An Interview With ‘Talking Dreads’ Musician, MYSTIC BOWIE!
Posted On 18 Apr 2018
On “Life During Wartime,” the first single from Talking Heads’ 1979 album Fear of Music, David Byrne famously sang the immortal lyrics, “This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco…no time for dancing…” Yet all those anti-fun declarations go gleefully out the window when Mystic Bowie, aka the “Head Dread,” takes the stage, re-imagining and infusing fresh life into the Talking Heads’ classic catalog with his high octane mix of roots reggae, ska and lover’s rock (aka “romantic reggae”).
Since debuting his musically revolutionary Talking Dreads project live at the High Times Music Festival on the beach in Negril in late 2015, the charismatic Jamaican-born singer and performer has electrified audiences at more than 100 shows across North America – spinning the heads of initially skeptical Talking Heads fans, and getting everyone else grooving along to the infectious, joyous rhythms and jubilant spirit of his native island. Considering the success of these events, it was only a matter of time before Bowie – who has lived in the Northeastern U.S. for many years – headed back to his cherished homeland and set up shop at the famed Barry O’Hare Studios in Ocho Rios. He gathered old friends he had played music with since childhood, along with younger musicians, legendary Jamaican artists and other surprise guests to capture all the magic of his live performances on the epic, 13 track recording Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dreads.
“Talking Dreads is much more than a cover band,” Mystic says. “I am very much drawing on my own musical culture and history to make these amazing songs my own, while at the same time preserving the integrity of the Talking Heads songs. I’ve always felt that reggae’s dance-inspiring, feel good vibe is universal, as are many of the band’s songs. And don’t forget their intelligent, powerful lyrics, which are fun to sing and shine fresh light on through this new fusion of styles. It took a lot of effort to deconstruct and dissect each song to make it work seamlessly with my singing and performance style. I removed all the instrumentation, kept the story and words, then created my own reggae, Caribbean and tribal feel and married those two elements – then brought back a few of the melodies that captured my attention back in the day.”
Mystic can trace his passion for all things Talking Heads back to his early days performing at hotels in Jamaica, when he heard “Wild Wild Life” – but his connection to the legendary new wave band goes much deeper. His close personal and professional relationship with Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, founding members of Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club, began when he joined the latter group as a singer in 1996. He appeared on their 2000 album The Good, The Bad and the Funky and performed with them for nearly 20 years. Mystic’s first spark of inspiration for the concept that evolved into Talking Dreads began during his time with Tom Tom Club, when there were attempts by certain entities to secure a new Talking Heads album and reunion tour.
“I was already fantasizing about being a backup singer,” Mystic laughs, “but when that hope was not realized, I thought about my own lengthy solo career and my work with Chris and Tina and mused, ‘Why not marry the two ideas, my reggae culture and heritage and Talking Heads Music and lyrics?’ I kept this as a secret for eight years and then went to Berklee College three years ago, recruited a handful of students to jam with me and started reconstructing some of the band’s classic songs. My only criterion was that the kids were familiar with the band and were reggae fans.”
After creating rough recordings in a Berklee rehearsal room, Mystic moved to a pro studio in Boston to create a fully produced demo. The demo featured 11 songs that spanned the entire Talking Heads’ discography, starting with early favorites like “Psycho Killer” and “Pulled Up” and continuing with their best known hits such as “Burning Down the House,” “Cross Eyed and Painless,” “Houses in Motion”; and brilliant but more obscure gems like “This Must Be The Place.” He got an instant “thumbs up” from Frantz and Weymouth, then ran it by Seymour Stein, the music industry mogul who had signed Talking Heads to his label, Sire Records, and helped make them superstars. “Seymour’s exact words were, ‘Why the hell didn’t I ever think of this?’ When I asked for his blessing, he said, ‘On one condition: that you include ‘Love, Building on Fire,’ which is the song he heard them sing at CBGB’s in New York that ultimately inspired him to sign them.”
The Talking Dreads debut features an amazing lineup of legendary reggae figures, including singer Freddie McGregor, whose recording career dates back to his 1980 album Bobby Bobylon; ska guitar master Ernest Ranglin, session player and arranger of Millie’s hit “My Boy Lollipop” and the Melodians’ “Rivers of Babylon” (Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and Monty Alexander); singer and Soul Train Award nominee Tarrus Riley (“Start Anew,” “Good Girl Gone Bad”) and saxophone great Dean Fraser. Bridging generations, Mystic also invited his young drummer friend Kirk Bennett and his old friend Lincoln Thomas, who is McGregor’s longtime guitarist. The sole non-Jamaican on Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dreads, Cindy Wilson of the B-52s, was chosen as a voice that harkens back to the era of Talking Heads’ new wave heyday. Wilson duets beautifully with Mystic on a dreamy, soulful rendition of “Heaven.”
Mystic complements the 11 Talking Heads re-imaginings on Talking Dreads with his own unique, Jamaica-fied spin on two songs originated by other artists that are near and dear to his heart including “Piece of My Heart” — best known for its hit version by Big Brother & The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin, and the Grateful Dead’s “Shakedown Street.” Mystic recalls that while growing up, his late mother, a single mom, worked all day long in the fields. When she was upset or in a bad mood, she would sing “Piece of My Heart” for comfort. He recorded this as a personal tribute to her.
In conjunction with the release of MYSTIC BOWIE’S TALKING DREADS, the band will tour the U.S.; following are dates/venues for 2018, with additional performances to be announced.
5/24/18 Buffalo Iron Works Buffalo, NY
5/25/18 Jackson Downtown Summer Concert Series Jackson, MI
5/26/18 Vegetable Buddies South Bend, IN
5/27/18 Dark Star Jubilee Thornville, OH
6/15/18 Fairfield Theater Warehouse Fairfield, CT
6/20/18 Brooklyn Bowl New York, NY
6/22/18 MILKBOY Philadelphia, PA
6/28/18 Koru Beach Klub Avon, NC
6/29/18 Motorco Music Hall Raleigh-Durham, NC
6/30/18 Grey Eagle Asheville, NC
7/6/18 The Cabot Beverley, MA
7/7/18 Flying Monkey Plymouth, NH
7/28/18 Mashomack Preserve’s 35th Annual Benefit Mashomack, NY
Celebration on Shelter Island, NY
8/18/18 Michael David Winery Lodi, CA
Check out the OFFICIAL WEBSITE for more information.
Learn more about Mystic Bowie in the following All Access interview:
Overall, how do you think 2017 was for you and your career? What are you most excited about for this year? What is one big goal you have for 2018?
For me 2017 was a great success for my career because I had the chance to show my rendition of Talking Heads poetry and winning over a large portion of Talking Heads fans. I’m most excited about the chance to get back on stage in front of my waiting fans and the opportunity to gain new fans on the road. One of my goals is to make this Talking Dreads project a success with that I can help more youth through my philanthropy program.
Growing up, did you ever think that this would be the kind of life that you would have? Has music always been a big part of your life? Can you recall your first ever musical experience?
Growing up I was always dreaming big and preparing to work hard to make my dreams a reality. Yes, music chose me before I even knew who I was. I was the youngest child in a church choir in Jamaica. This was my first musical experience. At 9 years old I recorded my first single.
What does it feel to be about to release your debut album, “Mystic Bowie’s Talking Dreads”? What was it like putting this collection together? Did anything surprise you about the overall process?
It’s very exciting to me knowing the fact that I sang with the composers of these songs, re-wrote these songs in my Jamaican/Caribbean rendition, and is accepted by Talking Heads fans. Putting this collection of songs together was like playing chess. There were so many great songs to choose from and I wanted to make sure to choose from the very first to the very last of Talking Heads repertoire and not focus on all the songs from any one album. The only surprise I can honesty speak of is the legendary Seymour Stein founder of Sire Records and VP of Warner Brother Records gave me his blessing and suggested his favorite Talking Heads song be added to my album.
How did you go about selecting Talking Heads songs to feature on your collection?
I was open minded and reached out for input from friends both in and out of the music business. Even when I had my favorite songs in mind, I know that I don’t buy my own records and other peoples input is just as valuable as mine, if not more.
How does “Once In A Lifetime” prepare listeners for the rest of your album? What was the inspiration for this song?
“Once in a Lifetime” tells the story of my life and my musical journey. At times, I feel as if Talking Heads had written the song personally for me. The inspiration behind the music of Talking Dreads version of this song was to maintain the integrity of Talking Heads poetry while introducing my Caribbean vibe.
What has it been being a solo artist after your time in the Tom Tom Club? What do you find that you prefer? What was it like making the transition?
It has been great and given me the time and opportunity to reflect and write and release my own solo album and create this new project. I have no preference between Tom Tom Club or my solo career because they are very different and give me the opportunity to explore my musical journey. I’ve always had my solo career before and after my time with Tom Tom Club so the transitions were smooth.
Where do you find that you sing the most these days, in the shower, in the car, in the studio or elsewhere?
In the car I sing a lot as a form of rehearsal and come up with new song ideas, in the shower I test out those new ideas, in the studio I do the least of the singing once we are satisfied with the vocal take. However on stage is where I sing the most and even oversing because I have so much fun doing it.
We are living through a very trying and politically charged time right now so I am curious how you think being a musician gives you the most joy in life today? How do you think that music is going to reflect these challenging times?
Music helps me to vent through its safe outlet and because of that I focus less on the political negatives. I highly appreciate the opportunity to deliver my messages and opinions through music. Music is powerful, each of us artists are blessed with contents both good and bad inspired by these trying times.
Who are some of your favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely still love to work with in the future?
Some of my favorite artists are: Tina Turner, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, The Police, Grace Jones, Chic and Talking Heads. From that list, I would be honored to work with all of them but Nile Rogers and Grace Jones.
At the end of the day, what do you hope your fans take away from your music?
At the end of the day I hope my fans take away happiness, peace, and tranquility.
Would you like to share anything else with our readers about yourself or your music?
In a mountain community in Jamaica I was born Fitzroy Alexander Campbell and was given the tribal name “Mystic” by my Maroon tribal elder. I was given the name Mystic based on the powers that my elder sensed in me. I was raised with my tribal standard of putting in my body only what is needed to survive. With those guides I don’t smoke, don’t drink, never use drugs and always maintain a musical high.