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Exclusive: Dub Legend Lee “Scratch” Perry Sets the Record (Kind of) Straight

Not only is Lee “Scratch” Perry one of dub’s most important and influential icons, but he’s also a prolific producer. On his work with Bob Marley and the Clash (to say nothing of his own albums), he’s consistently shown a flair for devilishly off-kilter atmospheres. As the Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz once said, “One thing the Beastie Boys do when we’re finishing tracks is make sure that there’s a Lee Perry part: some weird detail that’s not supposed to be there, but somehow makes sense.”

Perry’s latest album, Repentance, is no exception — it’s rife with the kind of unearthly sounds that have made him a dub mainstay. Chris Kompanek of our sister pub Earplug rang Perry up in Zurich to talk about the new record, his appendage-obsessed alter-ego, Pipecock Jackson, the future of dub, and how he feels about spazz-rocker and recent collaborator Andrew W.K. allegedly releasing tracks behind his back. Find the interview after the jump.

Earplug: What led to Andrew W.K. co-producing your latest album?

Lee “Scratch” Perry: Well, there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the whole concept of the album. He came to the studio in Germany. We didn’t have an understanding that he would be the producer or anything like that. I think he just came to sit in on the sessions.

EP: How did that collaboration work?

LSP: The music was mixed in Switzerland by me. We only mixed two songs with the intention that we would put them on the album. We then discovered that [Andrew W.K.] went behind our back and decided to put out the album with the two songs that we did here. I didn’t even finish [mixing] the album when I discovered that the album was about to be released.

EP: The album’s not finished?

LSP: It was not supposed to be on the street yet, because we only had the mix of “God Save His King” and “Pum Pum.” The other tracks needed harmonizing. It really wasn’t finished. I like to work on an album and sit and decide when it’s finished. I don’t understand why they released the other ten tracks without my OK.

EP: How did you hook up with the White Belly Rats?

LSP: The guy who would do their producing, he was listening to my music for a very long time. I was doing a show somewhere in Europe. He came to the show and said he wanted me to hear something.

EP: You’ve been living in Zurich for a number of years now. How’s the music scene over there?

LSP: There are two kinds of music from Jamaica. One kind is spiritual music. I create my music with a pop vibration, a pop-reggae vibration — and the other vibration is pop-gospel, pop-reggae spiritual, and pop-club music. Boys in Jamaica do their thing different, so they have one they call raggamuffin. The people of my type and my years listen to words. Some of the people who are listening want to edify themselves, not educate themselves too well, and want to listen to raggamuffin because it’s fun.

EP: You were instrumental in the creation of dub. What do you see as the future for the genre?

LSP: Dub music is more fun. And why dub makes it more fun is that, when I go to the studio, I want to find a great bass player and drummer — that’s the foundation of the music itself. The drum loop represents the heartbeat. The bass represents the mind. So, you put the mind and the heart together, and your mind and your heart are the creation of everything. Dub is the foundation for the creation of music.

EP: Are there any bands now that you feel are taking the genre to a new level?

LSP: As I was saying to you, what goes on about this raggamuffin dance, is it presents sex. They are pretending they are doing this raggamuffin in bed. To me, it’s not my type, because we are presenting a spiritual vibe and holiness. But those other people have to live, so they can represent sex. I think these people live a love — want to wheel and jam and have sex with each other. That’s what goes on now. We’re too old to wheel and jam and have raggamuffin sex.

EP: That leads me to another question. I heard the porn star Sasha Grey contributed vocals to your new album.

LSP: Who said that?

EP: I read it online in a number of places.

LSP: Where did the woman come from? Germany? The UK?

EP: She’s a US porn star. Sasha Grey.

LSP: She didn’t have anything to do with it. That’s a rumor. [Editor's note: Grey's participation has also been reported by Narnack Records, who released the album in the US.]

EP: Where does your pseudonym Pipecock Jackxon come from?

LSP: We cannot survive without a water pipe to take the water from where it’s coming from. The cock lets the water through. When you lock the water, you lock the cock. When you open the pipe, you are turned on. It’s a combination of terrific energy.

EP: Do you see your pseudonyms as different parts of your personality?

LSP: I see them like art. Everything I see like art. In my life, Pipecock Jackxon played a major role, because there’s no one on this planet that can live without water. If you don’t have the pipe to draw the water to you, then you’re not going to see water and can’t get it. I scoop it up. The energy. I live in energy.

Image Credit: Drew Goren / subwaysleeper.com

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