Brooklyn dub maestro Prince Polo just dropped his latest album, Brooklyn Bodega. A multicultural musical homage to Brooklyn, Polo wraps reggae and Latin tunes in his signature dub engineering style. Read on to hear a little more about Polo’s history as a musician and his personal philosophy on the art of mixing.
The Pier: How did you get into reggae music?
Polo: As far back as I can remember I was and still am a huge Police fan, so I guess that’s the initial start of it all. I really didn’t get heavily into it until I was around 18/19. I was at work and was listening to the local radio reggae show and a friend, who was a full on punk rocker, starts telling me about this tape he had and then lent it to me.
It was the most amazing intro to reggae. It was like Augustus Pablo, Eek A mouse, Hugh Mundell, Dillinger,etc…some really heavyweight artists. Then I just immersed myself in the music, trying to get my hands on anything I could find.
The Pier: How did you get into production and creating dubs?
Polo: I’ve always been interested in recording and sound. Back in ‘96/’97, I had a old mixer, some mic’s, and a few tape machines that we used to mess around with in my parents basement. They let me use 2 rooms for a little studio. I built a little drum booth for my kit and my brother had some amps that we’d mic up and play. It was my friend Elton on keys, my little brother Matt on guitar, Josh Werner (Lee Perry, Matisyahu) on bass and me on the kit. I’d try and make it sound as much like Tubby or the old Studio One records as I could.
The Pier: There’s a lot of Latin flavor on this album. Do you see any relation between Latin music such as Cumbia and reggae?
Polo: Definitely. It’s really there in Cumbia. The tempo’s are close. The bass lines are great. It’s just translating it and molding the feels where you make a hybrid sound but still identify the ingredients. There are a few people out there doing some really amazing things cross-pollinating those genre’s. I know the first Cumbia tune, I remixed as a reggae track was a peanut butter and chocolate moment for me.
The Pier: Can you tell us about the various singers that appear on Brooklyn Bodega?
Polo: Well there’s Daddy Marshall, who I met outside my house one morning. I really liked his vibe because he comes more from the sound system style than from a singer in the traditional sense, which is exactly what I was looking for.
L O Ese I met at my studio during a session with Kool Keith. He came through with some people, and I heard him saying he sang a lot of Latin stuff, so we started talking and I asked him to come back and check out some reggae/cumbia stuff I had, and it just grew from there.
Kat CHR I met through the label (DubShot). Mannix (Schlarb) called me up and said that she was in town and we should link up. Two days later, Kat came thru and that was one of the best sessions I’ve ever had. She is really creative. She wrote the tune in the studio that day, and I really enjoyed witnessing it. From when she had her initial idea to the finished product, it was really memorable.
The Pier: I’ve heard that you do live mixes with your band onstage? Can you explain a bit about how this works?
Polo: Basically my band is a pro tools rig, a mixer and my effects. I load a condensed version of a studio session into the rig and just dub out all the elements of the song like I would in the studio. For me it’s the perfect mix of the two worlds. I love being on stage but I also love the Sound System operator thing too.
The Pier: Can you tell The Pier a bit about your remix project with VP that is bringing together Jamaican singjays such as Eek-A-Mouse and I Wayne with American artists such as Rebelution and the Expendables?
Polo: It’s been really fun. It’s the brainchild of Mannix Schlarb, and he’s really facilitating some great combinations for this album. The songs are great and it’s cool to hear artists and bands I enjoy in the studio environment. It’s going to be a head turner when it hits. We’ve got a bunch of songs in the can and a couple more left to mix.
One aspect I enjoy most is mixing the range of styles that are on the record. The songs range from digital styles, like Rebelution with I Wayne, to classic rock steady, like The Aggrolites with Etana, and almost everything in between. Stay tuned.
The Pier: How do you understand your role as a dub producer? From the outside it almost appears to be something like a studio arranger, playing with the volume, tone and dynamics of the piece via the soundboard.
Polo: When it comes down to it, I’m a reggae producer. The dub stuff comes after that. If you have no reggae, you have no dub. It’s like Bunny Lee and King Tubby, if Bunny hadn’t been producing the reggae, he would have had nothing to funnel into Tubby for the dub versions.
All in all dub is the engineer’s creative take on the song. Everyone hears things from they’re own angle so you have to have a healthy knowledge of who came before you and who your peers are. When artists bring me something to mix I can draw a parallel to their sound and what kind of approach I could take on the song. If not, then you’re just turning on reverbs and delays and calling it dub.