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Oldies But Goldies: Rock NYC Exclusive Interview With Darryl Jenifer Of Bad Brains: “Trust The Great Spirit”


Darryl Jennifer

Just a week ago, Bad Brains were playing at the Sunset Junction Fair, and during the afternoon, a few hours before their performance, I had the chance to interview Darryl Jenifer, the bassist of the band. I ran to my car from the Sunset Junction Fair Bates stage where the band Saint Motel was still playing, and rushed to the Grafton Hotel on Sunset boulevard where the interview would take place. There, I was led by Bad Brains manager Anthony Countey to Darryl’s room.

Darryl was lying on his bed, relaxing before the show, and watching with his friend Ben, some golf tournament on TV in a semi obscurity.After preparing my recorder and getting over the fact I was really doing this, I asked him about his main influences. Without moving from his comfortable position, he right away named The Ramones and Sly and the Family Stone as his big influences in music, and good food, golf, relaxing things, good books as his inspirations outside of music.

I was curious how they had decided to play the Sunset Junction Fair, and he just answered: ‘It was not so much a decision to play, I think it was an offer for us to play, you know, we are still out there doing it so we keep on doing it!’And when opportunity arises they take it, Bad Brains have in fact been playing 6 shows in California in August, including Solana Beach, Santa Cruz, Anaheim, and San Francisco, and they have currently 3 upcoming dates in Texas during October.

It was not easy to read my questions in the semi-darkness of the room, so he offered me to turn on the lamp. When asked to define the term hardcore he said without any hesitation: ‘I think hardcore punk is a name post-punk teams put on their brand of punk rock to speed up a little bit and they started to call it hardcore.’ I had read Bad Brains were not big on describing their music as hardcore, and his answer confirmed this: ’I think that my music is more like progressive hardcore, if you can call it, progressive hard rock’.
But their hardcore, or progressive hardcore, as he named it, has incorporated reggae, and if punk bands like The Clash did it before, to my knowledge, hardcore bands did not. So I was curious about this reconciliation between this fast and loud hardcore sound and the laid back reggae sound. Again, he disagreed with the term hardcore saying that they were not really hardcore, and that hardcore was something that the fans had put on them, whereas they were in the similar lane as The Clash, punk rock with reggae, ‘it is just that our brand of punk rock got called hardcore but we are really progressive punk rock.’ Darryl really was attached to this progressive term!
But what about his motivations to play this kind of music? For young Darryl, it was a sort of being in a different avenue for his mind, consciousness and music, it was a way ‘to be different, to not just try to stay in the same mold you are supposed to be in, be inventive and progressive’.
Darryl, like the other members of Bad Brains are Rastafarians, and even though he must have been asked about this numerous times, I wanted him to explain what being a Rastafarian means for him, and why he had decided to become one. He did not seem to want to go into the details of his religion and simply explained that has more to do with recognition of one’s own Earth culture. ‘Like being a man of color, to recognize that yes, there is an earthly root to my existence, to Africa, it is just basically a modern Black man ways of recognizing his roots in modern times, that his roots are African roots’, he was then pinching his skin on his arm, obviously pointing to his skin color, showing he was still carrying something from Africa.
I then asked him about their most recent album ‘Build a Nation’, and the message they were trying to convey through this album. He insisted on the fact that their message has always been peace, love, unity to youth and all the people in the world, and that ‘Build a Nation’ was just an extension of their work about making music for positive force, and positive progression.

If politics has always been present throughout Bad Brains’ music, so what did Darryl think about changing things with music?
‘Politics?’ He asked, ‘It is more of a sublime change that can be made through energies of positive music, that’s not so much of something you can touch or see happening like on a poll or election, but more of a sublime cosmic force that happens with music to better the world, it’s cosmic’.

Darryl, a very spiritual man, went all cosmic on me, explaining he meant by cosmic, the spiritual surrounding, the unseen world of energy.
 ‘You know what I’m saying?’ he asked, ‘May be’ I replied, as I wanted him to say more on this. So he continued, visibly eager to express himself about this subject:
I’m saying that to be a musician, to make positive music, it releases positive energies, energies you can’t see, you don’t say shit, look at that energy flying across the sky, energy is something that is in the unseen forces of existence’, he insisted repeating slowly, ‘The unseen forces of existence’… ‘Everything that exists,.. you can see this table, the light of this lamp, but there are forces that exist we don’t see, and there are part of those forces that have been distorted to men, even men should know the ones that are negative and positive energies. Like you will have somebody coming in the room, and say that’s a negative feeling person, or when I met him it was like, it was so positive,… that’s the energy that possesses the people,… so when you make positive music it releases it that into the world’.

At that moment I was wondering if he thought I was a positive or negative energy person for him, annoying him with my questions in the middle of a golf tournament. A few hours later, I would see what he really meant by music releasing energy, when Bad Brains would be playing on stage at the fair.
Bad Brains recorded their first album in 1982, and their last to date in 2007, comparing the two Darryl said it was the same band, the same approach, the same general idea, whereas albums before 2007 were more aggressive as they were trying to be more inventive, ‘Build a Nation’ was sort of a look back at what they do.Darryl likes to explain and develop his ideas, so he added: ‘Almost like an artist says I’m going to paint a picture and when you see this painting, you’ll know it’s me, right? Whereas all the other paintings you may say, is that him? He has tried to change something, sometimes you see the paintings and you can’t believe that what he was doing. But this painting now, that is exactly like him, you know what I’m saying?’

I think I knew exactly what he meant, ‘Build a Nation’ was a look back at their 82 original musical style.
I wanted to ask him about drugs, especially Marijuana, and the eternal question about smoking weed and creativity. For Darryl, Marijuana is all-good, it’s like a sacrament, which loosens inhibition and opens up certain creative portals, and it’s good medicine, spiritual medicine and physical medicine too. I then mentioned the California Proposition 19 which will be in the ballot in November and which, if approved, will legalize possession, cultivation, and transportation of Marijuana for personal use.

‘That’s the way it should be all over’ answered Darryl who noticed that if we can farm our own tomatoes and carrots, we should be able to farm our own Marijuana, but he added, laughing hard: ‘But then people would farm their own poppy to make heroin or coca to make coke!’
But he does not put weed in the same category than chemicalized drugs like coca plants and ‘shitty-snort-make-you-wild’ substances. He does not even like alcohol that much, although he admitted drinking a little bit of tequila or beer at times, but ‘alcohol and hard drugs have killed people for ages, but weed…’, and he was right about this. 
‘But look at what is legal, I could go out now and buy 100 bottles of liquor, crash my car and kill 10 people but I got to worry about a bag of weed!’ He laughed again making fun of something he had just seen on TV: ‘I was watching on TV, Cops, they had arrested this kid, and this big cop was really upset he had a big bag of weed, … oh please it’s 2011 kid!’
Darryl kept expressing his like for Marijuana which he described as a natural and positive force in this world, saying that systems will have to give upon that eventually, and, may be, will have to find a way to control it to make money.
At this point I did not want to ask him about the next question because he seemed so nice and friendly, but I had read the Rastafarian belief is in strong disagreement with homosexuality. Since I knew Bad Brains came in terms with this, I asked him if they were playing the Sunset Junction fair because it was an extremely gay-friendly event.

He seemed a little embarrassed by this, making a face, and avoiding a little the question by declaring his message of love: ‘You know my whole thing, our whole thing, has always been live and let live, we do our lives, we all go through different trials and understandings and consciousness changes and things and, you know, my whole thing to the question you’ve just asked is that everyone should love all of the Great Spirit’s creations, everything from man, woman child, animals, insects, everything should be loved, everything that God created, that’s what has always been.’ What can you add to this? You just want to agree!
As I had read about a Bad Brains documentary in preparation, I asked him what we could expect from it, and it was my luck since the producer himself, Ben Logan, was in the room. Darryl pointed to him saying Ben and his lovely wife, Mandy Stein, were producing it. At that time, a young man entered the room: ‘That’s my son’, said Darryl then asking Ben again, ‘Don’t you want to tell her about the movie? Tell her man!’

Ben shyly said the movie was just about following around the Bad Brains from 2006 to now, and throughout the film they were going to sprinkle bits of history from 1975 to now, and were also planning to touch on all the different topics, the different albums, the different trials and tribulations, rock concerts and even religion.
I finished the interview by asking him about his current projects. Darryl is going to release a solo record which will be coming out on October 26, called ‘In search of Black Judas’, which he described as ambient type, beat, bass album that has a story line of betrayal, almost like blues and dub.
Darryl also said he had another project since he is in a band that he also produces, The White Mandingos (I hope I got the name right as I did not find any info about it on the web) with Sacha Jenkins from Ego trip, and he described the upcoming project, which will be coming out next spring, as a sort of Rock-opera-hip-hop, telling the story of a multicultural-type of kid who grew up in a guetto but likes to skateboard, listens to rock, but also likes to listen to hip hop. He has already produced multiple albums for many acts, including the reggae-ska band Bedouin Soundclash.
When saying thanks to him for accepting the interview, I asked him if he had anything to add, he just sent this message which seemed a perfect conclusion to the whole conversation: ‘Peace and love to the people of the land, put your faith in the Great Spirit, keep your head up in the world and keep it moving forward!’

You can check out the upcoming documentary about Bad Brains here:

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