Sarah J. Edwards met Stephen Marley who that year realised his future gazing classic album "Mind Control". Stephen gives great advice and talked in detail about the making of the album and is life as a child star, when his father Bob Marley wrote the debut song Stephen's group The Melody Makers.
This feature first appeared in the printed edition of BLAG Vol.2 Nø 8 published in 2007, this is an edited version.
Interview & Photography by Sarah J. Edwards
Art Direction by Sally A. Edwards
Stephen Marley is brimming from ear to ear each time he pauses from playing one song to the next. Tonight he’s flawlessly showcasing songs from his debut solo album, ‘Mind Control’ to an invited audience at the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios. He explains each track with subtlety and modesty then carries on performing, acoustically alongside one drummer and another guitarist. His proudness glows from him and beams across the room - now is his time.
As a son of the legendary Bob Marley, brother to the ultra hip Damian ‘Jr. Gong’ Marley, Stephen is blessed with natural talent and nourishing music running through his veins. He is said to have joined his father and The Wailers onstage dancing and singing as soon as he was old enough to walk. His father was a massive influence and Stephen soaked up his music as a young boy. He learnt to play drums and at just seven years old started learning guitar. In ‘79, he made his official debut with brother Ziggy and sisters Cedella and Sharon as ‘The Melody Makers’. During their mammoth career the group earned Grammy Awards and world tours. As a producer he is responsible for both of Damian’s Grammy winning albums as well as works for the likes of: Ziggy, Erykah Badu, Eve and Spearhead.
Stephen Marley may be an established and award winning musician, but it’s this album that will undoubtedly propel him even further, it shows off just how finely crafted his musical, vocal and lyrical skills are. ‘Mind Control’, features guest appearances from his brother Damian, Mos Def and Ben Harper and encompasses traditional reggae styles and nyabinghi rhythms which are perfectly blended with flamenco, hip hop, rock and R&B.
In person, Stephen Marley is incredibly laid-back, as you’d perhaps expect. He’s a successful talent, but the one thing he is most of all is modest. Sitting in his stark and near silent hotel suite surrounded by various record company reps, management, security and our camera crew, he’s upbeat and energetic in a relaxed way.
Can you tell us your residence and occupation?
“My residence? Earth...planet earth. Occupation, Humanitarian / musician.”
How would your brother Damian describe your sense of humour, working style and most notable saying?
“Alright, my most notable saying is ‘Yah!’ My sense of humour? Some-time-ish! You know, if you catch me at the right time! Working style...um...gorilla! Gorilla style.”
Can you talk to us about your childhood, the first thing I read in your biography is about you being on stage with your father. Can you tell us about how that felt and what it was like?
“Alright, I started making music in 1979, I was seven years old and our father wrote the first song for the group Melody Makers. Melody Makers was myself, Ziggy, Cedella and Sharon. So, we started in ‘79 and I’m singing the song that our father wrote first, that is how we started out. The group back then, we were very successful as a kids group, you know? So, we would play concerts which our father was on also. We would be on early of course, ha ha! And he would be the headline, you kna mean, so...that was one ting that I remember back in those days. Um, going on stage, I mean at that time we were youts still, we were young so it was fun. A natural ting for one to do. So, it wasn’t nothing more than fun. You know what I mean? And looking back on it now, it was a greater meaning than then doing it.”
Yes and what was the first instrument you learnt to play?
“First instrument was drums. Yeah.”
Can you talk to us about the different aspects of your work, because you are well known as a producer, songwriter and singer.
“Different aspects of my work, I am a musician you know, we make music. Them call it producing, for we it’s just making music, you know what I mean? And me sing the same way and me is an artist, you know what I mean, so, it all goes together it’s one ting for me. It is not broken down, you know what I mean? I don’t have three jobs, me is a musician.”
And you’ve won five Grammys, can you tell us what they were for?
“Three for the group Melody Makers, Melody Makers won three. Two for producing Damian’s, both albums.”
And from your new album, ‘Mind Control’ can you talk to us about it, because the title track is all about modern day slavery, isn’t it. Can you tell us all about your feelings on that?
“Modern...mental slavery. Which is modern day slavery, yes. My feeling about that? I mean, everyone should be aware of that you know. Mental slavery. Slavery on the whole, you know what I mean? Is very much still here. In these days it’s not chains and shackles, anymore, just as my father said. ‘No chains on our feet, but we’re not free.’ So, how does that make sense, you know? If we’re not chained and we’re not free. Control of mind!”
What do you think are the elements of where the problems lie at the moment?
“Problem for us, because that is what the system wanted. So them can control the population. So, it’s a problem for us. The only thing we can do is arm ourselves with awareness. Me no gonna stop watch TV still, I’m not gonna stop listening to the radio but I’m going to be more aware. I’m going to be aware of what me say. I’m going to be aware of what dem trying to portray, you know what dem’a try feed we. You know what I mean? And such forth. It starts from there, awareness.”
I wondered if you could pick three tracks from the album and tell us about the production and songwriting and what they’re about. And I know you have quite a lot of guests.
“Alright, um, ‘Hey Baby’. ‘Hey Baby’ features Mos Def.”
Mos Def’s a friend of ours, so we’re excited about that!
“Alright, seen. Seen! ‘Hey Baby’ features our friend! And that song is very...it has a very special meaning to me. ‘Cause it was influenced by my children. Even though it turned out to be a woman and man situation, it started from me talking to my...(sings) ‘Hey baby, don’t you worry’ – was really my child – ‘even though the road is rocky, I’ll be coming home to you again’. So, that one deep to me, you know? And Mos Def, conscious rapper, we can compliment each one, very nice.”
So, how did you get involved with working with him?
“Um, through mutual appreciation of each others work and music. I wasn’t there when he do it, I was in Miami, he was in LA. So, I wasn’t really there when he did his thing, thing, but give thanks.”
Cool! So, if you can think of two others for us, please.
“Two others. Alright, ‘Traffic Jam’.”
I think I was giving you a bit of ESP then, because I was thinking of that one!
“Alright! ‘Traffic Jam’ now, is a tune ‘bout a situation that happened to me and my brother Julian. It was Julian – who was born here – we were coming back from Damian’s show and some police pulled us over, found some herb and they lock we up and ting and ting. So, that’s what the ‘Traffic Jam’ is about.”
And what did you think about the crowd reaction to that last night? (His explanation caused the attentive crowd to break their silence with laughter.)
Yes, because they were amused by it weren’t they, amused by the story!
“Yeah, there was a lot of vibe, yeah, yeah! And ‘Inna Di Red’. ‘Inna Di Red’ now, is a song that features Ben Harper on the guitars, what else is unique is that this song, it have traditional drumming nyabinghi drumming, 1-2 step we call it. It have traditional drumming, you know? I guess a Western type of feel, with the traditional drumming so that track, that kinda unique.”
So, we’ve already spoken about Mos and Ben Harper being on the album, can you tell us about some of the other guests? You have Martina Topley-Bird, that’s a sample, isn’t it?
How did you discover her?
“I come across her, on a video game! My son was playing a video game and the song was in the video game. I was passing and I heard this song and said ‘Wait, deep’. She sings, ‘You’re gonna leave her’ which...ha ha! I was having some similar problems in a relationship at the time. I said, ‘Wait, it connects,’ so, I thought I’d try to find out who it was and you know, from that, let’s make a nice vibe and ting.”
And then you’ve got the MC, Mr. Cheeks.
“Mr. Cheeks is a close friend of ours, from when we did the ‘Chant Down Babylon’ album in 1999, which was the remix album with our father and a lot of rappers and R&B [singers]. Busta Rhymes was on it. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that record. But that’s where we know Cheeks from and you know we always keep close contact from then, so.”
That’s good. He’s got a unique voice, hasn’t he?
Can you tell us about some of the other artists that you’ve worked with who are different from each other? I picked out Eve, Erykah Badu and Spearhead. I just wondered what it was like, because they contrast each other, don’t they?
“I mean, any artist we work with, dem come in our world, you know? Them come in our world, so I mean, it’s always a comfortable situation, you know? So we work with people that we are fans of ours. People we love and... you know? So, always is cool. Always good vibe. We’re lucky enough so far for us to have good vibes, you know?”
Which projects are you particularly proud of?
“Projects particularly proud of? Ha! Um, anything we do, we proud of man. I mean we try for do our best at all times and anything that goes out there that bares the name, you know? Supposed to be of a certain standard. Not one thing or the other.”
And can you tell us about who you’ve worked with that we might be surprised by?
“Who you might be surprised by? Steve Tyler? You surprised?”
“Steve Tyler, Areosmith.”
“Do you like that?”
Ha, yeah! Can you tell us about your proudest achievement? If you can name one thing?
And the theme of this issue is ‘Future Classics’, so we just wondered who you’d recommend that everyone should be looking out for?