By Michael Lara
Brinsley Forde - "Urban Jungle"
Rain, sunshine, happy drunkenness, new friendships, loves, discoveries, epiphanies and more come out annually and bubble up during the end weekend of July at Naeba Ski Resort in Echigo Yuzawa, Niigata Japan, the host of the FUJI ROCK FESTIVAL (FRF '13).
With a rich lineup spanning decades, continents and genres like DEATH GRIPS, THE CURE, NIN, BJORK, GARY CLARK JR., TAME IMPALA, BOYS NOIZE, TAKKYU ISHINO, KENDRICK LAMAR, SPARKS, among others, one of the clear highlights was BRINSLEY FORDE, a founding member of the legendary reggae band ASWAD from the late 1970's, and now fresh off the recent release of his first solo album, Urban Jungle.
While unfortunately unable to make contact at FRF, Brinsley was kind enough to do a Skype interview and here is what was shared between the Czech Republic and Tokyo.
THIRSTY: Brinsley, at last we are connected over our vast time zones and numerous e-mails to each other.
BRINSLEY FORDE: Yes, it's my pleasure.
THIRSTY: Mine as well, so how did you come to know Masa (Masa Hidaka-President of SMASH Corporation)?
BRINSLEY FORDE: Well, years ago we met in Japan and we ate and drink together. And when we had some fish there, it was still whole with the guts and everything. So I said to Masa, "Listen, when you come to England, I'm going to cook you a fish how we have, right, West Indian style." About a month later, Masa and Koichi (Koichi Hanafusa - Editor of Smashing Mag) turned up and came to my house and they had fish and sake and I've known both ever since. So I'd say from 1980 something - early 1980's. And I hadn't seen Masa for ages, but I was performing as a guest vocalist with WARRIOR CHARGE at Asagiri and saw him and told him that I was working on a solo album and he said, "Okay, well let me hear it when you've done it." And that's how I ended up at FUJI ROCK.
THIRSTY: Most people only know the famous pop stars of today and they are the clear focus of the industry. So for you, both onstage and offstage at Fuji Rock, what was going on through your head? How'd you feel?
BRINSLEY FORDE: Well, it was a different arena. I think that just what it is…I think you would imagine just as if you had to write a piece about a different genre that maybe you are not known for writing about if I can say and you'd still approach it as you know how to approach it. And I think…we had very little rehearsal and we had a new band and you know, it was, you get up and you do know what to do. I think it's basically you do what you do and what you love doing. You get up and perform. I think that was probably where my head was.
Brinsley Forde - Field of Heaven Stage (2013)
(credit: Michael Lara)
THIRSTY: What about when you first took the stage? I mean, I remember ASWAD from my high school days in California. What was the difference?
BRINSLEY FORDE: The difference was that if it was Aswad, people would know who they are, they know what to expect and they come there going, right, yeah, I'm going to have a great time. I think when an artist is not known as much, people are standing there going, yeah okay…what's this? And they either get with the program or they go I've had enough and then go away. You know, I think we were really lucky in the sense it was pouring with rain.
THIRSTY: Yes, but I remember your set started during the pouring rain, but just afterwards, it then became open skies.
BRINSLEY FORDE: Yes. That was a blessing man. That was a blessing.
THIRSTY: Another English act, the now long defunct GENE, who never played FUJI ROCK, have a song called "Olympian." Tomorrow is the big IOC vote for the 2020 Olympics that Tokyo is competing against Istanbul and Madrid to win [and did]. Martin, the lead singer of GENE, in that song says, "Give me something I can hold. With that something, my world will grow." Is that true for you?
BRINSLEY FORDE: I think it's having a belief in something. If you don't believe in anything, then you got no motivation. You know and as it was like in the beginning, when the music made in the UK was not seen as authentic, you know, and we struggled through. I'm happy to say that today we're respected by many musicians in Jamaica. We got several tracks that are now kind of in the annals of reggae, what can I say, you know - I'm lost for the words. That rhythm is used over and over again, such as tracks like "Love fire" and "Promised land." You know, everyone's done it. I believe, to answer that question, is to have faith and to believe in something, you know, and to stand by your convictions because that is what makes you grow. You can say I believe in something, but unless you stand there and you are willing to fight for that, you're not going to grow. I can tell you that. That's what makes you grow.
Brinsley Forde - "Sodom & Gomorrah"
THIRSTY: What was the genesis, the catalyst for this life you live…for your solo and breaking out? What made you do that?
BRINSLEY FORDE: I was thinking, after being despondent with the whole music scene, that you can have a hit record but it's even more difficult to stand by your convictions. I mean you got companies going, "Ah come on, you need to do this because we gotta get another hit." And I think it's harder to be true to yourself when you have that situation. That's when I decided it's time to do something different. I then spent several years in the Canary Islands. I opened a bar and a good friend of mine who is actually the guitarist approached me.
BRINSLEY FORDE: Yes, Marco. Although a friend, he was playing with a couple of bands there. And then he just said, "Ah listen. Come on and jam with us as we love Aswad." But I think in coming from, and the main thing is, playing with people who were appreciating the music and, the main thing is, that they were playing for the love of it…you suddenly reconnect and think this is why because I loved it so we started to jam and do things. So it was just getting reconnected in loving music and performing music.
THIRSTY: So how do you defeat complacency?
BRINSLEY FORDE: I think that comes from playing. I think that complacency comes from when you begin to doubt what you want to do. But don't get me wrong, it happens to everyone. But then, suddenly someone says, "Listen man, if it wasn't for you guys, I wouldn't have started playing music." You feel that you are giving back to move forward. You do it and then you doubt it and then suddenly people are coming back to you and they say to you that they love that track. So I think it is now I feel I hear the older albums. So when you keep doing things you are searching for it, you're growing and finding new ways. And it's just the continuation of doing what you love to do and if you are able to get up on stage and people are with you. It's like a drug. You feel that you are giving back and that helps you to keep going.
Rest assured, Brinsley will be back to Japan. Keep your head checked with further education: