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:: Spotlight :: Interview with The Wailers

By: Saeed Saeed

On the eve of their Australian tour, Mediasearch’s Saeed Saeed speaks to Elan, lead singer of undoubtedly the world’s greatest reggae outfit, The Wailers.

You came to Australia with the band about 10 years ago wasn’t it?

Yeah it was about 1998 I think. We played the Byron Bay Blues & Roots Music Festival and then toured around the country after that. It was amazing. But I didn’t have that many days off to see the countryside and places that I wanted to see. We played a lot of beautiful places. The band also came down in 2003 I believe but I wasn’t there then.

Stepping into this place and interpreting the music, were you keen to bring something of your own personality to the mix?

Oh absolutely, 100%. I tell people all the time I am not trying to be Bob Marley. It just so happens I have a deep raspy voice and when I sing the Wailers songs I sound like Bob. We also incorporate some of my own songs into the set as well, so it’s not just all Wailers classics. We do four of my songs in the set from the album I released last year called ‘Together As One’. I tell you ten years ago I never used to say anything when we played the new songs and it was amazing because the crowds used to think it was an unreleased Bob Marley song or a Wailers song they maybe didn’t know about. The biggest compliment I used to get was that people after the show used to say..… ‘Hey are you guys releasing any new stuff, we’d love to hear it’, and I’d say, ‘what, you guys didn’t hear the four new songs in the set?’ and they’d go ‘no way, I thought they were unreleased Wailers songs. We didn’t know’.

Now you are performing Marley songs, have you found new things about them that you like… as a vocalist I mean?

Oh yeah, all the time. The crazy thing is how much I add to the songs. I try to add a lot of ad libbing with these songs. Like I said I’m not trying to be Bob Marley. I like to ad lib stuff into them all the time. And the guys in the band tell me Bob used to do that too. He’d never sing a song the same way twice. It’s about the vibe and the feeling of really connecting to the music and delivering to the people and taking them away from their worries and problems. I’m always finding new things in these songs that excite me.

Any personal favourites?

Oh man, my favourites change every week. I love all Bob’s songs. They’re all so cool. As a singer, my favourites depend on what I’m feeling at the time, what I’m going through, that might affect which ones I like to sing at that time, but I truly love them all.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Did you always want to be a singer?

I never knew. I used to sing all time the shower and the car, but I never knew I would do it professionally. I grew up in Los Angeles and was doing a bunch of things but this was the first band I ever played with, the first band I ever got on stage with. I was 19 years old. I never had a soundcheck, no rehearsal, nothing. It was at a gig and I got up in front of 6000 people and sang just off the memory of listening to the records as I kid.

What, they just asked you on the spot?

Yeah. They asked me, ‘are you ready, are you sure?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it’. I knew the songs. I wasn’t afraid of the crowd, although I didn’t have the biggest of stage presence y’know with how to connect with the crowd, but I knew the songs. I was more afraid of getting the lyrics right because everyone in the crowd always knows every lyric of Bob Marley and the Wailers songs!

You must have carried it off okay, because you got the gig right!

Yeah, I guess so. Y’know it was funny because there was no try out. They just asked me ‘do you want to do it?’ It wasn’t like a try out with me against a bunch of other guys. Junior Marvin was the singer before. He was the rhythm guitarist in the band but when Bob passed away Junior started singing. Then when he left in 1996 they needed a singer and I was in the right place at the right time. I was very fortunate and ended up going on tour with them for 3 ½ years or so.

Every kid has dreams about what it’s like being in a band on the road. Did you have any expectations about what it was going to be like? And were those expectations met?

I was so young. I had no expectations at all. I was just like, ‘Okay, I’m just going to do this’. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I grew up in LA so I grew up pretty fast. But y’know I tell people it was like my college years. I never went to college but doing this I had the best professors and I grew up seeing the world. I met people like Carlos Santana, David Crosby all these great artists who I grew up listening to and loving their music. They all showed me about how it was to be on the road, and taught me all about the music business so I was very lucky. I learnt fast.

I guess you’ve played with the other bands on the Raggamuffin show at some stage?

I did two tours with UB40 last year when I was promoting my solo album, “Together As One”. They’re a great band. And I’ve toured with Maxi back in the day too. It’s going to be great. We’re all really looking forward to coming out there.

Are The Wailers planning to do any new recordings in the near future?

I have this idea for a new Wailers record and it’s really the most important thing we are doing right now. It’s going to be the same sort of concept as Santana’s ‘Supernatural’ album. The idea is there’s a bunch of new songs, all new material with contemporary artists like Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, Fergie, Akon, Amy Winehouse, Green Day… there are so many and everyone I’ve talked to about being involved has just said straight up yes because they have been so inspired by the Wailers. So its not redoing old Wailers classics, these artists will write the songs and bring their own vibe to it and with the foundations of the Wailers sound on the record, it’s going to be fantastic. God willing it will come out next summer.

TOUR DATES:

February 5 - HORDERN PAVILION, SYDNEY
February 6 - ENMORE THEATRE, SYDNEY
February 9 - WACA GROUND, PERTH
February 12 - VODAFONE ARENA, MELBOURNE
February 15 - THE RIVERSTAGE, BRISBANE
February 16 - WYNDHAM ESTATE, HUNTER VALLEY, NSW
February 17 - RED DEVIL PARK, BYRON BAY, NSW