Ray Darwin ADD

Interview: Ray Darwin - I’m Like a Turtle. I’m Slow But I Get There

08/19/2011 by Valentin Zill

Interview: Ray Darwin - I’m Like a Turtle. I’m Slow But I Get There



He started to do music way back in the 1980s, but his life was never easy and involved many detours and turns. In 2006, his single People’s Choice became an instant classic in his native Jamaica. It would take him another five years to release his first album, also called People’s Choice. And this album is the people’s choice indeed. Not the one of his girlfriend though, she broke up with him. “Jahcoustix released three albums in a time period where you released none!” Time to let the great Ray Darwin have his say.

You started with music in the 1980s. Horace Andy taught you how to play the guitar, you were touring with Max Romeo. Why did it take you so long to release your debut album?

I have always had many, many songs, like I still do now. And I could have had a deal with Tads Records when People's Choice came out in 2006. However, the conditions - I didn't like his approach in business. When we verbally agree on one thing and then his lawyer sends me a contract that says he owns all the rights to People's Choice and all the texts - basically, he was stealing my song in front of my nose. So my choice was to have an album out 2007 when People’s Choice just came out and it’s hot and sell out out my stuff and get robbed or go with it and just wing it and just hold on to the control of my work with respect and see eventually what will happen. I chose to not sell out my work, not get an album out, not blow up like I could have, bigger, but hold on to my work and just have faith.

I could have had other deals also, but I didn’t feel a hundred percent happy with the collections of songs. During 2007, 2008, 2009, it was a time of this weird transition - dancehall and autotune, and... I’m a roots artist and I go into the dancehall and I go into other things, too, but I wanted it to be consistent with my big tune People's Choice. And at that moment, it was a weird transition. I didn't feel happy with trying to experiment with dancehall stuff. I will work with (Jr.) Blender here from Supersonic in Hamburg. I created some stuff and he helped me bring it to life. They were a bit crossed, not exactly roots and I felt like my album didn't have a sense of identity or oneness or unity. So I didn't put it out just to see I put an album out. I want to like it, I want to feel good from deep inside that I feel satisfied that this represents me at this moment in time and I feel completely happy with every selection and I have not had this feeling. So for all that talking that I just did, the bottom line is that I have not been happy with the selection of songs over a long time. It's weird, but it's true.

Why did you choose to work with Joe Fraser for the People's Choice album?

Number one, he has a long history as a producer in the reggae scene. Glen Washington is an old friend of mine and he was here in Hamburg performing. We represented at a dubplate session and we were happy to see each other because we go back from Brooklyn, back in the days of Roughtough Studio and he said he loved my single People's Choice and said "you know, I'm doing a single with Joe Fraser Records. Why don't you come on the riddim? As soon as I come to Florida, I'm gonna tell them to send it to you." And he kept his word. Glen sent me the riddim and I did a song called "New York Minute" for Joe Fraser and they loved it and they released it and they added it to their compilation with Big Youth, Courtney John - I love the CD personally from Joe Fraser and Lloyd (Campbell) and I met him in Florida when I opened for Morgan Heritage in 2007 and we spoke briefly.

And then he asked me: "Man I love how you write. What's up with the album?" And I said I have been dealing with Clive Davis innah VP but they have a lot of artists, they have Alborosie coming out, they have Chino, they have Ziggi Recardo... He was naming a list of artists and I was looking at next March if I was gonna get any kind of help from VP. And then, two months later he called me and tells me that Greensleeves said I waited too long to release an album after my song and I said, ey, it's OK, that's their opinion. I am comfortable, my song is still alive, because I don't hurry in doing what I do. Ich bin eine Schildkröte (I am a turtle). I'm slow, but I get there (laughs). Lloyd said to me: "Man, what are you talking about. They talk about bullshit. Give me the album, I will put my money and my label up." I said really? "Yes." And he said: "Not only will I do that, I only sell physical. I will give you a 100% of the digital download." I said that don't exist man. "I will do it for you. I respect you and love you as an artist." So we have more of a friendship than a business, because no one has ever done that. And it's unlikely in this business that people open their arms and put their money in their mouth and keep their word, man. I feel blessed. And I know this is the right time just because of that. Just because I waited and somebody came that don't wanna rob me but respect me and help me get my album out through his label.

You sang People's Choice over Studio One's Mean Girl riddim. Who was responsible for all the other riddims you used?

The very first single Time Flies, that's mine - I wrote that and created that as a tribute to my family. The following single from that is also a single that I put together again and then I did a combo with Sara Lugo. And then a friend in Italy did the production for me, but it's still my stuff. And then False Alarm is a Studio One from Ten To One riddim, I remade that over and sampled the horns. And then right after that I think In This Time is also my riddim that I made. The other one I think is It Can‘t Done, that's an old Burning Spear. I made that over, it's an old Studio One. The next one, More Love... More Love is a tricky song. More Love - when I was in Jamaica in 2006 No Doubt Records, McGregor brought Wild Wild World by Maxi Priest to me and said "I want you to make over a riddim just like People's Choice for me." And I wrote the riddim for him, and it's called Triumphant riddim. This one was Gyptian, Mama Don't Cry. And he made Axeman play the riddim by Vendetta Studio and didn't mention my name. He give me no credit. So that's really - that riddim, I made it over AGAIN. More Love. And sing it on my own. And it's my riddim, because I created it. I made it a little different than Triumphant riddim, because I don't want no problems, but it's also my riddim. The next song is Long Way. Long Way is from Rootical Records in Portmore in Jamaica, Andrew Powell. He did this Long Way riddim in about 2009, 2010. I just thought this riddim was just too good to not have a big tune... It's WICKED! So I wrote down Long Way on it, reflecting on my childhood, when reggae was my consciousness. It was everything I... When I hear it... I loved it more than food! And we used to sit by the record store, Biny's record store is a Chinese family, the young family that lived in my home town. Jamaican Chinese. He had a record store in our home town that would play those big 18" speakers every Saturday morning and Friday morning when we go to school and after school. So we all hang out by this record store... This song took me back there and I wrote about it in it.


The next one, Dutty John Crow, is me and Jr. Blender from Supersonic. I took one of his riddims to my studio and I had some sequence on it and I arranged differently to fit my liking, but originally it's his production. One more tune that he and I did is Rasta, which is straight up his riddim. I just sang on it and voice it, but I did the production at my studio. New York Minute, that one is from Florida. Originally the first, In This Time, I did in my studio in Kingston and brought the riddim here to Germany. People's Choice I did here in Hamburg, but I went to Jamaica to Tuff Gong and worked on it a little bit with Spider. Another Day is a tune that I wrote just on my guitar. It's on the Rise Up film. There's a film out by Luciano Blotta. I worked with Luciano when me and my friend Gizzy and Amlak and Tony Jarrett, we recorded THC. And we made the video for Turbulence and Notorious. I know Gizzy from Brooklyn, I was in Manhattan with him, too. He came to Jamaica with this riddim and I liked it and we worked on it and made Scallawah. Eventually he ended up calling Notorious, Turbulence. And me and Gizzy made that riddim. That's a first one. And that's where we meet Luciano Blotta to make this documentary Rise Up. They were on the roof of my house, the same studio. So Another Day is on the Rise Up film soundtrack. I could have been in more in that film but I kind of backed out of it because I was so hurt how they handled Notorious. Because I left Jamaica and came to Germany and when I went back, they completely messed up the whole business and we got robbed by Turbulence's producer and label. They sent a letter saying they owned 75% of it and it became ugly and I just stepped out of it. There's one song missing... Standby. Standby is my riddim also. So basically it's about four or five of them that are not mine, that I didn't write, but I made it my own. I wanted that. I didn't want that album full of all my songs, because I had that before. I wanted other blood in it, other influences; that's what I found out over the time.

You came to New York City as a Youth and had a tough time growing up.
I grew up in Jamaica where I was in the country until I went to Kingston to visit my Mom. But I was a country boy, you know. I wasn't as advanced as these city kids. Even in school the teacher told my Mom "Ray's ten and he's playing with these six-year-old kids"... I didn't move as fast as everybody else. When you get from a country where they are shooting birds and catching fish and playing soccer, playing music and creating art and stuff like that, to New York City - it was a completely different world. I wasn't culture shocked, but it was a lot to take in. It was a fast transition as a child. And my Dad... In a situation like that a child needs loving parental guidance to handle that transition. He wasn't even aware that I was scared. And then my stepmother didn't like me because I am the child of his ex. She wanted my room in the house, 'cause my father bought a house with three bedrooms, one for them, one for me and one for her son. But for some reason, she wanted a bigger room for her son, so somehow, after a while, my father would attack me for nothing at all. Eventually, by the age of 14, I got thrown out on the streets and I was homeless. Just to make a point about my stepmother: when I went back home three years later - I didn't see my parents, just my sister - my room was completely remodeled for her son that had just came up from Jamaica. So that was when I realized she wanted me out. And then when I was living in my room, it looked like shit. And when I came back three years later and saw the room it was completely matching paint on the wall, the curtains and everything was completely blue and white. I will never forget it. I was shocked. But anyway, a Rastaman named Marc put me up in his house and he was friends with Max Romeo, so we all stayed in the same place in the Bronx. And for the next four years, I would stay in high school and smoke my weed and Marc would take care of me and I just ended up making my way alone without parents. But eventually, it got me really angry because one day I went home, when I was about 18 or 19, and my Dad and my uncle were in the dining room of the house, and they packed one of my dreads and split it out. I said, "What do you do that for? Give it back to me!" Eventually, I was on a street corner two weeks later and somebody just came from nowhere and just punched me in my face. I was in the hospital for like 24 hours. They said I almost died because my head busted open. This woman named Nadine took me to the hospital and stuff. I didn't know if it was somebody paid to scare me to cut off my locks, I didn't know what energy that was... To this day, I don't know what happened. I went from being attacked by him and my uncle to finding myself in the hospital with all of my dreads cut out, because my head was popped open. It might have been just random, I didn't know anything. But I was very, very angry.

Ray dealt with his anger by joining a grunge band, but dropped out at some point when he felt that the anger was poisoning him from inside. He found out that he had to find a way to love his Dad, because his father hated him. „Hate the game, not the player“, Ray says.

At some point in your life, you made a living by running a limo service.
Yeah. I have kids, you know, and I had to pay for them to go to private school. Together with two partners, I ran that limo service from out of Long Island. I did that for a long while, seven years. We had clients working in Wall Street. So when they blew the towers, nobody could go to Wall Street. But there where firms with offices in New Jersey. We lost a lot of money. New York was crippled. Limousine services are a luxury business. When the economy suffers, the first thing to suffer are luxury businesses - art galleries, limousines, all of these stuff. I started that company from one car, had quiet partners and investors. In one moment, it died. It blew me away. But the good thing about it, it put me back into music. I had gotten lost, maintaining a life style in New York, just working to pay rents and pay bills and going on vacation. I was killing myself. I was happy it was over.

Do you sometimes wish you wouldn't have had all these detours in life?
Oh God... To wish to not have detours would have been naive. I know the value of experiences, so I could never wish... To me, whether someone wants to believe in reincarnation or not, I believe that the source of who I am, my soul, my consciousness - it's consciousness that's talking to you now. Forget about the body. The only thing a soul can have is the information, experience that we get through turns and detours and ups and downs. My HD drive, my soul, is just getting more information. I love it. Even when my heart is broken and I hurt, I must have done something wrong why she left me. Or maybe she just didn't love me. And I cry and I hurt, but at least I know what pain is and I can write about it. Maybe I would have been a bigger artist long ago, but doing business with the limousines taught me how to negotiate and deal with people and public.

You are still living in Hamburg?
Yeah, man. Meine Lieblingsstadt (my favorite city). Hamburg! I love Hamburg. But every year, I go to Jamaica two times.


Will you go on tour now to promote your album?
Well I have some shows set up, but I don't think that my name is big enough to fill a hall. I'm working on touring together with other artists to spread the thing, yes. I work with a band from Hannover, and I love them. We had one rehearsal, and it was unbelievable. You can have songs on an album, but you have to translate them into a good live performance. These guys did. So I feel optimistic about a tour now.

In Jamaica, you're playing with Raging Fyah?
That's my original band. I promised them I would come back and I never did. They got another singer. They are my brothers. If I call them, they won't say no. They are wicked! I tell you. We kill people when we play. They can create tsunamis (laughs)!