Interview: Gentleman - New Day Dawn
Congratulations on the new album! I really like it. The title is New Day Dawn. That could mean a new beginning, a new episode. What is this album in general about, and what is so new about this episode?
I think it's more a kind of development, than a new episode. But a new development is also a change. I think we're at the verge of change now, humanity in general is at the verge of change. We got some chances and opportunities that we never had before. That is something I feel personally, and when I look around and absorb the vibes I feel like things are just changing. Now we live in 2013, and we're still alive. We still exist. The Mayas had to finish their calendar one day. I feel like it's a time of challenge. With every new day dawn, every single individual, every human being has the opportunity to see things either through one perspective or the other. Often it's just a matter of choice with which perspective you go through life. Sometimes I have days when I feel like everything is fucked up, everything is messed up, and everything will end soon, there is no opportunity, no exit, and nothing. Then nothing is really changing, but on another day I feel totally different. So sometimes it's just a matter of choice, how you see things. It's this story with the glass being half full or half empty.
I was tired of bad news, especially in our environment, in the Western world. It seems like people are just talking bad and negative, and make everything seem worse than it actually is. We should be more thankful about life in general, about existence, about being a part of this whole thing. I feel like it's a new generation, a time of change. It is in our hands now to make a difference on this planet. There are some developments that really give me hope. If I look at the awareness of treating our planet. For example the rivers are clean again, the air is much better, the forests start to get healthy again. Those are things that seemed to be impossible back in the days, in the 80s and 90s. Smoking cigarettes is not cool anymore, to be a vegetarian is not exotic anymore. There are a lot of dictators, that have been kicked off their thrones in the last years. There is a revolutionary dynamic happening in the world right now. This is what I meant with the song Another Drama. It is about the Arab Spring, that turned out in the Arab autumn or winter, but democracy needs time. We need to be patient. The french revolution took more than hundred years. But I feel we're moving towards something better. That is my personal opinion. I'm very positive right now, and I wasn't always positive. I feel like we do have opportunities, we never had before. So this is actually the whole issue of the album, and the meaning of New Day Dawn.
Listening these words of yours now, makes me feel like this is an outlook or a look on things happening recently, but there are songs on the album like Memories or You Remember, treating things that happened to you in the past, processing what happened. Was that also playing a part?
Of course, there is no future without past. We need to earn our future. We learn from the past, and we don't forget the past. This whole issue about time: past, future, present... The only time when life happens is the moment, but we have to earn our future so we have to learn from the past. But I wouldn't say every song is on the same kind of issue. A song like Memories is a very personal issue. We all experienced it or will one day, when we lose somebody, but it's part of life. Being thankful about this person was the second vibe after this sad feeling, appreciating that this somebody was there. That's again a matter of perspective. Do I let myself down now the whole time? It's the same with Richard and Copper Cat. He said to me, he woke up one morning and said 'Enough now! I want to live on, because life goes on.' I cannot just let myself down the whole time, stop eat, stop sleep, stop talking to people, stop sing and write music, because some tragedy happened to me. Tragedy is a part of life. We're humans and we will always face tragedy. Everybody can fall down, but we need to get up, too. That's really an issue, a guide line through the album.
One thing definitely has changed from the past five albums to this one now. You produced it by yourself, meaning you are the mastermind behind it all.
Yes, and that's a whole new experience.
On one hand that surely gives you freedom to chose and say what you want, and what you don't want. But on the other hand, does it also create a bit of pressure to know, that this is all your responsibility now?
We play music, we don't work music. If it's too much pressure, than do something else. If I didn't feel ready to take that step, I wouldn't have done it. But I felt, that I was ready for it, because I knew exactly how I wanted my music to sound. I never had this vibe before, but this time I felt like I'm ready, I can do it. But no man is an island. Most songs happened at the piano first. I played the chords and came up with the ideas, then went to Ben Bazzazian and Guiseppe Coppola, my drummer, and we finished the ideas and completed the tracks together. I didn't do that alone. It's just that it's my music, every riddim is suited to me. That's a brand new experience. I loved a lot of riddims in the past, but sometimes I felt like the key is too high, the key is too low, or even if I loved the key and felt comfortable with it, I sometimes didn't like a sound that was in there. The more you grow and the longer you last in this business, the higher your expectation gets. This is something that I experienced, and this time I just wanted something that totally suits me. That felt right, the moment felt right, and it also felt right to do an album without features because that wasn't a plan neither. I finished 14 songs and I was listening the tracks, when I realized that the sounds are really round already, they really have a vibe, I can listen to them without getting tired. So there was this moment, when I asked myself who else could sing on this or that track, and I just felt that it's not needed this time. I liked the thought more and more of doing an album without features. This is a development, too. I wouldn't say that maybe in the future, I wouldn't do an album with Don Corleon again, or Bobby Digital. I love to work with producers. For me it just felt natural. Also developing my home recording studio into a professional studio with all the facilities and equipment. A dream came true. It took years until I reached that level. I just have to thank Guiseppe Coppola, the drummer of my band, who played all the drums, and who is the mastermind when it comes to producing. He helped me a lot when it came to completing the ideas, and gave me the strength in the moments of doubt. Same to Ben Bazzazian. These two guys, they're like bredrins that I work with every day. The three of us made this album together. It just felt different than working with 15 different producers in 15 different studios. It is more one thing, than with the albums that I did previously.
When we sat down for Live Your Life with Richie Stephens, we spoke about it being global and recorded in many different places all over the world. So has this album really just been recorded at this studio at your house you just mentioned, with Ben and Guiseppe, or how was it actually like?
G: The majority of work happened in my home studio. We did the drum tracks in Berlin. A lot of over dubs have been made in Kingston. Danny Brownie did a lot. I must say nuff respect to Danny Brownie, too. Me and him did two songs of the album: Heart Of Rub A Dub and Where Is The Love. It took place in different places. That's how we work nowadays. Shereita Lewis did a lot of backing vocals in Kingston. Nuff respect to Shereita, who spiced up the thing. Also to my wife Tamika and Treesha, who did backing vocals in Germany. It did happen in several places, but the majority and the main ideas and the red line was in my studio in Cologne.
You mentioned Ben and Guiseppe, also Danny Brownie, who you did most of the work with. Are there any other engineers or musicians, that you would like to point out, that helped you put together this album?
There are a lot of musicians involved. Danny Bassie did a lot of basslines. I wrote a couple of songs together with Daddy Rings and Jack Radics. Engineer wise it was actually Danny Brownie who did all the vocal recordings. Especially Danny squeezed the best out of me. He said 'You could do this better or put more energy in that, sing that line a little different, or I don't know about that lyric there, change it into that line.' There was a lot of guidance, because no man is an island. The definition of success is to have the right surrounding. This is where a lot of artists fail. A lot of artists can't succeed because of their surrounding. You need to have the sense and to know, who is good for you, who gives you energy and is not sucking your energy. That's the most important thing in the business to know that these people really give me something to live my dreams, complete my ideas, complete my vision. Nobody can't do anything alone.
Being the mastermind behind New Day Dawn, does it also make this album more personal, more pure Gentleman, more pure personally Tilman?
Definitely! I say that with every album (laughs), but I am growing. It's the first album I produced a lot by myself, that happened in my studio, where I put so much personal thoughts in the lyrical content. It is definitely the purest Gentleman album. It is the first album without any features. I really feel like I made another step and at the same time I feel more like I'm just a vessel. I always say that, I was just absorbing that energy . A lot of things happened in 2012 that didn't feel nice. It was a year, that wasn't too nice for me personally but also for my surroundings. There was a lot of sufferation and struggling. You can't compare one problem to the next, but I just felt a lot of pain in 2012. Out of that misery, out of that vibe a lot of songs came up. I was very happy, that God gave me the opportunity to vessel that kind of spirit into music. It felt more like a therapy. It felt so real to write lyrics about certain issues and put certain thoughts into songs. So I can say, this is real and there is a lot of Gentleman in it.
You never felt like you were putting too much of yourself out there in the public?
No, because if you think long term it's much easier to not play a role, but to say 'This is me, Tilman and Gentleman is the same person.'. After 20 years in the business I can definitely say that I can still find my distance to it. As much as I love it, as much as I appreciate the gift of making music and have the opportunity to see so many different places and reach so much people, I still know that this is my job, my profession. I'm a singer, I'm a song writer, and musician and this is my job, nothing more and nothing less. If you don't take it too serious and get a little distance to it, if you stay away from the hype, it is much easier to deal with it. People are not stupid, they know, when you mean something, and you don't mean it. I couldn't sing a song, write lyrics about certain issues, that I personally don't have an interest in. I couldn't write a song, when I feel like this is nonsense or this is not me. I wouldn't say all my lyrics are 100% autobiographic, but I can definitely say, that all the lyrics I write, are my personal thoughts, feelings, and that's why it's easy for me to stay in this. I don't have to switch.
With Live Your Life I asked you for your favorite song, and you said 'It's all killer, no filler'. Still I wanna try ask that question again for New Day Dawn.
(laughs) Imagine you have five kids, and somebody asks you, which kid is your personal favorite one? It is impossible to answer. I will never answer that question. I can only say, that this is the first album I personally listen a lot to. I never listen to my own music a lot, but this time I really listen to the album and I love it. Right now when we're in the rehearsal room, listening and rehearsing the songs, I feel so energetic. Every song reflects a certain mood. When I'm in a good vibe, in a happy and energetic mood, I couldn't listen songs like Memories. But when the vibe goes into a different direction that is really a song I can listen to. When I go to a dance now, I listen to Heart Of Rub A Dub. Every different mood has a song. If you asking me about right now, I just heard Walk Away. So Walk Away is my favorite song right now, and also Humanity's Glory, and then The Journey is my favorite one... but you know what? New Day Dawn is my favorite album.