Much of the musical wealth we possess today is a result of the writhing, and tinkering that goes into the process. Sometimes the music is up, sometimes it’s down, which helps to build the right kind of tension in the space. The continuous up and down is the way that music respires, it is a living thing that is without boundaries, yet thrives on balance and harmony. Often it takes the mind of a musician to truly understand the bigger picture. Grammy award-winning producer and musician Young Pow is one with such a mind, and he uses this understanding on his musical crusade.
Young Pow is most known for producing tracks on Grammy-winning albums such as Stephen Marley’s Mind Control, Damian Marley’s Welcome To Jamrock, and most recently Stony Hill. His exploits are nearing legendary status in the world of Jamaican production and musicianship, and so DancehallMag was thrilled to speak to the producer/musician and songwriter Young Pow.
You’ve given Jamaican music some of it’s most stellar musical moments, from playing keys for Damian Marley to producing Grammy award-winning songs, and in doing so, have become someone who influences our sound. But who and what influences your sound?
I would say black gospel would be the first, Dave Kelly, then, of course, Bob Marley and The Wailers. In terms of modern artists, there’s Kanye West. The Wailers is one of the greatest bands of all time, so we learn a lot, still learning a lot.
You started producing and playing keys at the same time?
No, I would say later down the road after playing live and stuff. One of the things with Gong, and also the rest of the Marleys, they tend to use the same musicians they use live, in the studio, so you have that same sound throughout. At the time, I was working with Damian and he would be in the studio producing stuff, and I learned from that. Outside of that I met Baby G, which is King Jammy’s son. For some reason, we just connected, and he’s the first person who brought me into production.
What made you want to produce?
Personally, I’m an evolving person, and when you look at the music as a complete picture after you’ve played your part. But from watching Gong and the band producing in the studio, taking a track from start to finish, I got to really like it. Y’know say you do the music because you want to see it through to the end product.
Do you think that playing an actual instrument enhances a person’s ability to arrange music?
I could say yes and I could say no because I’ve seen people do it without playing any instrument. If I say that now it might be biased, but I think for me though it does.
Name a book that’s greatly influenced your life.
Conversations with God. That book kind of changed my perspective on life and that’s when I really started to see purpose. Finding that deeper meaning in life. It made me look at life different and not just live by what is in front of me. If you live that way you might be intimidated by just the journey. So that book really helped to change my perspective.
You started out playing in church, what made you decide to play or pursue “secular” music?
Well, I don’t see it as secular[laughs], but it wasn’t easy, I got a whole heap of fight, my mom being a pastor. Not necessarily her saying I shouldn’t play that type of music but the other pastors and ministers. They had a lot to say ‘Don’t do dem ting deh, do god’s work’, at one point someone told me if you continue, your hands will be crippled, just a lot of things. But I love music. Music has no boundary, that’s why I can listen to a gospel and reggae song and get the same chills. So that’s why I moved into the so-called secular side, gospel keeps repeating it doesn’t go outside of that. When you go outside now, you get a fuller experience.
Do you feel anything is missing in Jamaican music right now as some ?
Yeah, I think a lot of things, First I would say quality– I’m not saying it’s completely absent, but there isn’t enough. This is a result of technology and the way the world has changed, everybody can just produce music from their bedroom or a bus. You don’t even need to learn to play an instrument. I think after a while the quality of the music is just– and it goes back to your earlier question about playing an instrument. That’s when being able to play an instrument becomes key. I really like– it’s interesting what the younger producers are doing and I learn from it too. But I can really listen to and hear that it’s not mixed properly, wrong notes in certain places and it’s sad because these are some of the top producers now. I think that’s one of the reasons why Jamaican music is struggling to be in the limelight, because the quality and the musicianship is just not there enough.
When you’re collaborating with someone like Damian Marley, who you play for, what’s the process usually like? Do you create music as a band, and in what sense are you responsible sometimes in helping to complete some of these songs or ideas?
When it comes to Damian most of his songs are from scratch. Like I would be playing some chords and he would be in the voicing booth doing melodies. If I play something he likes, he’ll say ‘Ok I like that’ and then we start from there. We get it together, and add the other necessary elements. That’s it in a nutshell.
What is like making music with the same people who you play out with?
It’s nice. That was one of things I wanted when I just came around Gong and started learning the songs. I always wanted to be playing my song on stage or to know that I was a part of making that. That’s a great feeling, I always look forward to it.
Some of the songs like R.O.A.R and Time Travel have a distinctly dancehall sound, but Autumn Leaves sounds more like a ballad with really rich instrumentation. What was the thought that went into that?
That’s a good question. So right there you can see diversity. I would say, Autumn Leaves for me is one of the best things I’ve ever made.
It was great to hear Gong on something so different, even though the beat had Jamaican influences, it very much felt like a Frank Sinatra ballad or something.
Yeah fi real and you know Gong is a person like that still. He listens to that type of real music so it’s only natural for him to do that and even for myself with the production. Every musician or producer would like to do something like that too, like a masterpiece. Just to know that it can really go out into the world and stand the test. That song started out with– I didn’t even expect it. We were just in the studio and I played something he liked and we added the strings, I played the demo. If you look back on Welcome To Jamrock’s There For You. It was a similar vibe, I did the demo strings and then he had an orchestra play it over. Autumn Leaves came around and it was the same vibes, Young Pow again.
You’ve started your own label through which you’ve worked with many artists in dancehall and reggae, what’s new for Young Pow Productions?
Right now I just did this Turn It Up juggling with Kabaka and Mykal Rose, I also just recently dropped a song with an artist I signed, Answele, called Jah Is In Control.
I have a new juggling coming out; one song is already out with Mr G. There’s some more coming soon. I have Sean Paul co-producing with myself and Baby G again, which should be coming soon. But those are the more immediate things, there’s more in the pipeline it’s just too early to talk about.