Marlon Roudette biog
Written for Warner Bros. Records for the recent UK release of his album Matter Fixed.
Music doesn’t exist in a bubble. Every album is permeated with influences, some obviously apparent while others emerge from deep within the subconscious of its creator. This is especially true for Marlon Roudette and his debut album ‘Matter Fixed’ – the breadth of elements that have contributed to its positive, global sound is staggering.
Named after Marlon Brando, Roudette grew up in a family in which creativity was a routine part of life. Living in the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent with his mother Vonnie, a designer and multi-media artist, he’d spend a fortnight per year in London with his father, the producer Cameron McVey who’s renowned for his work with Massive Attack, All Saints and Marlon’s stepmother Neneh Cherry. “I was taught very early on that expressing yourself was a right, not a rebellion,” he says.
His time in London would often be accompanied by the influence of an array of musical friends and family including Massive Attack, jazz musician Don Cherry and the late producer Johnny Dollar. “They all in their own way taught me something – how to hit a kick drum, how to do my first breakbeat or whatever,” he recalls fondly. “It was quite bohemian at times.” In Saint Vincent, Roudette started playing the steel drum at the age of twelve, an instrument he still uses today and which allowed the youngster to make some extra pocket money when performing in cruise ships and upmarket hotels.
During his time on the island, Roudette basked in the glorious sounds of local reggae and dub, immersed himself in imported albums from artists as diverse as Snoop Dogg and Nirvana, and saw dancehall kings Beenie Man and Bounty Killer rock the foundations of the national football stadium. Yet Saint Vincent is often at the mercy of issues that won’t be mentioned in the tourist brochures. Roudette’s own house, for example, was twice struck by lightning while the family was home. “The reality of living in a developing country is very difficult, where inflation is hard to deal with and wages are still low,” he admits. “It’s paradise, it’s one of the most beautiful places on earth. As a British Vincentian, I’m always flying the flag for it but it’s not always easy living there.”
In his late teens, Roudette landed a job as a production assistant on the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, much of which was filmed on the island. After completing nineteen hour days, hanging out with Keira Knightley and observing legendary producer Jerry Bruckheimer in action, Roudette headed back to England where he teamed up with Preetesh Hirji. His earnings from the movie were used to fund the duo’s first demo as Mattafix.
Mattafix enjoyed huge success; their single ‘Big City Life’ went to #1 in several European countries (and New Zealand); they played two world tours (including the Middle-East and Africa) playing in front of up to 50,000 people a night; they were named as ambassadors for the Save Darfur campaign; Rankin directed one of their videos; they were commissioned to remix Lada Gaga’s ‘Eh Eh (Nothing Else I Can Say)’ and they even played in front of 180,000 people as special guests to Sting.
After a decade of living in each other’s pockets, Mattafix came to a natural end. “Preetesh and I weren’t getting along creatively,” states Roudette numbly. “That was quite difficult as I always thought we’d make records together forever.” It was just one of a number of factors that were darkening his life.
“It was a period of loss. I was engaged and managed to screw that up quite royally – all the trappings that come with being in your early twenties and on tour, having bit of money and all the rest of it. It felt like it was the end of the world. And my label at the time lost faith in me too. So it was a lot of different types of loss that triggered an emotional time, but it was a very creative period too.”
After taking a break with his mother back in Saint Vincent, Roudette returned to the UK freshly inspired in the face of adversity. The songs emerged at a dramatic rate – not that their creator had any real plans for them. “It was therapeutic,” he summarises. “I didn’t know what they would be written for. The decision to go solo came much later. Eventually I listened to people around me and thought it’s time to put my name on it, even though I’m quite a reluctant frontman.”
What emerged was a collection of poignant, reflective and deeply personal songs including ‘Riding Home’, an autobiographical tale of his dual past in London and Saint Vincent, ‘The Loss’ which was written in tribute to his late grandmother, an inspirational figure despite losing her sight as a child, and ‘New Age’ which epitomised the album’s core theme of overcoming life’s trials and tribulations.
The next challenge was a lack of finance. An enviable list of talent – including Guy Chambers, Brian West, Paul O’Duffy and Kwamé Holland – showed enough faith in Roudette to work for little more than an IOU. Even the BRIT and MOBO winner Finley Quaye assisted by contributing vocals and guitar during an improvised session which created ‘True To Yourself’.
With the album largely completed, Roudette still needed further finance to cover both the mixing of the album and the creation of a video for its first single. “In this new no-rulebook era of the music business, we decided to sign a deal for one territory to get enough dough to finish the record,” he explains, reiterating the great reception that Mattafix had always enjoyed in Germany. “We thought that with six to twelve months of hard graft and touring, we’d get somewhere.”
That deal was concluded at the close of 2010. With the album and Roudette’s co-directed video for ‘New Age’ completed, the single was taken to radio at the start of the summer. Two weeks later it exploded and hit the top of the charts where it remained for six weeks. Sure enough, he says proudly, all of the IOUs were soon paid back. The album’s artwork even pays homage to his past, with a collection of photos of his past life accompanied by lyrics that were handwritten by Johnny Dollar’s daughter.
The result is ‘Matter Fixed’, an album of universal music which comes straight from the heart and embraces the soul. “The difference between this album and anything I’ve done before is the personal vibe”, concludes Roudette with a beatific smile. “I’ve literally just told my life as it is.”