By John Rickman
Return of the giant Slit!
In the years since the legendary, all-girl U.K. punk band The Slits disbanded in 1981, the band’s lead singer Ari Up has divided her time between Kingston, Jamaica and Brooklyn, New York performing as a singer and dancer under the name Medusa, as well as designing clothes and being a mom to her three sons Pablo, Pedro, and Wilton.
This year Up released her first solo recording “Dread More Dan Dead,” a collection of natty punk dance tracks and empowering pop lyricism reflective of the profound impact Jamaica’s culture has had on her life and identity.
FREEwilliamsburg caught up with Up when she returned to New York recently to prepare for an upcoming gig with her live band the True Warriors.
FREEwilliamsburg: What do you like about living in Brooklyn?
Ari Up: Brooklyn is Brooklyn! I live in the heart of Flatbush, which I like because it’s very urban and hasn’t become overpopulated in the same way Williamsburg has. Williamsburg, before it became overly trendy, used to remind me of the artsy area in West Berlin near the wall when it was still up.
FREEwilliamsburg: How has living in Jamaica influenced the way you express yourself?
Ari Up: Moving to Jamaica was a natural transition for me. It was the next logical step after performing with The Slits and as the main singer in the On-U Sound reggae project New Age Steppers. I got to know local Jamaican girls and people in general and going to all the dances and spots in Kingston, then when I started recording and performing there people already knew who I was.
I was warned before I moved there, “Oh if you go to Jamaica, how can you wear your crazy punk clothes? How can you wear anything like that without worrying about people chastising you or stealing stuff from you off the street?”
It’s just not the case! The more outrageous I dressed in Jamaica, the more accepted I was — especially during the nineties with the dancehall music explosion. That was a revolution in itself with clothes. People there never disrespect me and tell me to cut my dreads or call me a false dread.
FREEwilliamsburg: “Dread” is actually your first completely solo endeavor, correct?
Ari Up: It is. My new album is called “Dread More Dan Dead” because people have thought many times over the years, “Where is Ari? Is she dead?” No, I’m dread, not dead!
I would have had many solo albums out by now but.
I’m either too busy running around naked in the jungle with indigenous people, or shopping with freaked out A&R people who all seem so scared of me. I need a manager! It’s a shame, but business people miss out on all of the good art coming from the street, which is where art originates. They think I’m mad, but playing the part of the crazy artist has actually helped keep me safe and sane.
FREEwilliamsburg: Who are the True Warriors?
Ari Up: They’re my live band. I leave my computer and electronics at home when I perform with them. It’s totally raw and I play more of my punk stuff. They’re named after one of my songs, but it didn’t stick until one night, after performing the song and asking the audience where my true warriors were, the band said, “Hey, we want to be true warriors too!”
FREEwilliamsburg: Many songs on “Dread” reflect a sense of family values and deal pretty heavily with relationships. How has being a mom affected you?
Ari Up: If I have a relationship, I always want kids. But somehow I have ended up being a single mom, which I don’t think is ideal.
Wilton’s father was the ideal true warrior for me, but he died shortly after Wilton was born. That kind of messed me up. Some woman say they would like to do it all — be the woman of the house and be both mother and father. I understand where they’re coming from in a way, but it’s not realistic. They’re not thinking about the balance of life or how not having a father might affect their children. Being a single mom should be avoided if possible. I’m pretty healthy and at my best right now, but a big part of my life is missing not having a man in my life. Good, regular sex is essential — with one man that is! I don’t like sex everywhere and all over the place. That’s why I would rather not do it at all.
The song ‘Me Done’ is about that actually. Basically, I can’t take the pressure of one night stands anymore.
FREEwilliamsburg: What can your fans expect from you in the future?
Ari Up: Tessa Pollit and I are rebuilding The Slits! It will be the new Slits and we have a new EP coming out later this year. Also, there’s a new release of old Slits material out now called “Man Next Door.”
* “Dread More Dan Dead” is out now on Collision
Records and Ari Up’s website can be found at http://www.ari-up.com