Transcending the legacy of a famous parent isn’t easy, especially when that parent is the most celebrated reggae musician of all time. Yet, with all the pressure that such a family history brings, Ziggy Marley consistently lives up to his father’s musical legacy while proving his own songwriting abilities on every new record. After more than fifteen years of recording with his siblings in The Melody Makers, he went solo in 2003. This June he released his fourth solo album Wild and Free. We sat down with Ziggy to talk about his new album, his collaboration with Woody Harrelson and how marijuana can (really) save the world.
OS: Tell us about the upcoming album Wild and Free. What was it like to return to your usual material after releasing an album specifically for children?
ZM: It wasn’t as much fun, not like doing the kids’ stuff. The kids’ stuff was easy, light and loose. But this one’s much more serious, much more thoughtful songwriting process. Just more intense. More intense.
OS: Do you think you might do more albums for kids in the future?
ZM: I don’t know, I mean, it depends. I don’t keep planning stuff. We’ll see.
OS: You collaborated with Woody Harrelson on the title track from the new album—what was it like to record with an actor rather than a musician?
ZM: It wasn’t really collaborating with an actor. I don’t look at him as an actor. Woody’s a friend, and we share some ideas on things. So it was very spontaneous actually, and not something we had planned to do. We shared some ideas when we were doing the song, and I started inviting him, “Hey, come sing.” I didn’t think it would be on the album, but then it sounded good to me and I said, “All right, let’s put it on the album.”
OS: The pro-marijuana theme from that song is also included in the Marijuanaman comic you released on 4/20, which features a superhero who saves the world using hemp. In what ways do you think that plant has the power to save the world?
ZM: The fiber of the hemp plant can be used for many different purposes. The whole plant, actually, can impact the environment in a very positive way if we use it instead of certain things we use more widely now, like cotton or trees. Cutting down trees… it can actually help the planet and help the people of the planet, because trees are very important. The seeds are the most complete protein in the vegetable kingdom on this planet. So the nutritional value is really exceptional. And it’s a weed, so it can grow very easily. In a lot of countries where there’s malnourished children or poor children, you could easily find nutrition in the seed. It also can be used to make biofuel. Thousands and thousands of uses this plant has, which can have a positive impact. Everybody’s talking about a “green revolution” and “eco-friendly” and everything—becoming eco-friendly. I just think, it seems to me, that if you really believe that idea, then you have to use this plant. It’s the most eco-friendly plant on the planet. There’s nothing more “eco” than this plant; nothing more good for the soil, nothing more good for the people, nothing more good for the environment than this plant. If you’re not using this plant, then it’s BS, really. All this eco-talk is BS. Without this plant there’s no eco, there’s no green revolution without this plant. If we don’t use it, we’re going to be stuck.
OS: How was the process of making the comic book? It seems like a lot of fun.
ZM: Yeah, I was really excited about it, because I’m into comic books and cartoons and crime-fighting superheroes and things like that. I really couldn’t wait to see it come out of the imagination, on paper. I went through with the artist and writer, scripting what the idea was and the story and the characters and how it works, all these types of things. I was really excited.
OS: Between the comic book and the recent documentary Marley African Road Trip, you’re delving into a lot of different mediums. What inspires you to branch out into other areas?
ZM: I kind of have that creativity inside of me, you know? It’s just a part of me. So it’s like, I have to find another outlet for the other ideas that I have, outside of music, and these are the outlets. The creativity doesn’t stop with music, it kind of goes on into other avenues.
OS: One of those other outlets is your reggae/dancehall label, Tuff Gong. What exciting things do you have going on with the label right now?
ZM: Um, let’s see. Just my album right now. Some stuff in the future, but nothing I can speak about right now.
OS: Keeping it under wraps?
ZM: Yeah, for now, for now.
OS: You split your time between Florida, Jamaica and California—three very different places in terms of their musical culture. How does the music scene you grew up with in Jamaica compare to the scene in the US?
ZM: Well, the music scene in general has changed. Growing up in Jamaica I started seeing it really young, and music was recorded by musicians in the studio, kind of organic. Things kind of changed, now it’s more machine music. A lot of the music now is like, the same. The same beats, the same tempos. Back in Jamaica, in the old days, music was much more free. It wasn’t about everybody trying to jump on the same bandwagon. Nowadays, that’s what it’s like, that’s what music is like. Every song has the same kind of thing… and then the industry itself changed into more of a corporate thing instead of a music thing. So a lot of artistic feeling is lost, and a lot of artistic feeling is stifled because of the corporate ideologies. It’s not about art, more the commercialization of the music instead of the art in the music.
OS: What did you learn from watching your father in the studio as a kid?
ZM: I just remember him working really hard and being into the music, being on top of the music. Working hard through nights, late nights and a lot of rehearsals. And discipline, and what it takes, and what the music means. I learned a lot of that by seeing it and watching it.
Check out Ziggy’s Web site for upcoming tour dates!