For its first Three Artists, One Song campaign in nearly two years, Converse is teaming with Diplo, Frank Ocean and The Clash’s Mick Jones and Paul Simonon for “Hero,” a reggae-tinged tale of urban bravado. The song was made available today (March 10), at conversemusic.tumblr.com.
At a media event announcing the collaboration held at Converse’s Rubber Tracks studio on Thursday (March 6), Diplo noted he was thrilled to work with the Clash’s members in a more official capacity than his previous use of their music. “Probably one of the biggest productions I’ve ever done was called ‘Paper Planes’ by M.I.A., I sampled their song ‘Straight To Hell,’ so we definitely knew each other through our lawyers I guess,’” he said.
The three musicians holed up in Damon Albarn’s Studio 13 in London to record what amounted to five songs’ worth of music, one of which ended up becoming the basis for “Hero.” Diplo then sent the demos to Frank Ocean, who laid down his own vocals remotely from L.A., beginning a back-and-forth process that took nearly three months. “I don’t know how we could expect a Clash-Frank Ocean-Diplo song to sound, but this sounds like that,” Diplo told Billboard in an interview. “It just has all kinds of vibes on it. We really had no rules.”
Indeed, since the very first “Three Artists, One Song” in 2008 with Pharrell, Santigold and Julian Casablancas, Converse has proved to be the exception to many otherwise endorsement-shy artists’ rule to working with brands. “We don’t ask them to sing about our shoes, we don’t ask them to make any references to us,” says Geoff Cottrill, VP-general manager of brand and segments at Converse. “The thing about this platform is that it’s not really about us. We’re celebrating people who have a different perspective on the world and coming together to create something. We use our network in terms of getting in touch with consumers and giving away the track for free.”
Ocean is particularly brand-resistant, so much so that he was not present at Thursday’s media event nor has he shot any campaign artwork for the collaboration as all eight installments have previously featured -- including Gorillaz, James Murphy and Andre 3000 and Kimbra, A-Trak and Mark Foster, both in 2012. “There’s no above-the-line campaign on this,” Cottrill says. “This is just something we put together to release -- it’s not associated with any advertising, we’re just releasing the music like a record label would do, except give it away for free and make sure the artists get paid.”
As for the intensive process that went into “Hero,” Simonon and Jones were newly accustomed to the enhanced role technology plays in music-making, having spent three years on digital remasters for last fall’s comprehensive Clash boxed set “Sound System.” Said Jones to Billboard, “Working with Wes [Pentz, a.k.a. Diplo] and his colleague Andrew and seeing them work really fast on the computers was really fascinating to see how things work these days. Not that we’re old guys not interested in that -- working on the remasters with this top-quality technology was like a restoration or something.”
The surviving members of the Clash have also partnered with Converse in the past on a custom line of shoes and apparel emblazoned with the band’s logo and album artwork -- inspired by the band’s longtime affinity for the sneaker. “I’ve still got one -- just the right foot,” said Simonon. “You know, when they get really old they say you put them in the freezer and that freshens them up.”
Diplo was intrigued by this technique. “Yeah but it destroys your food.”