USA Today article & review

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USA Today article & review

Post  edygee on Tue Sep 20, 2011 7:11 pm

Mick Jagger's SuperHeavy: A supergroup like no other
By By Edna Gundersen

Five disparate stars from seemingly incompatible genres convene to make an album on the fly without a blueprint. What could possibly go wrong besides ego clashes, artistic gridlock, fruitless exertion and humiliating failure?

SuperHeavy, an intercontinental supergroup formed by longtime pals Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart, managed to dodge those traps and emerge with an impressive self-titled debut, out today. File it under — well, there's no established classification for the band's crazy quilt of rock, soul, reggae, blues, pop and Indian music.

"It doesn't fit a particular genre, even individual songs, nevermind the whole album," says Jagger, 68. "It wasn't our goal to surprise people. We did this to have fun and be creative. When I think about it, it is rather surprising, and in music, that's a good thing.

"Much as we love buying an album of rap tunes with this guest and that guest, we know it's all rap. This record goes in other areas."

Slim and dapper in a gray jacket, slacks, sneakers and piano-patterned socks, the Rolling Stones singer is waiting in his hotel suite to be whisked to the video shoot for widely praised first single Miracle Worker, a rootsy, soulful reggae-pop tune with a fiddle twang.

It's one of a dozen tracks pared from 35 hours of spontaneous jamming in early 2009 at Henson Recording Studios in Los Angeles, where British soul diva Joss Stone, reggae singer Damian Marley and Indian film composer A.R. Rahman joined co-producers Jagger and Stewart.

"We all sort of chipped in our bits," Jagger says of the unorthodox process, adding dryly, "It was very, very interesting. I never worked with Dave where we haven't written songs first. I asked him, 'Why are we going to sessions with no songs? It's really dangerous.' There was nothing to lose apart from some studio time that we were willing to gamble.

"It was full-on creativity in the moment. That was the fun thing, thinking on the spot. After a few days, we got a good idea of how everyone functioned. It was a creative bonanza for like 10 days."

The resulting 29 compositions, some of them an hour-plus, served as the source material. Fine-tuning continued sporadically around the globe: off the coast of Cyprus, in France, Turkey, Miami, the Caribbean and India.

'Melting pot came to mind'

"It's been a crazy trip," says Stewart, 59, studying SuperHeavy's Shepard Fairey cover artwork on a desk at his Weapons of Mass Entertainment headquarters in Hollywood. The Eurythmics founder conjured his "mad, alchemist-type experiment" while listening to musical crosscurrents blasting from big sound systems in various villages miles from his hillside home in Saint Ann, Jamaica.

"It all started to merge," he says. "It sounded like Indian music laying on top of reggae, and it was bluesy. A melting pot came to mind, and I thought it would make an amazing fusion."

Jagger, his close friend and collaborator for 28 years, seemed a natural ally.

"We've written loads of songs that we never put on a record," Stewart says. "We just enjoy the process. We've been on holiday together. We've been through all sorts of family issues. We have a strong relationship and we don't have that competitive thing.

"Mick's nuts about blues, and we're both endlessly listening to Jamaican and Caribbean music," he says. "So we started seriously talking about this record."

The duo, fans of Marley's Grammy-winning Welcome to Jamrock, favored enlisting icon Bob Marley's youngest son. And they immediately gravitated to Stone, who collaborated with the pair on 2004's Alfie soundtrack.

"Joss can wail like Mick," Stewart says. "Smokey Robinson calls her Aretha Joplin." Stewart, dazzled by Rahman's movie scores and grasp of Western music, proposed that he round out the multicultural quintet.

It's 'not world music'

On the first day of recording, "everyone was interested in knowing what it would sound like," Stewart says. "A.R. would come out of the blue with a wild sound that fit. Or Damian was suddenly toasting on top of a blues thing. The drummer was playing a dancehall beat. We were looking at each other going, 'Uh, this is really good.'"

Early this year, he and Jagger chiseled the flab into an eclectic yet accessible batch of songs that Stewart calls "not world music."

"Even though I understand all that stuff, and I love loads of artists from different countries, the name 'world music' gives me the feeling of Knitting Yakuts Records," Stewart says. "This is, like, sexy. It's got a different energy."

While his bandmates regarded SuperHeavy as an exotic busman's holiday, Stewart had a serious agenda, beyond just hatching an intangible genre.

"My intention was to create more than a group," he says. "It's more like an attitude and a movement toward a new way, the idea of crossing over cultural barriers. We should create our own festival and invite other disparate artists."

On the Miracle video set at Paramount Pictures, Rahman is holed up barefoot in his trailer, while Stone is being primped for photos. He admits he had doubts about the viability of SuperHeavy until Stewart briefed him.

"Then I knew were going to make some great music," says Rahman, whose Slumdog Millionaire score and Jai Ho song won Oscars. "I never worked like that before. Normally, I work very alone with my headphones and compose. This was all very spontaneous. We'd play and Dave would say, 'Sing something!' It was strange in the beginning, but we got used to it."

Rahman, 45, had met only Stewart before and had little familiarity with the others' catalogs.

"I'm not a religious follower of rock music," he says. "I've listened to Queen, Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, The Carpenters, but not The Beatles, not the Stones. Even without knowing about Mick Jagger, I could see he has a magic in his voice and lyrics. It was such a treat watching him play harmonica."

While a solo project allows more control, Rahman enjoyed the camaraderie and artistic give-and-take.

"Usually, I'm zero social," he says.

Jagger begs to differ.

"While we were doing the first sessions, A.R. was so swept up in the whole Oscar thing with Slumdog, he had to keep going to parties all the time," he cracks.

Jagger was confident Rahman's Indian strains on keyboard would mesh, but "I didn't know how his singing was going to work," he says. "He found it a little tricky in the beginning. He's a very talented keyboard player, and as a vocalist, he has tremendous range. We had to encourage him: 'Float in!' It was much easier for us to absorb him than for him to absorb us."

Joss Stone finds her groove

Stone, the troupe's youngest and only female member, felt relaxed in SuperHeavy's free-for-all.

"I decided to follow the leader, the way I was brought up to do with older people," says Stone, 24, who released her debut album at 16. "To stop, learn and listen. I feel really comfortable with people like Mick. You're constantly learning."

The shambolic sessions "made me feel comfortable," she says. "I'm used to chucking along doing what feels right, never in an organized manner. Dave is the same. We made noises for two weeks. It was as chill as that. Whoever was brave enough started first."

Exhausted after working on 2009's Colour Me Free! and battling to be released from her EMI contract, Stone had vowed to lay low until Stewart changed her mind.

"After this whole big drama, I decided, I'm done, stick a fork in me," she says. "Then Dave calls me up! This came at a perfect time."

Stone was inspired by her SuperHeavy cohorts. Marley, 33, was "one clever bugger with a lovely deep, gorgeous, sexy voice," she says. "A.R. is so soft and so sweet. He had funny little instruments with hundreds of strings. He'd take what we'd done, go away and put something amazing on it."

SuperHeavy wasn't entirely a lighthearted affair.

"Because we make different styles of music, now and then we had a musical argument," Stone says. "It made me feel like I was in a real band. There aren't any songs I hate, but there are a couple I question. I love 80%. I usually like the songs that aren't poppy. I like weird odd things."

Stewart notes diplomatically, "There were classic creative discussions. We ran everything past the others, every single thing. There were five cooks."

A ragged glee club of four vocalists meant sharing the microphone, a welcome change.

"I enjoyed that the whole thing isn't on me," Stone says. "I knew my voice wasn't going to die."

Jagger concurs. "It makes my life easier. I didn't have to carry all the weight."

'The songs are universal'

Since SuperHeavy's kaleidoscopic tunes don't easily fit radio formats or genre slots, will fans shy away?

"No, the world is opening," Rahman says. "It's not like before, where something new was intimidating to people. Most of the songs are universal."

Creative marketing is key, Jagger says. "One problem is there are so many channels of communication, and new ones open all the time. The promotion is more complex, whether you're a very big artist or a new artist.

"In some countries, iTunes doesn't mean anything. Some countries have phone-only delivery. In others, it means a lot to have your song on a particular television show. It's very unwieldy."

Given sufficient boosts, SuperHeavy could enjoy an extended shelf life and shouldn't be judged by the usual opening-week performance, says Phil Gallo, Billboard senior correspondent/film and TV music.

"It would be a very compelling live attraction, especially on television," he says. "If ever there was a band that needed to play on Saturday Night Live, this is it. They don't need to do a whole lot, but they need to show it's got musical heft, that they didn't phone it in.

"It's good enough that they could try a few things and let an audience find it. Everything sounds really good. It feels organic, the rhythms are unique and one acoustic song is early classic Stones-y."

Gallo predicts strong overseas sales and interest among devotees of British reggae and Rahman's Indian dance styles. The composer (approaching 5.9 million "likes" on Facebook) has a "staggering" fan base, Gallo says. "And his tracks are the most exciting. His personality really comes out."

Stewart is eager for SuperHeavy sequels, which may entail a rotating cast of global players.

"If the music is liked, the future is bright," Rahman says. "We are just scratching the surface."

Stone also relishes a reunion: "It's the most amazing thing I've been a part of. I'm so flattered they asked me to do it."

Jagger, who has a considerably bigger band's future to consider, is less certain.

"I'm happy with the results," he says. "Whether we'll do it ever again, I have no idea."

-and a review:

'SuperHeavy' carries the weight

By Jerry Shriver, USA TODAY

SuperHeavy, SuperHeavy


Keith Richards won't shiver his timbers when he hears this album, but neither will he cackle his arse off at this supergroup built around his somewhat estranged Rolling Stones bandmate Mick Jagger. There's much to admire in this intriguing and mostly successful project, most notably the fact that it sounds like a truly cohesive collaboration, with all five members making a distinct mark. When the disparate musical contributions mesh, the results are dynamic if not wholly original.

A surprisingly youthful-sounding Jagger brings his full arsenal of blues-rock vocal mannerisms (and a screaming harmonica on the terrific Energy). Soul shouter Joss Stone pleads and belts with the best of them, especially on I Don't Mind and One Day One Night. (If only she didn't try to ape bland contemporary R&B crooners on Rock Me Gently.)

Damian "Jr. Gong'' Marley's propulsive reggae-meets-hip-hop sensibility dominates the overall sound, and his vocals lend spice and authority, as do co-producer Dave Stewart's powerful guitar fills. A.R. Rahman (keyboards, drum programming, backing vocals) plays a less assertive role. But that's for the best since his Bollywood composing bent (Satyameva Jayathe, on which Jagger sings a bit in Urdu, is Rahman's showcase) is the least compatible element.

There are some misfires —World Keeps Turning sounds like a generic charity benefit single — but more often than not the group lives up to its Muhammad Ali-inspired name.

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Re: USA Today article & review

Post  Sophie on Tue Sep 20, 2011 7:28 pm

Great interview. Its a shame the review doesn't appreciate World Keeps Turning as personally I think Joss' vocals are stunning on that song Smile Thanks for posting Edy!!

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