Interview by Jen Cheshire
Cookie The Herbalist, real name Stefano Raschi, is to be counted as one of Switzerland’s most prolific, successful and relevant reggae and dancehall artistes. Thanks to his powerful and energetic performances and his characteristic voice, his live shows are favorites in Europe and abroad.
Recently I caught up with Cookie just before he flew out to Jamaica to record, and perform on a school tour..
Jen: Thank you Cookie for giving me the interview.
Cookie: You are welcome. Thank you, Jen!
Jen: I know it’s coming up to the announcement of the Grammy nominations in the next couple of weeks and that’s why we are doing this interview, but first I would like to cover a little of your background. You were born in Italy, am I correct?
Cookie: No, I was actually born in Switzerland. My mother is Swiss but my father is Italian and so after my birth, we just went back to Italy again. I spent my first childhood years in Italy.
Jen: How old were you when you moved to Switzerland?
Cookie: I was around 8 years old.
Jen: That must have been a bit of a shock.
Cookie: Well my grandparents used to live in Switzerland so I’d been there before.
Jen: Do you have family members that are musical?
Cookie: Not as far as I know. My cousins and aunties, some of them play piano but not on a professional level.
Jen: Do you play an instrument?
Cookie: I used to play piano for a couple of years when I was a pickney and then skateboarding started to seem more attractive, but actually now we have a new piano so I’m starting to play it a lot. It’s kinda sad, I should never have quit playing the piano.
Jen: In your bio, it says you started singing in school in Italy.
Cookie: Yes, Kindergarten actually. The whole classic, early childhood, church thing, you know.
Jen: When you started getting into the music business, did you start with reggae or something else?
Cookie: I’m pretty versatile when it comes to music. Reggae and Dancehall are my main genres but I love to sing blues songs or soul or whatever. What I feel a vibe for. I listen to a lot of diverse music, I even listen to some classical music now and again. I listen to some Mozart or whatever. It gives you a new inspiration to hear other sorts of music here and there. As a youth, I went through the rap thing same way but reggae was actually the thing that got me the most. At a pretty young age, I found some LPs in my parent’s record wall and some of those records, besides The Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix, were Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, and Peter Tosh so from the first time I heard those records, those LPs, reggae got me. So that was my main music and the one I felt the most.
Jen: When you started, did you start out solo or were you in a group?
Cookie: I was pretty active with some local sounds at my early beginnings of reggae and dancehall. I was MCing in a local sound back then and singing some songs here and there. Even earlier than that, in the early teenage years, I used to do some reggae and even rap parts in different languages with some Swiss rap groups or other artists. Actually, that’s where I got my name. We had a little room where rappers and singers rehearsed and had jam sessions. I never really had time to have dinner so I brought cookies with me, so that’s where the name “Cookie” originated from. They started to call me Cookie from me eating some Italian cookies or those American chunk cookies or whatever. Then after a few years, I put “the Herbalist” behind the “Cookie”.
Jen: So you started off in the sound system. Is that when you started writing your own songs?
Cookie: Even before that, I wrote my first songs and, as I said before, I had some features on some local big rappers albums and with some different rap groups and then I started to do more and more of my own thing because when I did features, it was like a rapper but later I came in with a reggae hook or dancehall-isa kinda part. You know, DJing.
Jen: That’s cool as now a lot of the reggae artists are featuring a rap hook. You did it the other way around.
Cookie: And then I started more and more doing my own thing.
Jen: When did you get your first big break? When you did your first big show?
Cookie: I’d say the first really really big show with a lot of people was back in 2007 when Jah Mason took me on a European tour with him to open some of his shows like in Rototom, but back in Italy, and then some shows in Germany. I remember Rototom had like ten, fifteen thousand people back then, in Italy. I wish they would book me for Spain. I was only opening for Jah Mason back then but a real show with my own band would be great.
Jen: So you do have your own band?
Cookie: Yeah, for most shows in Switzerland, Germany, all over Europe if it’s possible I play with The Boomrush Band, a good reggae band from Germany.
Jen: Moving on to your link with Lee Scratch Perry. How long have you known him?
Cookie: The first time I met him personally was like almost 14 yrs ago, something like that.
Jen: He lives in Switzerland too doesn’t he?
Cookie: Yeah yeah.
Jen: How did you meet?
Cookie: That was backstage at a big show in Zurich, which was actually promoted by my former manager, Daniel from Gideon Productions, and I remember Capleton was performing there that night, Mystic Revelation, Toots and the Maytals, big, big names. Bunny Wailer was there the same night. That was where we first really interacted. I was a youngster back then.
Jen: You’ve mentioned to me he’s like a father figure to you.
Cookie: In a musical way. Sure, sure! But we also have a good vibe in a personal way. He is a good teacher.
Jen: Have you done other collaborations with him?
Cookie: We’ve recorded some little things here and then and some dubplates but “Eaze” was the first real song that we’ve written together and recorded, part in Jamaica and part in Switzerland.
Jen: That leads me to my next question. Was that track written especially for the “Tropical House Cruises to Jamaica” album or was it picked up by the producers?
Cookie: This track was released by us back in 2017. As I remember we started working on it in Jamaica in his living room, both with our laptops. I already had that riddim, the first like a skeleton of the riddim, and I had already written my first verse, and then on my second verse, I actually had to put in some lines and words he wanted me to have in my verse and he did the rest. He’s a word acrobat. We vibed on it. We recorded a part of it back then in Negril, at Jah Wayne’s, as I remember, and we recorded a bit of it in Lucerne, also in Switzerland. So we had like 2 or 3 sessions. Then this year we were contacted by the two record labels, one in Jamaica and one in America, that were collaborating to put together a compilation album “ Tropical House Cruises To Jamaica”. They asked if they could put that song onto the compilation. Which, as you know already features big names like Ed Sheeran, Wyclef Jean, Sean Paul, Sean Kingston, the Marley sons, a lot of big names and the song made its way again reaching a bigger public.
Jen: When they added it, did you think “Well this one is heading for a Grammy” or did you just think of it as just another compilation album?
Cookie: Well, I mean, I was very happy when I got the news that first, it went on the Billboard charts. That’s the first time I’ve had a song on the Billboard charts in America as I can recall, and also I think Lee’s and my contribution with our song “Eaze” also helped get the compilation to number one on the Billboard chart. That’s pretty awesome. Then when the news came that it could eventually have a chance for a Grammy nomination, well that’s just fantastic. Well, why not? Let’s just cross fingers and wish us the best.
Jen: It must be, for the Marleys or Ed Sheeran, people like that like “Oh I’ve been nominated again”.
Cookie: Yeah, for them it might be a regular thing.
Jen: But for someone like you, it’s fantastic.
Cookie: I mean that would be great, it would my name spread on different levels too. I mean I’m an artist with talent. I’m doing my music for a long time and it would be totally appreciated if some more appreciation would come back.
Jen: If it is nominated, will you get to go to the Grammys?
Cookie: To tell you the truth, I don’t have information reaching so far, but I’ll be waiting on some more information from the music group.
Jen: That would be exciting.
Cookie: I’m not into fantasizing. I hope for the best but I don’t celebrate before I got something to celebrate.
Jen: What projects do you have in the pipeline at the moment?
Cookie: Well I’ve been in the industry for a while now and I’ve released different projects and albums. My first official EP released in 2008 named “The Good Weed”, then “ Like A Tree” in 2010 kept me on the road for 3 years. Back then when CDs were sold in stores still, “Like A Tree” got pretty big in Switzerland and also in Germany. Then in 2012, I had “Stand Tall”, a big album featuring people like Luciano, Sizzla Kalonji, President Brown and UBrown.
Jen: Did you produce them yourself?
Cookie: Well, I write my songs but I collaborate with producers like House of Riddim, Weedy G, all sorts of different producers from all over the world that I’m linked to, that I like to work with. So when I’m planning an album I’ve got producers sending me riddims so I can choose and put them together but now, to keep my name relevant since the industry changed completely, I had my last album, “Cookie Box”, back in late 2016. I have different projects in the pipeline which I’m trying to get realized in the near future. One would actually be an album project with a band working on riddims and ideas with me together, like a concept album.
Jen: Are you planning on having the band in the studio?
Cookie: Yes, that would be actually great.
Jen: That would be awesome. I think more people should do that. That has a totally different sound from tracks.
Cookie: That’s one of those projects then maybe like subsequently, after that time, a digital album that could be more for the younger generation, a bit more danceable, with digital riddims. I like to do music for everybody,, not only the real dancehall massive, or the reggae massive, so that other people can relate to your music, to your lyrics, your vibes. But in doing this as a reggae artist, you have to do it without selling out yourself, and still stay true true….
Jen: To your roots?
Cookie: To your roots. Yes, exactly.
Jen: Do you have plans for any tours for next year?
Cookie: Well, I’m getting first shows in for next year. Some festivals that my booker in Switzerland is working on then some club shows. I’m still having some shows this year before Christmas. I will be flying back to Jamaica again next week, working on some projects I’m doing with Irie Child and One Love Brigade, charity organizations from America. Two years back Lee (Scratch Perry) and I helped to distribute bicycles in ghetto communities for some children there. I’m going on behalf of that and to do some shows in schools.
Jen: Nice! That seems to be becoming more popular. I see lots of artists doing school shows now,
Cookie: Yes, it’s for a good cause and the youths are the future. I say that already in my “Shining Star” song and video back in 2016. It’s the new generation. They need a proper education. They need goals. They need possibilities and they need motivation. The reggae artists need to give them motivation and a focus and to tell them to have goals and dreams and to work for it and to finally achieve them.
Jen: Are you planning on coming to the US any time soon?
Cookie: Yeah, that was actually already a plan for this year but we couldn’t finalize everything. They were a bit late with inquiries for America. I had a little tour planned in the Minnesota area and California but then it was a bit late to get the work permit, as it takes at least 3 or 4 months. So I want to do it in a proper and serious way so I hope the same festivals and venues will get me for next year, early enough so we have time to plan everything properly and that I finally could come and do some shows in America. I know my music is known there in some places.
Jen: Well, there are a lot of festivals, especially in California, so surely someone will start the ball rolling.
Cookie: Everybody, hear me now out there in California and America all over the place, if you want Cookie The Herbalist, just link Jen, link me, or my booker. It would be a pleasure.I will be playing other shows in Switzerland and Europe in January, then I have to go back to Jamaica in February, promoting some things and maybe shooting one or hopefully two new videos, to some unreleased singles. Then I will be flying back to Switzerland around the middle of March with Lee Scratch Perry. I have a show myself in Switzerland, then I’ll be flying to UK., and as far as I have information I will be on tour with Lee Scratch there until the end of March.
Before the next album project, as I’m always trying to keep myself relevant, I’m voicing on a lot of riddims for different riddim selections like I do for Giddimani Records. For them, I have already voiced a bunch of nice songs such as “Seen It All” or “ Back Yard” or ” Live Up” and there are some others in the pipeline yet unreleased. Nowadays the industry has changed a lot. Investors aren’t there anymore. I’m doing a lot of hard work to keep my thing still going as much as I can by myself. My longtime manager had a burnout four years ago after he came into reggae, so it’s four years now I’ve been doing everything myself. I have a booker here in Switzerland I have some people getting shows here and there in the world. The next step or project I have here is, I have to find new, good, motivated, let’s say, professional partners, like PR people, producers, labels, marketing people to reach the next higher level. So if anyone out there is willing to help me out, just link me up. I’m looking for a good new team to work with, Herbalist says so! (laugh). Everybody out there go and check me out on Social Media, Soundcloud, YouTube and if you want a show, link me.
Jen: Thank you Cookie for an interesting interview.
Cookie: Jen, thank you so much for your time and support.
Footnote: Since the interview, the Grammy nomination list for “Reggae Album Of The Year” came out and “Tropical House Cruises to Jamaica” didn’t make the cut.