The Orb and Lee “Scratch” Perry Make Soul Music in the Stars

The team-up of The Orb and reggae legend Lee “Scratch” Perry is a match made in heaven.  Alex Paterson has been making dubbed-out  music as The Orb since 1989 and entered the scene with the grooves and samples classic The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld with break-out tracks Little Fluffy Clouds and Perpetual Dawn reaching dance-kids’ ears on the floor as well as headphones listeners the world over.  Lee “Scratch” Perry has been making music since the 1950’s and has made over 60 albums plus produced many more for the likes of Bob Marley.  He hasn’t stopped making music, working with Adrian Sherwood, Mad Professor and dubstep producers Dubblestandart and The Slits’ Ari Up.  Perry’s 2008 and 2010 albums won Grammys for Best Reggae Album.  An innovator of the dub style of music creation, Lee “Scratch” Perry is one of the influences of Paterson and Fehlmann and it was a dream come true to work with such a legend.

The Orbserver in the House of Stars is the latest album from The Orb but it is something bigger than that as it is also the first Orb album with vocals throughout the album.  After talking about the weather…

You’ve recently finished an album with who I’d think is one of your biggest influences and heroes.
He’s up there.  He’s up there with the best

How did the whole project come together?  Was it easy?
Lots of phone calls, lots of “we sent the music”, six months later, “have you heard the music”?  “Yeah, I like it.” “Can you do something?” “Not now.”  Eventually it works.  We got there.

How long from the idea of it until the completion?
Finishing the project?  About a year.  On and off.  That’s just off the top of my head.  I imagine my manager would say longer than that.

In the video for Golden Clouds we see you in a cabin recording and walking around a swampy outdoors area.  It looked rather Out There.
We weren’t like that all the time.  We were very happy making our music, definitely.

It looked like you all had a good time working together.  How often were you in the same room together. Were you in England or Jamaica?
We worked in Eastern Germany In a place called Sternhagen, which translated means Star House.  And that is where that part of the title of the album comes from: The Orbserver at the Star House.  We had him for a week, recording and by and large we talked about this for a very long time to keep him interested, amused, happy, not bored.  And we managed it.  We had six songs kind of written for him to do some vocals over and on Thursday we discovered that we’d run out of songs.  So we spent the night on Thursday of him toasting, which is basically a big reggae session doing vocals over those things.  His brief was that he didn’t get up until six o’clock every day, pm, and we didn’t finish until six am.  So what we did on Friday is we got up early and made up the rest of the album.  It was a very long, good Friday.  We just had this mad rush of work: musical ideas, basically popped out on that Friday.

So you two had a very long 24 or so hours making half of the album.
Yeah, pretty much so, the rest of the album.  He basically went away with these new tunes and he went back to Zurich, that’s where he lives with his wife, Zurich, Switzerland, and we got together again about two or three weeks after that session and started processing those songs and mixing the album and pasting the vocals in all the right places.

Was he an interesting character to work with?
Very interesting to work with in many respects because he was a human beatbox.  It was quite funny in many little aspects in where he’d be fooling around.  I go to get some hot chocolate and he asked me to get one for him too.  By the time I got back with his, he’d thrown mine on the fire to bless the fire.  Do you picture that?

I see you also do a radio show.
It’s Called Chilled Chewy Choosedays at www.fnoob.com.

Do you  find the new album to be “Orb-ish”?  To me it sounds like the distillation of all the dub reggae sounds you’ve been using in your music for the past two decades.
It inspired us not to do so much of the dub reggae but more to do the vocals.  This is the first time the Orb has ever done a truly vocal album.  I can’t think of another one.

You’ve done one or two songs on various albums, but not all the way through.
So that in itself was a challenge, to keep ourselves amused and to keep the music as fresh as possible and at the same time not lose our identity.  Music is something you just do, it’s a touchy-feely thing.  We tend to have a sound that no one else can recreate.  Lee is not just a legend, the man is 76 years old this year.  You know the saying “you can’t teach a dog new tricks”?  He’s definitely an old dog.  We showed him some new tricks and he showed us some old ones.  He was very open to our ideas which a lot of older people, including myself, may be closed to other peoples’ ideas because you think you know what you want.  He was very open and we connected on so many different levels in the music.  It shows on the album because in essence, the vocals are done right away.  It’s good to get it all nice and prim and proper, but it takes longer.  We tried as much as possible not to cut up the vocals, not to mix up the vocals from different takes.  What happens when I work with bands like Killing Joke is that when I’m working on vocals it takes them weeks.  It’s never the same take, it’s always different takes.  We didn’t want to go down that same patch with Lee “Scratch” Perry where we try to keep all the words he says in one sentence as much as possible.

The vocals and music have that child-like quality and of not being overly produced.
The version of Police and Thieves is pretty much live vocals, one take.  That’s the way he is.

I’m quite happy that the likes of you and The Orb are still around.  I’ve seen you on numerous occasions and saw you spin at the (now closed) Virgin Megastore in West Hollywood for the release of Orblivion.  You were wearing a “McDead Cow” t-shirt.  Are you a vegan?
I’m a vegetarian.

I also bought the album with the green plastic sleeve that I had to cut with scissors to get into.
The U.F.Orb album.   That’s 20 years old this month, that album.  I’m doing a special on my radio show with loads of old mixes and live versions from different shows from around that time.

It’s been a pleasure talking with you.  I don’t want to take too much more interview time away from anyone else.  It’s great to finally talk with you I’ve been following you for over 20 years now.  Will you be coming to the U.S. any time soon?
Yes, we do have plans.  We just have to sort out my tax problems in the U.S. It’s not that they can’t be sorted, but I can’t sort it.  My agents and accountants have to talk with that lot on the other side of the American bureaucracy that I don’t like.  Everyone gets taxed wherever they go.  Unfortunately you’ve got a regime there that wants to know about what I was doing seven or eight years ago.  Hmmm.   Anyway, there you go.  The only way I managed to come to L.A. to do a show was because I wasn’t earning any money.  That’s one way of getting into America.

I hope it all works out and look forward to seeing you soon.  Again, it was a pleasure, Alex.

(by Bret Miller)

Chilled Chewy Choosedays
The Orb on Facebook
The Orb’s website

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