Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Interview with Duane Stephenson Part Two

In part two of our interview with Duane Stephenson he talks about his talents outside of music, the football club he supports, and what it was like working with the legendary Mutabaruka.

R.R.- Rescue Me with Gramps- In the video it seemed liked you were having a really good time. True?

D.S.- Definitely! From beginning to end- from the first stage of recording to the end of the video- trus me, it was a great time. That’s what the song was basically about. Many times, as a reggae artist, we take ourselves a little bit too seriously. Sometimes you have to have a softer side to the music and a fun side and I was trying to create that fun side but still manage for it to be a great song. That balance is kind of hard to find but I accept these challenges. That’s what I try and like to excel at. I try to really make a difference in whatever direction I choose to go in. Sometimes you have to just let your hair down, roll up your sleeve, roll up ya pantsuit and just get in the water and have some fun.

R.R.- Who in the reggae world would you like to work with?

D.S.- I would have loved to have worked with Lucky Dube before he passed. There’s Alpha Blondy and I am definitely looking for the next project to do some work with Gentleman, and some of the upcoming artists. I’d like to do a track that I hope would draw the attention of U-2 because of what they represent, see if I can do some work with them. It’s a long shot but as I said, musically I don’t give myself boundaries.

R.R.- With the message you put forth and U-2’s message, your paths might cross sooner rather than later.

D.S.- Even in the heights of their career, and not that their career has fallen off any, the undertone of their music has always been about humanity and the human cause. I guess it’s because of their upbringing in Ireland and how complicated Ireland’s been in terms of its ongoing religious and civil war, classes, race. In the Caribbean and as Africans, it’s there but in terms facing trials and tribulations it’s not left to color or creed. It’s just a people thing and once you can get to that point you realize so much more that you’re not alone.

R.R.- Where were you born and was it a Christian household or Rasta?

D.S.- I was born in Kingston. I’ve always been in August Town. That’s all I know.
My father, there was almost an alliance. He’s always been into Rasta culture. Two of his brothers were actually Rastafarians back in the day when it was almost outlawed to be that way. My mother is Christian. Most Jamaicans are Christian rooted. The thing about Jamaicans is that we always look out in other directions. In terms of religion, Jamaicans are optimistic.

R.R.- Do you possess any talents besides music, writing, and singing?

D.S.- Well, I love to play tennis. I don’t play so much anymore but I used to actually coach kids. It’s a family sport somewhat. My family played tennis so I played tennis. By trade, I am a refrigeration technician. If I had continued, by now I would be an engineer but I got to technician and I decided to change fields. It’s a great field. The time that I was there I really enjoyed it.

R.R.- Are you a football fan?

D.S.- Yeah mon and I remember that you are a Tottenham fan! They're actually playing very good now. They beat Inter straight into the ground. It was a good match. Tottenham has a history so I don’t know why people are surprised right now. It’s Chelsea and Manchester spending all the money in the business but there are other great teams out there.

R.R.- You’re an Arsenal supporter, right?

D.S.- Yeah mon and simply because Arsenal deals with the most youth in international football, not just in England but anywhere in the world. It’s always Arsenal and Lyon. They have the best youths coming through their ranks.

R.R.- What music are you listening to?

D.S.- I’m a great fan of country and western, from Garth Brooks to Taylor Swift. I listen to it all. Taylor Swift is a great singer, it may sound strange that I listen to her music but I do. I’ve been listening to a lot of alternative too. I listen to a little rock, some James Brown, some Coldplay and the Rolling Stones. Angie is one of my favorite songs of all time. I go as far as Rap. I listen to mostly the old rap music, Tupac, Biggie and those guys, Public Enemy because they had so much more to say. How much are we going to listen to pretty boys, rims and cars, and girls? C’mon man, it gets boring after the first ten songs. After the first ten songs that you’ve done put words in the song now! (Laughs)

R.R.-What was it like working with Mutabaruka?

D.S.- He was so much fun to work with. You have to be quick with him. In the middle of a laugh, he’ll ask you a serious question. He is what he is. He is that powerful voice that you hear. He’s educated, powerful, and very smart. So when you’re around him- even though you laugh- you still have to keep your guard up, you have to be at the top of your game. It was great working with him! The little time we spent together, I learned so much.

R.R.- Thanks so much for taking the time!

D.S.- Thanks for having me mon! Anytime. Take care.

For a certainty, Duane Stephenson is a gentleman. In the short time that we spoke with him it was evident
that he loves life, music, and people, as if his music weren't evidence enough. It's always a pleasure to chat with someone, even if it is just for a moment, because you get a sense of what the person is all about. What Duane Stephenson is all about is simple.... he's just like everyone else. He's concerned about the condition of the world so he voices that concern the best way he knows how: through music. He realizes that you can't take life or yourself, for that matter, too seriously. "Sometimes you have to just let your hair down, roll up your sleeve, roll up ya pantsuit and just get in the water and have some fun." That was, and is, a very telling quote. Truly words to live by! Duane Stephenson also understands that he doesn't know everything. Reflecting on what he said about Dean Fraser, Gregory Isaacs, and Mutabaruka you can clearly see that he is as much, if not more so, a student than he is a teacher, ready and willing to learn on every occasion.

That in itself tells you something about his character and personality- he is a humble man. His talent is tremendous, yet he remains grounded, displaying an eagerness to grow and learn from others.
Look for great things from Duane Stephenson. U-2's next project? Duet with Taylor Swift? Writing a song for Jimmy Cliff? None of these would be a surprise. Why? To quote Duane himself: " Musically, I don't give myself boundaries."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Interview with Duane Stephenson Part One

Duane Stephenson
VP recording artist Duane Stephenson was kind enough to spend a little time with us recently. He spoke very candidly about his latest album 'Black Gold', Gregory Isaacs and the impact he had on reggae music, and many other topics relating to life, music, and everything in between, including a few things about himself that most people probably don't know. For instance, he's a huge fan of Taylor Swift and he loves to play tennis!

R.R.-How do you go about crafting a song? What’s your process and inspiration?

D.S.- The process changes from song to song. Definitely my songs come from things that are happening around me. I’m pretty much in tune with what’s happening on a global scale. I like to know what’s going on everywhere and that’s what I write about. Beyond that, sometimes somebody ask you to prepare a particular song. Especially when it’s for someone else, then you think to look into what the person’s interests are and to write something that is reflective of that person. On the other hand, someone gives you a riddim to write for. Each riddim has a tone or vibes it speaks to its own. So once you get the riddim you get a feel of the kind of song that is required for that riddim. I do a little of that, but I prefer to write from scratch. Most of what I do will be from my personal experiences or maybe a bredren’s. Sometimes in the middle of a sleep you get an idea and you jump up and write it down. Scribbles that don’t make total sense or words that don’t add up but have a melody. Sometimes I start that way and get back to it later.

R.R.- You wrote 2 songs on Luciano’s latest album. Who else have you written for?

D.S.- I’ve actually written on 3 Luciano albums and I’ve done work extensively with Jah Cure including ‘True Reflections’, which up to date is probably my most known piece.

R.R.- You’re particular, though, about who you write for? True?

D.S.- Definitely. Because the way I write..not everybody might necessarily be able to carry the kind of melodies that I have a tendency to write. I write without boundaries. I write for singers. I am not a deejay. I can do a limited amount of sing-jay vibes. If I’m writing for somebody I would like to think that they have the ability to carry that melody. I like to know what the person is about, their life situation. Not everybody would suite me writing for them. So, I am particular about that. I write a certain kind of song with certain standards. There are certain things that I just will not write. So most of the people that I work with will fall within these standards.
R.R.- You collaborated with Tarrus Riley on your album ‘August Town’. You also toured with him last year. How did your friendship with him come about?

D.S.- I met Tarrus when I was doing my first recording as a member of the group To-Isis. Roughly 1997. We’ve been bredrens since then in terms of music. We’ve always been around each other an ting. Even when I was a part of the group I used to spend much time together with him writing and going over to his house just to hold a vibe. Tarrus career started to build up and I left the group. I used to sing background for Tarrus on the road, you know me a say? A bredren help a bredren. I was on his first record. He was on my first record. I did some work on his second album also. It’s just that this time around Tarrus got busy because the second album came out and he was running all over the place. But, we’ve always been working together on albums or projects.

R.R.- When you first met Tarrus that was also the first time you were going into the studio with Dean Fraser?

D.S.- Yeah, I knew Dean before but he had said he would love to work with new talent so I went to the studio with the group an everyting and the first thing I saw was dis bredren who a run up an down inna de studio, making a lot of noise and just enjoying the music. The song he was recording at the time was ‘Larger Than Life’, which was his first recording also. So, I guess because of that whole vibe, that’s pretty much that kinetic energy that made me interested in breaking into the business.

R.R.- Dean Fraser has been very influential on both of your albums. Talk a little bit about him.

D.S.- Most of what I know and have learned about the recording industry and the music business is stuff that I learned from Dean. Even beyond the situation with the group I started doing background for Dean because he thought there was so much more that I could have learned, and he was right. When I first started doing background with the girls I was put to shame in terms of their ability to remember what they are doing and to create their own melodies and whatever, so there’s a whole other side to the music that I had never even learned. With our group everything was pretty much taught to us and we just reproduced. I actually started expressing in terms of your own vibes and learned that the background might change according to the song that you are doing, the vibes. I’ve learned so much from him about that aspect of the business and the history behind music. Dean’s been coming up through the ranks of Bob Marley. He played for Bob. He was one of the members of Peter Tosh’s band. He was musical director for Dennis Brown. There is so much to learn from him and by extension the kind of people that he associates with.

R.R.- One thing that many probably appreciate about your music is its originality. You’re not out there voicing on every riddim. Do you start your songs with you and a guitar?

D.S.- Most of the time, yes. I’m not the greatest guitarist in the world, definitely far from it. One of the things I’ve learned from Dean is that you have to at least be able to fool around with an instrument just to be able to put things together and I do a lot of that. But if the movements are complicated I link up with a bredren named Monte (Lamont Savory of Blak Soil.). He’s a very good guitarist, plays with Tarrus. He plays and we work it out there. Most of the music that I do starts from there. It always starts with a good idea and then of course, a good chorus and it builds from there to a melody. I like to things that way. In terms of riddims, I probably will do one or two but I don’t think it’s something that you want to get too deeply into. A lot of people don’t totally understand what you sing so they gravitate to riddims. Then you go somewhere and the riddim is playing for like10 or 12 minutes and it becomes ridiculous. It becomes monotonous. The music loses its value. It’s not worth it. It’s one or two things out there and then you come with a thousand projects. If I’m giving an album I’d like to think it’s an original piece. Something fresh and new and not just compilations of work that I’ve been doing for the past two years, that’s ridiculous. An album should be a journey. You take people on this journey. When they put the CD in there’s supposed to be different roads on this journey, you know weh me a say?...a new path that you might take for the first time and then you bring them to an old familiar building down the road. It should be that kinda vibe.
"One of the things I've learned from Dean Fraser is that you have to at least be able to fool around with an instrument just to be able to put things together and I do a lot of that."- Duane Stephenson on the guitar being the basis for most of his songs.

R.R.- You covered Tyrone Taylor’s ‘Cottage in Negril’ on August Town and on Black Gold you cover ‘Members Only’ which he also covered on one of his albums. Is that just a coincidence or is there some sort of connection between you and Tyrone Taylor?

D.S.- It’s a little of both. I remembered someone singing over that song many years ago of course, clearly. But I didn’t remember that it was Tyrone Taylor until I started searching for the song. Because of publishing situations it’s always best to do a certain amount of original works. But in terms of people you need to go a little bit beyond that to satisfy people’s need for the music. You have to give a little. Having said that, I try to pay homage to some music that has been passed on, great music. It was half-way to getting this song that I realized “Rahtid, It was Tyrone Taylor was de one dat actually did ova dis song.” I guess it’s because of our similarities in our vocal range. I totally respect Tyrone Taylor and his works. To me he was an awesome singer and a great performer. I saw him perform at a veterans show about 2 years or so before he died and even as an elderly man he was still a powerful performer.

R.R.- Speaking of paying homage, what are your thoughts about Gregory Isaacs and the impact that he had on the music, his contributions?

D.S.- Gregory Isaacs was a great stalwart in the business. There is so much to learn from him on both sides of the music- both the good, and the bad. But, you can’t deny Gregory Isaacs great influence on the music business. In the midst of all the artists singing about social change he brought a whole different side to our music- a softer side, lovers rock. Nothing survives without balance. While all of these other great people like Peter Tosh, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley and all these people are on one side, he was probably the only man that was on the other side, along with Dennis Brown, that was balancing the field in terms of great love songs. Most people were thinking revolutionary changes. For so many great people to be on the other side and himself and Dennis to be balancing that side that is a true testimony to how great this man was! I don’t know if there’s a Jamaican that exists that doesn’t have a favorite Gregory Isaacs tune. Everybody has a Gregory Isaacs tune weh dem say “dat my tune deh.” He was definitely a great man. He could be anything he needed to be. He had a few revolutionary songs but he chose to be ‘the Cool Ruler’, the ladies him a deal wit, an him dress the part and his music spoke loudly about it! For a young artist coming up you can learn so much from him about how you have to ‘live’ the music you’re performing. You have to ‘be’ the music.

R.R.- Like Gregory, you strike a nice balance between roots and lovers rock.

D.S.- Balance is everything. You try to take people on a journey. Life can’t exist without love. I think in music it has to be that same balance, taking people through different emotions. “Does this track have balance?” You can’t just be totally down. You can’t just be totally in love. Nobody is that way naturally. Everybody has different emotions and goes through different journeys and different paths from day to day. Musically, I try to emulate that and maybe that’s why my album comes out that way.

Tune in next week for Part Two of our interview with Duane Stephenson where he shares what it was like to work with Gramps Morgan and Mutabaruka, and much, much more!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Cornadoor 'Without Restrictions' Review (Soundquake)

Growing up in Bielefeld, north-west Germany, Cornadoor was introduced to reggae by his father’s record collection. His dad also took him to concerts and big festivals when he was still only a child. As a young man, he went to the Caribbean several times, getting to love the Caribbean lifestyle and the local patois. (His name is taken from the patois saying ‘throw corn a door’.) After returning from the Caribbean he recorded a couple of demo tracks which left a lasting impression on his current label, Sound Quake. This partnership has been going strong since 2008 with Cornadoor voted ‘Best National Newcomer’ for 2008 and 2009 by Riddim Magazine. Riddim also noted “All Cornadoor needs now is a nice roots album and next time he’ll be mixing it with the big boys.”

We’ve now reached that point with Cornadoor’s debut album ‘Without Restrictions’. It’s a record that establishes Cornadoor as a true player in the industry. This is more than a ‘nice roots album’. ‘Without Restrictions’ presents Cornadoor’s impression of the world in a very precise and discerning way, allowing the listener to experience a classic roots-reggae album, musically and thematically.

Cornadoor employs many of Europe’s finest production houses on the record, including House of Riddim, Kingstone Records, Goldcup Records, Bassrunner, and Irievibrations among others. The crew from Sound Quake is credited for 6 of the 17 tracks.

‘Without Restrictions’ is a quality collection of original, modern-roots riddims. At the moment, it appears that no one can match the smart sophistication that European producers are using to create their music. The instruments are played, not programmed. The attention to detail is impressive. The riddims are layered and multi-dimensional. This fact makes ‘Without Restrictions’ an exceedingly good record.

Cornadoor’s indignation toward government is felt strongly on the better than average tracks Crying, World Inna Crisis, Get Up (Set to Kingstone’s ‘Cognition’ Riddim), and How Long.

On the heart-wrenching Ten A Dem, Cornadoor tells a gripping story of the plight of the poor and quickly rushes to their defense with a call for equality. Definitely a stand-out tune!

The title track is a ‘feel good’ tune set to a bubbling riddim that breaks down in places allowing Cornadoor to chat the box in impressive fashion. This is one of those tunes that sounds great on record but will sound absolutely incredible live! Cornadoor’s message is one of unification and impartiality. “I wish I could burn my passport and become a world citizen… moving without restriction… Tear my I.D. to pieces and be a free man.” The message, though improbable to many, is one that this divided, insular world needs desperately.

Traitors sees Cornadoor calling out and rising above the plastic smiles and back stabbing of band-wagon friends that surface at the slightest hint of success. Sound Quake’s Bigfinga presents a sweet riddim reminiscent of a Winston ‘Niney’ Holness production of the 70s or 80s, sparse yet complete.

Long Road is a stand-out track that captures the never-give-up mentality that is so necessary considering the struggles that plague us all. Cornadoor’s raspy tone flows almost effortlessly over a polished and precise riddim played by Kapten Rod and Jeepstar.

From The Day is a tribute from Daddy to his ‘likkle treasure’. Cornadoor cheerfully gives thanks for his daughter, the blessing he cherishes most in life.

Outta Mi Heart is set to the same riddim as Sizzla’s ‘Africa Chant’. (You may recall this wicked track from Kalonji that was featured on the ‘Still One Drop’ compilation from Irievibrations.) Cornadoor rides the riddim beautifully though the song doesn’t quite reach the level of Sizzla’s. It’s an excellent, stand-out track for Cornadoor, nonetheless, closing the album on a very high note.

‘Without Restrictions’ is a really good album. It is a roots-reggae album, through and through. The music is unreal. The hooks are catchy and well-delivered. Cornadoor’s patois comes from a place that is not at all forced or contrived. His connection to reggae obviously runs deep, emanating from a heart full of love and appreciation for the music which fully explains why he was able to produce such a good record. Recommended.

Without Restrictions - Cornadoor

Track Listing:
1. Crying
2. Traitors
3. Ten A Dem
4. Get Up
5. World Inna Crisis
6. To All My People
7. We Ain't Leaving
8. With You
9. Be Aware
10. Police and Informer
11. How Long
12. We Nuh Know
13. Things You Gone Through
14. Without Restrictions
15. Long Road
16. From The Day
17. Outta Mi Heart