Darryl Jenifer Of Bad Brains: ‘I Want To Be The Soldier Of My Music’
|artist: bad brains||date: 07/12/2007||category: interviews|
Interview by Amy Kelly for http://www.ultimate-guitar.com
Bad Brains’ latest release Build A Nation delivers positive, often spiritual themes, but still continues to delve into the hardcore punk sound fans have known. Lending a hand on production duties was The Beastie Boys‘ Adam Yauch (MCA), who jumped at the chance to record one of his early influences. The album marks the band’s first album in 5 years and features the classic lineup of bassist Jenifer, vocalist H.R., guitarist Dr. Know, and drummer Earl Hudson. Although Jenifer spent a few years apart from Bad Brains, he told UG writer Amy Kelly recently that a “brotherhood” like Bad Brains could never break up.
UG: You’ve had a series of ups and downs with Bad Brains over the years, including a series of lineup changes and breakups. What motivated the band to write Build A Nation?
Darryl: People should understand that we’re like a brotherhood before a band. We kind of knew each other and grew up together before Bad Brains. So when people see our ups and downs, we’re like a family. Within any family there is dysfunction, like a big brother and a little brother. You’ve got to look at us like that. We’ve got a big brother that’s a little eccentric, kind of wild. My next big brother is real knowledgeable and kind of grounded. So I want to make it clear that Bad Brains, as a collective, never really broke up or anything like that. We just kind of get sick of each other or don’t want to play or whatnot.
So check it out, this band Bad Brains still has a life of its own. So it’s not like we sit around and go, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do.” It was like one day I think we were doing some shows. There’s no big mystery to the thing. We said, ” Shit, we’ve got to make a new record.” Then I was talking to Yauch one day about something else we were doing together. I said, “Yeah, the Brains are going to drop a new record!” He goes, “Shit, you all have to let me produce that, man! ” I’m like, “All right, fine.”
I call up Doc and say, “Yo, let’s get together and throw together some riffs.” He said, “Yeah? What type of riffs do you want to throw down?” I said, “You know what? This time we’re going to drop some shit like how we used to. ” It’s not like we’re going to go back and copy ourselves because we can’t do that. We could never do it. So we said, “Let’s make some shit that when people put it on, they’ll say, ‘Now that’s the Brains!’”
What kind of music influenced you in the early days of Bad Brains?
We loved all music. Where we’re from you’re just supposed to like funk, go-go. That’s Chocolate City. The rock that’s in D.C. is more like Capitol Hill, Virginia heavy metal. But where we’re coming from, it’s mainly go-go. The blessing here is that somehow or another I’m in 8th grade math class, drawing pictures of guitars while I’m supposed to be doing shit, listening to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return To Forever. We’re not listening to your BT Express, funky shit. But then I’d listen to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and shit like that. So when punk came around, it was just another form. I thought it was interesting that the dudes couldn’t really play, but they really had a lot of heart.
I read on your bio that some band members have a background in jazz. Were you one of the members who dabbled in that genre?
That’s like a spin really! I’m kind of getting a little upset about that. With the jazz, it’s not like we’re in D.C., going to Duke Ellington and playing jazz. I don’t even know how to play jazz. What that is that people knew that we would listen to progressive jazz rock like Return To Forever, Weather Report, and shit like that. So as young cats wanting to be musicians, it was natural for us. We wanted to make our music progressive. It was the norm to do the funk and the go-go. For some reason, I didn’t want to be normal! That’s the whole key to the whole thing.
I could be 16 years old, living in the heart of D.C., going to see my girlfriend. I might listen to some Kool And The Gang, maybe I’ll put on some Stevie Wonder. Then you might hear a little Black Sabbath. The next thing you know, I’m listening to The Ramones and the people next door are wondering what the hell is my problem! The dudes in the hood are calling me Elvis because I wear leather pants.
As a musician today do you still find yourself experimenting with different musical styles?
Then, I was like a corporal. Now, I’m like a general! I was a corporal way back then, learning in the ranks of things. Being a musician and a cat that plays an instrument, it’s a seasoned situation now. It’s more like I’m a general. I sit down at the table of my studio, turn on my guitar and say, “D, what you working with? What do you want? Are you dropping rub-a-dub today? Do you want to come up with a punk rock thing? Do you want to get loud? What do you like and what’s going to make you feel good?” So if I can decide on that, then the floodgates would open to what I like. It’s all about me deciding. With Build A Nation, you see it’s rock, old school Bad Brains. It’s reggae, rub-a-dub.
|“I’m too lazy to learn the language of music, and that’s why I don’t consider myself a musician. “|
As a bass player, are you someone who pays great attention to your playing style?
I used to be really into the bass, from about 13 to when I was about 18, and I was absorbed in a really big way. I would draw pictures of them all the time. I would fall asleep with a bass and it would fall on the floor and scare me! I was obsessed. My father used to yell at me that it was all I ever wanted to do. I was obsessed with the bass. I would write letters to Stanley Clarke and shit like that. There was a time when I lived this instrument.
Do you remember these magazines called Highlights? They used to have these connect-the-dots and it would be like an elephant with balloons. When I look at the fretboard, that’s mainly what I trip on. When I’m writing my music, I don’t really create the movement of the music from any type of musical knowledge. I look and go, “Well, I went one half-step. This time I’m going to do this.” It’s like Braille or something to me! I’m too lazy to learn the language of music, and that’s why I don’t consider myself a musician. There are cats out there that take the time to learn the language. If I knew the music, you’d probably hear about me more.
I’m a guy with a knack. I do mainly punk rock and reggae. I feel I’ve developed a tremendous feel for it. I was kind of shy – the worse thing about me playing bass was playing in front of people onstage. So I feel that I’ve evolved through the years. So now I have no problems going onstage, but the music was always first. It was me massaging whatever figure I came up with out of the fretboard.
How did you originally come up with the first track, “Give Thanks And Praises”?
That was me and Doc. It was like a movement or like a guy in the opera with the baton. So when we go to imagine what we want to kick, we want the crowd to feel what we’re going to do. So we said, “All right, on this type of joint we’re going to come in with this metal-esque type riff that can get a head nod going. So the whole idea is to get the crowd jumping. Every musician and every artist is writing for the crowd or whoever is listening, how he wants them to feel about it and react to it.
So we’re sitting here going, “If we come up with this shit, we’re going to go and jump on this rock riff. It’s going to be a headbanger. But then we’re going to break back, do a break, and then we’re going to go into our fast shit with a guitar lead.” It’s like composing, really. You want to come in at one tempo that creates the certain type of mood. H.R. hears that, and I don’t know what he’s going to write or what he’s going to sing to the music. I’m just an arranger, music composer. Throughout our career, I think I only wrote a lyric to maybe like “Big Take Over” or something like that. H.R. hears the music, and whatever the music makes him feel, it’s on him to express that in word and in lyric.
What role did Adam Yauch (a.k.a. MCA of The Beastie Boys) play as producer?
It’s more like when I produce. There are 2 types of producers. There’s the producer that can make the arrangements and set your whole shit up because you can’t do it yourself. The record label or somebody has more confidence in this particular producer’s vision with music. It gets political.
Then there’s the producer like Ric Ocasek, who comes in not so much changing our music or talking about our choruses or verses, but just making sure our sessions are organized. Not all producers fuck with your music! Groups like Bad Brains, they can produce themselves. What they can’t do is organize the session and deliver the record. As far as producing the music, they know and they have a vision of what they want to do.
What I found with Yauch is that we’re all sort of on the same page. It was sort of like, “Come on, man!” Earl doesn’t like to play a lot sometimes. We played about 4 to 6 more songs than what we normally would have recorded because of Yauch kind of pushing on us.
Was the recording process a lot shorter with Yauch’s help?
I think we did that in about 10 days or something. We wanted to keep it simple, but my mother got sick with cancer. So for 18 months, I was in another world of cancer care until she died. So that’s why people say, “You recorded this record at this time, but why is it just coming out now?” There’s a long process in finding the label, and it was the 18 months. We come when Jah calls us. It was there and it came. Sometimes with this band, you can’t really manipulate it. It’s living.
Have you encountered new aspects of the music scene that are different from when you started 30 years ago?
I’ve got to stop going on the Internet. They kept dissing us and saying that we’re old and play half-ass. It’s just ignorance really. For instance, we played Sasquatch and I saw this guy’s review about how we’re “all right.” It was like a windstorm. If you go to see anybody, it’s not going to have any impact out in the canyon. My music is not even designed for arenas. We’re not that band. We’re not the big open-air band. To get the full impact of the riffs that I create with what we do, you’ve got to be in a nice-size club with a tight PA. We’re not that band. We’re not the Guns N’ Roses that step out on the stage with wind blowing. Our music goes to fast and it’s too sheer. But there’s a college radio kid that just heard about us and doesn’t really know.
And do you know this homophobic bit that they keep saying about us? In short, years ago when we were first discovering Rastafari, I tried to explain to people that you grow. You’re growing. In Rastafari and even in Christianity, they disagree with homosexuality. That’s a known fact. So the point being here, when we first were discovering Rastafari – like any young men or any young women getting into anything – you’re overzealous. Back in 1988, I might have been saying, “Fire burn…” I’m 25 years old! You’ve got to understand that I’m a young man growing, getting into something. Now I’m 46 years old and I’ve learned that that’s ignorant. I’ve learned through the years that we’re all God’s children, regardless of your race, creed, color, sexuality, any of that.
You get people out there, that when we come back in the public eye, they immediately run and go, “Don’t like them. Those dudes hate. They’re homophobes.” What they’re doing is really just hating on us. H.R. wrote a song “Don’t Blow Bubbles” in 1988 and now still today there are people out there that won’t let that go. They don’t understand that we’ve grown. Just like anyone, I’m not ashamed to say, “Maybe I could have been…” Damn right, I was a homophobe! I shouldn’t have to explain that to the world because everyone will do that. That’s wisdom. You have to grow to be wise.
That’s respectable that you are able to own up to that today.
People have got to know that from when we first started doing any type of real music professionally, our banner was always PMA. We always used to say, “We come to unite the black and the white onstage” – to the point where it was embarrassing. It was our banner. It was our banner to unite the youth. If you listen to our early music, that’s what you’re going to hear. You’re going to hear that and you’re going to hear bitching about politics, Ronald Reagan, and us being God-respecting youth and that we feel that Jah had his plan.
Have you noticed any new bands that could possibly be following in the footsteps of Bad Brains in terms of uniting youth and creating a musical movement?
That’s a good question. I don’t know a lot of what’s going on in the music scene today to see anything like that jumping out. I can’t hear anything from where I stand. I’m writing my solo record, so I usually don’t listen to a lot of stuff to keep my palette clean. When I look out there into the horizon, I just see a bunch of entertainers. I see a lot of cats in the music game, making money. But as far as like how Jello Biafra used to be, I don’t see. It could be. I could be wrong. Maybe there are some youths sitting somewhere right now, living together, playing together, and playing music based on a positive progression and seeking spirituality.
|“People should understand that we’re like a brotherhood before a band. “|
Does religion always enter into your songwriting?
Not so much religion particularly. I do have a faith and I’m very spiritual, but I don’t have a church or a saying. I consider myself more like an earth man. I live on the earth. My body is my temple. My relationship with the Great Spirit is between me and him. Occasionally I say “Jah,” but I really like to say “Great Spirit.” I like to remain humble. I don’t like to say “He.” I’d hate to turn around and it’s not necessarily that, you know?
Talk a bit about your solo project. Is it similar to what you’ve done with Bad Brains?
The band is called Blackvova Universal. The whole concept to the music I’m doing is a celebration of the female. I believe that all of creation passed through a female. We’ve got our thing with our seed and all that. But like a baby getting in there and forming, that’s really the Great Spirit at work. This particular album’s concept is basically that I feel like all of us are born of one womb within Africa. I believe Africa is the cradle is civilization.
Can you see yourself in Bad Brains 10 or 20 years from now?
Personally, I’ll always be in the group because it’s my group of brothers. We come when Jah calls us. That’s how I like to describe that. We come when the Great Spirit calls us. People say I’m far off the stage of hardcore. I’m 46 years old, but I do what I do. I’m better than I was when I was 19. I own what I do in terms of hardcore rock bassists. I own that. Unless the tendons in my hand get in an arthritic situation, then maybe I might stop. But right now, it’s music that we’re inventing and I still physically can play it with no problem. As a matter of fact, I feel more proficient than ever. It’s a combination of the history I had with the style, all that. In the past it was a problem. It was a struggle. It’s not a struggle anymore because it’s something that I better know.
I look at the music and the riffs that I create as a spear. The music that I create is like the head of the spear to spread positivity throughout the world. I’m fighting a battle: good over evil. I want to be the soldier of my music to help aid in the progression of positive vibes. God blessed me to be able to be brave enough and clever enough to bring that music to a sound like punk rock. Somebody might think it’s a sound that’s negative and vulgar. My aunt passed away, but she said, “Darryl, I understand you’re very popular with this vulgar form of music. What that is, that’s the glory of the Great Spirit, knowing that Bad Brains within music is going to open some eyes.
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