AMP FIDDLER: FUNKY SENSATION
This autumn finds the German-based Strut label launching a new album series entitled ‘Inspiration Information’. Which kicks off this month with Detroit soul maverick Amp Fiddler in a studio head-to-head with Jamaican reggae super-producers Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare.
With the series’ aim being to bring together current artists and producers with their musical heroes for a one-off album collaboration, its emphasis on spontaneity, musicianship and an open A&R brief will see each LP being centred around an intensive five-day writing and recording session. Which - in the case of Fiddler and the legendary Riddim Twins (aka Sly & Robbie) - took place last June at Anchor Studios in Kingston, Jamaica. Resulting in a confident, laid-back set which combines new material like the irrepressibly funky ‘Crazy Day’ and the one-drop reggae chug of ‘You’; to reworks of the P-Funk-era political groover ‘Paint The White House Black’ and a lilting reggae update of Amp’s own, UK-charting 2003 single ‘I Believe In You’.
Internationally acclaimed for his two independently-released solo albums (2004’s ‘Waltz Of A Ghetto Fly’ and 2006’s ‘Afro Strut’) singer/songwriter/keyboardist/producer Amp - previously best known for being part of George Clinton’s iconic funk collective Parliament/Funkadelic from 1985 to 1996 - enjoys an informative chat about his latest project with ‘B&S’’s Pete Lewis over a mid-afternoon lunch at Bloomsbury’s media-friendly My Hotel.
How did you come to collaborate with Sly & Robbie?
“We were contacted by their manager, who’s a big fan of mine. So, with me having been a fan of Sly & Robbie’s for years - right back to their (early Eighties) Compass Point Studios productions on Grace Jones - I was super-excited about it! So they sent me over some music, and next thing I knew I was on a plane to Kingston!”
So what were the recording sessions for ‘Inspiration Information’ like?
“To be in a room with two musicians who you admire and get along with really well is exciting in itself. But then the icing on the cake is actually being able to PLAY together. And - because Sly & Robbie are as much fans of soul, funk and hip hop as I am of reggae, dancehall and other areas of island music - I think we ALL had a really good time recording together in the studio. It was actually the first time I’ve been able to do a complete project with the same musicians being involved in all 12 songs. So to me that in itself makes the cohesiveness of the record really stand out. You know, when you listen to the tracks I think you can really hear the connection.”
So how would you break the album down musically?
“I like to call what we’ve created together ‘funky reggae and soul’. One of the things l always liked about Sly & Robbie is the fact that they recorded that reggae-style island music and then had Wally Badarou overdub the freaky synthesizer stuff on top. So yeah, there’s a lotta elements on this record. There’s funk; there’s soul; there’s reggae; there’s dancehall… Plus, while some tracks were done with a drum machine, on others the playing was totally live. And to me there’s something you get out of a live recording that you simply don’t get out of an electronic session. The organic interaction in the way the instruments speak to one another and the way the musicians communicate is MAGIC! So I’m definitely hoping people love this record enough to buy it in sufficient quantities to enable us to actually do a tour around it!”
Why did you decide to cover the George Clinton/P-Funk-era classic ‘Paint The White House Black’ and re-title it ‘Black House’?
“Because of the times we’re in right now. Barack Obama becoming the first black person to be nominated for President of The Unites States is BIG, and it’s something we should be glad about. Plus I’ve always liked to write about social issues. You know, reggae music - in addition to its love songs - has always been that way. And I also feel that soul music - at its best - has always been that way, when you think about socially-influenced people like Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye. Because of the election right now, I think it’s important that we do speak about changing the way we see each other. And to me the song ‘Paint The White House Black’ does stand out as something special, in terms of what the song says and what it means within the realm of humanity.”
So how do you recall your days as a member of George Clinton’s zany-yet-groundbreaking P-Funk collective?
“Well, it was definitely way out-there! There was no discipline! But, at the same time, there was a good work ethic. You know, they knew what record they had to finish and they knew that they were gonna work all night to finish as much as they could, to get the record done as FAST as they could! They had a real methodical way of bringing in people to record their vocals; some days they’d get a lotta work done overdubbing; another day they’d be finishing and creating tracks… You know, George would be there overseeing it - ‘That first take was GREAT! Gimme another track!’… And the whole experience taught me a lot about how to be focused in a session while there are 13/14/15 people in there at the same time talking over you! I’d be like ‘Turn the music up louder, ‘cause they talkin’ too fuckin’ much!’! I mean, there’d be friends and family standing around, talking and drinking and smoking; there’d be parties going on and shit... You know, I’d be in a session and my friends would come in and be like ‘Damn! How do you record in here with all these crazy-ass people making all this noise?!’! But I guess when you’re in that kind of environment, you do learn to focus on the music itself very quickly.”
How do you feel about the current retro-soul movement that’s primarily centred around UK female singer/songwriters?
“What makes some of these artists unique is that their VOICES are really individual. Duffy, for example, has got a character about her voice that we haven’t heard before. lt’s basically a new voice over an old mood. Which is what makes it fresh. So, because of that, I would be open to maybe doing something with some of these people. Though it’s not necessarily where I wanna go as a solo artist myself. Because to me it would almost feel like going BACKWARD! You know, I’m more about trying to do some NEXT shit! I wanna do NEW soul music - where I sing soulfully over new, different things to where it creates a mood that’s unlike anything you’ve heard before. Which is why I’ve actually been talking to Talvin Singh over here in London. Because for me to make a record with strings and tablas and some electronic shit really would be something groundbreaking that I’d be very interested in creating.”
The album ‘Inspiration Information: Sly & Robbie/Amp Fiddler’ is out now through Strut
Words PETE LEWIS