You don't simply interview reggae originator Lee "Scratch" Perry. You lob a question into the air and then step back and absorb the rhyming, ripened modules of thought he bounces back your way. The man tutored Bob Marley, for Christ's sake. He also invented dub. Conversing with him is like standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial, or shining a flashlight on Rio de Janeiro's Christ the Redeemer. Only from a distance can you begin to take in the scope of his work.
Throughout the 70-some albums to his credit, the 79-year-old Perry has explored many anomalous producing techniques. He's doused tape with blood, urine, and whiskey to bring out the fidelity of the spirits within the recorded sounds. He's buried microphones under a palm tree and banged the tree as a kick drum. He also allegedly defecated on the ground of his hallowed Black Ark Studio in Kingston, Jamaica, and molded the feces into a network of symbols. Then he burned the studio to the ground because he was angry that people were bootlegging his music.
Since 1980, he's been making solo albums as a vocalist with different backing bands in Kingston, New York, London, and elsewhere. The album he released last year, Back on the Controls, received a Grammy nomination. Perry spoke from his home in Switzerland. He was jovial and almost earthen. His laugh radiates warmth like a brick oven.
You are the man of the roots and the man of the truths. The upsetter, Pipecock Jackxon. Yes I am. Yow yow now now. Hello hello from the upsetter who doesn't upset anyone. Let's make a jungle gym out of ears.
How is Switzerland? I have comfort here. Not too much problem. It's like a second heaven.
Do you like the snow? Yes. The snow, it is part of my education. I love snow. I'm meditating in the North Pole. My two feet and my head are in the North Pole. I play supreme Spider-Man sometimes. Sometimes I imitate Spider-Man. He's my favorite.
I like Spider-Man, too. How many albums have you made exactly, do you know? I have made many tapes. Sometimes I made them to eat food. So I cannot count it. I'm glad there are people along the way who love the music, and if they feel it maybe they weren't hungry. Maybe they were people who had to steal food to stay alive. I can't count the albums. I'd have to have someone check with England, check with America, check with South America to know how many albums I have.
What do you remember about working with the Beastie Boys, George Clinton, and Keith Richards? How would you sum them up in one word? Brains. Paintings. I remember loving their brains. I love interaction with souls; they're like walking paintings. I don't just look at a painting; I go inside it and sleep there. Their brains fired more electricity than other brains. We have electricity in our brains. I'm glad I have known them.
You may have recorded the very first sample ever. What was it? Well the thing about it is, I'm the number-one lover of Jesus's words. I am a number-one lover of the Bible. My sample? It was the Bible. I believe in Moses's work, as well. I love things that are original. And words that are original. I love Jesus's words and I love Jesus's work. So the workings coming from the original. Jesus Christ's words come from the heart. The heartbeat is Jesus. Whether we die or not, the heart beats. I will never be an Antichrist. I cannot do that. [Pauses]
No, you can't. Right? He was a Jew. Maybe there are some Jews making a mistake about him.
Do you pay attention to American politics? Not really, because it's not real. If you choose the devil, you're in bad trouble. The politicians choose the devil to be their leader instead of choosing God. That is very sad. And it's too bad. There are other things those people should be doing, but they choose evil and greed.
If you could choose the president of the United States or the leader of the world, who would you select? Me.
You are a wise man, a holy music medicine man. Can you baptize me over the phone? [Laughs] My hands don't reach that far. If you put on my music, maybe it is my hands. Press play on the ocean, swim to God. Plug your ear into the wires that blast your brain to the satellites. Travel to me, we'll see.
The other main thing I wanted to ask you about was Shishkaberry's. The festival food with strawberries on a stick dunked in chocolate. Do you know Shishkaberry's? Yes. I shake the berries. Chocolate makes us go go go and smile-smile. It's the sugar. Shookah shookah shookah. I like the bread with powdered sugar. No more ganja for me. I am health. My lungs cry out for health. No more smoke for me, I promise. Only push-ups. I do push-ups now.
You produced the Clash. What do you remember about them? I remember they were playin' music too loud. They were playing instruments too loud. And there was distortion, which made it hard to help them. Then I got them to turn on their instruments not so loud. So they could hear each other and hear more melody. And see clearly. I do that for their money's worth. Turn down their distortion.
What music do you listen to now? To be truthful to you now with what I have to say, I have a spiritual vibration in me. I love soul music. And I love pop music. I love listening to Marvin Gaye. His voice is really lovely. I love angelic voice. Even though he was doing funny stuff, he sounded like an angel. He had angel ability. Otis Redding, too.
Do you like Miley Cyrus? You should produce Miley Cyrus. Yeah. When the time comes, it will happen. I like her style. She's a wild child. And I like wild people [laughs].
You have a strong heart. How do you stay so healthy and youthful? Is it the push-ups? Because I believe in my heart. My heart is lovely. Yeah, the push-ups. And my heart do some things for listening people. If there are problems, I ask my heart what is happening. Time. Roots. Time will tell. And my heart knows I believe in time. And my heart knows I believe in Jesus Christ. Whether Jesus is black or white. The words of Jesus, they are perfect for me. And the words of Jesus, they teach me. And the book that Jesus partly writes in Genesis and Revelations—the Bible—I adore it.
What's a verse of the Bible you've been paying attention to lately? My one is Psalms 1. Blessed is the one who does not walk with the wicked or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, they make fruits in season. There is mutual light in David.
A beautiful verse. I respect David. I respect King Solomon. I respect the line of King Solomon. And I respect the line of King David. And I respect God. All persons.
I respect Lee Scratch Perry. Thank you very much.