Eliseus Joseph, The Classic Architect
Eliseus can’t believe there is so much talent in Barbados. He constantly talks about it before, during, and after our interview. Showing me some videos on his phone, which he took at a showcase, he singled out the singer and bassist for praise. “Man. I was blown away,” he says. It takes a lot for a man of his caliber to be impressed.
You may not know Eliseus Joseph Jr., but you know his work. Quiet as kept, the 32-year-old producer, songwriter, and engineer has been steadily working with your favorite local, regional, and international artists – spanning across all genres – throughout his impressive career. When music labels were hoping to strike lightning like Jigga and Def Jam did with a certain Westbury native, he had a hand in developing artists who went on to to score deals.
Even with so many accomplishments under his belt, the average person wouldn’t know much about him unless they read the liner notes. He rarely does interviews – preferring to keep a low profile. In a field full of narcissistic personalties, he doesn’t boast; his work, credibility, and respect from his peers do all the talking for him.
In this day and age, where a few Google searches would give you enough information about someone as established as himself, you would come up short. Not even this social media zeitgeist could help the best digital sleuth. There are no selfies with his famous associates – a picture with the legendary Bruce Swedien, after completing a course with him, is the most you would get.
His accounts are reserved for what he loves most: family, friends and – with the occasional behind the boards view – work.
High winds are causing the door to Eliseus’ studio to close frequently, and quite violently. These gusts brought some much-needed breeze on this hot day, but I swear they are going to make the door rip from its hinges. We’re standing on the balcony outside of his makeshift studio aptly named “Room With A View” (it boasts an expansive, breath-taking view of the South East of the island). The studio is cramped and filled with enough books to make a bibliophile blush. It is here that he and his associates hold court to craft songs with the intent to shop them to major labels.
Sitting to the right of the room was his writing and production partner, Johnathan McCollin. Together they form The Architecz – a production company looking to harness some of the musical talent Barbados possesses. He’s excited about the potential he sees, but sadly laments the bad practices that causes it to go to waste.
Eliseus stumbled into music by way of his curiosity as a child. He said he always wanted to find out how things worked, so he would destroy various items around the house with the intention to fix them. “My parents would [go out and] leave their VCR, and I would pick it down to screws and put it back together,” he says. “It would be working afterwards. Not always… They had to go through a couple VCRs.”
He describes his parents – Eliseus Snr. and Margaret Joseph, pastors of the Apostolic Teaching Center – as patient and very supportive. (He has two younger sisters Njeri and Keri-Ann)
In primary school he was a restless student: always having trouble staying still in class, always beating or playing something on his desk. His teacher suggested to his mother that he had ADD (Attention Deficiency Disorder). “[My mother] said ‘He int got no ADD,’” he recollected. “So she decided to put me into music, and that kind of helped ‘solve the problem’” That decision, he says, made him calm down.
When he went to The St. Michael’s School, his love for music grew through their programme, but he credits a major part of his development to Instruments of Prayze – a gospel jazz band consisting of his friends from church. “It was such a fantastic band,” Eliseus says smiling. ”We were all, like, 16. And we would all meet at this church and rehearse after school everyday.” Running off of pure passion, the band practiced new songs four to five days a week, even though they had no gigs at the time.
He dabbled with some instruments (piano, guitar, and flute), but his true passion was engineering.
“I look at music from the technical side first, because I was always interested in how did the people gets the thing to sound the way they sounded,” he says. “I understood the music part of it, but how do I get the things to sound [the way they do]. So I found that I focused more on that.”
Being the live and studio engineer for the band, he says his constant challenge for live events, was “how do we get [the band] to sound the way like we did in our rehearsals – but in a bigger setting?” During this time, he interned at the famed Holder’s Studio – first for Brad Baerwald, then, Mark Rule – then he eventually decided to go to school for it.
Looking to further his skills in this field, he set his sights on attending Full Sail University, based in Orlando, Florida. However, the school’s high tuition almost derailed his plans. His father couldn’t afford it – and there were no student loans at the time – so he told him to “find something else.” Leaving him dejected and frustrated, Eliseus admitted that they had a “big quarrel” at the time of their disagreement. It wasn’t until his father took a trip to Singapore, that he had a change of heart.
“I would never forget this,” Eliseus says. “While he was in Singapore he called me. And he was like ‘I was praying about this and I just feel you [have] to go to Full Sail. And I don’t know how I’m going to afford it, but I think we got to try.’” That call left him astonished. “I was like ‘Wow!’… That’s how you know that things are just kind of [destined]. I really got to give a lot of thanks to my parents”
To help offset the cost of his education, before he left for school he raised money by booking commercials, with close friend Julian Griffith, and doing garage sales. When he arrived at Full Sail, the grind didn’t stop as he worked three jobs: one on campus, another at a nightclub after school to mix live bands, the last one was volunteering for a sound company on a weekend. “That’s how I bought food. If I didn’t work, I didn’t eat,” he says of those grueling days balancing work and student life. “I remember sometimes I didn’t have any work, and I went three weeks, to a month, just eating eggs – because that is all I could afford. That’s the life I had to live.”
During his year and a half stint, he wanted to capitalize on every opportunity – constantly hounded his professors on the availability of labs to work on equipment during his free time. As he came to the end of tenure, he sought out jobs in the music industry. He shared how he would daily cold call managers for internships. So much so, the manager of Coldplay, one victim of his ardor, contacted the school to beg him to stop calling.
Mimicking the manager’s voice, he says “There’s a guy calling here from your school. I like his enthusiasm but that’s not the right way to get the job. So tell him to ease up.”
His persistence paid off eventually, as the manager of gospel recording artist Fred Hammond was a fan of his drive and hired him as an intern. After three months, he was offered a full time job. His life would come full circle when one of Hammond’s tour stops was in Barbados for Gospel Fest.
“It was amazing to see the guys from QSI, that I used to watch from young setting up for the other artists, setting up for me,” he says of the surreal moment. He has since toured – and continues to tour – with the likes of Brandy, J.Cole, and A$AP Rocky as their live engineer for shows.
In 2004, Eliseus formed the production company Classic Soul Productions with childhood friend, and Instruments of Prayze band mate, Julian Griffith. Although they worked on music outside of the band, Julian credits Rodney “Dark Child” Jenkins’ work on Brandy’s Full Moon as their inspiration to start CSP. “That album actually got us into listening in for production, and getting a lot of production ideas,” he says via telephone.
Along with producing and songwriting for acts throughout the world, CSP also looked at developing artists. Cover Drive and Livvi Franc were beneficiaries of their ground work – both going on to secure recording contracts with PolyDor UK and Jive Records respectively.
Their work got the attention of legendary producers Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam. CSP worked closely with them and their artists for a short period of time. Julian says that they operated under an “unofficial contract” because the longer one wasn’t favorable (“We would probably still be in it right now,” he revealed).
These days, however, CSP has been put on pause – an unfortunate consequence of their heavy tour schedules (Julian is the bassist for Machel Montano’s “Monk Monte” band), but the two still remain friends and work together from time to time.
Julian describes ‘Eli’ as a “very cool” and “driven” guy. “He is one of those guys that’s not going to sit down and let things come to him,” he says. “He works hard and goes for what he’s going for. And he doesn’t give up. At all.”
Fed up wit the swinging door, and having to catch it before it slams in, Eliseus goes for a rock to put it in place. A good ole bajan fix if there ever was one. Our conversation turns to the sense of entitlement Barbadian artists have – something he talked about on a Honey Jam panel late last year.
“Entitlement is a poison. It’s killing us,” Eliseus says sternly. “We are not entitled to nothing; life is a gift,” he continues. This is a personal mantra that he wishes artists, and Barbadian society as a whole, would adopt. “Everyday we get up we got to be excited about that. I get up excited… It’s Monday. Yes!” he exclaims, pumping his fists. “…Because it’s a gift. And tomorrow I could go to bed and never wake up. And all the plans I had they don’t mater anymore.”
To drive home his point, he shares a story of a friend from Jamaica who went to the theatre to watch Furious 7 with friends. He dozed off during the movie, and died in his sleep.
With this carpe diem attitude, he has no time to complain about frivolous first world problems. He is mindful that things we take for granted – like water, food, shelter – are precious to others. Everyday he is grateful that he can do what he loves, and make sure he does it to the best of his ability.
Turning his attention to artists who complain about the lack of opportunities, he says, “You don’t have to wait for nothing, create… When you create, things happen. Because someone is always watching. That’s a mistake: to think no one is watching. A&R’s are always watching. Always! The Internet has made that playing field so small.”
He continues, “You know they say six degrees of separation? It is three now, boy. Because one man [may] log on to your Facebook; he sends that to a friend; you don’t know if that man is Diddy right hand man.”
Lack of collaboration is another personal grievance. “You can’t beat working as a team, and I think that is something that is missing a lot in Barbados,” He says. “My biggest qualm here is that we have all [of] this talent but everyone is trying to do it on their own. Everyone is trying to be the one that [says] ‘I’m the one that made it. I’m the one that bust and get this here happening.’ Which is great. But I always tell people: Jesus is the Son of God – whether you believe in Jesus or not, He was actually a human being that walked the earth. And, as the Son of God, he had 72 disciples first, and then 12. So even him with all of the power still had a team. And he actively was looking for a team, because The Bible says he actively went out and got disciples.”
His recent work on Teff’s debut album, Departure Lounge, bares testament that he also “walks the walk.”
The story goes like this: As a fan of his work, he called the rapper up because he wasn’t seeing any output from him. After discovering that he was working on his project by himself – and listening to some songs that were sent him (“When I heard what they had done I was blown away.”) – he humbly offered his services, which Teff graciously accepted.
“When Teff sent me the work, my job then was to jump into the vision and into the direction he had already started and crafted, and, kind of, see his vision and see how I can build upon what he had already started,” he says.“But the idea was kind of to take the songs and bring that musicality to the songs. So, it was taking the amazing stuff that [Mohamed Haniff and Jaicko] had done, and then, ‘how do we make it more musical?’”
In order to make the best possible product, the vocals for the project needed to be re-recorded. At the behest of a friend, he brought on Mahaila of Nexcyx as a vocal coach for Teff – listening and critiquing his delivery and diction.“That’s the beauty of the collaboration: it wasn’t no one person, it was everybody working together to make these sounds work and this overall project work …“ he says.
He views collaboration as a great opportunity to learn, confessing: “I [would] rather have 5% of something that did well, than having 100% of something that you can’t share with anybody.”
Last year, Eliseus formed the production company, The Architecz, with young producer and songwriter, Johnathan McCollin. The two were introduced five years ago by T-Ray Armstrong of Cover Drive, and continued to work together since then. (Johnathan was also a songwriter for Classic Soul).
With The Arcitecz, he is back looking to develop new acts and bringing a fresh new sound to the scene. He describes the production company as a ”one stop shop” for artists: providing them with great music, and marketing and public relation services to further push them to the forefront.
(The Architecz are currently putting the finishing touches on an upcoming EP featuring Barbadian acts slated for release later this year.)
Even with a packed schedule that would make a regular person cower in fear, and now with his sights on looking to shift the Barbadian music scene for the greater good, Eliseus can’t find the strength to complain. Infact, he couldn’t be happier. “If I have the opportunity to work and do music, I’m going to put my best foot forward,” He says. “Because any day, it could just end like that.”
Carlos Brathwaite is the Founder of 246Mixtapes. Follow him on Twitter.