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Interview: Jamie Lidell


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Jamie Lidell is an enigma; he is one of the best modern soul singers, whose experiments in sound have constantly delighted and confused in equal measure.

Jamie Lidell

After a career which started with strange vocal-based soundscapes, through to the modern electro blue-eyed soul of last album Jim nothing is ever predictable with Mr Lidell.

His latest full-length release Compass takes a darker, more introspective tone bringing in further instrumentation and a host of impressive collaborators.

We are currently sitting in a room at Warp records watching Lidell effortlessly bang out tunes from the new record for some blog sessions grabbing a chat in between performances. These laid-back off the cuff performances show the simple quality of his voice and the damn funky nature of his tunes.

This is also the first time we have seen a man 'play' an i-phone, unleashing some 'funky Chromeo kinda shit' on the room.

Opposed to the optimistic, up-lifting soul sounds heard on Multiply and Jim the most recent sounds echo with an air of melancholy, of reflection and pain. This darker atmosphere reflects the time between the recording of the two albums.
"Darker definitely, it is definitely darker and a bit's a wide-ranging sonic-banquet, it's a 14-course meal, it really does go from boudoir sounds of 'She Needs Me' to the urgency of 'Coma Cameleon'. It does take on sort of more challenging material than on Jim. I could have been setting myself up for a career, taking me down the road of the whole soul thing. I mean I love doing it, but that back catalogue is there and I am really proud of it but it did leave me at an interesting crossroads. I am not just that guy, I mean I did the first album and it was pretty insane and most people now say 'so this is your third album' they don't even know that album exists kinda thing it pretty much goes under the radar. I've been making music, releasing it since '95, so I'm a bit of veteran now. 15 years of actually releasing stuff, I need to show people who I am as an artist. I'm going out doing electronic shows, beatboxing to people who have just heard Jim and they are like 'well what's going on?' I tend to throw people off, so the way I thought this is a chance for me to focus on the lyrical content I wanted to put down, which was a lot more personal, to express myself, show it and be proud of it. There was this point when I was making Jim when I think I was worried about what people might think. I think it was necessary to get rid of that, to make the record honest."

For this album Lidell increased the chances of creating some solid-gold tuneage by working with Beck on production.
"He contacted me in 2006 to see if I wanted to open for him. So I opened up solo for his show and we got along and he invited me back to go into the studio with him a couple of times. I think he was curious of the disparity between my live show and what I do on record. Plus he'd got out of his record deal and had started to produce more bands. He did Charlotte Gainsbourg and when he had finished her he got back in touch with me. So yeah it's kinda a connection that's been a slow burner and then around February last year we got together."

"Definitely kicking it off with Beck I knew it was kind of ON and it was a ON top level from the get-go if you know what I mean. I was like maybe I can get a few people in, but I don't really think like that but when Beck came in, immediately it was like 'it's ON'! Into action - the label gets called, we get all our crew together. I think just having that to start things off was just brilliant."

"Also to see how fast he writes. He's one of those guys. I realise his superpower is just strumming a few chords and grabbing a piece of paper and with whatever has been on his mind that day, or whatever is happening at the moment he is really amazing at just condensing it into lyrics, like on the fly. When you've got that superpower you can be a prolific songwriter, it's obviously one of the most important skills to have. I've never been good at it myself so to be in the presence of someone who really can just churn them out but not just any old lyrics, some really decent lines - it's like 'man, that's how he gets to be so prolific'."

The success of the last few albums has seen Lidell play increasingly high-profile support-slots including with Elton John and Prince.
"Quite recently I got my mic cable tangled up in Prince's guitar effects pedals. We supported Prince, with Larry Graham and they have huge amounts of equipment splurged onto a mega stage. All of Prince's stuff is all at the front, all of Larry Graham's stuff, all the pedals, everything they need to play. There was literally a mic stand where Prince's mic was gonna go, and mine as well so that was pretty insane. It was weird looking down and tug my cable out of Prince's set-up. It adds a new level of anxiety to a show. But that was amazing. That was a classic example of a crowd who weren't really there to see us, but there must have been about 20,000 people - it was pretty epic. They loved it, it was really, really sweet so people were singing along. It was a heart-warming affair."

He has also been gracing the festival stages of the world, most recently an incredibly short set at Latitude festival.
"Festivals are cool, if a little crazy. I mean we have a 15-minute changeover, so as you would imagine with two drum sets and all that stuff, lardy-da...making it sound amazing in 15-minutes is hard."

"Somehow it always just works and things just come through. We'll just see if we can hear it or not and just sorta blaze through. The good thing about festivals is that you get to be in front of people who wouldn't have necessarily come to see you. It's not like you're playing a headline show and everyone is going to be there to see you, so if people are there to see Grizzly Bear or something they might have heard I worked with Chris Taylor and might pop down to see the show and they might like it!"

In the ever moving aural saga of Jamie Lidell where is he headed now?
"I dunno, it's not like I'd cross things off a list of things I haven't done, just to do them. With this album I didn't go ahead and plan, everyone was invited to the party. I don't usually play guitar, but I sorta did. I strummed out a lot of tunes more than I did in the past. I'd like to create another instrument, I colostomy bag-pipes or something. You never know what might come out!"

"I've been thinking of branching out making instruments, in all seriousness. Maybe I won't make an album I will make an instrument."

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