May 10, 2018 Interview – Mystic Bowie of Talking Dreads
Talking Heads’ David Byrne once sang, ‘And you may ask yourself, “Well… how did I get here?”‘ The question we all ask ourselves at one point or another over the course of time, there are experiences unique enough to refer to as once in a lifetime. Living proof of such a phenomena, Jamaican Singer-songwriter Mystic Bowie would tell you music chosen him, and not the other way around. Taken by the movement and emotion of the artform, Bowie would find eventually himself in situations he could never imagine in his wildest dreams, like becoming the frontman of Tom Tom Club – the band founded by former Talking Head’s husband-and-wife team Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz.
Honored to be a part of it all, Bowie’s love and respect for the music of Talking Heads runs deep. Something near and dear, it is exactly why he launched his unique vision of it all, in the form of Talking Dreads.
Set to release the Talking Dreads debut album on June 15th, the extraordinary hybrid of music will feature Reggae versions of Talking Heads hits, plus more. An album that took a good deal of effort to perfect, recently, Mystic Bowie took the time to talk about his vision, his unbelievable journey in music, performing live, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in music professionally for over 3 decades now. Collaborating with others, writing, recording, and performing, you have kept extremely busy. Briefly, how would you describe your musical journey?
Mystic Bowie – In my musical journey, the music choose me. The reason I say that, and the reason I am convinced music chose me, is because when I started to make music, I was not at all able to make such a decision of doing music or not. I was basically the youngest child singing in a church choir in Jamaica when I was 7 years old. I recorded my first single when I was 9 years old, it came out in Jamaica, and it never went big, however, I was proud enough to say, “I have a record, I am a 9 year old kid with a record out!” That was good enough for me.
The journey continued when I was 13 years old, I entered a competition in Jamaica called the Jamaica Pop and Variety Festival. I won from my parish of St. Elizabeth, and from there, that triggered them to start booking me to perform in the hotel industry. I got a lot of work, simply because I was never a Reggae singer. I entered this competition as a Calypso and Mento singer. Mento is the Jamaica Folk music which came about from my tribal – the tribe I was born and raised in called the Maroons.
That made me different, it made me stand out from the rest. So performing in the hotels, then they started sending me abroad to perform in Peru, Mexico, etc. It was those same trips that took me to the Bahamas in 1981 to perform at the Junkanoo Festival held in Nassau. From there, I discovered these musicians who knew about a recording studio in Nassau – Compass Point, owned by Chris Blackwell. Once I heard about the recording studio, my curiosity took over. When my caretaker was expecting me to be asleep, I would actually sneak out to peak in and see what was going on with these musicians. It was later I came to realize some of these people were the Tom Tom Club. There was also Grace Jones, Desmond Dekker, Keith Emerson, a couple of members of The Beatles, people who would hang out at this place. I had no idea who they were, I had no interest in knowing who they were. My interest was in, “There’s recording equipment, and I want to see what’s going on.”
CrypticRock.com – That is pretty cool. When did you discover these musicians were in fact pretty famous?
Mystic Bowie – The journey continued to where, later on in life, I discovered, these people are very famous. I started coming to the United States and the circle completed in 1992, I was asked to come to Mardi Gras festival in Manhattan at a place called Tramps. There was all these musicians from different genres, they wanted one Reggae artist on it. They heard about me, they liked what I was doing, and wanted me to perform.
I was going to be the only Caribbean performer on it, I explained, I didn’t like the responsibility of a band, I like to travel solo. They explained to me there would be some musicians who would be backing me on stage, so I should not worry about it.
At that time I moved to live in Weston, Connecticut. There was a rehearsal to meet the musicians so we could work on the show. The house I was sent was only 10-12 minutes from where I was living. I walked in, and it turned it out it was Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth, from Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club. Those are two of the same people I saw down in the Bahamas back in my teenage years. That completed one of the circles in my life.
CrypticRock.com – Amazing how that happened. How did you begin to work with Chris and Tina and join Tom Tom Club?
Mystic Bowie – After the show, Chris and Tina approached me and said, We love your energy, what do you think about coming over and start writing some songs together?” I accepted with pleasure, I was honored. From there I would do guest appearances until Charles Pettigrew, singer of Tom Tom Club at the time, had gotten sick. I actually went to visit Charles in the hospital while he was sick and he asked if I minded replacing him in the Tom Tom Club, I would be honored. I said, “How can I say no to you?” That is when I became the frontman for the Tom Tom Club. That continues until I decided to branch out to this new thing. Me, being a huge Talking Heads fan, I know from traveling around with the Tom Tom Club, all people were asking for a reunion of the Talking Heads. I realized that is not going to happen, but I wanted it to happen, because I was hoping I could become a backup singer for Talking Heads. (Laughs)
When I realize it was not going to happen, I came up with the concept of recording their poetry/songs in Reggae. I didn’t want to be a cover band, I don’t want to be a cover band. What I wanted to do is, literally, dissect their songs, strip down the music, take it all away, and I wrote my part in Reggae Caribbean Ska style. I laid it on top of their poetry while still maintaining the integrity of their songs and popular melodies. Before I let anyone know about it, I approached Chris and Tina to see what they thought about the idea. They said you have our support, you should definitely do it. That was the birth of Talking Dreads. The musical journey continues to this day. Here we are! (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – Wow, it is really an amazing story that still continues. On June 15th, you are set to release a new album featuring some classic Talking Heads songs. What was it like putting this together?
Mystic Bowie – When putting this album together, what I wanted to do was not just choose songs from one Talking Head album or singles. I wanted to choose from the very first song that they got signed with to their very last song. It took quite awhile, I actually put a lot of these songs together while I was on tour singing with Tom Tom Club. It wasn’t difficult at all, because Talking Heads songs are very rhythmic. It was easy for me to merge the story to my rhythm because I am a lyricist. I appreciate David Byrne lyrics and the way he delivered his lyrics.
After getting these basic demos together, I went to Boston, rented a rehearsal space, and recorded quite a few former Berklee students. Then I went to Jamaica where I recorded the entire album because I wanted to legitimize the Reggae/Caribbean part of this project. Some living legends played on this album such as Dee Fraser on saxophone, Nambo Robinson on trombone, and the legendary, Grammy winner Barry O’Hare engineered this project.
As far as guest singers, I wanted to bridge the gap, so I brought in Cindy Wilson from The B-52s, she sings on “Heaven.” Then Freddie McGregor, another living legend out of Jamaica, sang on a song called “Life During Wartime.” I also brought in Taurus Reilly, who has been a younger star for quite a few years now.
Ernest Ranglin, who is in his high ’80s, played guitar. It was fairly easy putting the project together, but I didn’t want to rush it. It took me a lot of time, because like I said, I wanted to legitimize it – I wanted to do Talking Heads’ music justice. I wanted to walk out of there knowing they are pleased, happy, and say, Mystic Bowie represents me well. That is what I was hoping for and I think so far I have achieved that goal.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed, it does work very well. It sounds like it was a long, but worthwhile process.
Mystic Bowie – One other thing I would do during the recording process is record a little demo, text it to Chris and Tina, to see what they thought of it and get their feedback. I didn’t have a contact for David Byrnes, otherwise I would have done the same thing to get his feedback during the recording process. It worked out, even on the Chris’ Talking Head radio show in Connecticut, hosted on WPKN Radio 89.5 FM, he played 2 tracks of Talking Dreads’ version of their own songs. It was one of the huge honors of my career. He played “Psycho Killer” and “Burning Down the House,” I don’t think anyone could ask for a bigger compliment than that. It was easy, but it took a lot of time, because I wanted to do it right.
CrypticRock.com – The album did come out great with wonderful renditions of songs everyone knows and loves. It really is a true honor that Chris was so supportive of it all and even played the music on his own radio show! You have collaborated with many different musicians for this album, but you also have collaborated with many musicians over the years. What have you learned from these different experiences?
Mystic Bowie – I have learned a lot. Take the time to listen to the Reggae done by all Jamaicans, and then take the time to listen to the Reggae done my Mystic Bowie, there are a lot of differences in it. I have more of an international twist on mine because of the experiences I have had collerbating with all these people from different genres. These collaborations through the years have opened my eyes and widened my version – the way I see things, the way I write.
For example, I listen to a lot of American music, I listen to a lot of European music. Driving my car, I listen to a lot of House, Techno that keeps me going. I listen to a lot of older Pop, older Funk and R&B. Those kind of collaborations add to what I am today, it helped make me who I am, it helped me write the way I write. It curved and directed my art to where it is today, so those collaborations did an amazing thing in a positive way for me. I am looking forward to collaborating with a quite few more people, because I want to keep growing!
CrypticRock.com – That is wonderful, you never stop learning. With an open mind you are always moving forward and learning something new. You are set to hit the road and play shows this summer. Now doing Talking Dreads for a few years, what has been the reactions from fans?
Mystic Bowie – Here is the thing, the first time I decided to take Talking Dreads on the road, I was very curious what some of the diehard Talking Heads fans were going to think. I have to say, I am so elated that every single response from every show we have done is positive. The new fans, and the Talking Heads fans, said the same thing, they said, “You did it justice and we are so happy you continue this to give us a chance to listen to this music again. Some fans said, “Woah, we finally understand what David Byrnes was saying.” (Laughs) – in Reggae and Caribbean music, the story has to be clear, not as hidden per se.
So far it’s all been positive, the fans are very appreciative and very open minded. The crowds keep getting bigger as folks tell others, “We went, we like it, here we are.” It just keeps getting better, I am very happy and grateful.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent, and you have a lot of shows coming up in May, June, and July. There will hopefully be people who have heard the new record before coming to these shows too.
Mystic Bowie – Yes, and the single, “Once in a Lifetime,” was released on May 4th with a music video I shot in Jamaica. In the music and video, my interpretation of it, is basically telling my life, once in a lifetime experiences, the completions of these circles… such as meeting Chris and Tina as a kid and coming back to record with them, then singing their own songs, that’s a once in a lifetime experience!
Our show, you can check us out on YouTube, we are a very high energy band. We are a performing arts group, we throw the energy out, and as long as we keep getting your reflection in the mirror we pointed at you, we just keep going at it. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – It should be a great summer of shows and music. Last question. CrypticRock covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of these genres, do you have any favorites?
Mystic Bowie – I am literally the biggest Horror film junkie you will ever find. If there is a Horror film that hits, I am there. I am huge into Sci-Fi too. I am very into educational shows to be true – I like animal and nature shows, because I like to know a lot about the planet I am living on. However, Horror films are my favorite. Also, some of my favorite are Disney films. Say what you want about Disney films, I learn so much from them. My favorite movies of all-time are The Neverending Story (1984) and The Jungle Book (1967). Although, if you throw any Horror film at me, it will be accepted with open arms. (Laughs)
CrypticRock.com – That is great to hear! What are some of your favorites in the Horror genre?
Mystic Bowie – The Others (2001) stayed with me. I don’t know how many I should throw at you. (Laughs) Also, The Sixth Sense (1999), amazing! There are so many of them. Final Destination (2000) was one of my favorite, that would take the top for me too.