Not only is he the bassist that pulls up to Grace Jones' bumper on her world tours, he's also a producer, songwriter and music educator. Meet the music man that is Malcolm Joseph...
Friend of dBs Music Cornwall and founder of Youth Music Sessions, Malcolm Joseph has worked in so many different corners of the music industry. He co-founded successful pop band 7th Heaven in the 1980s, ran a studio in the 90s and is now part of the session band that tours the world with disco diva Grace Jones. With all that in mind, dBs Insider wanted to find out more from the man himself. In this interview we find out about his eclectic musical career and get his advice for the next generation.
Hi Malcolm, explain to us why you became a bass player?
“It all happened at school really, a friend of mine played guitar and at his house was a bass. I had no idea what it was but used to just pick it up and we’d both mime to Status Quo! Later on my Dad realised I was interested in the music thing and actually bought me a guitar and the Burt Weedon guitar book. But I just didn’t feel it, with the guitar. I ended up butchering up the guitar and hacking it into a bass by removing the E and B string off, chopping the bridge and widening the strings like a bass - to the horror of my Dad!”
“I was into Rock mainly, with people like Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy being my hero at the time. There were a lot more front men who played bass back then too, so I was like okay, cool i’m not on my own here.”
And then you moved on to writing your own music?
“Writing started to come about when I formed bands with friends that used to live on my estate in London. Then when we formed the band 7th Heaven, I started writing and understanding how chords work and what a chorus and a verse is and so on. We all sort of began to learn the ‘by-the-book’ or basic formulas of what songs were. After that I found that I had a little bit of skill of learning how to record things.”
So how was 7th Heaven formed?
“Our band 7th heaven started with just jamming and building the band in the classic and natural way. Then as we got actual songs together we went to record our first demos.
Working with another producer or by yourself?
“We worked with a couple of producers, the last being Derek Bramble who was the bass player from Heatwave.”
And how did you get into running your own studio when the 7th Heaven project ended?
"After nine years in 7th Heaven, I set up the studio. Back then, the bass players and drummers were going out of business because of drum machines, sequencers, synths and the rise of techno and electronic music. But instead of getting all upset about it, I just learnt the new skills in the recording studio and ran a recording studio for the next 7 years!"
And how did the recording skills initially get developed?
“Initially it was when I went to a local youth club in Hackney that had some old recording gear. The guy who ran the youth club said if I can clean up the gear I could use it. So I did. I learnt how to use the 8 and 16 track reel-to-reel recorders, mixing board and anything else I could get my hands on. That’s where it started."
Then, it wasn't a career decision as such?
“I think I just learnt as I went along in music. I discovered that the business is so huge and that you can find success in many different areas of it. It could be as a player, an artist, producer, in media, as a studio manager and so on.” And then you went on later to playing bass for Grace Jones. How did that next phase of your career happen?
“It all happened probably about 18 years prior to the Grace Jones gig. I met a producer called Ivor Guest. A friend of mine Sean Oliver from Rip Rig and Panic was also a bass player and co-wrote Terence Trent D'Arby’s track, Wishing Well. Even though Sean was a bass player, he’d drag me over to play bass for him and I actually did all the original demos for the Terence Trent D'Arby tracks. Anyway, it was Sean that took me to meet Ivor who had this studio in Grosvenor Square, London. About a year after that meeting in 1990, Sean tragically died and I never saw Ivor again. Until one day many, many years later when I first signed up to MySpace and sent Ivor a message, wondering what he was up to. He’d heard I’d moved down to Cornwall, so invited me up to London, adding that he might have a particularly interesting project for me."
“So, I went to see him in the studio and he played me a brand new Grace Jones album, the first album she’d done in about 25 years. He went on to explain that there were a couple of festival gigs coming up with Grace Jones and they needed a bass player for the live shows. I laughed and said, ‘You haven’t heard me play bass in 18 years!’ But he just said, ‘I trust you. Do you still play like you did 18 years ago?’
“He handed me all Grace Jones’ albums, about 36 tracks to learn. You have two weeks to learn them. Then you have 10 days rehearsal with the new band and the first show at the Royal Festival Hall.”
And was their any particular track that was a nightmare for you personally to learn?
"Yeah, La Vie En Rose. [laughs]. I don’t really know why, but the arrangements were so twisted around and this just wasn’t the standard stuff.”
And you do the rehearsals all without Grace?
"Yeah, we learn everything exactly as it was on the albums. Everyone sticks to the plan when we play live, it’s not improvised or jammed in any sense. It’s a much higher level of professionalism than anything I’d done before. Some tracks have stems running and click tracks, while other parts don’t. There are arrangement changes from the originals because when the stage show is formed it has to account for costume changes, segues and different intros and outros. It’s a whole production scenario with the production team coming to the studios during our rehearsals to see us and then Ivor working as Musical Director pulling everything together.”
Any technical nightmares on the tour?
“Yeah of course, we’ve had the stems dropping out in Pro Tools and almost every other scenario you can imagine on the world tours. But it’s your experience, rehearsals and professionalism that really pulls you through so that nobody notices during the show."
You’re involved with dBs Music at our Cornwall campus and running the Youth Music Sessions there. What would your advice be for the next generation of musicians and producers.
“One thing is do just to have faith in yourself and understand that there will always be ups and downs in any career, but you have to go out and say yes to projects and meet people. Do it, play your heart out. Be active and get involved.”
I suppose your Grace Jones gig proves that point entirely. You could have easily doubted yourself and ended up seeing somebody else on the TV playing bass for herself.
“Exactly, if you start doubting yourself before you even get there you’ll never do anything. Just do it! Now you have to go out and sell yourself as often as you can. If you’re a bass player, you have to go out and play bass with people, but if you can’t get work doing that don’t be afraid of doing something else until you can. Also, it’s nice to be nice! I went 18 years without speaking to Ivor, but he remembered that I layed down some serious bass lines for him back in the day.”
Tell us about the Youth Music Sessions you’ve set up at dBs Cornwall...
“The Youth Music Sessions are basically giving youngsters the opportunity to experience the amazing dBs Cornwall facilities and get creative without too much pressure. We have everyone from trumpet players and singer-songwriters to kids that want to make beats. I get that melting pot together and giving the kids freedom of speech with their music and help and advise them. If it wasn’t for my youth club in Hackney back in the day maybe I wouldn’t have had the career I’ve had, so it’s great to be able to do something like this in Cornwall.”
What’s next for you?
“More Grace Jones with a Canadian tour happening and there’s new recorded material for Grace Jones that I’ve also played on. A new album which is sounding fantastic, so I’m looking forward to when that eventually comes out.”
Learn from music industry professionals like Malcolm Joseph at all our dBs Music campuses. For more information about our Cornwall centre or any other campus and courses on offer contact us over at our dBs Music website.