2016 has been something of a halcyon year for Jarvis Smith. In a relatively short period of time, his band The Phoenix Rose has conquered all comers and been regularly playlisted in the US, giving him the perfect platform from which to educate the world on green issues in the process. A quick note for you though Jarvis – next time I ask you what you think your success is down to, you say it’s because God Is In The TV gave you Track Of The Day, ok?
The Phoenix Rose is one of the most environmentally aware acts on the circuit right now. Why is this so important to you?
The environment has to be the most important subject of our time. It simply means if we don’t clean up our acts we will become extinct. All the evidence and facts prove we are insignificant and these are turbulent times of climate change with the rise in temperatures, seas and the consumption of the Earth’s resources. I don’t feel there are enough artists particularly in music that are sharing what people can do to change, if they all reached out to their fanbases and offered one quick win that helped them reduce their immediate impact on resources, just imagine the impact it would have.
How do you convey these beliefs without sounding preachy?
I try not to preach; I just live and feel strong, proud and confident in the choices I have made. Everyone dislikes preaching, however people can relate to honesty and truth and mostly admire it one another. I spend my life inspiring people to other ways of living on the planet – it is super easy for anyone to change small things like their washing powder to a good earth friendly product, or buy 100% renewable energy instead of from nasty companies killing our planet. Also, I’m incredibly proud of how I live because of my children. I choose to live consciously for my family, so if that means spreading a message and getting people to mass mobilise for healthy change, which is so badly needed, then you know what, who CARES if people think it’s preachy? In my opinion the media has got us into this mess and the masses are preached to daily: Buy this, eat that, look like this, wear that. Now that’s preachy! At least mine’s helpful. If you don’t like it don’t listen. I’m only reaching out to people already on the path and being an artist for them.
People like Sting get a bit of a bad rap for strongly airing their (admittedly valid) environmental concerns on a regular basis, so how do you avoid such criticisms?
To date I’ve never come across actual criticism about the environmental work I do, partly because I don’t mind debate and also accept everyone’s views even if they are not mine. Also the world over knows what I’m saying is true. I think Sting has a certain air about him that can come across as arrogant, particularly when he tested the market with his environmental views. Personally I would have run with that kickback and become stronger and much more vocal; he just seemed to fritter away. He will have had his reasons for that, Annie Lennox did the same. I have only ever lived music underwritten by environmental change since day one, so really it’s my USP, my calling card. My art is empowered by nature and spirituality, the earth and love, so I’m living it, not trying to use it for promotion, it just is, you know what I mean?
You have close ties with Junior Marvin from The Wailers. What have you learnt from Junior, by performing and working with him? What does he bring to the table?
Junior is the most incredible and humble artist I know. He never takes credit for his genius and always, with complete humility, speaks of what he learnt from Bob Marley. Junior wrote probably some of the most famous guitar riffs of all time, songs that move people in helping them to be reminded of love and freedom. He instilled in me what I already knew, that songs like ours are for the people and not to be owned. They came from a higher place and with humility we can deliver these songs, by being the vehicle for them. That’s the kind of artist I hope to fully embody over time. His experience and wisdom musically was such a gift for our song. I appreciate Junior beyond words.
Tell me a little about the Channel 4 show you appeared on, Dumped.
Well that was where all the environmental stuff opened up for me back in 2007. I was invited to go onto the show because I was a hippy at heart. Out of 11 people, I was asked by the researchers – all the others had to apply. In a way, the Gods served this experience up for me to learn what it would be like when a natural disaster hit a town. No water, no power, no shelter, things we take for granted. The show taught me how to survive in these conditions, but more importantly it taught me the damage we were doing. Most memorable and horrid experience, (beside not being able to sleep because of the rancid smell of the dump) was the local dustbin truck after a morning collection turned up and we had to go through the rubbish and decide what could be recycled, we had to sort through the mess. Within 20 minutes I felt nauseous and had a horrible headache, the hangover kind and felt toxic. It was a massive wake up call, if this is what we are putting into the Earth, then no wonder the planet is speaking back to us saying stop killing me. We are killing the very thing that gives us life! Absolutely crazy!
What is the main purpose of The Phoenix Rose? I mean, what do you want people to take from your music, above all?
Most of my songs are about experiences or possibilities in how life has been served. Like many people, my childhood was tough. It made no sense, and music gave me a vibration and frequency I could relate to, just like a medicine. I was so lucky to have Reggae all around me as a child, lovers rock , dub and the amazing Bob Marley with all the culture too. West Indians have a spirited way so different to the reserved English culture of my mother’s side. So I was able to get through my difficult childhood with the bounce and spirit of black culture, what a gift!
The new single is called ‘Is This Luv?‘, clearly a reference to the legendary frontman. What IS “luv”?
Ah, Love or Luv is the most simple and powerful experience on Earth, not the Hollywood BS, but the kind of love that permeates through our hearts and skin and touches others in their hearts, the kind of love that we express and feel when we are truly being human beings! It can only be felt, and once felt shared and once shared, lived. It’s cryptic because everyone will feel this differently. Our single holds the question, “what is love to you?”. Have you ever asked yourself and not engineered the answer, just felt it? That is the start of feeling love.
You became a Reiki Master. What drove your desire to achieve such a thing?
Ah man, I had gone off the rails. I put together a girl group, got them signed to Jive Records at the time of Britney, N-Sync and R Kelly. It went completely to my head, I was on drugs and drink and more drugs and my body just gave up. I needed to find something, a call for help. A great party buddy told me about Reiki (Universal Energy) and said I should try it. On my second session I felt the biggest rush of ecstasy ever and wow was I hooked. It was like a natural high, no comedowns and it lasted for days. So I explored the power of transforming energy and shifting consciousness, and became a Reiki Master. I also studied with a Shaman through yoga and sacred sound for over 10 years. These skills are the backbone to my music.
The Phoenix Rose has really taken off over the past 12 months. What do you put that down to, and how much, potentially, do you think you can achieve?
The songs I have written have to be lived to fully invoke their message, I don’t think I was ready to be out there singing them and speaking about them before but I’m ready now which is why perhaps in just 6 months we have grown massively. I’m ready, the masses are ready and if you look at pop music there is hardly any out there like ours. It’s a fusion of different cultures, sounds, rhythms, words and song that enliven the consciousness with truth, helping us to remember what we already know (but may have forgotten), sacred music all wrapped up into a recognised pop reggae tune. Also, I don’t know anyone who dislikes reggae, it is a style that reaches almost every heart and soul. Maybe it’s the sound most natural to the way we could all live. A new or ancient way of being perhaps?
What would be the absolute pinnacle of your career, if it happened?
You know, sharing the stage with Junior Marvin is as close to my highlight as I could get. When he came to our studio the very next day after leaving the Wailers, having fronted them since Marley died it was a miracle. I know the energy of Marley was with me when I wrote certain songs, and Junior calling my producer whilst in our studio saying ‘where are you?’ and turning up the very next day and recording on ‘Is This Luv’ and ‘Planet‘ with those fully recognised guitar solos was the ultimate confirmation for me that what I believed to be true was in fact true. So being an artist, I must continue to drive the message of Luv, Unity and Freedom through music. There is no other option.
How do you manage to write love songs that don’t make us wince from the sappiness?
Everyone has had some experience of pain in some way, shape or form, it’s the human condition we all experience. I believe the loss we all feel in our hearts is the loss from our Spirit or Source, and then we have break ups and death and feel more loss. Most love songs are written from a tiny experience of love, what we get from one another, a taste or a peek over the wall if you like, but not a fully embracing overwhelming feeling. My songs are about the possibility of ‘Love’, a love that is honest and true; it’s a feeling that fully and unconditionally embodies an experience called LOVE. Remember, these songs come from a place higher than my limited life experience, they come from a place where love is the natural state of being-ness, with no agenda.
So what you are hearing is an honest expression of Love, not bound by a personal human experience but full of infinite possibility. That is true ‘LUV’.
What comes next, in terms of The Phoenix Rose?
You know, this part I have no control over, so its the most exciting, fun and challenging bit. Our new video for ‘Is This Luv’ is only just hitting TV and Music Video Channels this week, we have been supported massively in America with TV channels like AXS TV for the first single ‘Destination’ where the video is shown weekly in 53 million homes, we have 21 regional UK radio stations playing the new song, 35 specialists, Radio 2 have played it a few times and FB, Twitter and Instagram are growing daily, so if this continues we will go on tour next year and play as many festivals as possible. I hope to get to LA and New York and play some key venues, and then next spring we will drop our next single. The album is available everywhere now and our label GYPSYPOP Records are doing a great job in promoting us in America.
And back in dear old Blighty?
The UK is a tough market because all the main producers and decision makers for TV and Video work directly with UK labels, so with us being signed in America with an ‘indie’, it makes life much more difficult. If we get the people’s support then the channels and stations will have to take notice. We just went to number 30 in the MTV Popular music charts online, 5 places above Kanye West which made me smile, and Huffington Post have interviewed me which will take us up a level or two. We are competing with artists signed to major labels and still getting noticed, so it tells me our music is resonating as a soundtrack for a global shift that is so desperately needed. Bring it on.
The Phoenix Rose’s self titled debut album is out now on GYPSYPOP records.