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One hand clapping and the third eye watching: The Rootsman Outerview

Posted by The man 
The man
One hand clapping and the third eye watching: The Rootsman Outerview
January 02, 2006 05:21PM
The Rootsman Interview

Regular visitors to our review pages will be well aware of The Rootsman. In fact we included a review of Rootsman's '52 Days To Timbukto' album on our very first review page. At the time I said "I've long been impressed by the Rootsman's uniqueness. Rootsman is a fusionist, blending style, beats and cultures from the world's faraway places, mixed up with his own brand of digital stylee beats" We have since then continued to keep in touch with FRS reviewing most of the Rootsmans successive releases, all of which you'll still find in our reviews section.

With the release of 'New Testament', possibly The Rootsmans most adventurous release to date, we decided that it was high time we had a chat to get the low down on all tings Rootsman.

Perhaps the oddest thing is that with over five years of dialog via e-mail we have yet to meet in the flesh. Which highlights one of the most gratifying aspects of this whole www community thang. The fact that despite geographic distance people can reach out, communicate, teach & learn from each other. Hopefully helping to make our world a safer & more understanding place. Which is why we say 'Babylon Brought Us The Digital Age & We're Stealing It Back'. One Love Bimble

B;Tell us about the new album?

RM; 'New Testament' is the culmination of 2 years work and quite a change of direction for me. After I had released Realms Of The Unseen I felt that I had taken the global dub fusion style as far as I could. I took some time away from recording for a while to try and come up a fresher approach. Then, after I went to see the movie 'Ghost Dog' I was really taken aback by the soundtrack by RZA. To me it sounded like dub but in a different way. And this music influenced my way of thinking a great deal. I started to build some new riddims, originally to make a hip-hop album to be honest but then I thought about putting Jamaican artists on there. Some of the singers needed some help to really understand the whole project but others took to it straight away. Also I started to meet more and more Jamaican artists so I was in a perfect position to really get the whole project in gear. It was a real honour to work with some of these people and I think the whole album hangs together really well. It still has that authentic Jamaican vibe but with a brooding hip hop element running through it. I'm very proud of it and so far some people are already hailing it as my best yet. I also think that we take reggae singers for granted too much because we always hear them in the same environment. When you hear them on New Testament you can tell what great artists they really are. Earl 16, Mike Brooks, Bobby Blue and Sandeeno in particular sound exceptional on this set - truly great songwriters.

B; Is 'New Testament' out just on CD or available on vinyl as well?

RM; There are 13 tracks on the CD but the double vinyl only has the cuts not contained on the 10 inch singles and a couple of others are missing. There are also the instrumentals too. I deliberately didn't mix them as dubs.

B; What was your thinking behind deliberately not mixing the instrumentals as dubs?

RM; I thought it would be too obvious to make dub mixes with tons of reverbs and delays. Also, on hip hop 12"s you always get instrumental mixes which are nice and simple but very effective so I thought I would just do the same.

B; 'New Testament' is out on Meteosound. Am I right to say that it's your first full album release outside of your own Third Eye Music label?

RM; This is the first proper album not released on my label. Though there have been some compilations of my productions out on other labels before. For this album I needed people to really devote themselves to market and promote it properly, better than I could. I don't have enough time to run a label, write music, to tour and also hold down a job so I decided to give the album to Meteosound. I've known Daniel from Meteosound for about 4or 5 years now. He's turned out to be my main booker in Germany and is also a very good friend of mine. I was always encouraging him to do his own label and I gave him Roots Bloody Rootsman to release a year ago. He did a very good job with it too. I prefer to work with a small guy who cares about what he's doing rather than a big company who end up trying to shaft you in the end. Daniel has proved himself to be a very honest and trustworthy guy and that matters more to me than anything else to be honest.

B; I'm surprised you refer to holding down a job. Are you saying you also hold down a regular day job?

RM; Yes I work for Bradford Council 5 days a week and the rest of my time I have to produce, tour and do my family work too! But I work very fast in the studio so I can finish tracks relatively quickly.

B; The Standard of the vocal performances is so high on both 'New Testament' and the supporting 10"'s. Were there more cuts that didn't quite make it on the album?

RM; I have recorded a lot more stuff and in the end the track listing for New Testament wasn't decided till the last minute. With most of the artists I have recorded more than one track from them but in the end I chose the ones that seemed to fit together the best for the album. I've got tons of stuff I haven't even started arranging and mixing yet. Regarding the performances, I really stressed to all the artists what kind of performance and lyrics I wanted. I think you can tell that everyone really put their heart into it and weren't just singing for some quick cash.

B; Any plans for those to come out?

RM; Yes of course. I am planning to release 2 more 10"s at the beginning of 2003. At least one of those will have a jungle cut on there. Meteosound are planning to release a 12" in March with an incredible Horace Andy tune I've done - I think it's one of his best ever to be honest, really haunting and that will be backed with a new Bobby Blue cut. Also I have only one more track to mix and then the next album will be completed. That will come out next year too.

B; I know you record a lot of specials / dub plates with various artists, I presume for use in your live shows. Tell us about some of your most memorable specials sessions.

RM; I have recorded literally many thousands of specials at my studio, as I sell dubs to over 100 sound systems now. Some sessions are one big stress but others are pure joy. I would have to say the most enjoyable were with people like Derrick Morgan, Michael Prophet, Johnny Clarke, Big Youth and Freddie McGregor. I've also got some incredible combinations too, the most memorable being Everton Blender and Frankie Paul together.

B; I read on your website that you'd recently had Gregory Isaacs in the studio. He's reported to be a difficult character to work with, how did you get on ?

RM; Gregory was very difficult to deal with, I wasn't surprised! It took a lot of time to run that session but the hard work paid off in the end as I got two killer exclusives from him so I am happy with that!

B; Any plans for any of these special cuts to get a full release?

RM; No. There are some live DJ recordings of mine floating about with some specials on, but it's too complicated to release an album like that officially.

B;For those that are not aware of the specials scene could you explain a little of how it works.

RM; Specials are cuts voiced exclusively for a sound system by the artists. They put the DJ's or the sound's name on the tune. They are a crucial part of sound system. I have around 700 or so that I carry with me for each session.

B; At your live shows, do you play exclusively dub plates & specials?

RM; No not at all but I play different ways in different plays depending on the conditions. I carry my specials plus a lot of my own production and remixes. Much of what I play depends on the crowd and how far I am able to take them. Sometimes I even play metal! There is no point playing anywhere and just being a self-indulgent bore and ignoring the people. But the selector's job is to try and capture them and take them on a journey.

B; For the aspiring studio owner or builder, could you give some idea of your studio set up, what you use & favourite bits of kit?

RM; My studio is very simple. In fact my whole process of recording is now simpler than ever. That's because modern music all sounds the same - a Limp Bizkit record is no different to Britney Spears even though the styles are different. I love to listen to old stuff like Curtis Mayfield & The Beatles. They had great production but using primitive stuff compared to today's studios. Yet the songs always had depth and feeling. I find most modern dub leaves me cold especially the UK stuff, it all sounds like its been done on a PC. I thought about upgrading my studio a few years back but in reality I downgraded it. I use cheap equipment and I like to always get a raw sound. I use an Akai S2000 for sampling, a few sound modules, a couple of drum machines, an Alesis 8-track ADAT for live vocals and some cheap effects and compressors. I also use a Sound craft Spirit 24 track desk. I'm pretty happy with my sound right now. I don't need anything else. Less is always more.

B; Do you use any kind of sequencing tools I.E cubase, protools or something else?

RM; I use an old Atari ST1040 with version 2 software.

B; So what's 'dumping to tape' at present?

RM; Right now I've been recording some new tracks with people like Triston Palma, Tony Tuff, Admiral Bailey, Lecturer and an unknown DJ called Brave heart - he is incredible. For the next few months I am going to record less and concentrate on working on the stuff I've already recorded but haven't finished. I've got some great Sugar Minott, U Brown, Anthony Johnson and others.

B; Do you record with these singers & other guests exclusively at your own studio?

RM; Yes completely. Originally I thought of going back to Jamaica to do some work but it's all a bit too stressy there and expensive too. So I just wait for people to come to my place and I can control everything a lot better. I've got another Jah Mason and a Future Troubles, they were done at G. Vibes in London but they were voiced over two years ago now and I am unlikely to use a different studio again.

B; How & when did you get started in music?

RM; I'm a child of the punk era and the ethics I learnt then are still at the heart of my music now. I believe in experimentalism and producing music that has integrity and worth and stands up for being what it is. I don't care to follow fashion or be part of any "scene". I taught myself guitar at 13 years old and formed a punk band called The End, which was when I was growing up in Edinburgh. My favourite bands were the Sex Pistols, Damned, Clash, Alternative TV and Ian Dury and the Blockheads - those guys rocked! I played my first gig when I was 15 in a band called State Oppression, that was in 1980 and we played support to the Angelic Upstarts. A year later I had lost interest in being in bands and I lost myself in 60s Soul, Hendrix, The Beatles and garage psychedelia. I arrived in Bradford when I was 18 in 1983 that's when I really got into reggae heavily and I started playing on sound system in 1986. It wasn't until I was 29 that I finally made my first record in 1994, which was Koyaanisqatsi.

B; How many of Koyaanisqatsi did you press? I've heard that's worth a bit now.

RM; We pressed 1000 copies on white label. Apparently it sells for about 20pounds now.

B; Did you send a copy to Philip Glass?

RM; No, it was just an underground thing.

B; The Koyaanisqatsi 12 inch & your next couple of releases came out on Soundclash Records. Whatever happened to them?

RM; I left Soundclash at the end of 1994. I didn't like the way the other people involved were working. I found it was all very false and superficial and people ended up believing their own hype. After two 12"s I had, had more than enough so I went back to my Third Eye Music label and it was one of the best moves I ever made. Like everyone else from the UK roots scene, we didn't have deals so we just raised some money and did things ourselves. With Soundclash, I was caught up with the club and the records just sort of happened. But I had already put out Dayjah's first album so I had my imprint already there. So I just put my stuff out on Third Eye and recycled the Soundclash City Rockers EP tracks onto some Third Eye CDs. Koyaanisqatsi still remains an elusive piece to track down but the main cut did come out on the Third Eye Dimensions compilation in 1997.

B; What's in store for The Rootsman in terms of future projects & releases?

RM, Right now I'm really focussed on my new productions and I have been very prolific over these last two years. So I will have some new EPs out soon, and then a follow-up to New Testament. Most of the album to follow that one is in the can too! I also have an album with Muslimgauze still to release. I will also do an instrumental/dub set at some point also. I'm also planning on doing quite a lot of live shows to promote the new album. I think that's just about enough to be getting on with right now !!

B; So it looks like it's ever on & upwards for the man they like to call The Rootsman. With one foot always planted firmly in the Roots/Reggae tradition there really is no telling where this most adventurous of U.K dubwise producers will take us next. One thing is for sure though, that whatever waters The Rootsman decides to charter next it's bound to result in more rare treats for our hearts, minds & souls as well as for our dancing feet. Here's to ya !!

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