If you haven’t heard it yet, his most recent album is a collaboration with a Chicago dub project: The Scientist Meets Ted Sirota’s Heavyweight Dub. It’s full of crucial echoes, proper basslines, and skillful instrumentation.

During a wide-ranging Skype conversation with Anderson Muth, aka The Groove Thief, the legendary Hopeton Overton Brown, aka The Scientist, weighed in on important social issues and also discussed Jamaican music’s past, present, and future.

The influential dub engineer shared his thoughts on education, sampling, entertainment x gun violence, digital x analog, nuclear weapons, Bob Marley x Rastafarianism, Obamacare, marijuana legalization and even Chinese food: “what they’re selling us in America is crap.”

EDUCATION: they should have more technical schools

“[There’s] a big difference between education and wisdom.”

On how to improve the American education system
“I think they should have more technical schools in America, teaching people skills [and] not all this other stuff… that you’re not going to apply in life… English class is something that… you are going to always apply.”

“And what I think they should do in schools, because I’m a prime example of that – I’ve been to school, I got a little geometry – I don’t remember any of it now… I don’t really need it for what I do because I want[ed] to become an electronic engineer mixing music.”

However: “I’m not telling anybody that they should not go to school. Schooling is important.”

On the gap between education and reality
“Here’s where we go wrong with the schools in America. Now, you can go to your brightest person in America. If you’re exercising everything that you’re learning in school – like some of these classes that they take with the geometry and history and all of that. If you’re not exercising that every day, as you go on in life or get older, you’re gonna slowly forget every bit of it, or most of it, or some of it. You’re going to.”

SAMPLING: if somebody samples it, it is actually a compliment

“First thing is, if somebody samples it, it is actually a compliment, because it has to be something that they like… if they give credit to it – all the better… would I get upset if someone samples two seconds? Is it changing anything different in my life? Not really. Is it complementing me in any way? Of course. So I have no problem with that…”

However: “What I have a problem with, is when, if you notice after King Tubby has died, and all these other albums start popping up around the place that are a complete fraud. When the majority is my work and nothing’s to do with Tubby’s – I have a problem with that.”

ENTERTAINMENT x GUN VIOLENCE: no positive image, no positive influence

“As a result [of negative lyrics] Jamaica became more unruly, more ungodly, more crime, more shooting. With all that dancehall being about gun-man lyrics… that same vibe spilled right into America with hip-hop… no positive image, no positive influence… all these thugs, you know, where did they learn that from? They learned that from Jamaican dancehall – that’s a fact, because prior to that [when you] had Smokey Robinson in America, there were no drive-by shootings.”

On the source of gun violence
“The problems that we have in America with the gun violence… you have to look at Hollywood. Because otherwise, what’s putting these ideas into these people’s heads? Where did they get it from? I remember back in Jamaica, a Bruce Lee movie’d finish, and everybody’d leave the movie theatre some kind of karate expert!”

“[Ultimately] it’s just that 1%er, just that one idiot… that’s already not stable. Which is part of our problem now. We have a huge conflict of interest with the law and money in America. Where these guys lobby Congress…”

“Whenever you hear about a shooting, you’re not hearing that ‘a man came inside and a little old lady shot him’ – you’re not hearing that, you’re hearing the opposite: ‘a man shot a little old lady for no reason at all;’ ‘a man shot a little old lady and robbed her purse;’ ‘a man walked inside and he shot up this…’ – it’s doing the reverse of what it’s set out to be… it makes no sense in a democracy.”

“Most people who have guns… would never ever harm anybody with it. But it’s the 1%er, the unstable people, that is the concern, that would go… shoot up a school!”

On the real problem
“What kind of society is this turning into? Fix the engine: the engine is the second amendment, it’s defective, not working; back in those times you could have said well, it could apply. But you have a system now, if you don’t like what a congressmen is doing, and you don’t like what the government doing, you vote them out.”

“The second Amendment in America is technically defective… why is it defective? Only in America, based on the 2nd Amendment, if you don’t agree with your politician, we can say it’s a government takeover and we can just shoot them…”

“So, that’s my philosophy, I know a lot of people are not gonna agree with me, but this is what I see the problem as. Right, to fix the problem you’d have to shut down the NRA, and is that going to happen in America – oh God! [laughs]”

DIGITAL x ANALOG: analog is dead

“No foolishness about digital: analog is dead. Some people like vinyl – I like vinyl because you get better artwork – but it does not produce a better quality than digital, that’s just so far from truth… the moment you hit tape it’s a second generation.”

“The digital stuff is here to stay – it’s not going anywhere, going to just get better and better and better. It’s already better than any analog desk – it costs less and it takes care of a whole bunch of problems that you could not solve with analog.”

On the realities of most vinyl pressings
“By the time you get down to vinyl [the music’s] about five generations degraded, so how is that degraded sound gonna sound better than the original sound? You know, the only [way] that keeps it original is digital.”

On the ‘classic dub’ sound
“A lot of it is technical defects that never got solved in analog, and a lot of people just grew accustomed to hearing that. For example, when you deal with a tape machine, you’re always going to lose the high frequency, and if the head’s dirty or the machine’s not calibrated properly, the first thing you’re going to lose is high frequencies… so that type of thing becomes normal and becomes accepted but it’s not right.”

On the digital production of The Scientist Meets Ted Sirota’s Heavyweight Dub
“Some people, you know, they have the theory that the swirly cloudiness… that you get from an analog recording – which is really a defect – and some people think well, [the digital recording’s] probably too clean for them, and they want a little dirty analog thing – that I try to run away from.”

On his current equipment
“Well, everything is all digital gear… the EQ that they have in a plugin is way better than what they have on an analog console.”

On re-mastering old records
“There’s a huge misconception about mastering you know: when you’re doing mastering [and] you’re only working from a 2-track, you can only add tones – a little more highs, a little more bass –  some people want to get creative and compress it, I would tell everybody don’t compress the mix… never put compressors on the mix… when you’re running your mix through a compressor, it’s constantly going into reduction… I personally don’t use them on my mixes.”

Scientist meets Ted Sirota's Heavyweight Dub, Image: Ted Sirota
Image: Ted Sirota

On his sound
“Let me say [it] this way – you don’t really invent anything: the guy didn’t invent the Hubble telescope, the guy didn’t really invent the computer… none of this was here before, where does it came from? You know, everything you can think of came from Mother Earth … so, I think that a lot of us are programmed, we don’t really know why we do certain things and how we come up with it, but damn, that was just my number in the universe. [laughs] Bob Marley had his number in the universe… why wasn’t it Peter? Why wasn’t it any of those [other] reggae artists? It was Bob Marley. [laughs again]”

NUCLEAR WEAPONS: everybody needs to disarm

“If I have the power, I have the might, and I know this fucking asshole over there keeps using chemical weapons on people – these people didn’t do anything –  and I know for sure he’s an asshole and he’s selling chemical bombs and killing people and I can stop it… let’s go get him personally, so he can’t use the weapons.”

“You want to tell me I can’t have any nuclear weapons? [laughs] So, everybody has to disarm. Everybody needs to disarm. There needs to be a world-wide revolt against governments and military. One side can’t have it, but who’s gonna disarm first, [that] is what the problem is!”

On the consequences of war
“It results in one thing… men taking orders to go kill people. And also these men, when they kill people and come back with a leg blown off, and they can’t even feed their family“ – and here he breaks into imitation – “for serving their country, thank you very much for losing your leg, you served your country very well!”

“People need to know these things – the only way, if we really want peace, this is the only way: everybody has to disarm.”

BOB MARLEY x RASTAFARIANISM: I stopped doing a bunch of things that I was doing coming up – it did have a positive effect in my life

“Bob Marley – he was the only [one] that lived it. He was the kind guy. He was the one [who] gave his shirt. He’s the one that everybody misses. People are dead, it didn’t affect people the same, like it affect[ed them when Bob Marley died].”

On Rastafarianism’s role in his life
“The concept is a good concept [about] how people should eat… I stopped doing a bunch of things that I was doing coming up – it did have a positive effect in my life. The part that I couldn’t get with is where they’re showing me how God is firing a gun, and how God has to take a plane to come to America – to Jamaica – from Ethiopia, that didn’t make any sense to me.”

On Snoop Lion
“He got carried away.”

On whether reggae needs another Bob Marley
“It needs a positive influence, somebody who can get the people back.”

On the turning point in Jamaica
“When the good Jamaican government saw the power in Bob Marley, and they saw how this guy could make two enemies shake hands… if you notice after that then is [when] the gang gun lyrics were coming from Jamaica.”

“One of the problems with Jamaica, and it’s why I kinda got fed up – too many of the wrong people found themselves in music… [this] eventually cost Tubby his life, it eventually cost Peter Tosh his life, and they tried to get Bob Marley. All these bad elements that surrounded reggae.”

“It becomes hypocritical – that’s the word in reggae – it becomes hypocritical because a whole bunch of people get on stage – ‘One Love Jah Rastafari’ – yeah right, you know it’s the god-damn fucking devil that’s up there singing!”

“When I look at the followers, the people who attach themselves to this faith, what are they doing? What type of a person – who is he? He’s just a gun man with locks.”

“All religions have some kind of nonsense attached to them, every one of the religions you can think of has some kinda nonsense attached to it.”

OBAMACARE: open for business

“I don’t really agree with a part of Obamacare… I’m basing this based on his wording: they’re open for business. Because I’ve never been sick and then now I’m forced to take part in a business because that’s [what] the president calls it.”

“The real problem is – why insurance and health is not affordable in America – is because you go to the hospital and then a tablet or a cotton swab is $20.”

MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION: look how long they’ve been wrong

On Colorado and Washington’s recent legalization
“Well good, but look how long – and this is a problem with law and these educated people – look how long they’ve been wrong!”

“All these people who went to jail – for a plant – they have a reasonable argument… all those people that you put in jail for 20 years in Colorado because they had a plant, now you’re going to let them out and give them some compensation and the law always wants to be right? But hey, if there were guns involved, then that’s a different story… it leads to other things if you find that… [but if you only find pot and] there’s no drugs, there’s nobody getting hurt – send all these people home please. Stop wasting money.”

“A man going to jail… c’mon that’s really stupid. How can you justify putting somebody in jail for a plant that God makes?”

ODDS & ENDS: hopefully music can change the world

On a rumored new project with the seminal reggae studio band The Roots Radics
“Waiting on this promoter, the producer for it … I don’t know what’s holding him up.”

“The only thing I turned the TV on for is to watch the Discovery Channel, I couldn’t tell [you] the last time I watched a movie because in order to keep it exciting it has to have some sort of gangster business.”

On the ultimate secret in hip-hop
“Everybody wants to wear their pants like they’re falling – I still don’t get how those guys keep up their pants!”

On his role in dub music
“Certain people get to do certain things, why that is I don’t really know.”

A final thought
“So hopefully music can help to change the world.”


Also read this interview on Bass Music China (中文翻譯).

For more of The Groove Thief x The Scientist, please read his review of The Scientist Meets Ted Sirota’s Heavyweight Dub; or listen and purchase it directly off of Bandcamp.

Check out The Scientist’s website DubMusic.com, or follow him on Facebook.

For more from The Groove Thief, check out his music blog TheGrooveThief.com which features dub/reggae reviews and coverage of the underground Hong Kong music scene.