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Interview : Linval Thompson

Interview : Linval Thompson

Interview : Linval Thompson

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"I never really expected I was going to do another album to tell you the truth"

Linval Thompson

Linval Thompson (born 1954, Kingston Jamaica) is one of reggae’s fundamental artists. Known for putting his ultra laidback voice and loose lyrics to heavy roots rhythms he has worked successfully as both a singer and a producer. Angus Taylor spoke to him by a roadside near his home in Stony Hill about his career, his new album, and never planning anything in life…

How did you decide to record your new album Ghetto Living?

Well when I record that new album, my son was the engineer. My 12 year old son Kevane Thompson so that’s how it is special for me. My 12 year old son recording Linval Thompson. And also he kind of helped me write some of the tracks there, gave me a little lyrics, some of his words, what he think, you know what I mean?

Which tracks did he help you write?

The track named Vanity. Also the track named Free Marijuana. So I kind of love this album especially for that one. Also, the vibes was right because I never really planned to make the album. It just happened you know what I mean? The vibration from The Father, the Almighty Creator, that vibe was what brought the album together.

Because it’s been a while since you did a solo album…

Yes, it’s been a very long time. I never really expected I was going to do another album to tell you the truth. So that’s another reason why this album is a special album for me.

What inspired the title Ghetto Living?

To tell you the truth I never really plan it! I just sing the track and the vibes say – you know – Ghetto Living. Right now things is really rough all over the world. And right now I feel the roots vibe in me – it never leave me. So it just happened. As I say I never really planned it. We never really said “right, that’s what we going to do” – it just happened. Things happen. The Father just make it happen.

You’re still using live instrumentation on this album. Is this something you believe in?

Yes yes. The live gives you a better vibes. A more positive – a more righteous – feeling. And everything is more… right vibes. No artificial things means positive vibes and make everything sound better. Drum rolling, guitar playing you know what I mean? Positive vibes.

You worked with the Handcart band from France and Jamaica…

Yes a mixture. We got more than one band playing on the tracks. We had some from France and some from Jamaica and also Canada – Dubmatix.

How did you start working with Dubmatix?

He linked me on the computer. On Myspace I think it was. Said he would like me to do a track for him. A track named Peace And Love about a year ago. That’s where it really started. On this album he worked on the track named Roots Princess.

You also worked with Fatis Burrell…

Fatis he is my neighbour. We live in the same area in Stony Hill. So he always link me because he would like to do some songs. So we get together and do a couple of tracks. The track name Hustling [Hustler] and the track named Empress.

I wanted to ask you about that track Empress because it uses the melody from the old Randy’s Dennis Brown track Cheater.

Yes. It was a Dennis Brown rhythm track so we just kind of change the lyrics. I tell Fatis about the rhythm and he make the rhythm. Then I decided to change the lyrics. He wanted to do the Dennis Brown track but then I decide to change the lyrics!

Tell us about working with Warrior King on Bad Boys.

Yes. That was me and my son Kevane. We record my part first and then we just think about how we wanted to make some different changes. Then we sent for Warrior King and he just change it a couple of days after.

Do you know him personally?

No no. He linked me. Those artists always want to link a veteran artist – a foundation artist - you know what I mean? He just meet me one day on the road and make a link. So I promise whenever I am doing something I can make a track with him.

Does this sort of thing happen to you often then?

Linval ThompsonYeah. But it’s not so easy for me because some of these artists is not doing righteous things. It don’t really make sense. You’ve got to be righteous and positive. Right now you have a lot of artists who are good – like Warrior King, he’s good. You have an artist like Lutan Fyah. Jah Cure. Tarrus Riley. But it all depends if they are going to really stay with the righteous kind of music. Sometimes they make a change just because of money. And if you are in the roots I think you are supposed to really stick to the roots. You got to stick with the good things, not bad things. Not do things because of money. Money is not all. Some people sing songs for money and so they do bad lyrics. Unclean lyrics you know?

Speaking of tunes with good lyrics, Jah Is My Father is a very strong tune.

Yes yes! Bad track. It’s true. Once again the vibes was right and me and Kevane just sit down, play the track and just write it. And it just really happen because The Creator, The Almighty Father give me that vibes to write the track. Like everyday you have a different vibes you know? So me and my son the engineer we just sit down and voice, and then we voice again until we get it right.

Do you write your lyrics down before voicing or do you improvise?

We did write it first because we have a list on a piece of paper. We write it, then we make a demo and then we listen to that again and then we change anything that doesn’t sound right. So it takes a couple of days before we get it right. But we do write it first and as the vibes flow we get it down. We don’t really plan it – the vibes just coming – we just write and as we write the track we do a take of it. One take, two take, go back over and try to correct, make sure we have the right key, the right style, the lyrics – everything really blend.

You sing some lines from your own old classics on two songs – Cool Down Your Temper on Love Brother Love and Curfew on Free Marijuana.

Again it’s just the vibes. That vibes just came at that time. We have really tried to get it out on a level. We never wanted to go too far from the long time vibes. That is one thing I did really plan. I need that style [of the old tunes] and I don’t want to go too far into anything too different to make we lose the roots. But with lyrics from Curfew I never really plan it. The lyrics just go and the song just come. It’s like a police curfew. The police just surround the whole place just because we are smoking marijuana. So the curfew just come right there – Oh What A Curfew!

Has this ever happened to you?

Well it has never really happened to me but it has happened to many people. Police curfew in the place. The neighbour call police on you just because they smell the marijuana. They smell the ganja. So it must be your neighbour. When you chillin’ ‘pon the veranda, you understand? And that’s positive lyrics – that real! But my neighbours? No.

The reason I mentioned that track was because it was one of the rhythms on the album you produced Dub Landing Volume 1.

Yes, I remember we mixed it at King Tubbys studio and we use Scientist but I don’t really remember the actual tracks!

You have said in the past that your family was not musical. How did you become interested in music?

It was born in me. It born in me so automatically it just come out you know? My parents never have it but it born in me. And also I was always interested in doing music business. So the first thing I is I used to keep like a dance in Jamaica when I was a little boy. A dance like a sound system dance. I find myself doing that first at maybe 15-16. Then I went to America and I find myself doing singing. And I link up with Bunny Rugs [from Third World] in a band named Buccaneers in Brooklyn and from there I start to sing. I recorded my first recording there – just for myself. I produced it for myself.

So you were a producer from a young age too? Because most people probably thought you didn’t start producing until later.

Yes I was. That was really how I start.

You then worked with Phil Pratt on Jah Redder Than Red, Lee Perry on Kung Fu Man and with Bunny Lee with whom you cut many big tunes. Who did you enjoy working with the most?

(LAUGHS) I prefer Bunny Lee. The first song was Don’t Cut Off Your Dreadlocks. And he give you that vibe that even when you wrong he say, “you never wrong. It’s a style so let’s work on it”. And then he’d look at it and make it work. He make you relax, he never really get uncomfortable you know what I mean? Because not everybody give you the vibes. I just listen to rhythm tracks and take a little time to feel the vibes. And maybe he can give ideas until it works. And everything really happen from The Almighty Creator. Because without The Father nothing could happen.

As a producer you worked with a lot of singers, Al Campbell, Freddy McKay. Who was your favourite singer you produced?

(LAUGHS MORE) I worked with so many – trust me! Dennis Brown, Freddie McGregor, Barry Brown. I think all of them is cool. Because right now Barry Brown he give me a big hit. He gave a big hit song with Sade – they do a sample from my album track, Love Is What They Really Want and it sell over three million copies.

Which is your favourite of the albums you worked on?

I Love Marijuana. The album. That was my first album I produced. Big album.

You are going on a European tour. Tell us about that.

In February yeah. We are playing with two separate bands. I am going to Spain, Holland, Germany, France, Italy and Portugal.

Will you be playing in the UK?

No. (LAUGHS) I am planning to play there maybe in Summer.

You played a great show in Hackney a few years ago. With Junior Byles, Johnny Clarke…

Yes it was good. That is the kind of show I am looking to do. I am interested to do something like that again. So that’s why I am waiting to get the chance to do that sort of concert.

Are you still friends with Johnny?

Yes man! A long time friend. From when I was just singing the first hit songs for Bunny Lee. I still see him – not really a lot – but if I want I can find him yes. He lives in Papine.

How long have you been living in Stony Hill?

Since ’79. That was my first property. I am investing in property right now. Stony Hill is cool. It’s like more uptown. It give you a vibes. You have nuff trees, the weather is nice, nuff birds flying around. Yes man, the country is nice. Quiet. You have a pure vibe. A lot of trees give you a big nice vibes.

Since you don’t like to plan anything I guess there’s not much point in asking what’s coming next for you? Do you have a message for your fans?

(LAUGHS) I couldn’t tell you what’s next! But I can tell what is happening right now. I am trying to get the new album promoted a lot all over the world and do some shows to promote my concerts and my label and everything. And until anything happens I still give thanks. My message to my fans is I give thanks to each and everyone who love Linval Thompson. And keep on loving Linval Thompson and try to listen to the new Linval Thompson album Ghetto Living. It’s positive vibes. Jah bless each and every one.

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