SuperHeavy mixes up Jagger rock, Marley rhythms and more
Dave Stewart and Mick Jagger reel in Joss Stone, A.R. Rahman and Damian Marley for a musical 'meeting of minds' that crosses genres.
MIXED AND MATCHED: Damian Marley, left, Joss Stone, Dave Stewart and Mick Jagger on the L.A. set of the video for "Miracle Worker," the act's first single. (Kristin Burns)
Budgets being what they are, it's not often that a music video in 2011 features a few hundred extras. But, then, it's not often that Mick Jagger is part of a new band.
It's only happened once before, and that was half a century ago when he teamed with Keith Richards to form a group called the Rolling Stones. Since then the Glimmer Twin has either worked with the Stones as a solo artist, or as part of some one-off duet with Peter Tosh, the Jacksons or David Bowie.
Onstage at the video shoot alongside Jagger, 68, were his fellow bandmates in a quintet seemingly mixed and matched at random: songwriter, producer and Eurythmics co-founder Dave Stewart, 59, who hatched this idea with Jagger; British soul vocalist Joss Stone, 24; Indian film composer ("Slumdog Millionaire," "127 Hours") A.R. Rahman, 45; and 33-year-old Jamaican toaster Damian Marley, son of reggae singer Bob Marley and best known in America for the 2010 collaboration with rapper Nas, "Distant Relative." The five and a backing band moved through the song over and over again while the cameras rolled.
This is SuperHeavy, whose self-titled debut comes out Tuesday on A&M/Interscope Records and features something for fans not only of Jagger's full-time band, but those with an appreciation for genre-mashing beats and rhythms. It's a project that Stone explained best one afternoon at Henson Studios in Hollywood, where the album was recorded during two different 10-day sessions in 2009. The Los Angeles-based Stewart, she said, phoned her with a proposition. "He calls me up and says, 'Hey, I have this really fun plan: Mick, me, you. We'll find some other people. It'll be a laugh. You want to come?' 'Hell yeah.' 'Cool, I'll give you a call in a couple days.' And that was it."
Jagger gave his version of the story during a casual conversation in a suite at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills a few days earlier. The idea to make some music was hatched at Stewart's place in Jamaica, with the producer and longtime friend and collaborator working on doing "something a little bit different," said Jagger.
"Not just Anglo American kind of music or genre. We should bring in a few different ideas and have a few different vocalists. He said that would be easier. I said, 'That's not going to make it easier, Dave. It'd be easier if it were you and me.'"
But they started brainstorming, and after getting a commitment from Stone, who burst into the public eye in 2003 when she was 16, they continued down their list of potential collaborators. "The idea was to throw together a group of people that were willing to experiment a bit," said Jagger, "doing this kind of crossover genre, and see what came out. We'll just take a chance on it." A few unnamed musicians were busy and declined, while others, in Jagger's words, "had their egos." Entourages were prohibited.
Marley and Rahman committed, and the five converged at Henson Studios (a compound that in past years served as home to Charlie Chaplin's studios and, coincidentally, A&M Records) to merge the ideas of a superstar rock 'n' roll vocalist, a synth-pop pioneer, a composer of Bollywood film scores, a blue-eyed soul belter and Jamaican reggae royalty.
Sounds like a recipe for disaster, especially considering that some of the five were strangers to each other.
Marley, for example, going in only knew one Rolling Stones song, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Rahman appreciated Bob Marley's work, but was unfamiliar with both Damian and Stone's work. The Indian composer's training is in the classical realm.
Jagger hadn't met Damian, but the Stones singer and Bob Marley were London neighbors in the 1970s and used to record at the same Kingston studio. "That's where I met Bob," Jagger said. "He was in a studio recording 'Catch a Fire' and we were doing the overdubs of something — 'Black & Blue' maybe.'" (Note: it was, in fact, "Goat's Head Soup," recorded, like "Catch a Fire," at Dynamic Sound Studio in Jamaica.)
This unfamiliarity didn't worry Jagger or Stewart. "The idea was to get them into a room and see what you get cooperating as writing and playing," said Jagger. Augmented with a backing band that mostly featured a Jamaican rhythm section, the five felt free to, according to Jagger, "put whatever we wanted on top of it."
A few weeks later in a sound room at his Hollywood studio, Stewart sat in front of a mixing board and started booming tracks from the sessions, some of which extended to nearly an hour, with the five riffing, rhyming and toying with ideas. "I thought that was important to catch the meeting of these people," Stewart said. He described the process as "kind of an impressionistic patchwork of songs, lots of them, or jams, that we then put into focus.'"
Stewart, who said that so far there weren't plans for any SuperHeavy performances, moved from the sound room to a video studio, where footage of the sessions was being edited for a future project. It showed Jagger and Stone singing while Stewart, with ever-present beard and sunglasses, strummed along on guitar. "It was a very natural and organic meeting of minds and musicality that got refined as we got to know each other while playing with each other," Stewart said. "It got more complex."
The result is a dozen songs that move from swaggering Stones style rock ("Superheavy") to the groove-oriented "One Day." At times the product of this culture clash borders on pastiche, and pushes dangerously close to Komar and Melamid's 1997 project, "The World's Most Wanted Song," which created musical ideas and instrumentation based on a poll of musical preferences. "Satyameva Jayathe," for example, features Rahman's chanted opening, then moves into an urgent dance hall rhythm and Jagger screaming something in Hindi. As the music world has gotten smaller, though, these kinds of border-jumping creations have increased.
But then, "Never Gonna Change" is a sweet ballad that sounds like a "Beggars Banquet" outtake, and features one of Jagger's strongest vocal turns in years. "Energy" is a Marley-propelled banger with a tag-team vocal hook from Jagger and Stone, who display a magnetic rapport throughout the 12-song album.
"Yeah, he makes me laugh," said Stone of Jagger. "The great thing about Mick is that he's got so much knowledge, and he's always sharing. And I'm always listening. Whenever he thinks I'm not, I am, and I take it all on board." Jagger, in fact, bought her a Shakespeare book during the sessions.
And at one point, Jagger recalled, he had an interaction with Rahman that showcased another side of that knowledge. Rahman had brought in a curious Middle Eastern stringed instrument and started playing it. The Stones singer smiled broadly as he recounted being able to identify the instrument. "I was very pleased with myself. I said, 'Nice santur part, A.R.' He said, 'How do you know this?'"
Jagger replied that the instrument was popular among his peers in the 1960s. "It was a very hippy thing to have this Persian classical instrument. Of course, I hadn't heard it since 1967."