Silver Scroll winner Thomas Oliver has covered a much loved song for his latest video. RNZ Music brings you the first look at it, and Thomas explains his choice:
RNZ Music: Why did you choose to cover ‘Is This Love’ by Bob Marley?
Thomas Oliver: Many of Bob's songs contain political messages and sentiments that pertain to all people. When it came to choosing a song to record, I guess I naturally gravitated towards the ones written about matters of the heart, because that feels more aligned with where most of my own songs come from. 'Is This Love' is a tender love song which bounces between a proclamation of commitment to someone, and the uncertainty of questioning it. I like that. I have questioned even the deepest love I have experienced. I chose this song because I wanted to give it a bare and vulnerable treatment, in the hope of re-exposing the tender love song within.
Do you remember the first time you heard it?
I have a lifelong friend with whom I used to walk to school every morning. He became a huge Bob fan, seemingly overnight, complete with posters on his bedroom walls, increased marijuana intake, and a lack of any other music on his all-in-one ghetto blaster. I recall his playing [the 1978 Bob Marley and the Wailer's album] Kaya one morning before school, which would be the first time I heard 'Is This Love'.
What part has Bob Marley had in your musical education?
For me, Bob Marley remains the benchmark of reaching all people with art. It's very hard, if not impossible, to find a person who doesn't like Bob Marley, or at least a song of his. I am fascinated by this. It's not the kind of musician I am, and I know I never will be, but I like to look to Bob as an example of how much reach a song, an album, an artist can have. I believe that Bob Marley is unparalleled in this way.
Was there a certain pressure in choosing such a well-known song?
There's no doubt that 'Is This Love' is ubiquitous, which both created pressure and enriched the opportunity. When you take on a song that is so loved, you have to accept that not everyone is going to like what you do with it. You're messing with something that is almost sacred to some people. But the world definitely doesn't need another version of 'Is This Love' that sounds more or less the same as the original. Hell, it doesn't need my version either! But the fact that there are so many versions of it around made for an opportunity to present the song in a way that I haven't heard it before, and I set out to try to expose "the song" the way it feels when you consider only the lyrics. Before I even started recording, I spent two weeks listening to nothing but Bob Marley, and I sang the song countless times every day, exactly the way he does. That way I knew I was truly "inside" the music before I took it in a new direction.
Thomas Oliver’s version of ‘Is This Love’ was originally recorded for Stir It Up – Aotearoa’s Tribute To Bob Marley, an album that features other Marley tributes recorded by New Zealand artists including Tiki Taane, Aaradhna, Trinity Roots, Bic Runga, and many more. Released by Universal Music.