an interview with Bluey
(03.14.2003 in Hamburg/Germany)
jnj: You've released your new album on your own Rice imprint and licensed it to different labels like Pony/Canyon in Japan. So, why have you released Who Needs Love in Japan first?
Bluey: Because with the Japanese I can guarantee a support that can not be guaranteed around the world. The Japanese have a different mentality and I've learned to appreciate that mentality and I've build strong friendships there because I'm a big fan of the way they do things in Japan...very professional but also they have that same collector's quality that I have. Take for instance, if there's a hit record in this country [ he's talking about Germany ] or in the UK, people may go out and buy the single they may even be prompted to listen to the album and buy the album. But in Japan if they like something, they will go straight to the album, buy the album and buy the whole collection by the artist because they want to know what this artist has done and they want to know the history. Which is great, because they believe in knowing the roots of something and then they will follow it all the way through. Once somebody has an Incognito album in Japan, 9 times out of 10 they would have all the other albums and they guarantee that, when the next album comes out, they will go out and buy it without any radio prompting as long as they get the message that it's out, they will go and buy it. Unless, the only time they will stop buying your stuff, is suddenly if you change your style so drastically and your message and your personality so drastically that you become someone who they really don't understand.
jnj: Talking about Rice, you've released an album by Inner Shade in 1998 on it. Will there be another Inner Shade album or was it just a one-off?
Bluey: There will propably be another Inner Shade album. I have plans and ideas but I just don't have the finance. Something like an Inner Shade album costs a lot.
jnj: What or who inspired you to do a house song with Morning Sun and the house influenced Where Love Shines?
Bluey: If you look at my background you'll know it. Most of the DJs I've used before on my remixes whether it be UK people like Tom Middelton, MJ Cole or whether it be David Morales, these are my friends. Little Louie and I've been mates for years. In my teens my great love was dancing. And as well as playing music I loved just putting my sneakers in a bag, getting my wages, getting on stand-by in a plane, go to New York, go to Paradise Garage and dance for a weekend. You know what I mean, get high, come back and get back to work on Monday morning. So for me, I'm not using remixes to get me more sales or whatever, this is part of my upbringing. Remixes are important for an Incognito project as the album itself, because that's part of my culture.
My son is a DJ, when we go out, sometimes we DJ together in small places. Dance music is a real big part of what we do. Then there is Bluey the musican and songwriter who wants to get his idea in a different kinda way. The two co-exist...there isn't like 'now let's try to get more sales'...maybe for the record company but it's not for me by doing remixes. 90 % of the people that do my remixes are people I know. Now and again there will be somebody whose name I know and I'll contact them and speak to them or via e-mail, like Osunlade. I don't know him but he did a remix recently for me, but I know his work. But most of the time I know these people.
I'm fortunate enough to pick up who I want to, people like Roger Sanchez would give me a break because we've been friends...slowly but surely I'm getting to know as many people I'd love to do something with.
Usually with Incognito there's not a big budget, I'm not a rich man, I don't life an opulent lifestyle...it pays the rent and it does what initially it was meant to be: allowing me to see the world and taking my message to the world. For me the whole being on this planet is a one time trip, chance of a lifetime thing. You only visit here once and when you're gone, you're gone. You're not coming back as a dog or as another human being. I know I'm here one time and my actions, what I see and what I take, my limitations and my groundbreaking work is done only in this one lifetime. It's up to you what you can do with it.
I've been infected by dance music and house music from one. I've got every Larry Heard record, all the Chicago deep house stuff, that's my record collection. I've got more house tunes than I've got jazz records. It's in there, because it's part of me, really. But I'm not gonna try doing it like Larry Heard, I could just switch on the 909 and go that route. But my whole sensitivity to music and my whole thinking of music is like it's a live thing. To understand that is to understand Incognito as well. Incognito was formed in 1979 to be a non-band. I've come out of a band, I didn't wanna be in a gang anymore. I wanted to be in a non-gang, non-band. So I formed UK's first soul jazz collective. Some may have called themselves a collective years on, but there has been no one who's actually followed through the idea of a collective as much as Incognito has. Because 25 years later we've used over 1400 musicians.
For the 25th anniversary I may just wanna invite as much as I can and book somewhere big and do some big spectacular at least one time in London and video it and put it on DVD.
jnj: How and where do your find your vocalists? Are there certain criteria a vocalist should meet to sing with Incognuto?
Bluey: They've got to be good. The other criteria required is not only with the vocalists...you gotta be able to function with other human beings. You'd be surprised how many musicians are great but can't function with other human beings.
jnj: How important is the US market for Incognito?
Bluey: Everything is important when you're taking a 13 piece band live, when you're not making any kind of sacrifice, when you know you're not gonna taking no sequencers on the road, when you know no one's gonna talk you into it, when you know what your idea is, when you know that you're not gonna suddenly not use a musician because your management is telling you or you're not depending on any musical styles that may be imposed on you. No one's gonna turn around to me and say 'Hey, Bluey, you really need to do it this way because that's the format we play on radio here. Where's the smooth jazz track, where is the contemporary pop song?'...it's like fuck that, that's not why I'm here for. I'm here to play music and to speak my language while I'm here. If two people like it, fine, if ten people love it, fine, if a hundred people like it, all the better for me. The music buisness is one thing, the business of music is the thing that I understand. The other thing is used to keep the business of music together.
You can't have a 13 piece band and try to travel the world without having a business sense. I don't have to get crazy about where the next pennies are coming from, because I'm making sense of something which could leave most people broke. Most people won't have a band this size because it's like commercial suicide. I've spent almost 20 years now with a manager that's still shocked by the fact that I carry such a big band. He still keeps asking me 'Bluey, can we make it smaller'. That's what he's there for but I know what language he's speaking.
jnj: Tell me something about the production work you did with Terry Callier for his Speak Your peace album!
Bluey: Terry Callier is one of those people that I just go out and buy a Terry Callier album when it's out because he's a poet, he's a soulful person, he's also a spirtual person. He has things to offer on all levels. He's a wise man. If there's a book printed with the messages of the Dalai Lama, I don't wait until somebody tells me it's good. I go out and buy it. If Michael Moore puts out a book that's gonna expose some of America's or the world's madness to me...I know the man from one piece of his work, I'll go out and buy it.
jnj: When did you first heard of Ed Motta? And what was working with him like?
Bluey: Ed Motta just turned up at the door. It was ten o'clock at night, I was working on a track and Ed just appeared at the door with his album in his hands saying 'I'm Ed Motta from Brazil and I got this album for you...Incognito influenced my music and I wanted to meet you'...and I was like 'please come in'. He jumped all over the instruments, he loves good food, good wine...we came back to the studio, had a musical conversation...and bang. Now I've just written a track for his album, next week I'll play guitar for his band in Japan, I'll do 'Bluey presents Ed Motta' so I can give him some of my fans.
jnj: Many musicians these days release their music via the internet only like (former Incognito singer) Karen Bernod, Sandra St. Victor or Julie Dexter. Wouldn't that have been a promising alternative of having your music released instead of handing it over to some major labels like in Germany again?
Bluey: I collect good memories. One of the most honest, most music loving people I've worked with is definitely Christian from Universal (Germany). The guys that put Motor together had great ideas for years. They know me as a person. Basically they told me we couldn't do Incognito for almost a year and a half now. I did the album, I recorded it, they still haven't heard it. They said 'Bluey, we've got our budgets, we've just moved to Berlin, we don't have enough to offer you what you need.'
I've finished the record and sent it to them, they've got it, they called me and said 'Bluey we love the album we wanna do it'. I said, 'Fine, just give my manager a call'...the same afternoon we were signed to them. It's a friendship thing, it's a love thing. This is not me signing to a major record company.
jnj: How do you feel as an artist about peer-to-peer and file-sharing networks KaaZaa or Grockster?
Bluey: People have been doing this for years with tapes. They have the ability of getting my albums...with that mentality you're doing that anyway, you're not interested in the album cover, you're not interested in supporting the artist. With those people it's like 'Oh, I've got this music, somebody burned it for me' There's no love to it. There are people that just go out there and take everything that they can. In certain countries I'm glad that it's available for them because they can't get the records in other ways. It's good for getting old catalogue and it's great for finding new things.
jnj: What do you think of the music scene these days? There's lot of great music available but mainly on small, independent labels or it's distributed by the artists themselves via the internet
Bluey: Good music has always been on small labels. Good music is always been struggled to be found, probably more so now because we live in a world where everything is getting too commercially. Everything around you now is like this. it's not just music...any thing now is a business. People are greedy, the bus services are not as good, because some greedy person wants to make more money, everthing around you is like geared to make money...lifestyle...radio stations play singular kind of music because they have to sell to that lifestyle to their age group...But it's always been like that, it's just now the world's become more like this, so it's gonna reflect in music. It has never affected me before, so why should it affect me now? These things are going on without me. I'm going to influence in some way, because I'm partly underground, the mainstream. The mainstream is never gonna influence me, because I'm too set in my ways. I know what I like, they don't know what they like. They have to be told what to have. People who know what they want are always going to find and people who know what they want to do in life are always going to look somewhere underneath something to find something of beauty. They know if you wanna know, you have to dig...it's not that you just pick it up on the surface. Some people see something shiny, but because it's on the surface they'll pick it up, because they think it's gold. I'm not like that, I know where the gold is, I know that you have to dig for it. You have to get your hands dirty. So for me what I do is I'm gonna look for that precious music and it's there. Dwele is in this world, D'Angelo and people like that sometimes get a break, but you're not gonna get a lot Jill Scotts and D'Angelos...it's like a few, there's gonna be more people trying to be them, there's gonna be so many people in pop that's taking an element of them but there's not going to be a lot of them. They come from somewhere underneath, they've been around a long time, they just surfaced. Now and again some of the good stuff will surface. But for the most part of it, it's gonna be underground. Take Spacek, they've been there for the last couple of years. If you wanna find it, you gonna have to look for it. Spacek is not blaring on the radio and on the television, but it's there.
jnj: Your song People At The Top addresses the issue of unemployment and the reactions people show towards those who have only a little. So your music isn't all about interpersonal relations. What do you think of musicians like George Michael who take a clear stand against war?
Bluey: (points towards the badge he's wearing that says 'Peace begins with me') Peace begins with me. I'm active. I believe that you can't change things if you're not willing to do it as an individual. If there's a march, I'll march, if there's a blockade, I'll blockade. If there's a place where I can send in e-mails and letters, I will. If it comes down to collecting petitions, Incognito's doors are open. I took 30,000 signatures to Jaques Chirac when the French were bombing the atolls only because I had the opportunity to do something more than others because I had a concert and I could say at the end 'please sign, let's put pressure on these fuckers, let's make them stop this shit'. People are more than willing. I have an opportunity which is greater than most because I have an audience. George Michael has an even bigger opportunity only because he has a bigger audience. But the thing is that comes down to it: Peace begins with you, action begins with you. At the end of the day that's why I'm on this planet. One chance, one time. What are you gonna do with it? Are you just gonna entertain and tell people to dance? Fine, I love to dance. I want to make people shake their bootie. But my kids have got to live with my actions or my non-actions. As far as I'm concerned, my kids and their kids are me. That's the way you live. You're not gonna come back as a cow or dog that's bullshit. When you're dead you're dead. You're not gonna wait for 'there's a heaven and there's a hell'. This is it!
And we have people right now who've cheated and lied their way. We've got the leader of the most powerful country in the world who is there by default. He didn't even won the fucking election. He cheated, he's a liar, he's a thief. He's a man that can't read. I don't mind people, who can't read. But if you can't read how can you look at the things they're putting in front of you? That's gonna affect some people in a land far away. If you can't read how can you make those decisions? How can you lead the biggest force in this world? With an idiot, who cheated to get there. And his family cheated for him. This is the world that we live in. And then we've got an idiot who has children like me, living in my country [i.e. the UK], who I gave my vote to...feeling like 'I want to be part of this great thing and I wanna be a great leader' but then suddenly he realizes he's in there. And even when we're marching on the streets and we all go out and we all say we don't want, he's listening but he can't hear. It's like 'but, um, I've already committed to this'. Don't be afraid to change horses in the middle of the stream! You can! You can't just say 'I've said red, now I can't say green'. That's bullshit! As a leader, you've got to be humble enough to say I've made a mistake. Because the greatest people in the world are the people that are not afraid to say I've made a mistake, that's the way you learn. But you've got fools there that say 'no, my mind is made up'.
You've got fools. We don't elect men of intellect, we don't elect men of wisdom. Otherwise we would have the Dalai Lama as world leader. To many people he is, but he's not gonna be elected. We need to elect better people. We need to do things within our community. I realize my insignificance but I also realize my importance. I'm here one time. The reason why I travel to so many countries is because I want to have as much of a say as I can, because my children are gonna go on living, if I do something not if I don't do something. There's gonna be no tomorrow, if you don't do something.
jnj: In the 70ies there were more songs with a political messages by the like of Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder or Marvin Gaye. Do you think these days it will come back that people will record more songs with a message?
Bluey: It's not just that, when you realize these were black men living in a society where their voices were very important, you needed to hear voices like this. Voting rights were only given to black people just a few years before those guys made those records, it wasn't that long before. They helped to change society in America. They were living in a terribly unjust society. Now many of these people take great, more worldwide courses...their courses in America were speaking for menkind as a large anyway.
When Martin Luther King said 'We shall overcome', I'm sure he wasn't talking just about the black people of America. He wasn't and if you think that he was, you're missing the point. He was speaking to the world at large, he was speaking for the oppressed.
Curtis Mayfield was as much a great speaker as Martin Luther King and as Mother Teresa was by his actions and what he did with music. Observation is a very important part of what we do.
Singing about the drug addicts. Someone like Neil Young singing Needle And The Damage Done makes you understand and reminds you of the drug addict and how that life is. Social observation is like conversation and sometimes we don't have enough conversation. But with music we have conversation, we have history lessons, geography lessons, lessons in humanity.
(for more information visit Incognito's website, Rice Records and Dome Records)