Lee “Scratch” Perry has a simple message: love people, love nature, destroy evil. His delivery, though, is not so simple. The reggae legend speaks in a fervent stream of tongue-twisting, half-toasting allusions to his vast body of work and personal mythology. Perry has long been characterized as an eccentric, and his oddball wardrobe and intense, unpredictable personality have encouraged this image. But his ostensible madness is perhaps what afforded him the liberty to indulge in endless experimentation in the studio.
Perry’s Black Ark Studio in Kingston was ground zero for some of the most important, progressive music to come out of Jamaica. On top of his own work with his studio band, The Upsetters, he wrote and produced tracks for Junior Murvin, the Congos, Bob Marley & the Wailers, and he helped invented dub. He also claimed responsibility for burning down Black Ark in 1979 when he felt it had been co-opted and robbed of its magic. Now he’s 75-years-old and still making music of his own, including collaborations with Diplo as well as the U.K. ambient house icon the Orb. Perry’s collaboration with the latter, THE ORBSERVER in the star house, was released August 28. SPIN spoke to the dub wizard at his “lab,” or rather, his home studio outside of Zurich, Switzerland. Or, more specifically, we listened. These are the lessons we gleaned during a long, at times incoherent, always fascinating interview.
Believe in the power of the spirit.
Well, the most thing I have that motivate is my spirit. My spirit and my soul. My good heart and my good God, and the heaven and the Earth and the sea and the sun.
Loving is the ideal.
I love everyone. My state of mind to make music is loving children, loving people, people who make music. Stress-conquerors. Music can conquer stress, and music can conquer distress, music can conquer sickness and music can conquer bad mind. Music can conquer bad, because bad is a part of life, part of the future. Drive out the sin, and anti bad. And here I am now.
I love reggae music because it is larger than sin and bigger than black. Blacker than black. Tougher than rock. Harder than sin. I can go back to the past, but my job is to conquer pa devils, conquer ma devils. I hate snakes. I am not addicted to snakes — I’m allergic to snake, I’m allergic to ache. I’m allergic to anything that is evil, everything that is bad. Bad is bad is bad. I am set breaker, and I am hell breaker. I am the total mind breaker. I am the one word maker, on God maker. Kill sin every time. Kill bad every time. I am the Upsetter. When the reggae raga bankrupt, I teach them, I warn them that I come back and punch them. I steal you, my music, and call it reggae. Reggae reggae reggae, reggae ragamuffin.
The drum and the bass are the key.
The bass is the brain, the drum is the heartbeat. When you get boom boom boom boom-boom, toof toof toof toof-toof, then you are in good health. That is the musical heart — the ones who lack a musical heart are vampires.
Look to nature to understand all things are possible.
I’m allergic to pain, and I’m allergic to strain, but I’m addicted to rain. Addicted to thunder, addicted to lightning, addicted to the stone, the mountain. At the top of the mountain there is snow, turn ice into snow and turn snow into ice. The winds start to fly, and we start to blow, trees start to grow, and children start to grow, rain starts to come, rain comes, thunder, lightning, and flash! Music. I give you music. I believe that nothing is impossible. I don’t believe in accident. All things are possible.