Where do you start with someone like Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry? In his 50-odd years in the music business, the man known as The Upsetter has been credited with revolutionizing reggae, inventing dub, producing some to the finest records to come out of Jamaica and maintaining a creative output that beggars belief. Though he is now 75 years of age, Perry has made 14 albums in the past five years alone, as well as releasing a compilation album, 2007’s Upsetter Selection. The last decade has seen him work with a multitude of musicians and artists, from Sasha Grey through David Lynch all the way to Andrew WK, with his influence on dubstep and modern dance music (in Britain especially) being acknowledged through several collaborations with Vienna-based dub group, Dubblestandart.
With a new album in tow, Perry is coming to Ballinlough Castle, Co. Westmeath this weekend to bring his dub sound system to the Body & Soul Festival. Speaking on the phone from his Switzerland home, he is in fine form. “With me, life could not be better,” he says, “I’m looking forward to coming to Dublin (er… not quite, geographically pedantic Ed), to manifest my dub creation for the new generation. I love Dublin because Dublin become like my music. My music is Dublin and bubblin’ and dubblin’ and rubblin’ and tubblin’ and Dublin! A pleasure for Mr. Perry.”
There’s a good chance a large slice of the musical content of Perry’s show here on Sunday will be made up of tracks from his new album, an album seen by many as a recent career high, marking both his 75th birthday and his long-anticipated collaboration with producer, Bill Laswell, “New album is named Lee Scratch Perry, Rise Again. If you like it, you like it because it an experiment, an experiment in classical music.” The title rings with religious or spiritual overtones, though Perry explains them in his own typical manner: “When someone has a rise, and after they rise and fall, you rise again, and if you rise again, I mean, if you fall when you was risin’, if you was a rich man and you get poor, you don’t give up. If I was high and I fall and get poor, I refuse to stay poor. I will not stay poor, I will rise and get rich again.”
With his output bucking the usual trend by getting both better and more plentiful with age, the question of motivation and passion has to come up. How exactly does a 75-year old veteran stay energized? “I’m blessed. I am blessed, well blessed,” he says, chuckling down the phoneline, at once sincere and self-aware. “Blessed without limit. I am blessed with words, with no limits. I am blessed with sounds, with no limit. I am blessed by God, with no limit, to do things perfect for God’s children. To do things perfect in the eye of God and man and all God’s children and God’s angels. You just smile wildly and sing….” Here he breaks off into a song impossible to transcribe. There is something about pleasing God, then some lines about angels before it descends into a simple melodic humming and, eventually, a rich throaty laugh.
His positivity is infectious, with every sentence ending in a giggle. Perry is a man content, but still deeply motivated, “Well, the amount of energy I have, if I didn’t have a festival to do, then I don’t know what would happen. But I don’t think anything is impossible. I think I can walk on the sea, I think I can fly in the sky and I think I can walk on thin air. I don’t think anything impossible in my life anymore. I’m free from negative vibration, free from negative words, free from negative power.” So what is next for a man seemingly at perfect harmony with the world? “My plan next is to build my studio,” he says. “My next plan is to make sure my wife get our business going so I don’t have to go on tour so often to make small money. Zip out to my studio to make hit music. I rebuild my Black Ark studio and start making hit music again. That’s my plan, rebuild my Black Ark studio in my back yard.”
For those not familiar with Perry’s history, he burned down his own legendary Black Ark studio in Jamaica in the early ’80s, “to create a new one, a fresh one.” He is philosophical about it now, “Old things go and new things come, that is the way for all things under the sun, in the sunshine land in Jamaica.” The plan for the new Black Ark however, sounds like it’ll be a considerably different place from the original home of smoke-blown dub, “I’ll wake up and stretch, no alcohol drinking, no beer drinking, no cigarette smoking, no ganja smoking. Fresh air, pure air, perfect air. Perfect words, perfect sounds. No drugs, no alcohol, no nicotine. Let God smile while the angels sing!”
So, with time running out and his wife calling him from the other room, there’s just one final question before we go. What makes Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry happy? “Victory! Victory is my Lord God. I want people to know that Emperor Selassie did not die. He just escaped like the escape artists and people think he die but he did not die. And I come to Dublin to show you the type of music that will make you so happy. I come to Dublin to let many people know there is only one Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, the Upsetter. All your stress will disappear when you see me in Dublin. All your problem gone and all your distress will melt away. You be so happy. I know it. I can’t wait to have you in Dublin, rubblin’ and bubblin’, bubblin’, bubblin’ and tubblin’ and dubblin’, I can’t wait!” After this all-too-brief chat, neither can we.