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Interview : Tarrus Riley

Interview : Tarrus Riley

Interview : Tarrus Riley

By on - Photos by VP records - 3 comments

"My father’s music was Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, and my kind of music is Amy Winehouse and John Legend"

In the time since United Reggae last spoke to Tarrus Riley, he has released his long-awaited third album 'Contagious' : an ambitious genre-spanning work that owed as much to the likes of Quincy Jones and Stevie Wonder as Black Uhuru and Bob Marley. Overseen once again by his mentor, Dean Fraser, but using rhythms from a variety of producers, 'Contagious', despite disappointing album sales in the file-sharing free-for-all of the current climate, has garnered considerable critical acclaim. Habitually shy around the media, Tarrus (and VP Records) kindly granted Angus Taylor the chance to speak about his new creation, his beliefs and the sad demise of Michael Jackson, just as 'Contagious' was released. This interview took place in the summer of 2009.

Tarrus Riley

In the three years since 'Parables' you’ve come up with a lot of songs on the new album. Was making it an intense period of creativity?

Anytime we are making music we consider it to be an intense period of creativity. I love what I’m doing so any time we write a song it’s always intense. I love to put in everything you know? Like 150%. I have a special feeling towards music so every time I just want to make fresh music, interesting things, do things we haven’t done before without changing what we stand for. Because I represent a particular message and a particular movement so even if I’m on a different rhythm or a different kind of style it’s the same vibes you know?

The record pays tribute to Bob Marley, Black Uhuru Augustus Pablo and Jacob Miller but also has pop and soul influences. Who are your favourite non Jamaican artists?

I love everything from the old stuff to the new stuff. I used to listen to my father’s music which was like Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, and my kind of music is like Amy Winehouse and John Legend. I just love music. There are so many artists in the world so it depends on a particular mood.

For 'Contagious' you continued to work with Dean Fraser but also used rhythms by other producers. Why did the time feel right to do this?

Well I’ve always done that but only now have I incorporated it into my album. You have Russian from Head Concussion, you have Bulby from Fat Eyes, Shane Brown. These are people I’ve been working with in the past: Shane Brown was the engineer on my last album but I never recorded any music with him before. He was a brethren who mixed a lot of the songs on my second album like Beware. So these are people that we are around but we didn’t get into taking rhythms from them and working with them like that. Working with Demarco was a new experience because he produced Herbs High Grade Promotion with Kartel. That was cool and fresh and I liked it! But I’m a bonafide brethren to my bredda [Dean] and definitely we will keep doing what we are doing. Even on this album where have other producers here he still oversee it. We have chemistry and we are family so we just work it.

Let’s talk about some of the songs. How did you come up with the concept of a song from a gun’s point of view?

Tarrus RileyThe concept of Life Of A Gun is my name Tarrus because you have a gun named Taurus. So a lot of people often ask me, “where do you get the name Tarrus? Is it from the gun or the zodiac sign?” So I say, “alright, I’m going to put a personality to the gun named Taurus”. And then my brethren Mr Chung was driving in the car and we said, “yo, we’re gonna a write a song about the gun”. So me just put a personality to the gun and the gun a talk to you. “Living the life of a gun - MAN”. That’s like a “gunman” and like when I say “Man” expression. And I talk about all things that people do to the gun: them walk with me and people talk to them gun and BLOW!!!! See deh??? Somebody get shot and all these things. And me say “whe them make gun for?” I don’t see what good guns do. Even the man who makes guns is afraid of guns. Smith & Wesson is afraid of guns. All them man who make guns and create the guns are afraid of guns. So guns are made for nothing positive because they just shoot people and kill people. But it’s the gun that tells you that. It’s like a knife telling you that “yo, knives aren’t good, the only thing knives do is cut people”.

The song I Sight makes a link between your wearing glasses and your Rastafarian beliefs. How did you come up with that concept?

Rastafari is my I-sight. I’m a Rasta Man full and dread. And it is not a chain nor a barrier nor a segregation thing, it is my eye sight, it is the way me look upon things. The teaching of Haile Selassie, Marcus Garvey and other ancient Rastaman. So Rastafari a my I sight. Me look at the world through the eyes of the Rastaman. And the same teaching “until the philosophy which hold one race superior and another inferior” – that is not just words or a Bob Marley song to me. That is how I live. That is what I believe in strongly because I know it is right. If you listen to the song I say “Me no come to fight religion, all it does is divide, still I and I give Ises. Rastafari a mi I-sight, he’s the light in the hour of darkness. Rastafari a mi lifeline, he rules in the heart of all flesh”. So Rastafari is my I sight, is my strength, is my vitamin, is my eyesight, is my sense of smell, my senses. I dwell in the house of Rastafari! (LAUGHS)

Your cover version of Human Nature was recorded over a year ago but many people are just hearing it now. How did you feel when Michael Jackson died just before you released the album?

Tarrus RileyWell I mean Michael Jackson passing is a sad thing irrespective of my song. I gave it my best and hopefully whoever hears it feels the same way. A lot of people love it so far and like I said, I gave it my best. Michael Jackson is an extraordinary performer, and extraordinary songwriter and singer, any artist can learn a hundred million things from Michael Jackson just by looking or listening. It’s evident he’s definitely a prime example to everyone and anyone.

You worked with Chris Peckings in England on Young Heart. Did you enjoy that experience?

Definitely! That’s my favourite song on the album! Dean and Chris are friends and last year when we were in England we recorded that song. And right away when it was finished I told him “I want it on my upcoming album” and he was like “great”! Great song. My favourite. I wrote it right there in the studio. That song is magic. I love it.

How does European reggae production compare with Jamaican?

It’s different strokes for different folks. I can only speak about Chris from being in England and what I liked about him is that he had the old Studio 1 kind of rhythms. I love that vintage sound. Because to me a lot of times to make old music sound new and new music sound old is what a lot of people are trying to do. If you check R&B and Usher they’re using a lot of that Ronald Isley and a lot of that earlier kind of stuff. So I love the old sound, the original wah-wah sounds and organ sounds. I think they are timeless.

Mankind and S-Craving deal with human weaknesses. Can we ever conquer them?

It’s up to the human. You don’t have to necessarily conquer them, it’s just to understand that people are people and humans are humans. Those songs are not bashing anything – I’m just telling you how it is. In Mankind, I and I give you a set of scenarios to know mankind. In S-Craving, you know people are people and they have feelings and some of the smartest people do some foolish things – according to people. But one man’s fool is the next man’s intelligent genius. One man’s weakling is the next man’s strong man. So it’s just a way to look at things that’s there to make you think. It’s not to judge or fight or criticise because I’m not advocating anything nor am I bashing anything. We’re just reasoning and opening reasoning for people to form them own judgement and think with their own thing.

Finally, It Will Come is about the experiences of an up and coming musician. Have you always had faith in your success?

Yeah. Like I keep telling people, we don’t expect to get success from anywhere on the outside. We come with success. So when Tarrus Riley a come, I’m coming with success because I’m practicing, rehearsing and I have my talent so I’m confident. Marcus Garvey who is much smarter and older and wiser than me tells you that “when preparation meets opportunity then things happen”. So I don’t really think that outside things can make me successful like money or like a number one song. I don’t think that’s success. Success is in I and I. So it’s like when me forward me come with success you know what I mean?

You’ve mentioned the slave owner Willie Lynch in your lyrics on your 'Parables' and 'Contagious' albums. Why is this figure important to your outlook?

We have to beat the Willie Lynch syndrome because we are against all segregation, discrimination and prejudice. That is the thing Willie Lynch thrives on to divide people so I Tarrus Riley am anti Willie Lynch and the Willie Lynch mind. Willie Lynch put us to fight against each other so that they can enjoy the fruits of our labour. Willie Lynch is an order. It’s not one person, it’s a movement and a thought and we are here to bash down that Willie Lynch thought and bring unity to people with music.

Tarrus Riley

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Read comments (3)


Posted by semayat on 02.02.2010
Truly a nice interview and a great Tarrus' insight!!
Good job guys!

Posted by Joanne on 09.12.2010
Fantastic interview, informative information on Tarrus. I really appreciate u and your music, thanks to Jah for having you here with us humans, we need u! Such positive influence. I luv u. Don't stop.

Posted by Empress i n i on 09.21.2010
When will you come to Kenya, you would have a phenominal show, you touch hearts especially mine. Brethren Africa-me in particular want you here, Jah bless you with mo n mo wisdom. Luv always, empress.

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