Interview with ...
Michael "Coolie" Cooper


Penthouse is preeminent in the dancehall scene, thanks to its unique and recognisable sound. The sound engineer Michael "Coolie" Cooper has joined the label in its emerging period in 1994. He remains faithful to Penthouse Records and has fully participated in the development of this sophisticated sound for 15 years.

(December 2009 - penthouserecords.free.fr)

Could you please introduce yourself to those reggae fans who don't know you as yet.
I am from Portmore in Saint Catherine, Jamaica. I am 44 years old and young at heart (smile).

Who found the nickname of Michael "Coolie" Cooper ? What does it mean ?
It comes from my friends back to Jamaica, they gave me this nickname "Coolie". It refers to the indians in Jamaica because of their hair. One day, when I have just washed my hair, it looked like indians hair so I guess it comes from that.

When and how did you begin your engineer's career ?
I started in January 1994. I was introduced to Penthouse by a friend of mine named Stumpy who took me there. Everything I know I learnt it from the studios of Penthouse through to name a few, Dave & Tony Kelly, Steven Stanley and Andre "Rookie" Tyrell.

You recorded in Penthouse studios with some greats riddims makers like Dave Kelly, his brother Tony Kelly whom you talked about earlier and also Steven "Lenky" Marsden. Can you tell us a little bit more about them and the way they work ?
I think Dave is more on the hardcore side and does his thing like in the streets. He does most of his work at home so by the time he gets to the studio it's just to dump to tape. At the studio, he does overdub, voicing and mixing. So his work looks easier to deal with, and I just need do the voicing and assist on the mixing.
Tony would do a lot of mixing for Germain. He would come in and just mix anything he felt like. He is so easy to work with, he always shows you something and Dave too. He would also make everything so easy for you, if you didn't learn it was because you didn't want to. It was very nice to work with Dave and Tony.
Steven "Lenky" Marsden is a musician who works like crazy, he knows exactly what he wants to do, he always finds the right sound for that music. I think that he has this gift for music, can't take that away from him. I must say that I am happy that I got the chance to work with musicians like these men because it just makes you want to be in the music every time.

You have been working as a recording engineer of the most part of Penthouse productions, but also as a mixing engineer on some titles. Describe us these different functions.
They are two different things. The recording is working with the artist directly where you take the vocals of the artist. This can be long and tedious as well as short and spicy. While mixing involves equalizing, compressing separating frequencies and balancing rhythms. It is more complex and sometimes takes a lot more time.

Do you prefer to record new roots riddims or dancehall riddims ?
I really don't have a preference. I enjoy doing both so it doesn't really matter for me.

You worked for Penthouse in the new recording studio (6 Ballater Avenue) but also in the old one (56 Slipe Road). What are the differences between these studios ?
Slipe Road was more like how I had thought a studio would look like, with tape as in 24 track and 16 track machines. Everything was more on the physical side. For example, finding a tape you were working with was more complex than it is now.
At Ballater you can see that technology has come a long way. The studio is smaller and it's all computerized. Almost everything is easier to work with. If you can use the computer you are well on your way as the programs are all about navigation but you still have to know the basic engineering techniques, like what to listen to in recording and mixing. I'll say they are just different in the way of technology.

Can you talk about your collaboration with the engineers who work presently for Penthouse Records, Kevino "Bunu" Elliot and Shane C. Brown ?
We are working very well with each other. As for Shane, he teaches us a lot because he has been using the Protools for a longtime. So, now he gives us his expertise and so forth. At the moment, Bunu is the one who does most of the work in recording of artists, rhythms and mixing. I do the same but I go on the road as live sound engineer too, so I am not so much in the studio as I should. We get along well and we share a good working relationship.

Among all the singles you recorded for Penthouse, which ones are your favorites ?
I never really looked at that before because I think that there are so many good songs that I and other engineers have recorded at Penthouse. But if I had to choose I would say that Buju Banton's "Destiny" and Jah Mali's "El Shaddai" would be my favourites. I could go on but I think that those two stand out most.

What are the other labels you have worked with ?
When Penthouse studios were at Slipe Road, I worked with Shocking vibes, Madhouse and some independent producers that I can't recall.

What is Donovan Germain's singularity comparing to other producers ?
Donovan Germain is a more "hands on" producer. He doesn't only request what he wants but he also ensures that things go as specified. He is meticulous when it comes to his productions and puts long hours to ensure success.

You have been in the reggae industry for a long time. What is your opinion about the evolution of the jamaican music over these years ?
In my opinion, the music has not changed very much over these years. Although Reggae and dancehall are more widely recognized than they were 15 years ago. Back then many people would only associate Reggae with Bob Marley, we still have not made the breakthroughs we should have. Many Jamaican artists, instead of promoting the music, are hindering it based on the content of their lyrics, their mannerisms...

As a conclusion, can you talk about the last recordings in which you participated for Penthouse ?
My most previous recordings have been with Antony Cruz, Marcia Griffiths, Romain Virgo whose albums are to be released soon, along with other artists like Nikki Burt, Lutan Fyah and Richie Spice.


Coolie at the control [former Penthouse Recording Studio - 56 Slipe Road - 90's]