Artist To Artist: Omar & Evm128
Luke EVM128 aka Evermean is slowly becoming one of London's most interesting producers, floating between bass and garage influences and soul atmospheres. For his latest single on The Moody Boyz' Studio Rockers imprint he has collaborated with Neo Soul godfather Omar, who has always been forward thinking, especially when it comes to music. Exclusively for Ransom Note, Luke asked Omar a few questions about music, food and his family;
EVM128: How was your summer?
Omar: Very busy, from pillar to post. Started off in the far east and ended up in Ibiza. I’ve been everywhere, I can’t complain but I’ve been busy. Studio and otherwise.
Has that been touring your last album?
Not touring it so much as doing a load of festivals, whether it be with my band, a foreign band, backing tracks or DJs, it’s just getting out there and doing the footwork.
I wanted to say thanks for featuring on the track ‘Beyond’ – it’s had a good response, some Radio 1 play already. The process for me, working with you, was really easy. We came to your studio and I was thinking I was going to have to spend a day with you and I got there and it was done.
It was a time constraint thing and I got influenced quite easily so that does help. That’s pretty much how I work, I can work in the studio by myself and get the stuff done. If it’s a bigger process it’s a different thing but this was quite straight forward.
I know everybody asks this question – Stevie Wonder, how did that happen and how did that feel?
I’ve known Stevie for quite a few years through Keith Harris, his UK representative. Keith became my manager back in 92/93 and from then Stevie has said he wanted to work with me because he heard my second album ‘Music’ and he said he liked what I was doing. That was a big boost because he’s my main influence in terms of vocalisation, arrangement, production, composition, right across the board. I just had to wait until 1999/2000 before I could get him to the studio – we tried a couple of times before. It’s Stevie Wonder, you’re pinching yourself to check you’re in the studio with him. He did everything you would want him to do. He played keys, drum, he was singing and just hanging out as one of the guys. That was a pretty special time.
Both of you are multi-instrumentalists so you could jam for days right?
That’s right! I’m a big fan of his early works, the stuff that people know, and I was trying to get him to do that same old thing. He’s started to go away from that, using samplers and sequencers and things like that. I used my brain to say ‘we’ll get him down to the studio and get them in and jam’, he had a song in his head already but when he heard the guys playing he called me the next day and said he had another song.
Who have you been listening to lately? Any new artists?
I just got an album by Jarrod Lawson, this cat from the States. Very good vocalist, he does a very good version of Stevie’s ‘I Wish’. A young singer called Ego Ella May who supported me in the Jazz Cafe a while ago. Renee Simone from Australia, she supported me as well. Kevin Mark Trail, all of these artists are off the radar, making their bones now.
And is all that soul-based?
It’s got that Neo-soul vibe to it – just trying to pay homage to 60s and 70s soul music, it just has a certain vibe to it. We do particularly well in the UK, I always say that’s how we came up with jungle, garage, all of them. You can only get it here because it’s that mixture of soul and Knees Up Mother Brown.
Do you have any particular influences? Apart from the obvious Stevie!
When I was growing up I was listening to him and to lots of Level 42, that how I learnt to play the bass. I was huge into funk, reggae singer like Dennis Brown, Bob Marley of course. My background is Jamaica, as well as Cuba, and I just like the way they sing – and the basslines as well that you get in reggae music and latin music are very similar. It’s obviously from the slavery aspect in Africa. I get it from anywhere, depends what I’m listening to at the time. I’ll make a vibe out of it.
So you’re Jamaican, do you eat a lot of Jamaican food?
I do! My speciality is stewed chicken, my brother does productions and songs with me and we make a double act when it comes to making food. I do the chicken he does the rice and peas. We’ve got the formula down. I made the best batch, batch 4000 or whatever it is, last week.
I’ll have to try some of that! You seem quite open with your music, you like to try out new things which is probably why you’ve gone the distance you have – you evolve with the times. Is that something you do consciously?
Yeah, I love music anyway from when I was 8 years old – I was learning instruments. It’s all like one big mess, you can pick different styles that go with other things, there are always ways of mixing stuff. It’s never boring to me. There’s always something that I like, that’ll get my head nodding. It helps you move along with the times. It’s nice that I’ve got some tunes there now I can play for the youngers. The grannies can dance to something else as well. I don’t think it hurts, I think if it keeps it lively then why not?
Yeah, the Zed Bias dancing – I remember being at Deviation in East London and you came in and did a little live thing with Benji B. I remember you coming in, straight up to the mic, onto the tune and the whole place was just going crazy.
It’s moments like that I live for really. There’s nothing quite like the buzz you get from a crowd giving you feedback on something that you’ve done. When I heard Zed’s backing track I was like ‘what the fuck is this? I’m on it’ and straight away I’m getting ideas. A bit like your tune, the ideas were there. There was an outline to work with but when I’m easy, it’s really good.
It’s good to see you moving into the dancefloor territory, as well as the laid back stuff. You’ve released 7 albums so far, usually artists have a good first few albums but then it goes a bit downhill, that’s not been the case with you – what’s the secret to the consistency?
When I first started, my first ever single that I released I hated after 2 weeks of having to promote it. I fucking hated this song but I still had to go out and do promotion, I had to perform it. I thought ‘I have to make music that has to last’. I’ve been in the business for 24.25 years, I’m thankful for the tune because that’s the one people get to know me with and then they get to everything else but that’s how all music should be. There are tunes you hear from the 60s and 70s that you hear still getting played today and that is basically all I’m looking for. One of those tunes. When it hits, people go crazy for it. You’ll be in a party and you’ll hear people go crazy for certain songs, that’s all I look for and I’ve been blessed that I’ve been able to cherry-pick certain tunes and people still talk about them.
It’s good to see that you haven’t gone down the commercial route…
I wish I could! I can’t pay my leccy! Na, it ain’t like that.
You’ve only got to do that one, I’m sure you’re capable!
It’s not for lack of trying, I’ve tried to do that a few times but it just never works out that way. Music is an art form that’s about expression. When it comes down to expressing myself, I just express myself in the music. It’s not about what’s in the charts or what magazine I’ll be in, I just get a vibe about a certain subject or a certain beat and then BAM, away we go.
You’ve travelled the world gigging, what was your best ever gig?
Ah man… I did so many! There are so many memorable ones… There’s one that I did at Java Jazz Festival, I’d never been to Indonesia before, never been to Djakarta and as soon as I got there there was a big poster with my face on it and a poster on the side of the cab we got into. Basically I was singing with Incognito and it was just singing ‘There’s Nothing Like This’ and 2,000 Indonesians packed this place. My tune starts and they went crazy! I’d never been here before, never met these people but they’d heard the song. I didn’t even have to sing it really, they sang it to me. Stuff like that really does stick out.
If you could work with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
People ask me this all the time and Bobby Womack was one that I would put at the top of the list because of his voice and his music. The Man, that I wrote, was based on a song of his called Woman’s Gotta Have It. There’s half a bar of a tune that sticks with me. Bill Withers I would love to work with as well. There you go, dead and alive!
You’ve had an MBE, congratulations! Do you feel that you’ve achieved all your goals? Do you have any more achievements in mind?
I want to make sure that my daughters grow up happy, healthy and achieve whatever they want. Me, personally, what I’ve achieved has surpassed all of that – I worked with Stevie Wonder, I got an MBE for services to music, I’ve been in the game for years and I’m still going on. Those things are quite magnanimous. There’s a lot of people I know that are in the industry, not doing as well as what I’ve been doing – I’m not an A-list celebrity or anything. I want all those things for my daughters.
I’ve got a daughter too.
How old is she?
A year and a half.
You’ve got it to come!
Your parents put you through music school, are you glad that they nurtured your talent? Will you be doing the same with your own daughters?
Yeah, I was very lucky – my Dad was a session drummer in the 60s and 70s, played with people like Jimi Hendrix, Rolling Stones… He’d been in the business and my mum knew about the business. They encouraged me to get my education first. I went to a Saturday music school and then when I was 16 went to music school in Manchester and then went to music college. They nurtured all of it really so that I would have some qualifications. Well, I should have had some qualifications by the end of it. I’m not that academically assertive really. At the same time, i did my graft in terms of studio time and PAs, things surround the business and they were very supportive of that. I can see it in at least one of my girls, she won’t stop singing. If there’s a camera on, she’ll be in front of it – I love to encourage that. You’ve got to be realistic as well, it’s very hard out there. Whether it’s music, acting or whatever, a very select few get picked. If you’re realistic and you’ve got safety plans in place if your plan A doesn’t work out, at least you’ve got plan B, C and D.
It’s a difficult one isn’t it? You want to push them to make their dreams but you have to be realistic as well. You’ve been making music for 30 years and you’ve watched the industry change, with the internet and mp3 download culture. How do you feel about that?
I think it’s interesting times for everybody. I came up through a time when there was only one music programme – Top Of The Pops – and the one main station, Radio 1. All the big stations kind of controlled it. You see their grip get less and less, CDs were £15 but cost £2 to make but people got hip to that. Now with downloads being free I think you have to accept evolution, that’s just how it is. People used to tape each other’s music. I don’t know what percentage of my music goes out via illegal downloads but they came to the gig, they can pay for my CDs after that. I’ve seen blogs where people have put up the music and think ‘is that right? Should they be doing that?’ and then I see all the comments after. It’s been played in Mexico, China, Venezuela, places I’ve never been to and people are saying ‘thank you for putting this up, we’ve been trying to get this but we can’t and now we have it!’ That’s priceless that is. I know that at shows I can sell CDs, T-shirts, keyrings, condoms… Whatever I want to sell! Plus they’re paying to come and see me. I’ve had to think laterally rather than going on about how I should be getting paid for downloads. You can’t think that way, things have changed now.
In a way it works for the bigger picture?
It does and it makes the world a smaller place. You can get outside of the UK, do your little DJ sets. people have gotten hip to the fact that it costs a lot of money to have a band travel with you, feed them and give them money. You can go out and do shows where you’re just doing PAs, you might be getting less but you’re still getting out there and if you’ve got merchandise with you, you can make a nice little industry out of that. Everything has changed now so everybody has to change with it, rather than sitting there complaining. Funnily enough, the biggest complainers are the richest motherfuckers! There’s an episode of South Park where one of them downloads something – they download for free and this guy comes and takes him to his mansion and he says ‘you see him crying? He’s crying because he can’t build his second swimming pool next to his third tennis court because YOU downloaded for free’. It’s that kind of mentality, I ain’t got time for that.
This is a strange question, if you could describe your sound using a colour – what colour would it be?
Well I like burgundy, so burgundy.
Last question, what is there ‘Beyond’?
The next thing is album number 8 which me and my brother are working on right now as we speak in my studio. It’s coming on nicely. He’s trying to make us do a double album but I just want to do one first then come for the second one straight after. Also, I’ve been acting for a little while – I’ve got my own one man play which has travelled the world which has been quite gratifying, got some bits in films. There’s a new show on next year called the Javon Prince show, the black guy from PhoneShop, and I’ll be the band leader in that, 4 episodes on BBC2. You should see that and hear some new stuff.
Stream the full Beyond Revisited EP here.