Interview with I-Octane
02/24/2014 by Angus Taylor
With his versatility in singing and deejaying, roots music and dancehall and every fusion in between, I Octane is arguably the complete package as a Jamaican vocalist. But being so many things at once presents a unique challenge to Clarendon’s Byiome Muir, who has dreamed big from the very start of his 30 years.
When I Octane was interviewed in the run up to his Robert Livingstone produced, VP distributed debut album Crying To The Nation he talked of himself as a brand as much as an artist. It was unusual to hear a purveyor of spiritual and reality messages so adept with the jargon of the marketing world.
Now as he readies to drop his more reggae oriented second effort My Journey, helmed by DJ Frass and distributed by Tad’s Record, he is keen to show that there is no contradiction in what he represents.
Angus Taylor spoke to an older, more reflective I Octane about his new record and how he approaches the balancing act of his career.
On where he is on his journey...
“I Octane is more of a mature individual in terms of how I view things from my perspective. It’s not just about getting the brand Octane out there by any means – it’s about getting the brand out there with substance behind it. It’s more like a worldwide appeal than just the local market. It’s not just Jamaicans alone. I want to tap into every market, every nation, every generation. That is why I wanted to go in the studio and do an album like this”
“You have a lot of Octane songs out there that people love. But I think for me this is one of my best works so far. It’s really a spiritual vibration in terms of music. It’s more of a worldwide appeal in terms of bringing a spiritual vibration globally”
On why he is working with DJ Frass and Tad’s Records this time around...
“Crying To The Nation was a great album. Robert Livingstone is one of the best producers in Jamaica. But I never got the opportunity to capitalise on that album in terms of my being there physically. The album itself was there but the machine behind the album was absent. I was to tour on the album but that never came through for me. To get the artist and the album in one sequence was a problem.”
“I am an independent artist and the previous company that was dealing with the album wanted to get the artist into a contract to move with the album. It wasn’t my vision to tie myself into a company. But Crying To The Nation is a beautiful album, Robert Livingstone is a great producer and I give thanks for that.”
On how My Journey is different...
“It’s more English oriented. It’s a wider appeal than the previous album. I have not just Jamaican artists on it. I have Gentleman, I have Ky-Mani Marley – that is a different outlook for Octane. I also have Alaine who is one of Jamaica’s greatest female singers. If you compare to Crying To The Nation, this album has a totally different melody pattern and power, the pronunciation is more clear, and it’s more of a soothing album. You can see growth within Octane. I did not write the songs on my own like the previous album. I have co-writers, with different ideas, so I can broaden my perspective and the world view.”
On why both albums were unified albums and not patchwork compilations...
“Each album needs to have its own identity. This is the reason why I haven’t saturated the market in Europe already – because I want to travel with a solid record. I don’t just want to do some club shows and cheat the business. When Octane is travelling it’s all about the product I Octane and not just come and try to scrape a few dollars here and there.”
“Plus I think whenever I’m doing a project for whichever producer – we all come together and sacrifice a lot of things and come to one conclusion that we have to invest time talent money into this album. So that even if the album doesn’t become the number one album worldwide, every individual that cops a copy can know that this is a great album. It’s not just a compilation with some songs you heard before where I put it together and tried to cheat the business. I’m not that type of individual.”
On his relationship with DJ Frass who produced My Journey and his 2011 hit My Life...
“I don’t have a whole heap of friends in reggae music because I don’t really like the “friend” thing. Because most of the time when we have a lot of friends we forget the aspects and the principles of the business and the music itself. In Jamaica when you have a lot of friends and friend out the business, people forget and take things for granted.”
“For instance when we have this interview at two o’clock then I am here from one thirty. But if it was like a friend thing then you might be an hour late and be like “Alright, Frass ah my brethren he nah go cuss” and we can start it out later.”
“But outside of being friends with DJ Frass he is a professional producer. He’s one of the hardest working young producers in Jamaica. He’s very annoying when it comes to work. He’s a man who’ll wake you up at five thirty in the morning when you’re supposed to have a ten o’clock session with him and he’ll annoy you to get the work out. But at the end of the day the end product is great. That’s what I like about DJ Frass is he’s an individual that pushes and pushes and he’s a youth that has dealt with a lot of trial and error so he capitalises on the time.”
On collaborating with Gentleman – and how he is like I Octane in not restricting himself to doing “just reggae” or just “dancehall”...
“People always have a problem with I Octane. Jamaicans always say “Octane don’t have an identity”. But it’s just that I’m trying a new path. I’m trying to create a new avenue. I don’t want to be an artist that’s stuck in one box. I can’t lie to myself and I am an artist who does both dancehall and reggae music and I am good at both genres. I described myself from the first interview I did as an “across the board artist” but in 2014 I just found a proper name for it. Octane is “the balancer” in music. I do dancehall and I do reggae. If I wake up today and feel like I want to sing some dancehall and yet I sing a reggae track I’m lying to myself. And if I’m lying to myself the people out there in the world are not going to get that true reflection of my frame of mind at the time.”
“I am not here to ridicule dancehall music. But the difference between the dancehall artists and I Octane is I try to keep my songs positive. So even if I do a dancehall song about a girl I keep it as clean as possible. Even if I do a dancehall song which is a gangster song I try to do it in a self-defence way – not as the aggressor, more the defender. That is my aim.”
On why there is more one drop reggae on My Journey than Crying To The Nation and whether reggae is getting more popular than dancehall...
“Both genres are doing well. Dancehall is the offspring of reggae music so through reggae came dancehall. You see, most Jamaicans have talent but not every Jamaican can sing. But they can deejay so who am I to tell an individual not to deejay? I am blessed that I can do both. So if anyone in the world is going to ridicule dancehall music they are contradicting themselves because it’s the offspring of reggae music itself.”
“This album is more reggae oriented but it has semi reggae songs on it which are still reggae for me. Just like you explained that Gentleman does something similar to this. These are semi reggae songs that give you a touch or a blend of Octane today.”
On whether he still aims for Bob Marley levels of success as he has said in the past...
“Bob Marley success is the ultimate. There’s no individual that’s going to try to undo or surpass or try to rub out what Bob Marley has already put into the system. So I’m not trying to make that comparison or trying to be the next Bob Marley. I don’t want to be the best artist. I don’t want to be the most famous artist. I don’t want to be the greatest or the most popular artist. I just want to be the best I Octane and there is only one I Octane. I don’t want to lose focus thinking about other artists. What I will do is comment or congratulate other artists who do something positive to the movements of reggae music itself.”
“To me reggae is the greatest or the biggest music worldwide but the market for reggae music is not structured properly. Everywhere I go upon the seven different continents of the world everybody knows about reggae music. Reggae is like football. Every nation knows about football. Reggae music taps into every market but we don’t have the proper infrastructure for reggae music. What Bob Marley had is proper people. Not just the artist alone but people who think outside of the box for the artist. So Bob Marley is a great standard for people to look at and draw from and learn. But you have you have to put your niche to that and bring out your own brand itself.”
On telling a story on stage in London of how he narrowly avoided being shot...
“That story is real. But that story is not about the aggressors. It’s not about the shooting. It’s about how people nowadays have to be careful who you bring into your circle. I used to have a group of people that I called my friends and when success came my way they felt like this particular person deserved and is supposed to get as much as you are getting. But I think real friends should appreciate what you accomplish in life whether they are getting a dollar from it or whether they’re getting anything from it, even just moral support.”
“One night something occurred where, if it was my enemy it wouldn’t have happened like that, because I would be prepared. Only my friend could make me let down my guard like that. Because it was a friend who called me and said “Yow, let us link up and thing” I wasn’t expecting something like that. I reached into an environment where other people were hostile against the I, but I survived”.
On how you shouldn’t take everything that he says on stage seriously, though...
“When you listen to an I Octane show it’s more like a storyline. Because most of the new songs I’m singing are not songs that people know. So if you give them a storyline and keep the story through it they will understand the context and where you’re going with the story. So that’s how I do my shows – from the first song to the end of the show is a storyline."
“I am an artist who always likes to keep the fans entertained and smiling. Some of the stories are drawn from personal experience or other experiences, things that occur around me daily that motivate the I to write. So I might say a story which is not a real story but is just something that pops up in my head at the time to keep the fans in tune with what I’m saying and to introduce the next song. So it’s not anything that’s attacking or trying to offend any individual or group or religion or culture – it’s just a storyline.”
On the Noise Abatement Act in Jamaica which last year affected one of his performances in Kingston...
“It’s a give and take situation. Both sides have strong points. Because reggae music is what put Jamaica to the forefront but the country itself, the government itself, they don’t embrace the music because, basically, they are saying they are not going to capitalise from it. But you have other ways you can capitalise from it in terms of tourism and all those things.”
“They are saying reggae music is making noise in residential areas and all those things but yet there is no infrastructure that can be put in that can keep shows. So for instance if I come to Europe we have stadiums and venues in place where it won’t affect anybody. You don’t have that in Jamaica and so the music has been getting a fight.”
“We still try to fight and keep it going the same way but we understand people are working 9 to 5 and need to go to work in the morning so we have to be careful of how far we bring the music. But if we had proper places where the music is far away from the community but yet people would come and support it we would have a better approach and a better livity.”
On the reasons why he does brand endorsements...
“I don’t really sit around and look at a particular brand. I just work and where the music brings me then corporate people who have different brands see how I’m suitable or how Octane is more of a face for this. But my aim is not to shoot for a different brand. If it comes along and it fits the brand Octane then I see how beneficial it can be to Octane – but not just in terms of money. Because I’m signing to Digicel and Busta and it’s not solely about the beverage or it’s not solely about Digicel selling phonecards or phones.”
“It’s about Octane signing to Digicel and them contributing to my charity movements and everything that I can put back to the ghetto community and the people who are less fortunate. They help the I in terms of being able to get my ghetto dreams to the forefront so I can sponsor people to go to school. All of those things take a source of income and those corporate people provide that for Octane.”
“So if for instance a car company comes along, it is not about getting the vehicle and driving it. It’s about how I can help other generations or help Jamaicans or people across the world who want to be the next Octane - or inspire young people who think they don’t have a voice and give them a wider perspective of life itself. If I am solely about getting the car, for me that is shallow. Other people are comfortable with it, getting the vehicle and making the money, but for me my life is more than just popularity, fame, and getting rich. My life is to inject something with substance in the veins of people globally.”
On balancing the spiritual and the material as he balances reggae and dancehall...
“Yes, because as Bob said in interviews before, the amount of money and the amount of wealth, that doesn’t determine how wealthy I am. Money is not the ultimate for me. The more money you have is the more you have in the barter system to barter globally. So it is very essential but is not life itself. Most of my earnings don’t go to Octane. Most of my earnings go to other people around me who need it more.”
On whether it is possible for a Jamaican reggae artist to conquer America with foreign sounding music – considering that Bob Marley could not do it when he was alive, Shaggy was perceived as American, and so on...
“As you say, if you don’t strike a balance between the reggae and hip hop or pop then it’s much harder to cross over into America. But anywhere in the world where people are listening to and in tune to reggae music is a great market to capitalise on and to fuse your brand into. Because you have enough people who live in America and they love reggae music so much and we have to make sure they get it.”
“My aim is not to cross over. I am just here to work as hard as possible and the end product will bring that success. People in America from all different walks of life and all different nations love reggae music. We still have two or three thousand people still coming out to a reggae concert with solely reggae artists on it. Europe has more support in terms of reggae music because it’s more reggae oriented. Japan is more reggae oriented so we get more support from there.”
“But it’s great to bring reggae music to the forefront in America. It gives a different look in terms of reggae music itself. I don’t believe that you should cheat the genre itself. I just think you should bring reggae music like how Bob brought reggae music, authentic, to the forefront.”
On how in previous interviews he advised young artists not to take the music business personally and what his next piece of advice is to them now he is further on his journey...
“As we said before, and enough people didn’t hear it, I Octane is not here to take anything personal because I learned that from experience. The next piece of advice: find your purpose. You have to find your purpose in life instead of bouncing about doing a lot of things.”
“In Jamaica you have enough people in music and everybody wants to sing but not everybody is a singer. So you find your purpose. If you’re a great writer you write. If you are a selector you select. If you are a disc jockey you play music. You’re still contributing to music. If you are an artist like me where you do both genres, you do both genres. If you are an artist who can do one you do one to your best of your ability. When you find your purpose you will get a better end product and you will be more comfortable with what you’re doing.”