Adrian Sherwood: Capturing People’s Imagination

Adrian Sherwood talks about his production Lee Scratch Perry’s latest album, the spirit of Rasta culture, his latest musical plans, favourite trips as well as much more

Adrian Sherwood is a famous producer and sound engineer from England, mainly known for his work in the field of dub music. His label, ON-U Sound Records, that is preparing for their 40 year anniversary next year, is really loved and respected by music lovers and record collectors all over the world and has been responsible for supporting dub and reggae music over the last few decades.

One of Adrian Sherwood’s highlights is his work with the godfather of reggae and dub, the legendary Jamaican artist, Lee Scratch Perry. But restricting himself to only some particular musical styles was always too narrow for such an open-minded person like Adrian and during his musical career he was also adding touches of his unique sound in studio productions and remixes for great bands from the electronic and industrial scene like Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy and Ministry.

In his interview for All Andorra, Adrian talks about Lee Scratch Perry’s latest album, “Rainford” that he produced and will be released on his U-Sound Record Label at the end of the month, the spirit of Rasta culture, his favorite places, latest musical plans and his works with artists from other scenes.

Interview: Dmitry Tolkunov

Hi Adrian! Thank you for finding the time to talk with us. It would be great to know what you have been up to recently. Do you have any new releases or projects at the moment?

At the end of the month, a record that I made with Lee Scratch Perry is going to be released on my label U-Sound. I personally think that it is going to be the best record that Lee Scratch Perry will have made in the last 30 years. The album will be called “Rainford”. It will have great songs and it will be his most intimate and soulful work so far, in which he tells his life story. We already released an animated video for one of the songs from the album called “Rain” that was created by Lee’s friend, the artist Peter Harris.

We released an animated video for Lee Scratch Perry’s song called “Rain”

We have received very positive feedback from the press and the people who have already heard it and realized how great it is. A journalist from Spiegel (which sells 7 million copies of each issue), which is not a music magazine at all but a serious media source, came specially to Jamaica to talk with Lee about this album and made a 6-page story about it.

I think “Rainford” in some ways can be compared to Johnny Cash’s last album (that was produced by Rick Rubin) in terms of the fact that a legendary artist with a serious background has made a really great and intimate album later on in their career.

I tried to make the record sound very modern and fresh, not like Lee’s old and well-known works, but with a more contemporary approach.

Lee Scratch Perry is a real living legend… What kind of person is he and is it easy and joyful to work with him?

Lee is a very sensitive person. He is aware of every minute and is not the kind of person who plans things, but instead lives in the present. He believes in magic and each time you work with him in the studio he creates a magical environment and if everybody who works with him would believe in it then for sure something special will happen. He has lived all his life in this way as he wants each minute to be like a work of art.

As far as I understand, you have worked with Lee Scratch Perry for a long time. How did you meet him?

I have an old friend, Steve Barker, who has run a music program on the BBC for many years. He called me once and said that Lee was in England and I had to meet him as there was the possibility to work on some music with him.

It was in 1986 and at that moment I had already been working as a studio producer for around 9 years. I started to work in the music industry as a junior partner of the record label Caribbean James. We were creating mixtapes with songs from different Jamaican reggae artists. I chose the songs for the mixtapes. Then I met the Jamaican musician, Prince Far I, and we became good friends. I created my own label, On-U Sounds Records and started to release his music on there as well as many other Jamaican artists. I never had a plan to become a producer, it happened accidentally, but when I started to do it I realized that it was really fun and something that I really loved to do. So, when I was introduced to Lee I already had some good work under my belt.

Lee came to my studio with Rudi – a sister of another great Jamaican singer, Max Romeo. Lee showed me some musical pieces that he had been working on at that time and I showed him mine. Lee really loved them and this is how we started to work together. During the following year, I was recording his album “Time Boom X De Devil Dead”. We worked in a very good, mad and creative environment.

It is interesting how you got involved in the dub and reggae movement. As I understand, at that time, it was mostly a subcultural musical genre that was mostly pushed and developed by Jamaican artists.

Well, actually, I was raised in a very international environment and England is a very multicultural country. I went to school near Oxford and had classmates from all over the world – Pakistan, Poland, Italy, Jamaica and so on. I had friends that were Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus… I listened to a lot of music by Afro-American artists that was coming from the USA in my childhood like the things that were released on Motown Records, different kinds of soul and funk, and of course James Brown. Starting from 1964, reggae music from Jamaica became popular in England and some of it even got into the charts. Lee Scratch Perry’s song was even in a huge TV commercial for Cadbury’s fruit & nut chocolate.

I think I started to listen to Lee Scratch Perry when I was 10 years old and was buying his music at the age of 12 when I started to collect records. So when I was introduced to him I had almost all of his records that had been released in the 20 years prior to that and I was really into his music. I was a fan of this great man and involved in this kind of music for a long time.

Have dub and reggae been interesting for you only as a genre? Or did you follow the religious and spiritual aspect of the Rasta-culture that is heavily associated with this musical form too?

I was fascinated by the Rasta culture and Marcus Garvey’s ideas. But, on the other hand, I was making mostly dub music and if we talk about the greatest dub producers like Lee Scratch Perry, King Tubby, Errol Thompson, they were not pure Rasta’s – none of them had dreadlocks. They had, of course, this Rastafarian spirit in their hearts, and were writing songs about the Ethiopian emperor, Haile Selassie, who was a direct descendant of King Solomon and was believed to be in the Rasta movement as well as a returned messiah of the Bible, God incarnate, but it didn’t reflect on the way they looked.

In the ‘60s, there was a strong black people civil rights movement. Consequently, many blaxploitation movies and ideas that Marcus Garvey (who was standing up for returning black people to Africa) became very popular and Jamaican reggae music was part of it too. It was very interesting and big dub producers were involved in it as well.

If we try to clarify the terminology – what exactly is dub? Is it a more technologically developed form of reggae?

If we talk about dub as a musical form, it certainly came from reggae and appeared when Jamaican artists started to put another version of a song on the other side of their vinyl. The first reggae records from the ‘60s that I have had one song on the A side and another one on the B side. Then they started to put a version of the same song on the B side. And the versions became more and more interesting as they started to use echo and delay effects which became the base of the unique dub-sound.

Listeners started to demand more and more versions so dub became more and more experimental in the way the producers were deconstructing an original song and recreating it with really trippy sounds which captured people’s imaginations all over the world and it became really popular.

There is a lot of influence of dub in hip-hop and even in some commercial pop-records like Britney Spears’. Dub techniques that were created by Jamaican producers in the ‘60s are used now in all forms of modern pop music.

Besides the work you did in the fields of dub music for which you are mostly known, you have also made a lot of productions and remixes for artists from the electronic and industrial scene that stay far away from the dub world, like Depeche Mode, Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails and Ministry. What was your main goal when you were working with these guys – to add a touch of the dub style to their music or was it just interesting for you to try your strength in other genres?

It all started in 1980 when I was selling the records from my label – Jamaican mixtapes, from my car near the most popular London record shop, Rough Trade. I met Daniel Miller who was just starting Mute Records at that moment and was selling his first records outside Rough Trade from the car too. Daniel was a young guy then, still living at his mum’s house. We got in touch and once he said to me that he had a new band, Depeche Mode, on his label and asked me if I could help them with the sound and do some remixes for them. I did one of the first remixes that was ever made for Depeche Mode in 1983 and also produced music for artists that were far from the reggae and dub fields.

I did one of the first remixes for Depeche Mode

I really loved and enjoyed working with people from electronic, industrial, funk and blues scenes. It helped me to get established as a producer and to make some money that I used for developing my label. I also applied the same techniques that I used when I was doing the music for my label with dub and reggae artists, so yes – I guess you can say I added my touch to other people’s music.

Do you have any plans for new releases on your On-U Sounds Records label in the near future?

For the last five years I haven’t done very much, only released my project Sherwood & Pinch, that I did in collaboration with my friend and dubstep producer Pinch. But next year will be the 40 year anniversary of the label and I am planning a big stream of new releases with great artists as well as my solo album.

Last five years I haven’t done very much, only released my project Sherwood & Pinch

On-U Sound Records is an old and respected label with a serious history and background. For many music lovers and record collectors, it is heavily associated with vinyl. Do you still release music on vinyl?

Yes, I release everything on vinyl and also digitally and on cd.

Do you think that there is a kind of a revival of vinyl happening now in the world?

People keep me telling about it and probably yes, vinyl is getting popular again. And a lot of people from my audience are record collectors that want to buy my music only on vinyl so I have a good market for it.

Your music life must be divided between things like making your own music, producing music for other artists, remixing and touring. What do you like to do most of all?

To be honest, most of all I enjoy making my own records but I love to do remixes and production for other artists too. Touring with live shows and DJ sets is good too and it’s great that I receive a lot of offers from all over the world – it really helps me financially as it is a really hard time for the collapsing record industry right now.

Do you have some favorite countries where you like to perform most of all?

Every time I go out I have a great time, meet amazing people and have a great experience with the crowd. And all these moments that are gone in time and finished, these wonderful things stay with me forever.

I really love to travel and I can’t say that I have one particular country where I like to go most of all. But I really like to go to Japan where I have performed regularly starting from 1983 and have very good and warm memories of this country. Last time when I played in Moscow it was an amazing gig too. And also I like to go to Azores where I’m now in my fifth year of doing my musical festival “Burning Summer” in August. I always have a lovely time there. And all the shows in my home country, England, are usually very good too. I have a lot of loyal fans here in each city, small and big ones, for example just yesterday I came back from Yorkshire and it was a fantastic gig.

Have you ever been to Andorra?

Not yet but I would love to!

I hope you will visit soon and thank you for this great and interesting interview, Adrian.

Read more: The sound of music with Dmitry Tolkunov ...