Interview with ...
Michael, please introduce yourself to those reggae fans who don't know you yet. How did you start your musical career ?
Well, I've been involved in music for what seems like my whole life, since I was around 4 and started going to Prep School I've been singing in the choir or playing some kind of instrument. I got really involved in semi-professional theatre while in High School however, a group called Little People and teen Players Club. We eventually formed another group called Ashe Caribben Performing Arts Ensemble, and I toured with this group doing theatre, folk and pop stuff. We toured the Caribbean, USA and UK. From high school I had been writing songs and after a few years in Ashe, I felt I needed to develop my artistry more, so I applied and got a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston and started studying there in 1996. There, I completed a dual major in Music Synthesis, which is digital production and sound design, and aslo contemporary writing and production, which is arranging and studio production. In My last semester at Berklee I was offered the opportunity to sing with the touring Ice show "Holiday On Ice" in Europe, with their show 'In Concert', the first Ice Show with a live band. I did that for three years. It was Great Fun !
What are your main musical influences ?
I grew up hearing a lot of country music Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Willy Nelson and Skeeter Davis to name a few. But there was also The Beatles, Bob Marley and ABBA, these were things my parents and my aunts and uncles would have playing while I was a child. Later on I was influenced by Peter Gabriel, Chicago, Toto, Vivaldi (I loved Vivaldi while I was in High School), Luciano Pavaroti, Buju Banton, Shaggy, Bach, Sting, Coldplay, Tracy Chapman and Robbie Nevil. But some of my strongest influences came from folk music Mento, Kumina, the Jamaica Folk Singers, also while on tour with Ashe we met a group from Egypt at a Folk festival in England and I was given some tapes with a lot of Rai and more traditional Arabic music. I was entranced since then Khaled and Natacha Atlas have influenced me a lot.
You have a certain smooth singing style. Were you influenced by other singers ?
The singers I imitated when I was younger are ABBA, Tracy Chapman, Aaron Nevil. I also had classical voice training, even before I went to Berklee, while at Berklee, I got more into Rock and R&B.
You sing on many different styles (reggae, pop, alternative...). Is your versatility a personal choice or is it aimed at reaching a larger audience ?
I don't even know if I'd call it a personal choice. I just love all these styles of music and i feel equally comfortable expressing myself in all the genres. What tends to happen is that my music becomes a hybrid of 2 or more styles, which is kinda different, but I love it. it might make some purists a little nervous, but I can't worry about their insecurity.
What part has reggae music in your life in comparison with other musical styles ?
Reggae is like a call home, a grounding home base. I'd expand it to Jamaican music as a whole though, so let's include the folk music and inflection. This music is at the centre, even in some of my songs that don't seem to be reggae, there are those who will tell you, the 'Jamaicaness' is still there.
At the beginning of the 2000s, you recorded 2 songs for Donovan Germain's Penthouse label. How did you get connected ?
Actually the connection was through my church. I had been away from Jamaica for about 8 years (going to college and touring with Holiday on Ice) and just got back. My minister told meand my friend Michael Holgate that Nadine Sutherland (who happens to attend the same church) was working on an album and wanted some songs. Donovan Germain was producing her album so we met with him and wrote two songs for her album. He liked what he heard and suggested I write a couple songs for myself on the riddims he was working with at the time.
You started working with Donovan Germain just when fewer productions were issued on his label. How do you explain this decline in business activity ?
Well I had only been back home for a few months then and had only just met them, so I can't answer that question with any authority. Not too long after though, he was moving the base of operation, the studio. We did those recordings at Slipe Road which has where the studio was located. He was moving the studio to Ballater Avenue with is where the record plant and rehearsal studio was. I recently visited the new studio at Ballater Avenue. It's now a Pro-Tools studio and it's beautiful ! So expect to be hearing a lot more from Penthouse once again.
What is Donovan Germain's singularity comparing to other producers ?
Honestly, for the most part he let me do what felt right to me. If the stuff I wrote didn't really feel like it was "in the pocket" then he'd say so. For the two songs I did, I was pretty much in the studio by myself with and engineer until I finished recording, he'd come in, have a listen and say : "ok ...change this or that".
You have co-directed the video of your second single for Penthouse (clic here to see the video). Can you tell me more about that experience ?
It was a very good experience. It was directed with my good friend Michael Holgate (we actually have a creative partnership called Joy Mechanics). We had no budget, but he has a camera and I did the editing. Some of the shots was just me with a camera; others, he was cameraman / co-director. I took the footage and edited it all at home. I like the way it turned out, makes me think "Imagine if we had a budget!!!???". We've done videos for friends of ours before and since.
As a musical specialist (you earned a Bachelor of Music Degree), what do you think of Penthouse label studio equipments and label productions ?
The new studio is awesome. It has a nice atmosphere and I'm eager to do some work there now. I have a small digital set up at home so I love to do pre-production stuff there or add stuff after a session. That wasn't so easy with the set-up at Slipe Road With the new studio, that will be a breeze.
Have you produced other artists yourself ? Do you have your own label ?
I dunno if I'd call it a label officially just yet. So far I've produced my duo/partnership Joy Mechanics, we have a few people we plan on doing some production work with, but it's in the works. I have assisted with vocal production with other people though.
You wrote songs for other artists as well and sang on recordings with and for Nadine Sutherland, Buju Banton, Assassin, Tony Rebel or Marcia Griffiths. Can you tell us more about these collaborations ?
While I was around Penthouse, I helped do background vocals on the songs we wrote for Nadine Sutherland. So Germain asked me to do some also on recordings for Buju Banton and Assassin. I think I also played viola on a track.
To conclude, what are your plans for future works ?
I hope to do more work at Penthouse, but my main thing for this year is the work on a solo album and finish a second album with Joy Mechanics. I started performing my own eclectic mix this year at the Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues festival and I hope to continue with more live performances.
DISCOGRAPHY ON PENTHOUSE RECORDS : |
- Breath Of Fresh Air (2003 ; Love me always riddim)
- Tell Me Why (2005 ; Pure Sorrow riddim)
listen to these singles :
For more information about Michael Sean Harris, check his Myspace
Michael Harris - Tell Me Why (video clip)