This past September, I attended a show at the Music Farm in Charleston, SC. As what happens at a lot of shows, when you go to see one band, you end up falling in love with another. I rolled up to the show early to interview the headliner, Zach Deputy, backstage. As a result of that, I saw all three opening bands on the billet. For opening acts, my usual stance is leaning against the farthest bar from the stage nursing cheap tall boys. But by the start of the second song into Mighty Mystic’s set, I was down in front beer in one hand, fist-pumping camera phone in the other for their fantastically, catchy song, How I Rock.
The Pier eloquently summed up Mighty Mystic’s vibe and songs “blending bits of rock and hip hop over a sturdy backbone of roots reggae.” Rock, rap, and reggae…what’s not to like? Their 2014 hit, Cali Green, and recent release Something Bout Mary are head bopping, roll down the windows tunes that anyone can love. Five star reggae where the artist’s last name is not Marley does exist!
I caught up with the Jamaican-born and Boston-bred Kevin Holness, aka Mighty Mystic, right before the start of their Winter Tour, which includes stops at the Howard Theatre in Washington, DC, the BB King Blues Club in NYC, and the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. Our conversation went into a variety of topics from his song writing process, to being abducted the first week he moved to America at 10 years old, his upcoming tour supporting reggae legend Barrington Levy, and fans constantly yelling to cover Bob Marley songs. I can’t articulate enough how much love and energy this man has for his craft and seeing people of all races getting along together.
Writers on the Storm: You recently had a first ballot announcement for the Grammys‘ Best Reggae Album category. Any updates on getting through the nomination?
Mighty Mystic: “We find out December 6th. That’s a few days from now so hopefully it’s good news. This is our first album that’s been nominated. We see it as a win either way we look at it. Just to be narrowed down from 1000s of albums and to that make that list of 50 or whatever it is. It’s pretty cool.”
A lot of my friends, and I think I speak for a lot of white people when I say this, love reggae but can’t name any other singers except for Bob Marley. Do you find when touring people just constantly yell out to cover Bob Marley songs?
“I can’t stand it. Really. I understand it, but there’s so much great reggae music out there old and new. Quality music. But, Bob was the man. He had a great influence on not just reggae but just music period. So, it’s understandable the public want to hear Bob Marley every chance they get.”
Some super popular Jamaican artists like Chronixx have 22 million views on You Tube, but when they come to the States they’re playing small bars. If your last name isn’t Marley (like Damian, Ziggy, and Stephen)…how do you bust through the stone wall?
“Several things going on with that. I think the audience really hasn’t got a good grasp on the scene yet. A big part of the problem is venues that bring in guys from Jamaica, they aren’t showing up to the gig or they’re really late. So, then they kind of figured out that American based reggae bands are showing up on time, for half the price, bringing a crowd, promoting the shows, and all that stuff. So, in turn, these venues and promoters started to gravitate booking more of the US-based, local artists. And those artists blew up, which hurt the bringing of the Jamaican artists over here. They don’t want to spend the money to fly in the artists and put them up in hotels.
“So, the new generation just knows these American artists rather than do some research and see the other part of reggae in Jamaica. Those two things there have really hurt the music. When the Jamaican artists come to America, they don’t tour all the cities. So, their popularity doesn’t grow at the same rate. They only come here for a couple weeks. Whereas the West Coast artists based in America, for example, they can tour constantly, all 50 states, several times a year.”
Damian Marley has done collaborations with Nas, Bruno Mars, and Skrillex to name a very few. I think that’s really boosted his crossover popularity. You of course did a song with Shaggy awhile back…do you have any more collabs in the works?
“I’m actually working on my album as we speak looking to finish it up within the end of the month and drop the album April or May of next year. So, yes, I’m going to have several collabs on this new album. The last album we didn’t really source out collabs. We did everything in house. We made everything from scratch with no outside producers. Just myself and my crew inside the house working on music. This next album we’re going to bring in outside producers.”
Do you have a name for the 2017 album yet and any names you want to share for collaboration?
“I’m leaning towards ‘Into the Mystic.’ I’m hoping to do a song with Freddie McGregor. He’s a dear friend of mine and legendary artist. He’s not necessarily super popular to the young crowd, but to the veterans of reggae music, he’s a ginormous name that I’m looking forward to working with. That’s something that’s going to happen any day.”
Your current album, Art of Balance, has some really great guitar and keyboard melodies and riffs. You used to tour with just DJ but now have a full band. What’s the song writing process like for you? Do you write it solo and direct your band how to play things or is it more organic?
“I like to write by myself. I write just me in a room just put the words and topic together and then I sit with my guitar player, Johnny. He’s a big back bone of what I do. We sit together and come up with structure, vibe, and full element of the song. Then we bring in the whole band and lay the whole structure down. I find when I write with everyone together the process takes a lot longer. It’s harder to narrow down where you want to go directionally. I like to write by myself pretty much 80% of the songs.”
Your tour starts tonight, which includes some gigs with reggae legend, Barrington Levy. How did that come about?
“We just have mutual friends, agents, and managers. We’ve done some small tours in the past.”
Have you asked him if you can sing the voice of Shyne for the mega rap hit, Bad Boyz, while he does his scat chorus hook?
“HAHAHA. No, but that would probably be a good idea. I don’t see him performing that song. He rarely performs it. One thing about Barrington, as old as he gets, his voice has not diminished. He just has one of those special, timeless voices. It’s a gift. You can’t fabricate that. He hasn’t lost an inch of it.”
Your music covers so much of today’s problems with police, racism, etc. How much of it do you still experience because other bands I’ve interviewed, like the London Souls, told me about race problems they’ve experienced in Massachusetts.
“We see it. I have so many stories. That drove me. That’s part of why the way I am. I came here in the late 80s when it was sticky. I grew up in the racist times and more racist areas. Put it this way, the very first week I arrived in this country, America, I wouldn’t say I was kidnapped, but I was taken into a car by these two white guys. Me and my buddy, a white guy, were walking around the neighborhood. This car pulls up and brought us into the car. They drove us around the city for hours slapping me up in the back of the car mind you I’m like ten years old at the time. And they said to my friend, ‘Why are you hanging with this n*gger?’ It was such a dramatic thing and it never left me seeing that people actually treat people this way. I’m from Jamaica where it’s really classism in place. We don’t have racism if you know what I mean. Rich versus poor type thing.
To see someone treat you differently just because of your skin color was weird, especially as a little kid. But having said that, I’ve seen some great amazing things. Some great people out there. For each bad, there’s an amazing good in people. Every race has it’s good and bad, but it’s never diminished me. I have love for everybody. My wish is to see everyone come together as one people as a human race. Just live life. I strive in my music to just come up with as many subject matters as I can. It’s cool to talk about sitting on the beach and having a good time. I’ll put a couple of those on my album, but for the bulk of things, man, I like to put subject matters and shit that’s going on in the news that needs to be brought to attention, but in a way that’s not like I’m preaching. I try to drop knowledge. Peaceful. You can eat it and digest it while dropping the fun part of it.”
Your brother of course is the Prime Minister of Jamaica. Has he used any of your songs on the campaign trail?
“Not to my knowledge, no. It would be nice. But, when you’re at that level of government, you have to be straight laced. I understand he’s going to do what he’s going to do.”
You have some good song options with titles such as: Mr. Big Man and Solid as a Rock.
“If he had to pick one I think it would be Solid as a Rock because he is a laid-back kind of an acoustic guy.”
Thanks again to Mighty Mystic. Here’s their tour info along with the best ways to follow them.
DATE VENUE LOCATION
Dec 02 Dog Fish Head Rehoboth Beach, DE
Dec 03 E.R Bradley’s West Palm Beach, FL
Dec 04 Sugar shack Sessions Bonita Springs, FL
Dec 08 Bombshell Tavern Orlando, FL
Dec 09 Guanabanas Jupiter, FL
Dec 12 Howard Theatre Washington, DC
Dec 13 BB King Blues Club New York, NY
Dec 14 The Ardmore Music Hall Ardmore, PA
Dec 15 Paradise Rock Club Boston, MA