Vernon Reid: The 13th Floor Interview Pt. 1

Trailblazing funk/rock/metal band Living Colour is bringing their 30th Anniversary Tour to Auckland’s Powerstation on Thursday, May 11th. Along with lead singer Cory Glover, the band features guitarist extraordinaire Vernon Reid, influential bassist Doug Wimbish and drummer Will Calhoun.

The 13th Floor’s Marty Duda spoke to both Vernon Reid and Doug Wimbish at length recently. Today we feature part one of the conversation with Vernon Reid. The interview was conducted shortly after this year’s Grammy Awards show and Vernon weighs in with his feelings on how the much-maligned awards were handed out this year. Reid also speaks out about the current political scene in the US and how it affects race relations.

Click here to listen to part one of the interview with Living Colour’s Vernon Reid:

Or, read a transcription of the interview here:

MD: So, there’s a lot going on! I think there’s quite a bit of excitement about the fact that you guys are coming down here, especially with everything that’s going on; and so, there are a few things to talk to you about. Was the last time that you were in New Zealand when you were at that guitar fest in Taranaki in 2008?

VR: Yep, that was it. That was a good time!

MD: What do you remember about that?

VR: I remember the guitar player from Midnight Oil did a brilliant version of 1983 (A Merman I Should Turn To Be). He really did a great job.

MD: I think those guys are getting back together this year.

VR: Really? That’s one of my favourite bands; that’s good to know.

MD: I think people are thrilled that you guys are around. You’ve kept a low profile, but I know you’re working on a new album… so, we can talk about that. But first – before we talk about that – I thought maybe we’d talk a little bit about the Grammys? I assume that you watch them.

VR: I watched a little bit of it, yeah. I saw Tribe Called Quest did their thing, and Bruno Mars did a little tribute to Prince.

MD: Do you have an opinion about the whole hubbub about Adele and Beyonce, and whether there is inherent racism in the whole system?

VR: Well Beyonce did an amazing record. I think that Adele was very gracious. I think she… thought it was a real snub, and I think she seemed pretty horrified when she won the award: she’s like, “Oh no;” especially after the George Michael thing, she was like, “Oh my God!” Her reaction was like, “Really? You do this to me now? Thank you!” Yeah, she was pretty horrified by the way it turned out. Beyonce is… certainly one of the largest female artists in the world, if not the largest – arguably on par with Adele – and people had a lot of feelings about … I think the thing about the reaction is also that what she did with her last record was she managed to do these records – like the Beyonce record and Lemonade – … in almost complete secrecy. It is incredible, just the fact that she produced these pieces of work, and managed to keep everything hidden from everyone in social media and from her family; it’s incredible! I think it was worthy of recognition, but I’m also an Adelle fan. The thing I like about Adele, is Adele is a very unpretentious artist; so, I don’t think people are mad at Adele. People are not mad at her. People are mad at the way the system just gets it wrong repeatedly.

MD: Do you think it’s just an inherent problem in the system, or is there something they can do to fix it, do you think? Or is it just bad opinions?

Living Colour

VR: Remember when Jethro Tull was voted heavy metal record? Best metal band! I mean it’s like it’s ludicrous, right? And this sort of thing happens all the time. And that’s because people in the academy, and not to the agents, because we’re all getting older, but a lot of the people you know? I mean, why isn’t electronic music, I mean, really a category in the Grammys? It’s ridiculous that it’s not its own category. I think that’s a real problem: that people that are making these decisions are really behind the times. And when I say electronic music, I mean that to say everything about it – because they talk [like] it’s not just the music, but it’s also the production – well, what’s happening in electronic is very what’s about production, it’s amazing that they’ve managed to just ignore several sub-genres, all the different sub-divisions of what that is. It’s a problem that goes across a bunch of different lines. The race thing is one part of it, but it’s certainly not just that. It’s the fact that they routinely leave certain things out, forget about other things, not paying attention to certain trends, and then have to play catch up; a lot of times, embarrassingly so.

MD: Let’s talk about Living Colour for a while now: the most recent thing that I’m aware that you have put out for digestion was the Who Shot You video a few months back.

VR: Yeah, the Who Shot You mix tape and the video.

MD: That’s a pretty powerful thing, and I loved the way that you flipped around Biggie Small’s original song, and changed the perspective on it. How did that come about?

VR: It came about because I mean, it came about from being really fans, and being, you know? Corey and I are from Brooklyn; and so, we’re very much ‘Brooklynophiles’, and Biggie is very much a Brooklyn artist. Corey would always rhyme – he’s not really a rapper, he’s a singer – but he was always doing sound checks,  he would rhyme the Who Shot You verse, and it was one of the only times when he raps where he sounds good. So, one day, we were thinking about things we were doing for the record early on, and I said, “Man, we should record Who Shot You, because you’re always do that during sound checks,” and it really came about from that. It was not a heavy or social. It was really like, “ Yo’, man, we should record that, because… you’re always doing it.” And then, in the course of doing it, these things take on their own context; they take on their own meaning. The impulse to do it was from a fan impulse.

MD: I see. And then it kind of changed, because the video itself has got quite an explicit message, and it’s very much pushing forward this anti-violence, anti-gun, anti-police brutality kind of thing, and anti-violence to the police.

VR: Yes, absolutely. This is the thing: it cuts all different ways. It starts with the irony of what happened to Christopher Wallace. He asked the question, “Who Shot Ya?” And then at the end of the day – and this is very meta – but part of thing about doing the song was about the fact of what ultimately happened to him after he asked this question. And the song itself is a very gritty song – which we didn’t changed it at all – and then when it came to doing the video, we start to think, “Well, we have to think about this, we have to think about it in broad strokes,” and the idea for the mix tape was to have different rappers take their own take on the track that we did, and come with their own take on the situation. And it wound up being very rich. You know, once we got together with David Taylor, and he did this info graphics of the video. I mean, we started to see, that this issue and its problems touches all of our lives. It touches all of our lives if you’re a fan of John Lennon. If you were fan of Dimebag Darrell. I mean, the fact the Lee Morgan was a victim of gun violence; that Eddie Jefferson was a victim of gun violence. It cuts across all  different genres. More artists have been shot to death in America than in any other country on Earth; and one of the most powerful moments was when we included Lee Harvey Oswald’s name as well Kennedy’s name. Because Lee Harvey Oswald deserved to be put on trial, and the assassination of Lee Harvey Oswald literally ended…years of speculation happened, and a whole sub-culture of doubt opened up with the death of Lee Harvey Oswald.

MD: I’m wondering now – because that was a huge issue last year – but this year, all the news seems to be all about Trump and his scandals going on in Washington, and all that. Are you concerned that all of that is overshadowing the discussion that went on happening last year, about guns and violence and ‘black lives matter’, and all that? I don’t hear much about it anymore.

VR: What I’m concerned about is that someone like Steve Bannon, and someone like Jeff Sessions are at the very heart of the government; it’s crazy town! Every day, it’s almost like we’re waiting for the other shoe to drop. Every day now, we’ve got really serious scandals, but it’s kind of like it’s a weird, it’s kind of like it’s a cartoon, sci-fi, nutty…every day you’re hearing about alternative facts; you’re hearing craziness. And the representatives are contradicting themselves. They’re lying… they just said. It’s weird, weird, weird every day. The other thing is, with someone like Jeff Sessions as the Attorney General, when police start shooting people – because they’re afraid, or whatever – the thing that I’m wondering about what kind of moves, or what kind of executive orders, and what kind of things are going to be put in place to really clamp down on public debate, discussion? I’m very concerned, and I hope it doesn’t happen, but one thing that I’ve got my eye on is: the reason we know about a bunch of these shootings is because of the use of cell phone video. And I have this fear that cell phone video will become a target, like that will become a target in order to suppress the information that people are gathering about not just the shootings, but, you know, these cops body slamming teenage girls, and cops behaving badly. It’s all well and good, like one of the problems I had with a show like Cops: most cops – I had two retired police officers in my family; so, I’m not anti-police by any means; I grow up looking at cop shows, and what have you – and the thing is, people love to talk about the cop as a hero, and they loath to talk about the bad cop who’s the villain. And the thing is, if you want to support police, you do not want to support bad policing; you do not want to support these trigger happy idiots; that’s the thing. And the more exposure – I think we want to increase public confidence in that the cops are going to be fair arbiters of the law; that they’re not going to have an axe to grind – all of this is about if you treat people the same way: it’s like if two people are burglarising a house – one of them is white burglar, and one of them is a black burglar – and they’re caught doing it, they should both get the same sentence. The white burglar should not be getting time served, you know what I mean?

MD: House detention.

VR: Most of what happens are problems, and we’re battling biases like that. But I’ll tell you something: what would cut down a lot of the agitation in half, easily,  if people got the same sentences for the same crimes, half the complaints would go away; and those are the biases that when people want to talk about preference of this , but this is by state’s and cities’ own statistics: kids are being put in detention at different rates, criminals are getting different sentences, and at the same time, the rhetoric of the level playing field is a bunch of jive. If you have somebody that committed the same crime, they should do the same time; and you will see half of the tension go out of the protests. But as long as we have sentencing disparities and criminalising of children and people just overstepping. We’re not talking about preferential treatment; we’re talking about citizens should deserve to be treated equally under the law.

Check in to The 13th Floor tomorrow for Part 2 of the Vernon Reid interview.

Click here for more info and tickets to see Living Colour at The Powerstation.