instead of computers. Do you use new technology now together with the old technology, or is it straight old technology as much as possible?
LSP: If me do it myself, I prefer the analog but still me the first to use computer and drum machine in Jamaica (Note: Scratch used a drum machine on Bob Marley’s Rainbow Country in 1974 nearly a decade before drum machines were used on any other Jamaica recordings) The few sets of record I put out lately, it is not just just me handling the equipment and instruments. Super Ape Returns To Conquer, it is a mix, some parts of them are not analog; some of it is computers and human technology. Art must have a soul and however you manifest that soul, that is the best way for you to make art. I use computer every day to write words, lyrics, and ideas. My brain is a computer brain.
The world needs magic. We need some sort of enigmatic thing to aspire to in this time of dire seriousness. It used to be that artistic people, the creators, were like aliens who came from a different place in order to show us new and exciting things, and it sometimes feels like the magic has been sucked right out of art. What we need is people with flair and flamboyance who sail their freak flags as high as possible with no shits given. In this sour time devoid of Bowies, Princes and Michael Jacksons, we still have Lee “Scratch” Perry.
Perry is the original “Upsetter,” a man who invented reggae at Studio One in Kingston, Jamaica and has squeezed every drop of adventure out of his life. He was once quoted as saying that he “gave Bob Marley reggae as a Christmas Present.” A tall tale for anyone except for him. Perry at this point in his career transcends music and today is often viewed more as performance artist than as his first incarnation as musician/producer. Maybe the cocoon has opened and the being inside has emerged in completed form, less a music maker and more of an energy that inhabits music? Who knows; there are no answers to the question that is Lee “Scratch” Perry that can be properly given by anyone other than the subject.
Here he is describing himself: “Im an artist, a musician, a magician, a writer, a singer; Im everything. My name is Lee from the African jungle, originally from West Africa. Im a man from somewhere else, but my origin is from Africa, straight to Jamaica through reincarnation; reborn in Jamaica …”
But in reality — a place we don’t see much of when Perry is around — who wants answers when the questions are asked in rhyme, and every word spoken is poetry? Perhaps we should stop and just appreciate the beauty of an existence steeped in enigmatic entertainment. Maybe having answers negates the turning of a phrase and the transmutation of language into song? Most contemporary musicians feel obliged to play the hits. Not Perry. Where most acts do what is expected of them, Perry has trained people to not expect anything from him that isn’t seemingly spur of the moment art. He is unpredictability personified.
“People Funny Boy,” his groundbreaking track from 1968, was written as a diss to his former record label boss, and is notable not just for its sample of a crying baby (possibly the first usage of sampling ever), and the stutter-strummed guitar that would become synonymous with the reggae sound. Perry would go on to become a Mecca of music production for his work with everyone from Marley and the Wailers and Junior Marvin to the Beastie Boys and Ari Up of The Slits. His studio prowess has been utilized by musicians across genres and was critical to the development of instrumental dub in the 1970’s.
So what comes next for a man that invented a genre, re-invented it and became his own production team? The onetime ragamuffin has given up his rasta ways, embraced Christianity and resettled in Switzerland, which may be the one of the strangest parts of his extraterrestrial saga, although religious fervor and biblical interpretation have animated him for as long as he’s been making and explaining his music.
It’s sometimes easier (for interviewers) to let others talk on his behalf, like Jamaican actor-director Carl Bradshaw did in “The Upsetter,” a 2008 Perry documentary: “Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry is a person who is little understood. If you don’t know the man you might say he’s off the wall.”
Perry’s new album, “Super Ape Returns to Conquer,” with Subatomic Sound System uses all of the instrumentation and experimentation at Perry’s disposal. The record is bright, fresh and fun, but also sort of sounds like it was made in a tiny studio somewhere in Jamaica. It’s been hailed by some as Perry’s best work in 40 years. Whether that’s true or not is entirely a matter of opinion, but it surely does find Perry tapping into some timeless and possibly ethereal energy that exists beyond genre; the record is just a spacey good time.
Perhaps the man who once dubbed himself “Pipecock Jackson” will re-invent his invention once more, or perhaps he’ll ascend to space to join his waiting contemporaries. Whatever happens, strap in and trust in The Upsetter. He knows what he’s doing.
Lee “Scratch” Perry + Subatomic Sound System play January 12 at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach and January 13 at The Ground at Club Space in Miami.
~ Tim Moffatt