Interview with Jesse Royal - Lily of da Valley
10/08/2017 by Gardy Stein
With tracks like Finally and Modern Day Judas he not only displayed his extraordinary vocal and lyrical talent, but also won thousands of hearts around the globe by his natural charm and effortless nonchalance: Jesse David Royal aka The Small Axe, innovative creator and captivating performer, has rapidly climbed our popularity scale and comfortably nestles up there. The wait for his debut album was long, but worth it - Lily Of Da Valley (Easy Star Records) is a beautiful piece of art that brings across both his messages of unapologetic conviction and love and the canorous music ringing in his soul. Reggaeville touched base with the artist to speak about the musical masterminds behind the release as well as the recent addition to his family and current environmental issues in Jamaica:
Greetings! Where do I catch you?
Right now I'm actually just finishing up reading some scriptures, you know... the way I start my mornings, with the creator.
Morning meditations! First of all, I want to congratulate you on the birth of your daughter...
How does it feel to be a Daddy now?
It is truly a great great feeling, me cyaan describe it sometimes. For the first time in my life I have to be more than just responsible for myself, you know, and it puts your mind in a complete different mode. And now she's getting ready for her first birthday in October!
What is she then, Scorpio?
Libra! So she is an equalizer of the world.
Equalizer of the world, yeah, I love that!
Congrats also on your upcoming second baby which is the album!
(laughs) It's a blessing! I'm really at a blessed point in my life now. There's been a lot of ups, a lot of downs also, but I'm grateful. I'm super excited about the album, it's been a long time coming. We've been putting in a lot of work in the studio, we were there for a while trying diligently to ensure that we really give people a piece of us and not just some songs. So it definitely forced I'n'I to go into a different vein which is exciting for me...
Some of the song we know already, like Modern Day Judas or Finally, but some are new material. How long did it take from scratch to build up the release?
Well, we had the idea for this full length project probably like 2 or 3 years ago, it start dawn pon me whe the music, me feel like this was the next step for us. What happened is, with the touring schedule and also the one of my key producer of the project, Riff Raff, we had to ensure that we all be in the same place at the same time first of all, and that was very tricky. But within the last year and a half we made it our duty to knock this out, get weselves together and put this project together, you know, so... we really got diligent and took like a year and a half to round up this project.
What made you decide to work with Riff Raff? How did he come in?
I've known Riff Raff for the longest time and we always shared this cohesive vibration whenever we made music together. Most of the songs that are on the album I can find a voice note in my iPhone of the melody or the bass line or the idea for a phrase or the idea for a hook, you know, so all a these concepts were in the universe. Riff Raff is a brilliant polisher and he knows how to take what is in my mind and make it real and then surpass what I could have thought it could have been. So it's a type of cohesiveness whe me have when we work together which is why it ended up being this full length project. I mean, there are also different productions on it, but I kinda used Riff Raff as the main in-house production sonically for this project cause he's a brilliant man and whenever we link up it's always nothing but pure joy!
Perfect choice, I think. I read in an interview that Riff Raff said he used sound samples of different things, even the rustling of a skirt, and put it in the songs. Do you know what he used, did he explain to you all he did?
Not all a dem, but most a dem we know what was going on cause we were there. And then he is also this other genius who will use something whe fly over your head, but they are so perfect and so right at that point five seconds in this song… It's a very critical component of the album, Riff Raff's mind and his perspectives where sound is concerned.
From the production side to the features... Jo Mersa, Patrice and Natty Rico, how did they become a part of the thing?
Well, Natty Rico, I met him through a friend of a friend. When I was introduced to his music I was blown away because it young, it fresh and it popping. He plays instruments but he's a DJ, so wha happened is, we made this track Full Moon and we thought we want to give it a little twist, so we reached out to Natty Rico and he did a little… some touches and put some really nice phrases on it fi round up di ting. I feel at this day and age we have to connect each other a likkle bit more, and we have to take the music forward. Because I believe that everything Bob Marley was doing was forward. I feel like everything the Beatles were doing was forward, I believe se Yellowman was forward, Supercat was forward, Bounty Killa was forward, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers were forward! Making music whe people couldn't understand at the time but it was so necessary, you dig? So, as me say, me feel like we inna that stage on earth whe the earth is opening her pores and loosening her soil for us to sow our seeds, you know, and stake our claim for being alive, so... creativity time again! And I feel like there is so much more things that we could start do together if we were just doing them.
When Patrice is concerned, I've been a big fan of him all my life, from his productions to his music to his live performance, he's a brilliant artist who I hold in high regards, you know. We had this project together and just with that situation that was happening inna Europe with all a dem refugees and ting, we knocked heads and came up with this idea Waan Go Home and Patrice lit it on fire fi me and I give thanks because we can connect now. So, to have him on a track for me it's icing on the vegetarian cake (laughs).
Jo Mersa is like a likkle brother. All of us have been making music together from younger days, I mean from 16, 17 years old it was me, Daniel Bambaata who is Ziggy Marley's son, Kurt White who is Cuban, Jo Mersa and Ramone, there was a couple of us who used to par and make music. It was only natural that I ensure that some sound from our connection is de pon di ting! And Generation was a sweet vibration whe everybody once dem did hear it, it was rocking, you know. We needed fi add a different flavour for this track, to take it on a different, level different pattern, and Jo come pon it and set it on fire, so... We just give thanks fi all this lovely music which is flowing out of us at this point in time and we simply aim fi keep we structure clean so we can be useful to the universe.
I love the balance you achieved in the album. There is a lot of songs which give you that feeling of sweetness, but also serious songs that occupy your mind. Like in Stand Firm, you say "Some bridges I am willing to burn." Can you explain what you mean by this?
It simply means that our soul is not for sale! You know, if it is a situation where we haffi choose between right or wrong, we will always choose right! And if it means that some bridges are going to get burned along the way, then that we shall do because we are here to fulfil the works of the most High, not no guy, seen, real Rastafari, without apology. So when you hear we say certain thing, even inna that song we said "unapologetic", you dig, we ago stand firm. So if we say that some bridges we are willing to burn, we'll find another way across. The directive of this conversation has always been from the oppressor, seen, so we ok if we don't see him ever again in life.
I found Jah Will See Us Through really uplifting, when you say that Jah will never give you more than you can bear. I think it really helps to hear that when you go through certain hard times in life.
It's those times that you realize how strong you are, because if you were not able to manage such a heavy load, then Jah wouldn't give it to you. In every situation it's perspective and understanding our world and understanding that we are worthy of everything that is coming, the good and the bad. We are worthy of both the blessings and the perceived curses which are really just set-ups for a blessing. Rastafari!
Who did the amazing artwork for the album?
The brilliant artwork was done by a fellow called Ricardo. We collaborated, we all knocked minds and figured out what it is that we thought this should be. He is a brilliant artist, he took what we saw in our minds and brought it so much further.
The title now, what does Lily Of Da Valley mean to you?
Lily Of Da Valley is a phrase that has resonated with I from youth stages, from very very young. My grandmother was a choir director at the Baptist Church that I used to attend as a young kid, and this was a hymn, a gospel hymn that used to resonate with I on a different level. That is were the concept of Lily Of Da Valley first got introduced to my mind, and as time progressed and you ovastand earth and you learn how to dissect proverbs a likkle bit more it resonated with I that much more, you dig. So by the time this album came around, all of the songs started to take on the persona of hopefulness, standing out, being brave, being bold and going against the grain, which for me is Lily Of Da Valley. One of the best representations of it would be Jeshua the Christ who came to restore morality. We no come fi restore morality, you know, we just come fi introduce some concept inna some people mind, you dig...
I tried to find that hymn on Youtube, but the only thing I came across were some very strange versions of church choirs or country singers. Maybe you should record a version of the song and put it up for your fans one of these days!
(laughs) I definitely will!
The album launch will take place at the Serengeti, at Hope Gardens Zoo. What made you choose this location?
Well, for one we didn't want to go where everybody has been going for an album launch. We definitely wanted to take people somewhere where they probably haven't been. And also, the environment, the surrounding, the settings, the animals, the plants, the trees, it is almost synonymous with I'n'I brand, so we wanted to present the music in a place where people could really get a chance to digest what it is that we are offering in the purest form possible.
Are you going to perform as well?
Yeah man, me love play music, you no know that man? (laughs) I'm gonna sing some songs offa di album, some new songs for the people, so yeah...
Speaking about your management, you are working with Lukes Morgan from the Morgan Heritage family... how did that link come up?
We have mutual friends and I was in the process of developing a new team, a new structure around the brand you know. After going to a couple of people, Lukes was the best fit for the brand at this point in time, his perspective, his willingness and his work ethic is very very refreshing to me. We also have a couple other individuals on the team, but Lukes is spearheading that side.
Apart from the album, you have some other single collaborations, right?
Well, we have a song called No War with Noise Cans that's doing very good, we also have a track called Blowing In The Wind which we released a video for the other day which is doing very well also, but really and truly as me said the main focus right now is on the album.
Touching a current issue, can you tell us a bit about the place you grew up in close to Cockpit Country? It seems to be under threat of being sold for Bauxite mining, right?
Well, we grew up at Maroon Town in Saint James, which is another Maroon Community, but it's still not far from Cockpit Country, so we can address this issue. There definitely has to be some sort of outline, seen, because this is us! This is Jamaica, this is God ensuring that we will never really suffer, because you know how rich in terms of minerals, resources, water and everything the Cockpit Country provides for Jamaicans and so many other people who live near and around it. We definitely need fi come together and get this place outlined and bordered the right way so the preservation of such a magnificent place in this time can be done diligently. Cause, you know, enough has been lost, enough has been given away, enough has been sold, so mek we hol on to some a these things whe is really the soul of the island!
Cockpit Country has different sounds, there is creatures there which aren't anywhere else, the rivers and waters are clean, the trees are lush, the fruits are huge... you have some fruit trees whe de de for probably a hundred years, two hundred years now or more! So can you imagine what that Soursop tastes like? On a bigger level, it's not just a flag that makes a country. It is we the people and everything else on this island that makes it what it is, so we haffi hold on tight man! I'n'I can only hope they do what is best, seen, because I'n'I is no politician so me no know wha dem a talk bout, you dig, all I'n'I know is wha me a deal with.
Looking a bit ahead, you said in an other interview that you recorded many more tracks with Riff Raff. So, can we look forward to a Lily part two?
Definitely there's gonna be a part two! You know, we already have begun working on some other tracks but... everything in its time! Right now, Lily Of Da Valley is the focus!
Thank you so much, Mr. Royal... is there anything you wish to add?
Let love live and give the youths a chance, that's all we have to say. Love and light to you!