Denise Sherwood's producer dad used his "special gift" to help her make an auspicious debut

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      Denise Sherwood didn't have a typical childhood. Growing up as the daughter of legendary U.K. dub-reggae producer Adrian Sherwood, she heard a lot more music than most kids do.

      "Always music, always," recalls Sherwood, on the line from her North London home, "and people working in the studio. It was very normal to come home after school and be surrounded by music and musicians and lots of funny sounds. It was lovely.

      "It could also get a bit chaotic," she adds, "as they'd work late all the time. When I got older I'd realize that other people don't have that. When they go home they have a sort of quiet, do homework, go to bed. With me it was a party every night."

      Now 36—and eight months pregnant with her second child—the Japanese-British singer-songwriter is promoting This Road, an album produced and mixed by her father and featuring contributions by Lee “Scratch” Perry, Mala, Mark Stewart, Skip McDonald, and Doug Wimbish. It's her debut album, and was a long time coming.

      "I started singing when I was 16, 17," she explains, "but I had really bad anxiety, and it took me a long time to work through my own kind of mental-health struggles. I mean I had chronic anxiety, and so I just couldn't get up on a stage and sing. I had to walk a different road, completely. It took me about 10 years until I could really function and manage the anxiety and work through it. I wasn't in a place to finish the record and release it until last year."

      A potent showcase for Sherwood's eloquent vocals and her father's renowned recording skills, the 11-track This Road blends dub-reggae, trip-hop, jungle, jazz, drum 'n' bass, and pop elements to create a sound that she admits is "not the easiest thing to listen to".

      "I kinda like it because it's unique," she says, "and I think there's a real mix. I mean I love old English poetry, I always have. I love folk music. And I love good songs. But I also love dub and jungle, and just playing with weird sounds. It was really just playing with stuff and trying to get a feeling.

      "And then I got the chance to work with different people and some of it just turned into drum 'n' bass, where I wouldn't originally have wanted that. But there was a lot of being open to letting other people come and put their spin on what I'd put forward as a kind of shell. And then it became like a collage."

      Now, for Vancouver's Powell Street Festival, This Road has been adapted as a short film, "Dub This Road", to be presented as a preview version of TAIKOPERA—an experimental concept fusion of taiko drumming and contemporary opera. Curated, produced, and directed by Vancouver's Don Chow, the project features the all-woman drum group Sawagi and the mostly nonbinary Onibana Taiko, and incorporates sound design by Adrian Sherwood. According to the festival website, the project is "a risky synthesis, a multidisciplinary meditation, which expands and connects diverse cultural perspectives and Asian Canadian histories."

      "I don't really know what they're doing with it," admits Sherwood. "That's Don's project, so it's up to him to create as he sees fit. I think my father's doing a remix of a track that they're using with the Japanese drummers. I've done the album and they'll take it and do what they want with it."

      Sherwood—who grew up loving artists like Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, and Bob Marley, and later on was inspired by bands like Portishead and Massive Attack—released This Road on her father's famed On-U Sound label. Working so closely with him on the project was like a dream come true.

      Denise and her dad.
      Facebook/Denise Sherwood

      "He's my pal," she says, "and we hung out and had wine and stayed up late. He's very kind and very patient and very encouraging of me, as a father, you know, and as a woman, and just said, 'Look, let's get some stuff to go, don't worry about it, you don't have to get on a stage. Let's just have fun, don't try to be anybody you're not. If people like it, then great, if they don't, who cares.' He's so relaxed about everything."

      Looking back on her father's lengthy and impressive résumé as a producer and remixer, Sherwood points to his earlier work with acts like Tackhead and African Head Charge as most impressive in her books.

      "He's responsible for really creating a new route for U.K. underground music," she states, "because he was working with so many different sounds in reggae and punk and dub, and kind of made his own thing."

      When asked to pinpoint what she feels are her dad's best qualities in the studio, Sherwood instantly homes in on one.

      "He's completely nonjudgmental," she replies. "I think he's the least judgmental human being I've ever met, really. Very inclusive and loving. His quality is that anybody could sit in a room with him and feel free to be as they are. And I think that is a massive quality and a very important one as a producer. I think that's his special gift."

      Dub This Road (TAIKOPERA) will be presented online as part of the Powell Street Festival, which features online and on-location events throughout July, culminating on July 31 and August 1.