The Steinberger Interview: Ziggy Marley

Personal Revolution interviewed Ziggy Marley around the time of his solo album Fly Rasta in 2014. Produced by Marley and Dave Cooley (Silversun Pickups, J Dilla), the sessions reunited Marley with his family the Melody Makers who sang harmony throughout the album. And just like old times, Marley and his touring group also re-started their long association with Steinberger instruments for the tour with Ziggy using a new Synapse SS2F-TL1 as well as his vintage Steinberger he bought over 30 years ago. “I really like it. My old Steinberger has a lot of history to it. Nice memories, you know?”

A six-time GRAMMY winner, humanitarian, singer, songwriter, producer and an Emmy winner, Marley has released 13 albums, most recently I Am Human (2017). His recording career began at age ten when he sat in on sessions with his father, Bob Marley. As the front man for Ziggy Marley and The Melody Makers, the group released eight best-selling albums that garnered three GRAMMYs™, with chart-topping hits "Look Who’s Dancing," "Tomorrow People," and "Tumbling Down." spoke with Ziggy at the Tuff Gong headquarters in Los Angeles—the label and production company his father first formed in 1965--as Ziggy and his group were preparing to go on tour in the US and Canada.

Ziggy, thank you for speaking with us, and congratulations on the new album.

Yeah, thanks. We’re heading out on a big North American tour up that goes up to Canada. 

Touring is hard work. Do you still enjoy it? 

Yeah, I think so. I’m more aware of the places I’m going to and I’m more in tune with the people. After years of doing it, I’m enjoying it and I’m much better at it now. 

How did you discover Steinberger guitars? 

Steinberger... well, way back in 1987 or something like that, when we were putting out the record called Conscious Party, my guitarist had it and I liked how it looked and it was different. So I picked up and used it during those early years. I put it down for a while and found it again just now. I really like it. My old Steinberger has a lot of history to it. Nice memories, you know? 

Do you find new instrument help inspire your songwriting? 

Yeah, it’s true. Sometimes with the piano, too. It makes a difference. Sometimes it helps to change up how your write songs. A different feel, a different vibe, a different inspiration.

Was guitar your first instrument?

I think so. I saw my father making songs up on guitar so I kind of emulated that and took up guitar. I like guitar because it’s portable. Like an acoustic guitar--I carry it with me wherever I go. I like to make music like that. You can’t really carry a piano around with you (laughs).

Dave Cooley was your producer for Fly Rasta. What were you looking for in a producer?

Well, I don’t think I was a looking for a producer. I was looking more for someone to bounce ideas off of. That’s what a producer is for me. A producer for me is not someone who comes in and tells me what to do. The producer is someone who is there to make my ideas better, to embellish my ideas—see my dream, my vision of what I want. Give me ideas to make that happen. That’s what Dave did.

When I explained (the album) to David I said ‘this is what I want to do, I want to create something that’s a little futuristic, you know—push the envelope.’ And we started to talk about music in general. We didn’t get specific at first. For me, the approach on this record had an intellectual thing to it where we started out thinking about music—not technically—but in terms of a whole musical approach—a scientific approach. Not technical. Like a scientist who understands DNA or some shit like that (laughs) or a scientist who knows how the human body works. That’s how I am with music. I’m trying to figure out music in a scientific way. So we had a good time thinking about this.

Do you enjoy making the process of records?

I enjoy creating whether it’s in my garden planting seeds or using my imagination to make comic books. I like creating. Music is one aspect of that creativity. Like…making a record for me is like a kid with a Lego set (laughs). That’s how it is for me. I’m enjoying it because I can build anything with it. I can make something funky and weird—make it look like something you’ve never seen before. So I enjoy messing around and experimenting. I enjoy making mistakes and seeing if the mistakes work. When I got the musicians together. I said: “let’s make some mistakes.” For me, that’s a very interesting approach in music.

A lot of artists who have written for children—either in book form or in music—find that it challenges their songwriting. Did your children’s album, Family Time, impact your songwriting or maybe this new album?

The children’s book is a based on the children’s album but it changed my whole outlook. Or, it was an important step in my development in how I wanted to make songs and sing songs. Writing those songs for the children’s album was a very enjoyable experience--very simple, very straightforward. Very lovely. No pressure. No responsibility. Nothing to think about too hard. So it gave me a good idea—“yeah…I like doing things this way.” I think some of that has rubbed off on my songwriting and all the music I’ve made since then. Everything is a learning experience so I take it.

Who have you been listening to for inspiration lately?

I listen to anything. There’s no one specific thing I like. I’m eclectic you know (laughs). For the record, when I was making it, I was listening to rap…the Strokes. I couldn’t tell you their names because I don’t care about names. It’s just the music, you know? Sometimes I hear something and I go check it out. It might be the Strokes, The Beatles, or the Grateful Dead…my father. I listen to everything.

When you sing or listen to your father’s music today, what do hear that maybe you didn’t notice when you were younger?

Well, there are always things you hear you’ve never heard before because you’re listening in a different space or a different time. There are musical things you hear, too. “Oh, I didn’t notice that tambourine was there” or something like that. There’s still things to discover. That’s the enjoyment in real music. Especially music that is played organically. Because in organic music there are natural sounds. There’s so many nuances that will appear in a short time. When you make music with a machine, you can play the nuances but they’ll always be repetitive, part of the machine. But with live music, there’s that human thing. There’s always something more to discover. It’s not perfect. So the imperfections are the joy of it. That’s live music. I like that.

Do you feel less pressure now that you’re well established in the business? Do you feel you have more freedom artistically?

I feel pressure because I want the world to hear that message. Because the industry—in our whole industry--we still have to fight to get the same air space that some other stuff is getting, you know? We still are the struggling ones, the ones that fight for airtime. No one’s going to give it to us because our music, at that this point in time within the music industry and media, it isn’t as commercially…viable—I want to say. Compared to what else is going on. I think it’s good music and if people hear they will like it. But because of the system, you have a fight and a struggle. That’s why live music is still the best way.

Do you see a wide range of ages at your shows now?

I feel like we see everybody. Young, old, and there’s a mix--both racially and socially. Kids, adults—all the people. All different—I like it.