Interview with Caleb Hart
12/04/2016 by Gardy Stein
Whenever music touches us, it's pure magic. Caleb Hart, charismatic artist and leader of the band Tasman Jude, is one of those who deliberately uses his skills to enchant and enrich other people's lives, especially those of the young. When the band went on an indefinite hiatus a few months ago, he concentrated on his solo career. As Caleb Hart he is recording, performing and, yes, touching people. Reggaeville asked the artist about his upcoming Christmas EP White Diamonds, his take on the Maad Sick Reggaeville Riddim and his involvement with schools:
Where do we catch you?
I am in Tobago right now. Home! This is the house I grew up in, my entire life, before I moved to Canada seven years ago. That's where I live until today, Western Canada, Victoriaville.
Are you home for a visit or do you have shows?
Yes, I did quite a few radio interviews and then I have shows. Last week I did three radio interviews/ performances, the whole hour was designated to me which was really amazing. And then I did a concert at Queens Hall which is a very very good venue in Trinidad and then I came back to Tobago yesterday. I'll teach some guitar lessons tomorrow and then on Friday I will do a whole day at a school, so there I will do some workshops and then a concert for the students. And then I'll fly back to Trinidad next week and do some more shows and interviews, and then I'll head back to Canada, to Toronto, Ontario and Montreal to do a few shows, so... it's busy! But that's a blessing.
I just take you up on this school thing... it seems you are doing that a lot. What exactly do you do and what is your motivation behind it?
I feel like, as musicians, quite often people don't really know who we are. They get to see us on stage, and, yes, maybe we are amazing, and maybe we are talented, maybe we are the best performer they have ever seen, whatever. But who are we? Who am I? Who is Caleb Hart? What motivates me, what inspires me, what have I struggled with, what have I overcome? What do my visions look like, what do my dreams look like? And then I'm letting these children know that I used to be just like them, I was in their exact spot! I had my little school uniform on, being told what to do and hating the teachers... (laughs). You know, all those things, all these realities that teachers can't say and a lot of people are scared to say, I go in there and I kinda let them know, kinda like a big brother, 'Hey, what's up, we can talk about this!' and then I try to inspire them through my life, through music, faith in God, and things that inspire me through the things that I had to overcome, whether it was while growing up here or as an adult in Canada, whatever it may be, you know, you name it. You name the struggle and just the fact that we can overcome and that music helps bring that hope to people, and then letting them see an insight into my life, like when they say 'Oh you played so many shows and you have so many songs, you've been here and there', and then I say 'Yes, you can do that too, and it doesn't have to be just music, right, anything that you want to do, just make sure you center it in love and then you are good to go! That's why I do so much of it.
Do you sing for the kids as well?
Oh yes, I use my music to introduce me... if they don't know who I am, you know, you steal their hearts a little bit, you warm them up and show them, that's what I do, this is who I am and then you say 'Hey, can I talk to you guys for a little bit?' and most of the time they go 'Yeah!' I try to do questions and answers as much as possible, because we can talk a lot, but then maybe we don't hit the topics that they want to talk about, you know. You might have come with an agenda in your head that you have to let them know this specific thing, but then if you go through with this agenda and they didn't get to ask a question... you may literally infiltrate their brain zero, you may not get anything, so I like to ask 'Does anyone have any questions?' And sometimes they try to go off topic and ask 'What's your favourite colour? And I say something like blue and purple mixed just to make them giggle and then I say 'Hey, let's try to stay on topic!' and they all agree because they know I'm not like 'Are you seriously gonna ask this question? That's so stupid!' or whatever other people respond, I try to keep it on order cause we only have this certain amount of time.
So how do you set this up, do you contact the schools or do they contact you?
Sometimes if I know I'm going to be in a country or a city, I may contact the schools, but quite often the schools contact us 'Hey you are going to be in Australia, I see you are in Brisbane on that day, do you have time before the show, I would love to invite you to school!' In Trinidad and Tobago I know the schools, because in the Caribbean we are a little bit more relaxed about a lot of things. They won't necessarily reach out to me, whereas when I reach out to them they are like 'Really, you would come do that for us?' And if I can I do it. If they want to give me a financial honorarium, I take that, but I don't charge them. Let the festivals take care of that (laughs). I'm inspiring the next generation, you know! That's the reason why I do it, but if they wanna pay me I take it because bills have to be payed same way.
Do the kids get back to you sometimes?
Yes. I try not to add them as friends on Facebook and stuff like that because that's kind of tough if you have played for hundreds of thousands of people, and then you can only reach a certain amount, and then maybe they will be like 'How come he is your friend and I'm not?', all this, you know, but I have my Facebook page and Instagram and whatever, and a lot of times I get messages like how much I inspired them. It's probably been hundreds over the last three or four years, hundreds of messages... I've had some serious ones too, like one said 'You came to my school today and I had a suicide note in my pocket, and I didn't end up killing myself because you gave me hope.' those are the ones... I mean, they are all amazing, but the ones where you know that you were used to somehow save a life - Wow, what do you say to that? That's the coolest part.
I read a post on your Tasman Jude Facebook account asking people what made them touch on Reggae, and a lot of them responded 'I saw you perform!'
I know, a lot of people say that. Because for the most part, neither me nor my band Tasman Jude is known around the world in a grand scheme of popularity. We are known by a few people, but when you think about the fact that we have been an introducer of Reggae to thousands of people... and that are only the ones who comment, imagine those who haven't even seen the post! It also happens and it blows my mind, because I have talked to people after the show and they were like 'Wow, what do you call your music?' and I go 'Reggae! Bob Marley, you know?' and I namedrop, different generations and I try everything, and they are like 'Oh, no, I never heard. But I loved it, can we buy a CD?' and I'm like 'Wow, that's incredible!' I don't even know how many other Reggae bands and artists can say that because of the locations we started in and the places we tour, and then again we go into places that the average Reggae artists don't go and that's ok, because everyone needs it.
How do you manage the challenge to have a band and also perform as a solo artist? Like right now, you are in Trinidad and Tobago to perform as Caleb Hart, right?
Tasman Jude did 525 shows since 2013, and I'm the only member that did all of them. Me and the guitarist started off and then we added a bass player and he left and then we added a different bass player and he stayed on and then the guitarist left and we got a different one, right, so out of all that I played all 525 shows with Tasman Jude and no one else did. And then I played another 100+ as Caleb Hart with a band, that's kind of how we do it... they are a full Reggae band with drum kit, saxophone, electric guitar and bass, whereas Tasman Jude has African Drums, acoustic guitar and bass, so it's a little more stripped back and easier to tour with (laughs). But then last year around September I just had this realization that I needed to branch off and do some solo stuff, so last fall we took a three-months break from Tasman Jude and I launched I Am Caleb Hart. I've been doing music before Tasman Jude as BraveHart, but of course Tasman Jude is the name that I was known for most and I kind of realized that people had gotten so accustomed to me on stage, to this great performer, that... I wouldn't say my message and who I am wasn't put across, but it was being watered down. So, you know... the more popular you get, the less intimate you can be with a crowd. That's how it just seems to be. But when I was in Australia either last year or this year, Ed Sheeran sold out stadiums by himself, and when you go to an Ed Sheeran concert, I don't think you feel disconnected to him at all! I haven't been to one, but I have looked at videos and I felt as if I was there. He managed to somehow maintain his intimacy and his transparency, like 'Hey, I'm Ed, nice to see you!' while being world famous, one of the biggest acts of our generation at this point. I mean, not that this is my desire, but I looked at that and I want that to happen, no matter the size of crowd that I'm playing for. So that's when I decided that I really needed to go solo. With a band you have lots of different people, opinions, decisions to make. You could want to stay at a hostel, the other one wants to stay at a five star resort, you could wanna eat curried food and one wants stewed food, I mean that sounds... that's just the basic stuff, but when you have a hundred of those things... four of you are touring left, right and centre and you have been on the road for 3 months... that's tough!
So I figured I wanted to take all the music that I've written and produced and add to it. It's funny because over the years I would write songs that I knew were not meant to be Tasman Jude songs. I didn't know why because I wasn't planning to start the I Am Caleb Hart thing, but I would be like 'Ah, I think I need to save that one.' So now I have almost 2 full albums worth of Caleb Hart music that no one knows (laughs). I have all this new content and maybe I will have three features on EDM tracks and Pop tracks and Soca songs, it's a multi faceted thing. As a Reggae vocalist, and not just a Reggae vocalist but a vocalist that loves Reggae music, therefore I wanna push Reggae music and take it and put it in as many things as possible to make Reggae even more popular, you know. But it will never compromise my consciousness, I will never change who I am through that genre. Does that make sense? And part of the reason I fell in love with Reggae is because of that consciousness. It's a love spreading, joy spreading, freedom fighting, injustice abolishing genre, so it's more than just a type of music, it's a way of life! So, yeah...
Does it mean you are still on break with Tasman Jude?
Last year we went on break but then we went back on tour from December 29th last winter, but we were in Australia so it wasn't winter, until September 2nd. So for nine months almost straight we were on tour in Australia and Canada, then we went out to the States and recorded the Gold album which was released in August and then at the end of August we decided 'Yes, we are going to take an indefinite hiatus.' The founding guitarist Al got married... you know, just life stuff, life stuff happened.
With Tasman Jude, you did Green, then Gold. What about Red now?
What I figure is that... Gold only came out three months ago, so everyone just needs to calm down (laughs). A lot of people ask me, and that's the only answer I have. But I know what you mean, and that is something that is constantly on my mind and on my heart. I've spoken with our bass player Derrick about it, it's on his mind, too, but it's just not a priority right now, at this particular moment... not on top of our list. It's definitely on our list, it's higher on my list than on anyone else's, because if I set out to do something, I'm a guy that wants to get it done. If Tasman Jude... if we never get back together, I'll probably still record a Red album as Caleb Hart... who knows. Maybe I'll call it Tasman Jude's Red... you know, it's not gonna be a multi-million-dollar event, right, it's for the family. Maybe I'll spend a bunch of money on it and then do it for free!
The Music Heals Foundation that you support with the Gold Album, what do they do and how did you get contact with them?
Our manager Andrew Jones from Checker Gold Media, he... before we started the concept albums, we had a very specific goal. We wanted each album to give back to some charity. As usual, it's not for publicity because we barely tell anyone. We tell the family so that they can know that their money is going to something more than just a band you know. Anyway, in Green we donated to Tree Canada which gave a dollar for each album to planting trees in Canada in the most needed areas where deforestation has been happening. So, it worked out really well with Green because it was about trees, right? Gold, the chorus of the title track says it all. But what we find with Music Heals Canada... we knew about Music Heals, we knew they existed and we high-fived each other at shows and stuff, but when our manager gave the premise I was like, 'Guys, it's all about calling out the gold in you!' that was the entire premise of Gold. The album, that worked really well because music heals and what good is healing if you not gonna take that healing and then live your life according to it, and not just be healed and sit down on a couch but heal spiritually, mentally, emotionally and physically. So it kind of all made sense. We had different charities lined up, you know, like where we all spoke and chose, but then we came to the conclusion that Music Heals is the one. They've been doing phenomenal things. They do this thing where like you donate your iPod and they load it up with inspirational, only uplifting music and then donate it to music therapy sessions...
Respect for that, it's really nice to give back.
Absolutely, it's not even a question. It's all about giving back, because we couldn't exist if people hadn't given to us, you know... it's not so much even giving back as it is giving as well, you know. Taking some of your money and passing it to the side as well.
Let's talk some more about your solo career. I heard you on the Maad Sick Reggaeville Riddim which was released in summer...
It was amazing. Julian sent me a message on Facebook one day and I was kind of shell-shocked to be honest. He made it very clear, his intent, like 'Hey, we have this thing and I want you on it.' Of course I knew the Reggaeville Riddim, I mean I had been listening to that for the last two years or when was it, 2014? So here he was, Julian Schmidt from Reggaeville messaging me about riding the 2016 riddim just as I am in the process of starting my solo career! Of course Tasman Jude has never ridden a riddim because we write all our songs from scratch. But of course, growing up in the Caribbean, I also wanted to do it and it always worked so well, but it actually took me a while to message him back, because it was I think in January or something and I was either headed to Australia or in Australia and we were busy man, we work hard, and I do all the social media, a lot of the publicity managing, the work is non-stop. So I took a while and I was very sporadically messaging him and then I told my manager, for some reason I didn't tell him before which is weird cause I tell him everything, so when I did he was like 'What bro, that's amazing, your work is paying off!' And I thought yeah, right, but can you talk to him because I am so busy I want to focus on this. So he did and he sent the riddim and immediately when I heard it, I was like 'Yeah, I'm going to slay this track!' I just felt it, you know. Like, you could have a good riddim that you don't feel, does that make sense? But I was like I felt that riddim, you know. And I think I wrote this song in half a day, like it was drrrrr it came out. And when it was time to record it, I actually only had 45 minutes, so everything you heard, dead serious, every layer and so, I did in 45 minutes. So, for me, I wanted to work a little bit more on it and get some higher harmonies and... you know, craft it into this masterpiece. Unfortunately I didn't have the time because again I was just so freaking busy, but when I heard the finished product, I was satisfied. They took it, they mixed it well, they mastered it... as an artist, I would have preferred to spend more time on it, but I didn't get that opportunity, and that's ok because they worked their magic on it and it came out sounding all right! And just last week I recorded a music video for it. And literally, if you had called me half an hour earlier, I wouldn't have gotten to see it, but I just looked at it, the final draft, so it's finished.
Really? When will it come out? What is it about?
The premiere is scheduled for November 30th [Watch it below!] It's filmed a 100% in Trinidad & Tobago, by Youngest Veteran Film, he is a local film maker and I wanted to support local crews. And my mum, my mum officiates weddings ok, that's what she does for a living, and my mum actually did his wedding last year, this guy, she married him to his wife, and before that I was thinking I really need to work with Wayne from Youngest Veteran Film, when I saw him I really wanted to work with him because, Damian Marley is my favourite artist of all times, and he is this guy's favourite artist of all times, too. And then it just worked out really well and then I came to Tobago and before I came I messaged him saying 'Bro I have a song I believe in and it's on the 2016 Maad Sick Reggaeville Riddim' and I gave him a draft and I sent it to him and he was like 'Bro, this song is good!' So it's kind of like an introduction to Caleb Hart. It's letting people know where I am from, who I am and again what I stand for, what I believe in, and the song of course, Always Remember, is very evidently, I don't hide my message, I'm very clear about what I believe in and who I am... I think... oh I can't wait until you guys can see it. It came out really well.
Looking forward to that. Now, how did you come up with the idea to make a Christmas EP?
I blame my manager (laughs). He is 100% responsible for it. He's not usually a manager who tries to dictate what I do, like, ever, he lets me express my creativity and be me as an artist and then helps me of course manage that. He does his job so well, I love him, he's amazing and I couldn't be here without him, and he's just been bugging me for a Christmas EP for three years now. And he wanted this like Reggae Christmas EP, like Reggae Reggae, you know, and I was like, 'Grow up man, No, just No! I love Reggae, I actually really enjoy Christmas, I really love music, I like EPs, I'm NOT doing a Christmas Reggae EP!' He just bugged me every time in like September, he'd be like 'So am I getting this Christmas EP?' And then last year he asked me 'Well, can I get a Caleb Hart one? It doesn't have to be fully Reggae, you know! Do it Island Soul!' because that's what we call it. And I was like 'Bro, get away, just no!' And then during the summer being here, I remembered this song that I wrote six years ago, a bit after I moved to Canada, the chorus was White Diamonds, so it turned out to be called White Diamonds, and I wrote this on the piano. I don't even really play piano but I write a lot of music on the piano, so I can hold my own, so I wrote this chorus while I was driving on tour that summer from festival to festival and every once in a while I would just go like (sings) 'White Diamonds...' and it just kept popping into my head. And I wondered why the heck is this one coming to my brain because, trust me, I have a lot of songs! and I never listen to my own music, so I was very confused, and then in September, as usual, Andrew was like 'Christmas EP coming this year?' and I said 'You know, I think yeah, let's just do it!' and he was like 'What? Really? I'll talk to the producer!' and I said 'But, I have one song that I wrote, other than that I will do covers and I'm not doing Reggae! Meaning I will not do this one drop and just singing nicely over... no, kill me now.' I am glad you agree because... it's just no, not. So anyway, as you can tell by the EP, I put my island flavour into it but it's not so islandy that it sounds cheesy, and then again it's not too cheesy either.
Yes! And it's not so Christmasy that it makes my toes curl, so it's really cool. I mean, I don't know how Christmas is celebrated over there, but here in Germany it's just too much and over the top. You know, they start in September to put the Christmas candy in the shops and in October with advertisements all over and in November the decoration and Christmas songs, and every time I hear Wham's Last Christmas I just want to run away... and I was happy to hear that there is not too much of all that in your EP.
I'm glad. That's exactly what I was hoping. I hope it will satisfy the ones who wanted Christmas and then satisfy the ones who were not really looking forward to it, just enough to like it. And just like with the Angels You Have Heard On High I did that in the studio on a loop station so when you hear that (beatboxes), I looped that, and I did the second voice (beatboxes again) and looped that again, so if I had done a mistake I would have had to start all over again from zero. So that one, you know, it doesn't have that magic to it because live would have been cooler like 'Oh he's doing that all with his mouth!' And I know you know that with the EP but then no one knows that I just recorded it (laughs)
Where will you spend your Christmas?
In Victoria. My mum is actually coming up for Christmas, so... it's gonna be six of us!
And what are the plans for the new year?
I'm gonna be working on a Caleb Hart EP, not Christmas, from January, slated for summer 2017. It will be like a real introduction to who I am as an artist and stuff, so...
You should come to Europe! Have you toured there yet?
No! I really want to, I have not come to Europe yet. It's crazy but it'll happen. I'm not really rushing it, because I'm busy everywhere else, but I really look forward to it. You guys just keep spreading the word! (laughs)
Wait til that Christmas EP drops! I mean, a lot of people in Europe really like Christmas.
That's crazy. I mean, I like how the song White Diamonds turned out, so I'm curious to see what will happen. Oh, and here's another one, since you did the album review for Gold... you know that song, Western Culture, it was meant to be shitty. It was meant to be a farce! It was meant to make people listen to the idiocy that Dancehall is becoming.
Ok! And I was wondering... because I really liked the album, and then there was this song and I though 'Well ok, maybe that was their try on Dancehall...'
No. Trust me, I can do Dancehall. But that was the exact point if you listened to the lyrics... which you did obviously, because you mentioned something like 'Despite Caleb Harts strong lyrical content…' or so, but that was exactly the point, like 'Guys, you are listening to a beat and you are dancing to this beat and dudes are talking about belittling women and all these things... and you just don't care cause it's a good beat!' So I put a cheesy beat behind a lyrically driven song on purpose to annoy people.
(laughs) You succeeded with me!
I know. When I saw the review, we were like 'Yes! We made it!' and, you will not believe this... out of all the songs of the album, Western Culture has been called people's favourite the most.
Dead serious. And that's something I don't understand... but that's because I'm appealing to an audience that is listening to my lyrics, which makes it very easy to transition to Caleb Hart because people are eager to hear what Caleb Hart has to say which is awesome because I know that it is a good message, you know. So it's really cool to hear... I came back to Trinidad and Tobago and they know their Dancehall, you know, it's the Caribbean, and everyone was like 'Man, that fifth track on the album...' and I was like 'What?' 'Dead serious. Like you did the rapping and this...' and I was like 'Ok, awesome, but... you like that?'
I'm happy you tell me this because I was really wondering...
Don't worry, I'll probably drop a Dancehall track, a proper one, sometime in life and you will be like 'Oh, he can do it!' (laughs) No, but I really wanted... it's almost like making fun of it, like a farce, a joke, like satire.
All right. Thank you so much for the clarification and all the other interesting things you told us. Have a good afternoon!
Thank you too! Actually I'm going to drive to the beach right now and take the sunset.