LargeUp Interview: Talking Dub and Vampires with Scientist

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LU: What is your relationship like with the Roots Radics?

Scientist: Well, I would say that if they had a problem with me, they wouldn’t look to come to New York to work. They came to L.A., they did a show with me, and we never had any problem. I’m the one who has been telling them what’s been going on with their money and how a lot of people have been stealing their money.

LU: You’ve used an analogy of a conductor of an orchestra to describe the role of the dub producer/mixer. Can you elaborate?

Scientist: What is a conductor’s role with an orchestra? He’s the person who directs the band what to play, when to play, and for how long to play it. He’s using a stick and giving basically sign language to communicate, right? A dub artist is basically using the console and the slides to do the same thing. We’re rearranging the music from its original form.

LU: Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires was released in 1981 and then a year later, Michael Jackson’s Thriller came out utilizing some of the same B-Horror movie sound FX and samples. When you heard Thriller, what did you think?

Scientist: [Laughs] You really want to know what my honest opinion was? The composition is good. But I really wish I could get those tapes of Thriller to really make Michael Jackson–hear how he really sounds. Here’s what the gospel truth is: Thriller is a form of electronic music that came out of reggae. I am a person who created hi-fidelity and set the standard and the benchmark. So when I hear Michael Jackson’s music–to people in that time, because it was new to them, it was like “Wow,” but I could hear all the defects. Just like I could hear all the defects in Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” song. You should google ‘Scientist Marvin Gaye’ to hear the remix I did. The whole world knows that song. But when that song came out about the same time, I could hear all the weakness that Motown was putting on it, because people never heard that music in any other way and they grew up listening to it like that, they believe that’s what it’s supposed to sound like.

The evidence is when you go back and listen to the exact same track that I remixed–it’s just a rough mix–the original mix comes nowhere near to it. The same exact instruments. Reggae is what set the benchmark for these other genres. It’s not the other way around like what people who are trying to confuse the world to think. So when I heard Thriller? Oh, great Michael! Good composition! But the mix? It could have been a whole lot better. There was unknown knowledge to make it happen, but these guys don’t know anything about that set-up. Remember, Jamaica’s the place where a recording console became an instrument.

LU: Can you talk more about why Jamaican reggae and dub have has been so important to the development of hi-fidelity music and also important, in fact, to the professional audio industry?

Scientist: Again, nobody has to listen to what I say. The record can bring out the definitive truth. It’s the same thing that I learned when I was a technician learning how to build amplifiers. I would build a transistor amplifier. And if I play rock ’n’ roll through it, the amplifier would play, no problem. The transistor would just be moderate heat. That same amplifier, I start to play a song from King Tubby’s at the same volume as the rock ‘n’ roll, all of sudden the transistor started to get hot, and transistors hate heat. That caused me to build a better amplifier.

It’s the same thing with speakers. Back in those times they were using these thin paper cone speakers and when I’d get a speaker to repair, we used to spread paint on the cone to make it thicker. We’d use a double “spider” [a disk attached to the speaker cone that provides spring so that the cone returns to its resting position after being moved by an input signal]. Sometimes we’d cut out the gap between the magnet and the coil so we could put extra winding [of the coil]. When you pull down a car speaker, they’re doing the exact same thing we were doing 20 years ago. When you look at these cones now they’re putting on speakers, it’s thick. Some of them are made out of aluminum with thick rubber. We were doing that stuff 20 years ago that they’re just catching on to.

With the other genres, they would not have needed to develop those kind of speakers. Why? Because rock ‘n’ roll and those other genres don’t have what I call “jackhammer” drum and bass, they don’t have the bandwidth to put the speakers to the extreme so that the speaker manufacturers can gather the data to know what’s really going on.

I don’t know what it is, but everybody wants to make reggae seem like it’s under the other genres. No, reggae is 100 times harder to mix than other genres. Anybody that can mix reggae can mix the other genres with a breeze. That’s why when rock ‘n’ roll engineers get reggae, they all go back to kindergarten. It shows off all their weaknesses.

LU: Yeah, you can often tell whether someone has experience with reggae, both on recordings and also live.

Scientist: It gets worse live because if you cannot do it in a studio, which is a controlled environment, you sure can’t do it live in an uncontrolled environment. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Hawaii Pipeline, but it’s a huge, 20-foot wave coming at you. That’s the equivalent to live. The equivalent to studio recording is you’re in a swimming pool. So if you can’t swim in a swimming pool, you sure can’t swim with 20-foot waves.

LU: And is this because of the very wide frequency range reggae music occupies?

Scientist: Audio frequency is 20 to 20,000 cycles. A low B in jazz or whatever genre is the same low B in reggae. A snare hit from Sly Dunbar and a snare hit from the Beatles or Rolling Stones drummer–it’s the same instrument that leaves here and goes to Jamaica–it’s the same snare hit. The question is why does one come out sounding one way and they still don’t get it? Because they did not create the formula and don’t know it. They can’t just say, Hey, some guys from Jamaica created this formula and we are still struggling to learn from them. Tell me why their kick or snare doesn’t sound powerful? Because they didn’t create the formula to do it.

LU: Many of your dub releases have names and artwork based on science fiction or horror themes and mythology. Any particular reasons for this?

Scientist: Well, that’s the easiest way to get to people and it was different from what everybody else was doing. Everybody else wanted to put their own personal photograph to promote themselves. If we have something more comical, it could stretch further then your own personal photograph. Because of that now, I can go develop a video game “Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Vampires” (laughs). If it was just my photograph on it, then all these things wouldn’t be as possible.

LargeUp Scientist Space Invaders

LU: Speaking of video games, how did you find out that your music from Vampires was being used in Grand Theft Auto III?

Scientist: Some kids who recognized me at a concert in San Diego happened to buy the game. They saw me in a supermarket shopping and asked me about the game.

So it was a total surprise to you?

Scientist: Yeah, it was what Greensleeves’ pattern is. They get all these artists and put out their stuff–because a lot of them in Jamaica don’t know anything about it–and keep making money off these artists’ names. They’re trying to tell people at the copyright that Henry “Junjo” Lawes wrote Scientist Rids the World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires. How is a producer going to write that? Even the musicians themselves can’t write that.

LU: So you knew right away that Greensleeves must have licensed that material?

Scientist: Yeah they tried to pretend and then when we got a lawyer to make them disclose everything, Grand Theft Auto made an out of court settlement with me and turned around and sued Greensleeves. Greensleeves told them that they owned it and they had full permission. Now the law in Jamaica is that in order for Greensleeves to own it, the producer, Junjo, has to have a contract with me. Junjo has no contract with me. It’s pretty much the same law in America. The producer can’t exploit your track [for example] as a drummer, unless you sign off on it. And when Grand Theft Auto asked Greensleeves to show that paperwork, they didn’t want to go to court with it, so they decided to pay me off and then turn around and sue Greensleeves. And then Greensleeves eventually had to sell to VP [Records].