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Interview: Singing Melody

Interview: Singing Melody

Interview: Singing Melody

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"If you're trying to sing you're in the wrong game. There's no trying with music"

Sampler

Singing Melody cut his first tune Tie Me in 1987 at King Tubby's (without the great man's permission!) before hitting big with a cover of the R&B group Surface's Shower Me With Your Love. His US influenced, powerfully delivered style made him both a successful solo artist and a key member of the harmony quartet L.U.S.T formed in 1997 with Lukie D, Thrilla U and Tony Curtis. In February, Singing Melody was in London promoting his sixth album 'They Call Me Mr Melody' released via his own SHEM Music label and distributed by VP Records. Angus Taylor had a chat with him a few days after L.U.S.T.'s Valentine's concert at Brixton Academy with Freddie McGregor and John Holt.

Singing Melody

It's been many years since you last released a solo album. Why did you decide at this point, that it was time to step forward?

If you've been following my career for some while you can realise that whenever I come with a song it's always on time. I'm not one of those artists decided to rush through music and just record a lot of stuff and put it out, so that before you reach 40 you have 30 albums. I take my time with music because I think music needs to grow with people. So it came right on time. I was lucky to catch the 50th anniversary of reggae. Some of the reviews were associating this album with that timing, so I was very pleased with that.

It's also your first solo album on your own SHEM Music label, in conjunction with Fateyes who have a history of working with.

I also wanted to learn the production side of the music and to work with other artists, not just myself, because I look at myself as a non self-centred person. I wanted to get other people involved in music who I see as a talent. So starting my own label and putting out this album on my own label was really important to me to learn the way to go into the record industry as a label and to operate as a label. I've watched a lot of artists who get into the producing and think that they all know it all. So when I approached Fat Eyes to record this album I said " I want you right upside beside me to help me to roll out this album because I know you know what you're doing". He actually guided me with the whole process and actually co-produced with me as well as executive producer.

Whenever I come with a song it's always on time

You mentioned something about timing. A lot of artists release on Valentine's Day but you actually released it before Valentine's Day so that people would have it on their playlists already. Was that deliberate?

Absolutely. I've got to thank Donovan Williams from VP Records. He actually guided us doing a lot of mentorship. We wanted it to come out on Valentine's but he said "Listen, if you come with the album before Valentine's, they will have the album on Valentine's. That was such a brilliant idea.

You are an artist who sounds pretty much exactly as you do on record. Not to put too fine a point on it but many artists these days don't.

Well, you have to deliver, you know what I mean? If you're trying to sing you're in the wrong game, you're in the wrong business. There's no trying with music. Nowadays you find that artists who are recording are using so much digital sounds on their voices and plug-ins and stuff, so you find out when they come to deliver it it's got a different sound. Reggae artists we try to make sure we maintain the standard of the music and what it's supposed to sound like.

Singing Melody - They Call Me Mr MelodyThere's one track where you do use pitch alteration on the album, but what's your view on the use of auto-tune and other pitch correction because clearly you're an artist who can sing and you're using it to take that singing somewhere else.

Sometimes there's a certain song where you think it may need a different sound and you want to get it in the same style as what's going on so young people can be a part of it and get more into it. It's not that we need it, but for this particular track we wanted a different sound to it. I can tell you  I had one of the worst times singing on that thing.  My notes are so perfect and then you can't sing perfect when you're singing in it, you have to sing a flat note for it to correct it. I had two hours trying to correct it because I can't sing off-key, I don't know how to do it, so it was a terrible time but I finally got through it and it was fun!

Singing badly is not as easy as it sounds (laughs).

(laughs) Yeah!

You sing in a lot of styles on the album like dancehall and gospel but on Reggae to The Bone, you and Lymie Murray sing on the Please Be True rhythm, which is as foundation as it gets.

I think you said it right. It's like you were there when I was making the song, because the way you put the words just now is the exact way I wanted to do it. We sat down, shared ideas and Lymie came up with [sings] "Reggae music a wi thing come mek wi set it" and I said [sings] "A it a feed the ghetto youth so we protect it", and after the song finished he said "Here is the song, it's done!" and I said "No, we're going to do the song". We went into the studio with Germain and Germain said "Listen, you're on your own. Produce this one".  Even though it was produced by him, he let off saying that, you know? (laughs) It was a great idea, we would deliberately do that.

You also appear with U Roy on Smile. Did you actually share studio time with U Roy, or was his part done at a different juncture?

At one point we shared the studio and at the next point when we came back to do the actual recording I wasn't there at that time. He lives in the area that Lukie D is from, so Lukie D took me to where he was living. He came out and he said "Lukie, wha gwaan?" I was kind of nervous approaching him, I said "U Roy, I have a song that I want you and me to do".  He said "Wait, youth, gawaan. Play the song to be heard, man". I played the song from the car and he was like "Yeah, this is really a wicked tune, youth. You know this riddim? I know it long time!" I think at the weekend he had a dance going and he said after the weekend he's going to come and grace the song. I wasn't there, I had to travel, but Fatta took the role as a producer and got U Roy into the studio. We invited him to hear the finished product, and he was swept off his feet. He was like "Youth, you touch me man, you touch me!" (laughs).

Even though he was a pioneer in the music, King Tubbys showed the human side, saying "Yo, you can't sit there. Come out of the yard!"

Let's talk about some more reggae ambassadors. Let's talk about somebody who was quite important in your early career, King Tubbys.

King Tubbys was a very interesting character. Even though he was a pioneer in the music, he showed the human side, of saying "Yo, you can't sit there. Come out of the yard!" (laughs). He didn't record me, obviously - who am I to King Tubbys to record as a little youth? The apprentice engineer that was working there was from my community so I got to go into the studio when King Tubbys wasn't there. Back in those times it was reel-to-reel, four track machine, so if you use up a space it is a very important space that you use up. King Tubbys came in a week later and found out that someone was on the track. It was a big, big thing, the guy almost lost his job, and for myself as well (laughs) because King Tubbys was very serious about what he was doing and you can't play around with it. But after hearing the song he says "It's a good song" and he's going to put it out, he's going to give me one record and if I need more I have to buy it. That was just King Tubbys, you know?

Let's just talk about somebody else: Junior Murvin.

Definitely. I call him Uncle Murvin. I'm talking now and I'm having a chill just thinking about Junior. Junior has been a part of my inspiration through music, after listening to some of his great songs I said "I really want to be like this guy, I love his expression in music". I loved the way he reached out and doesn't play with it. I think Junior helped me to actually come out of myself, to start to sing and create more expressions. That's what he is, he's an expressionist. He expresses music so deeply that it hits you right away; you don't wait to get hit, you get hit by Junior!

Junior Murvin is an expressionist. He expresses music so deeply that it hits you right away

He is a singer who is famous for a particular register but that's only a small part of what he does. Likewise, there's just a moment on Must Be The Girl where you hit that register as well, just for a second, and you can hear the link there.

(laughs) Different songs require different expressions and like I said, I'm an expressionist. I think at first my producer had a lot of problems with me screaming in every song because I would just hear the song and start on a high note, expressing, and sometimes you don't need to express that way. I think for this particular album there was not a lot of high-pitched singing, it was more calmer singing but then as I need it, I bring it. Singing MelodyAs a singer you should be able to do that. Your music should not be on one level where people easily get tired of stuff if it's not different. People don't like things too normal, you have to impress them, it's a part of how the world works. You can't just build a car, you have to build a car plus features to impress people (laughs).

Like Junior, you clearly enjoy American soul music. Were you affected by the passing of Whitney Houston recently?

Thrilla woke me up about 2.30 when I was here. I said "Who's calling me so late in my room?" And he'd hand up and he'd call, he'd call, and I didn't answer. The third time I answered the phone and he says "Wake up! Whitney Houston just passed!" I dropped the phone, I turned the telly on quickly and I started scrolling through the channels. I couldn't find the news and I said to myself "This is not true!" and I start to search my phone to see if I can get the internet access to go on to see if it's really true because a lot of times you hear rumours and it's not true. I was devastated. I didn't eat all day. I said "This is a lady that gave us so much of her life and she's not here". To see she died that way was really painful to me. That made me just look at myself and think I'm going to do everything I can possibly do correct, I'm going to do it. I'm going to make sure that my life is in a certain way and a certain standard that I can just live it and live it true, you know? She definitely is going to be greatly missed. A big loss for the industry.

People don't like things too normal, you have to impress them, it's a part of how the world works

FInally, let's talk about L.U.S.T. How do four very successful solo artists, people with their own creativity, people with their own personalities, manage to come together and keep that link so strong for so long?

We grew up together in the business and we have a lot of respect for each other's talent. The groups that came before us, all the harmony sounding groups: the Mighty Diamonds, the Tamlins, the Heptones, we realised back then that those kind of music were fading and we didn't love that. L.U.S.T. came together because of that. We were always singing together at studio, carrying harmonies and finally in '97 we went to studio and recorded our first single Sweetness Of Your Love. That went to number 1, several awards, and from there we said "You know what gentlemen? This is special". What kept us together as a group is the fact that we all respect each other's talent and effort, and we work together. L.U.S.T. never had a boring moment. It is four interesting characters. Even when we're on tour, a lot of groups will get bored after a while, sometimes you see a group and they don't get along because this person is egoistic, that person has his own ego on . When we come to L.U.S.T. we drop all ego because you can't lead the group it's a mashup, because it's four individual singers, everybody can sing. When you're in a group where there's only one lead singer and he feels like he's the one who's doing all the work and he just has some back-up guys it becomes egoistic where he wants to leave and go on his own. With L.U.S.T. nobody can leave.

Otherwise you won't be able to say the name.

Exactly!

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