Stephen Marley dropped his new album Old Soul Friday, featuring guest appearances by legends Eric Clapton, Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir, Jack Johnson, Ziggy Marley, Damian “Jr. Gong” Marley, Buju Banton, and Slightly Stoopid.
It weaves a texture of unplugged jam sessions, including original compositions as well as classics, some recorded by Ray Charles (“Georgia On My Mind”), Frank Sinatra (“These Foolish Things”), and The Beatles (“Don’t’ Let Me Down”). The album’s available via Tuff Gong Collective, UMe, and Ghetto Youths International, or scoop it up on Stephen Marley’s website. It comes as a limited edition double vinyl, CD, or digital download.
The album’s acoustified jam of “I Shot the Sheriff” features a stunning riff in true Clapton fashion, while “Winding Road” creeps into jam band territory with Weir at the helm. “I’m an old soul, living in the body of a 9-year-old,” Stephen Marley sings in the title track, recalling pivotal shifts in his youth. “Guess I’ve been here before.” Catch him on tour at Old Soul Tour Unplugged 2023 running through Oct. 22, with special guest Mike Love at select stops.
Nearly all members of the Marley family inherited strong musical gifts, but Stephen Marley in particular shines as a producer, working with artists like Lauryn Hill, Steven Tyler, Erykah Badu, and others under his belt. He’s won eight Grammy Awards for his numerous contributions to reggae and hip-hop music. The first singles trickled out beginning last April 20, with new singles dropping now. Stephen Marley discussed with High Times his intentions on making the new album, cannabis, and the early days of reggae with the first to embrace it.
High Times: You just dropped your first full-length solo album in seven years. I’m curious: What’s the meaning behind the title Old Soul?
Stephen Marley: It has a broken down, indie, and kind of jamming feel, y’know. And the thing that is subtle is me speaking about my life and paying homage to the songs I [love], y’know. So that’s all of the thoughts behind the name of the record and the feeling of the music. There are a lot of old songs in there, so that added to the feeling of the record.
How did the album’s intimate, unplugged vibe come about? Did you want to switch things up this time?
Not really. I didn’t really want to switch things up. But when we went to record the album, I didn’t even start out with the intention of recording an album, but you know, we were in the thick of a pandemic and there were no flights. Everybody was stuck where they were and everything was closed down. So my regular access to musicians, my regular way of going about making music and the album kind of changed. And this is what I came up with. That’s all I had to work with to make a record under those conditions.
Do you produce your own songs? What’s your process?
I mean [it depends] when I’m making music. You know what I mean? So what is the process? There is no particular process. I make those songs day by day. You have a concept and you begin to work with the concept and try to keep things within context. You have the concept and you put out the body of work that you are inspired to put out. That’s all. That’s it.
You’re using a range of instruments like binghi drums and a flute. Does this help produce a more colorful sound you’re looking for?
Yeah, to have a healing feeling. I mean it gives me that type of feeling. It takes me places in my head and the feeling brings a healing component. I guess that I want to share that kind of healing feeling that it brings.
Eric Clapton’s cover of “I Shot the Sheriff” was a big deal—his only no. 1 single in the U.S. So he must’ve recognized reggae’s greatness early on. Is his guitar work on the new album version new material?
Yes. That’s him and my guitar as well. It is both of dem ‘tings.
So by revisiting the song you’re recognizing his efforts to help reggae cross over.
I didn’t revisit the song; I was jamming the song and recorded the jam. I didn’t really come with intentions of that in the beginning. We recorded everything and it sounded good. I thought maybe we can get Eric to put something on it. We got a riff and Eric liked it.
Several other impressive artists such as Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir are on the album, on “Winding Roads” I believe. Why such a diverse range of genres?
So “Winding Roads” was a song that I had a while back that didn’t make my first album which was Mind Control. So I had “Winding Roads” way back then. It didn’t make that body of work. When we were recording “Winding Roads” and we liked it. We jammed a few songs. So we recorded some jams with some great musicians and “Winding Roads” was one of those songs. Bob is a musical legend.
Do you think rock ‘n’ roll possesses a similar rebel spirit compared to reggae?
Indeed. I mean, in the ‘70s, it was actually punk rock that first embraced Rasta music and the Rastas. Y’know, with all of these dreadlocks. That’s why in England and in Europe it was the first place to catch on. Y’know there was that big punk rock hair on dem as well. It was a dual relationship.
So that was The Clash, The Damned, and so forth that embraced it first, right?
I’ve read that your family used herbal medicine, as opposed to pharmaceuticals very often. Do you think some of these secrets are lost in Western medicine, when there are natural herbs that work better?
Well, first of all, we Jamaicans, y’know, Africans and Caribbean people—we use herbs for the healing of the body, not just our family. And y’know, everything was for the purpose to heal. If you seek, you will find it. Was this knowledge lost? I think once upon a time that narrative [was true]. But I think nowadays most people know the truth about medicines.
Do you have any cannabis brands you’re working with?
Well we have our own brand Marley Natural. Damian has [Ocean Grown and Evidence] and Rohan has Lion Order going on right now. So those are the brands we’re working with right now.
Spliff or blunt?
Not mixed with tobacco, right?
What do you think the cannabis industry needs the most right now?
What does it need? We want herb to be free across the board, y’know. We want it to be free to smoke. I don’t know about the cannabis industry, but we want herb to be free everywhere. I don’t follow the industry. It’s a plant and herb that I like to smoke.
Do you have any daily routines you practice in order to stay positive?
I personally roll up a spliff when I wake up in the morning and maybe make some herbal tea–thyme or rosemary or echinacea or whatever. I put my thoughts together before the day and reflect. That’s my only kind of ritual. And y’know, because I’m a musician, sometimes I wake up in the evening. [Laughs] You know what I mean?
How do you want people to feel after they listen to your music?
I want people to feel rejuvenated. I want people to feel a sense of healing that can help them get through the day, in that sense. For me, myself, that’s what music is for me.
Are you currently on tour?
Yeah. I just came across the border from Canada and now I’m back in America.
How much time do you spend during the year, working in the studio?
Well, I live in the studio. My home is actually a studio. So every day if I’m not working on the road, I’m in the studio. Sometimes during the day, sometimes at night. It’s called The Lion’s Den.
Do any other artists record there as well?
Yeah, my family records in there. It’s not open to the public, but the ones who qualify do come in to record.
Do you have any other announcements right now?
There’s the new record out that I want people to hear and there’s a component in there that can inspire them and heal them.