Doing this job definitely doesn't suck. Why do I say that? Because for the second time in two years, I recently got to spend some phone TIME with one of the world's greatest voices, and one of my personal favorite musicians, Bunny Rugs, vocalist with reggae superstars Third World. I'm still wearing a smile.
Rugs has just put out his latest solo record TIMEand within short order, it's become one of my favorite all-time records. I've been playing it steady for months on end and it's utterly phenomenal. Every single one of the 15 songs is excellent and Rugs has never sounded better. Check out our conversation.
antiMusic: I can't say enough about TIME, Rugs. I hate to make comparisons because I've been a fan of yours for 35 or so years and everything from Third World is just top shelf but I think this is one of the greatest things that you've ever been a part of.
Rugs: That's great news, my friend.
antiMusic: How long were you working on this album?
Rugs: It took a few years. A lot of energy went into it. I guess it was about three years. But some of the tracks were recorded even before that. Because actually there were about 30 songs that I could have used for the album. So it took me quite a bit of time to sort through those songs and try and come up with an album. Because I get frustrated when you purchase an album and you end up with only two or three songs that you can really listen to, you know?
And it was a deliberate attempt --- I tried really hard to do something that if you listened from the first to the last track, you don't necessarily have to skip some tracks to get to the next one. I remember albums used to be like that. I mean early records like we used to listen to like Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions, The Temptations, early Jamaican music, The Skattalites…you could put the album on without skipping tracks. And so that was one reason that the album was titled that because it really took TIME.
antiMusic: You've got a real array of sounds on this record. It's not just one style. How important was it for you to have a mix of different types of songs?
Rugs: I wanted to show the versatility of reggae music. Reggae music is very special to a number of people and it fits any situation. You can speak about any subject. Any topic. And you can flavor the music in any way so that it's still reggae but it's much broader. I think that some of those tracks on TIME can be played on Pop radio. That was deliberate.
I grew up listening to dancehall, easy listening, lovers' rock, root-rock reggae, instrumental reggae. My favorite music to listen to when I'm at home is dub music. Instrumental dub mixes. I love that. To me, that is the jazz of reggae. So it was deliberate on my part to show that you can really flavor the various rhythms and capture different audiences.
antiMusic: You used a lot of different producers, co-writers and mixers as well. Did each song demand its own producer or was it just from using different studios.
Rugs: What I did on this album was I reached out to different people. Like Mikie Bennett, Gussie Clark, or Dean Fraser who played a major role. But overall the entire album was produced finally by myself. How it would work…take for instance the song "Kurfew", the rhythm was produced by the Mikie Bennett. I heard the rhythm. He gave me permission to write a song. So I sent the rhythm to Richard Bell from Star Trails Records. He used to work with Anthony B, one of Jamaica's finest songwriters. And it all came together.
And that is why I tried to incorporate other people because what I find is that most writers keep writing their own material over and over. It's not attractive any more, people repeating themselves. So I reached out to these other people and even doing that took time because you have to wait. So what happened was, say for instance "Just Can't Deny", the rhythms were recorded in Tuff Gong Studios, produced by Dean Fraser --- background vocals produced by him. But the final production, I took a great role in that to make sure it was exactly what I was happy and satisfied with.
Sometimes you'll hear a song of yours playing on the radio and you'll think, "I should have done this or that, you know?" So I wanted this record to be whatever I wanted it to be.
antiMusic: You really tried to stretch out with your voice as well going to a falsetto in places and really pulling out the emotion in songs like "Solutions". Were you conscious of showcasing the voice moreso than say in Third World?
Rugs: I've had quite a few people ask me why I didn't use a dj or invite another artist. And there were two reasons for that. One, Third World's latest album, had 14 songs and most had collaborations with other people. And also I wanted to try and showcase my voice and different emotions and go with the voice to do some lower registers and try other thing in different songs. So I tried not to bore you with the end result. (laughs)
antiMusic: Of course, the material is strongly reggae-oriented but I'm getting a big Philly O'Jays flavor in places which was helped in my mind, I guess, by the line "Smiling Faces" in the song "It's Time". Were you in a Philly vibe while writing some of the songs?
Rugs: The Third World album Hold On To Love was produced by Leon Huff and Kenny Gamble and most of the songs written by them in Philadelphia. Then later on Gamble wrote "The Spirit Lives". I consider myself a reggae/R&B-ish kind of singer and not because it's me. I don't normally boast myself but I think there are very few Jamaican singers who have the ability to do that. I've spent a long time in New York City and Brooklyn. I was a taxi driver in New York for two years and that kind of stuff. And we grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Brook Benton, Nat King Cole and of course the early Jamaican groups, Bob Marley and the Wailers….even before it was Bob Marley and the Wailers….you look at their early records and you might think it was Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions. I mention Curtis all the time because a lot of people don't know how much influence he had on the craft of Jamaican singers and groups and music. Even Bob Marley's "One Love" was actually written by Curtis, or at least partially. I mean, my favorite singer is Nat King Cole…so yeah, there are lots of influences at play here. But that is the beauty of reggae music is that you can sing it any way you want to sing it.
antiMusic: Let's talk about a couple of the songs. The title track would obviously seem like an important one for you as you're always referencing the title in your online-posts. What's the message behind this song?
Rugs: It's TIME for change. It's time for us to move forward. Don't keep looking back. Don't be afraid to change or try something. If you're not happy in a relationship, don't find excuses to stay with it and just be unhappy. Move forward. Try something. Do something. And that's what the song was all about. Because there are obstacles and things that lots of people have been through that prevent you from making a forward movement and you cannot let that stop you from really trying. So I think that was the overall message of the overall album. Relationships….with your woman or your partner or whatever. Most men are afraid to express or tell our partner how important a role they play in their lives and what they mean to us. So what I was really trying to do on the album was at least encourage a feeling of hope and I think the album does that.
antiMusic: It seems to be a very romantic record also.
Rugs: Yes! Deeply romantic, my friend but in a very spiritual way. And in a very honest way.
antiMusic: And most people might think of a romantic record as being full of ballads but this record has that sentiment running through it but in a whole cross-section of songs, some that are not slow and dreamy and at all.
Rugs: Yeah, one of my favorite songs is "Bed of Roses". The average listener would have to listen to it for a couple of times to hear what it's really saying because a bed of roses sometimes is not what it seems. You have to be careful, you know? (laughs)
But I'm really getting some good reviews for this album. People don't just tell me that because I'm in front of them or whatever. It's a genuine statement.
antiMusic: One song that stands out because of its serious nature is "Solutions". What drew you to this song, which is one of the few that you didn't write?
Rugs: Yes, "Solutions" is one of the few that I didn't have anything to do with the production. I just supervised the final mix. It's a very special song. I was in New York for a few days a little while back and had a chance to play these songs and it really felt good. I like that song very much.
antiMusic: Yeah I was going to ask you if you've had much of a chance to play these songs live yet.
Rugs: Yes, I use backing tracks and have played a few times and the response from the audience has been amazing. Because normally most artists hate to do new songs because it's hard for audiences to grasp hearing them for the first time. They usually come to hear songs that they're familiar with. And the response for my shows has been amazing. I started with "Kurfew" and had to play it three times!! It seems that each DJ in Jamaica has their own song from the album that they want to play so people have been getting to hear a good deal of it.
antiMusic: "Kurfew" was written after an event in Jamaica a few years back. What can you tell us about the event and how you chose this song to record?
Rugs: Well, that song, I was told by the writer who is Richard Bell, was written by 14 to 15 years ago…the words anyway. But when I got that rhythm from Mikie Bennett, I sent it to Richard and he came back with the song "Kurfew". I added some words and put some different things to it. But it was perfect for what was happening with the uprising in Jamaica with Christopher Coke. And I'm quite pleased with the response that it has been getting.
antiMusic: Although the title track is so very strong, my favorite song still remains "Just Can't Deny". It kicks the record off and was one of the ones for your EP from last year. Did you know you had a winner as soon as you wrote this?
Rugs: On this record, I made sure that I loved all the songs. Whenever I listen to the album, I feel good. I'm satisfied. Whenever I heard the song, which was written by Richard Bell, I felt that the world should listen to what's being said here because it's a very deep love song. As a matter of fact, I have another version that was recorded by Sly and Robbie for that same song. And when I heard their version, it sounded good but I wanted to test another set of musicians to see what they could accomplish so I turned everything over to Dean Fraser to find the musicians and do the session. And when I heard his version I said "Yes" because it had the right energy. The Sly & Robbie song is beautiful and I think I'm going to write another song for that.
antiMusic: Of course, ending the record in fine fashion is "Land We Love – Jamaica". Sounds like a new national anthem if you ask me. When did the idea of writing a song about your homeland first pop up to you?
Rugs: Those words were written in the year 2007 and in March of last year when I was going through all of the songs, I came up on that song. But it was on a Sly & Robbie version and I just did a demo. So I went to the studio and it fell right in time with the 50th anniversary. So God moves in mysterious ways (laughs). But yeah, it's a beautiful song. I've had people write me and say they've never been to Jamaica and now they really want to go there. Jamaicans who live elsewhere and hear it, tell me they want to go back home. And I've been told that the video really depicts the people well.
antiMusic: Last time we talked, you told me that you wrote "African Woman" on a rowboat in Central Park. Was there any song from TIME that you wrote that was different than where you usually write.
Rugs: "Dat Feelin'" I wrote when I was in Australia. I was there a few years ago and some folks gave me some local music and it really blew my mind. I thought to myself that music really does exist world-wide and each country has their own great music. And I was inspired to write this song.
People ask me what my favorite song or favorite record is. And I tell them it's not really the song, it's what happened during putting the song together. For instance, I remember recording this record I was at Compass Point in Nassau and running on the beach, people cooking food….the vibes, you know? That's what you remember the most. Not necessarily the session but what happened during the process of putting the song together.
antiMusic: You said previously that you were going to be re-release your previous solo records. Has there been any work done on that?
Rugs: Yes, actually I'm working on two projects right now. This record and re-releasing an inspirational, semi-gospel record that didn't get the attention that it deserved. The team that I have working with me now are great people to work with. So I want to give a little TIME to that (laughs).
antiMusic: That's all the questions I have for you Rugs. Was there anything else about the record that you wanted to mention that I didn't ask you?
Rugs: Yes, there are two projects that I'm involved with now. Chain of Hope which is the Jamaican Children's Heart Fund. And I still want contributions for that. (www.chainofhope.org/) People can go on there and read all about that and make donations through there.
And I recently got involved with the Jamaican Alpha Boys School. This is a place that has turned out a lot of famous Jamaican musicians. It houses homeless boys and has been going on for quite a long time. I would really like to see a studio go in there because there are so many musicians there…drummers and young boys really ready. (http://www.alphaboysschool.org/) I encourage everyone to check out this school and donate if they can.
antiMusic: What does 2013 hold for both you and for Third World?
Rugs: Well this year Third World celebrates 40 years. We're looking to publish a table-top book and we're looking forward to touring to celebrate our 40th anniversary. And at the same time, with the album TIME, I'm looking to do some shows to expose that album. So it should be a very good year. A very busy year. After 40 years, some say you should retire but we're not there yet. (laughs)
Morley and antiMusic thank Rugs for taking the TIME to do this interview.
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