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Interview: Bunny Rugs

Interview: Bunny Rugs

Interview: Bunny Rugs

By on - Photos by Christian Bordey - Comment

"I am always on time. I get nervous if I am late. I feel as if I have failed"


William "Bunny Rugs" Clarke was born on February 6th 1948 and raised in East Kingston Jamaica. After training to be an artist in the late 1960s, he began singing with the uptown musicians that formed the nucleus of both Inner Circle and Third World before departing to the United States to pursue a musical career there. Providentially, he would reunite with Third World for their second album 1977's 96 Degrees in the Shade and his powerful voice is as integral a part of the band we know today as Stephen "Cat" Coore's cello and guitar. Now after over three decades with the group, and hot on the heels of their 19th longplayer 'Patriots', Bunny is ready to take centre stage on his incoming fourth solo album 'Time'. Angus Taylor spoke to the venerable Mr Rugs in his garden in Florida about his life, his new record and why its concept could teach the reggae industry a thing or two...

This interview was conducted in summer 2011 but delayed when the album was put on hold.

Bunny Rugs

When members of groups go solo they usually go on hiatus. Yet Third World and yourself have both got album releases. Is it hard work promoting two big albums?

It's actually easier! I'd say it's easier for my solo project because then you are riding on a history of over 38 years. I don't quite know how to explain it but I thought it would be difficult yet it's very, very easy because you're promoting two products at the same time, one with a long history and the other with a short solo history that is also connected to that history. So there's a wide array of things to speak about. It's like an extension of Third World. It's an amazing thing my friend and I'm so happy at this particular moment. On Facebook, for instance, which I'm on and using, it is attracting new listeners to my solo project but when they realize it's connected with Third World it makes it even bigger.

You also released an EP as well! Would you say you generally have a busy schedule or is all this out of the ordinary?

I get up every morning between 5.30 and 6am regardless of the time I go to bed. I hate to go out at nights because when I get home at 3.30 or 4am I only get one and a half to two hours sleep! So I like to go to bed early like 9.30-10 so I am up all day and have the full day and I am constantly busy. My main thing is I am always on time. I get nervous if I am late. I feel as if I have failed. Sometimes it is annoying even to my wife because I am always on time! That is why my solo album this summer is so relevant and why I am so looking forward to its release. Because apart from the fact that I know people are going to like it, the title is so relevant and reflects so many of my personal beliefs about time. I am always on time and I have great respect for time. It pisses me off when people are late! (laughs)

Why was the time right to release it now?

I've been working on this project for three years and it took the same amount of time to work on Third World's album. We made a decision that while I was working on Third World's album and also doing my solo album Third World's would be released before mine, I would release my EP six months after. The reason I released the EP was I didn't think it was wise to release an album without giving your listeners a taste of what's to come. I think by releasing the EP it has created some form of anxiety. People are writing me on Facebook saying they can't wait for Time, they're anxious to hear what's on Time. I think that's a great way to get people excited about your product - especially in this time of new technology with all different outlets and things you can do instead of just relying on radio stations.

It's very rare that you can listen to most albums from 1-14 without skipping. I think this album has that vibe

Patriots has really embraced the modern ways of reggae with use of pitch correction software and so on but the songs on the EP are more rootsy and present your voice as it is.

I think it's going to be a big surprise. I put a great deal of thought into every inch of that album - not only the production of the music and the subjects mentioned but also the artwork, the colours, everything. It's going to be a surprise because it has 14 tracks and I specifically tried to do each track as a single because it's very rare that you can listen to most albums from 1-14 without skipping. I think this album has that vibe because I've tested it with sound system friends. They're really into music and when I gave them the album they told me it was exactly as I intended - that you can put it in and listen to the entire album. It is more roots rock reggae and I have two slow songs but they are still rooted very heavily in the reggae bass and drum. My first test is with my two daughters and my wife. Whatever I bring home from the studio I let them listen to it first because I know they're not going to tell me "yes" when it should be "no". They are very honest, into music so they would tell me "I don't think this can work" and I would listen to them. So everybody's going to be surprised my friend! (laughs)

Some tunes make more sense on the sound system than at home. I'd say a lot of recent reggae falls into that category. Since you've tested your music at home and on the sound would you say this album is going to be one of those rare ones that works equally well on both?

(thinks) The answer is definitely yes. It has all the elements. I've left copies with Stone Love in Jamaica and Deltone - that is where I test my music. You'll be able to play it the car, you'll be able to play it to children. The album is mostly geared towards love affairs. Take Love Is Blind for instance: Jamaican male singers don't normally expose when they've been hurt. The songs are always about "How much I love you" and so forth. But the rhythm of Love Is Blind by Sly & Robbie is hardcore reggae and what I am saying on it is not an everyday topic. It's a confession that somewhere along the line I was hurt by this woman. I was taken for a fool. It is not something that is fabricated - it's a real true story! (laughs) 

Because Third World's album has so many collaborations, I wanted mine to be the opposite

Patriots had a huge number of collaborations like Marcia, Gregory and the Marleys whereas your EP had music and production contributions from Sly & Robbie - who you just mentioned - Dean Fraser and Bobo Bell. Why no vocal guests?

I deliberately stayed away from that on Time because I wanted to highlight my vocals. Because Third World's album has so many collaborations, as you said, I wanted to be the opposite. So I have a host of Jamaican musicians Sly & Robbie, Dean, Mikey Bennett, and I used at least five studios - like Grafton, Penthouse. I even used young producers and engineers who will all be credited. So I went that way. I still have Cat Coore on guitars and Norris Webb on keyboards but I went out to find other, younger musicians and put my sound on top what they create.

You're not just associated with Third World, with whom you've been for nearly 40 years but you also played with Inner Circle who are still going strong. How does it feel to be connected with two of the most enduring groups in reggae?

Bunny RugsOh, it's one big family! A lot of people don't know that most of the early Third World members like Michael Cooper, William Stewart, Cat Coore and myself were original members of the Inner Circle. I saw Roger Lewis a few weeks ago and it's always a lovely feeling, we're still friends and I even used their studio in Miami for some tracks from the Patriots album. So it's a great feeling my friend and not many know that Third World actually came out of Inner Circle.

Now you're from a different part of town from those guys. How did you get into music and link with these uptown fellows?

(laughs) That's a good question! That amazing thing was that I grew up downtown and it was there I realized I wasn't interested in any of the things my parents wanted me to do. I didn't want to be an engineer. At one point I wanted to be an artist so I went to the Jamaican School of Arts & Crafts for a few years but I liked to move around and go to different places rather than sit painting at an easel! So it was always a concern as to what I was going to do to take care of myself and support my future family. I didn't have the brain to be a brain surgeon or a doctor. Now at that time each lane had a corner - and the name of my corner was Broadway where there were always singing groups. When I listened to them I realized that - and they were bigger boys than me - that it was no different from when I sang by myself so I said "This is where I should really try". But then at that time there was no guarantee that anything would happen so you couldn't tell your parents that you wanted to do music - the only place my mother wanted me to sing was on the Baptist Church Choir! I didn't like the kind of music they were doing so there was another problem! (laughs) But my father is a great singer and I used to enjoy going to Anglican church with him and hearing him sing so I think I got that from him. I really give thanks and praise for that strength.

In 2006 you appeared in the movie Made In Jamaica which was directed by the same director who filmed you Prisoner In The Street (1980). How did it feel to come back to the same sort of territory a quarter century later and how has Jamaica changed?

Oh man! When it was proposed we do that it was like, "My Goodness!" You suddenly realize how many years have passed between those two events! But when you look at it nothing has really changed. The population might be more and more people might have a cell phone and telecommunications are booming and stuff but everything is basically the same. I mean, look at the condition of the Jamaican music industry - it's in a mess - and a lot of people will tell you reggae music is dying because of what they see going on in Jamaica. I just came back from New Zealand a few days ago and reggae is really happening right across the world with new bands being formed every day in Europe and America. There are no new bands being formed in Jamaica.

Not many people know that Third World actually came out of Inner Circle

There are a few bands being formed surely? What's the problem as you see it?

The whole system, the whole industry in Jamaica needs a flush. That disturbs me very much because you'd think the people that were in charge in the country the music came from - the managers, road managers, lawyers, radio personalities, DJs and record shops - would really rally around this thing in a more serious, professional and honest way and let the thing flourish as it should. When you go to the Caribbean islands that is another thing that is amazing because all you are hearing is Jamaican reggae music and reggae from other countries too. I remember when I used to go to Trinidad, St Thomas, Barbados, St Croix, St Vincent in the early 70s and 80s it was soca music you'd hear. Now when you go to these islands it's just reggae so the music isn't dying. What has died is the way we operate our system. I hate to say this man but it's true. There's so much talent in Jamaica my friend - all the studios are booked every day and when you go in there are artists and potential artists everywhere. Most of them can make it if the system just facilitates honesty.

You've spoken recently about the lack of professionalism in the reggae industry - specifically about managers. Can you expand on that?

I don't know if the people in my country would see what I'm saying as a negative because it's not a negative. You go to do a TV show and the bass amplifier isn't working, the sound system is not adequate. You as an artist want to give 100% all the time because that is Third World - 100% - but you also need 100% of what is necessary to make that 100% be 100%! You cannot expect me to sing at my best if the monitors in front of me aren't letting me hear myself properly so it sounds as if I'm down in some gully or something! I don't think attention is being paid to these things. When you go to other countries or even to other Caribbean islands to do a TV performance, everything is in place because of the respect for the music and the art. I think that is what we lack - there's a lack of respect for the art itself. In most countries it's there and you don't pay it any attention! (laughs)

The whole system, the whole industry in Jamaica needs a flush

It's a common complaint from artists that there's a lack of professionalism and structure in the industry. What's the remedy?

I think it's education that's the key. In recent years down in Jamaica - and I won't call any name - but there are people that will do your publishing and take 50%. They say they are administrators. They don't administer anything! So why should you pay 50% to somebody just because the artist is not fully aware and it hasn't been explained to him in a way he can understand to make the right decision. Recently you have lawyers in Jamaica writing to you that they have collected royalties on your behalf. So if it's $500 they have collected you have to come with $250 to them in cash and they give you the cheque for the rest. Now who gave anybody permission to go collect my royalties? These are the things I am talking about when I say there's a lack of education in the music industry. When I get contracts I don't understand that language. I read it and get a fair understanding, yes, but the details I don't understand. So then you go to somebody to explain it to you and pay them a fee but you don't get the proper and clear explanation my friend so you end up making the wrong decision. That's why I don't encourage any of my children to get into this business because you have to really love it. One day you're in a 5 star hotel and the next day you can't even get a room. You have to be able to make the adjustment within that short period of time and it's very difficult! (laughs)

Have you tried to guide and educate younger artists in the business?

I was in Jamaica a couple of weeks ago - and this is very encouraging and why I say reggae is alive and in good hands now - you have new groups like Curfew, C Sharp. Those are the guys who played on most of my stuff on Time. They are so bright in terms of how they know about the business, they know about publishing and the other areas that are necessary and they're also great instrumentalists. As well as guitar they also play all types of instruments and play them well. And because of the computer age they grew up in they are also good engineers. They know about ProTools and how to voice so it's amazing to watch these young people in the studio and their energy - it's very, very encouraging. I think if we leave it up to them the Jamaican part of it is in very good hands.

Third World has always had a reputation as a great live band - will you be touring your solo album in similar style?

When I went back to Jamaica I went to learn about different studios because live and studio are completely different things. Now I enjoy studio but I love live because live you get one chance! (laughs) I love audience participation, feeling people, touching them because each night none of our shows are the same. We might play the same songs but each night is a different vibes because you feed off the audience. So yes, I will be doing dates on my solo thing, I have a really nice band, four nice fellas, two nice girls, so after the album is released, maybe in October I would love to come to Europe and do some clubs and stuff. Everything is complete and ready to go - it's just a question of time! (laughs)

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