Jamie Lidell - July 2005 English Version
CM>>> Do you sleep in a nightliner or do you stay in Cologne this night?
Jamie>>> I stay in Cologne this night. It’s a very nice hotel actually. It’s very relaxed so I think I have the chance to recover. But the problem is, the shower is a bit bad. The shower’s either completely hot or totally cold. There’s no fucking way to make it good.
CM>>>> Hmm seems to be digital like yes and no...
CM>>> Last week you played a show together with James Brown. How was it? Because, I can imagine, it was a different kind of audience…
Jamie>>> Well, I am known for a small section of electronic audience base around Europe, and James Brown is a international mega star and there’s a world of difference between us. And that’s why learned from doing that show... I knew it before, of course, but I had a feeling somehow I could win the crowd over with my style which happened actually. Some of the younger members of the audience were really excited. But what I was doing I think, “Look this kid’s not bad, he’s kinda funky.” But I think some of the really old traditionalists, perhaps some of the real James Brown fans, were like, “...he is not black, he can’t really do this...where’s the godfather?” They were polite. It was a respectful audience. They could have been much harder! I didn’t play so well, to be honest. I played a little bit scrappy. I felt very woundable on stage. I was very trapped behind my equipment. They had a rise I wished to roll on. I tried to remain humble for the show because I thought this is crazy I can’t try to dominate this show like this is one of my own, you know, because this is James Brown’s fucking show. So I tried to stay quieter and to do my thing just concentrate on the music. It was nice and quite overwhelming.
CM>>> You were born in the countryside?
Jamie>>> Yeah I was born in a very small village!
CM>>> So what was the first big city in your life?
Jamie>>> Haha, the first main town in my life was Bristol - which was an opportune moment in my life, because it was the moment when Massive Attack and Portishead just started to create a scene in Bristol; which was making it really exciting to be there because it was one of the music chapters of England at the time. I timed it perfectly when I just arrived in Bristol. So they there were. All the clubs and everything was very vibrant at that time. There was a lot of good music around... and I did my university studies and my degree. From there I moved to London and then to Brighton.
CM>>> You also were part of a kind of techno collective a few years ago?
Jamie>>> Yeah, there was two other guys, Jason Leach and DJ Sueme - still making music under the name Subhead. I made ten EPs with them in London. Over the course of maybe two years we made a lot of records. We had a lot of spades. It was the first record I ever made and the next day it was on KissFM, Colin Dayle.
CM>>> In which year?
Jamie>>> Oh it was in 1995.
CM>>> Am I right when I say that this time was totally different to the things you do today?
Jamie>>> Hmm, I can see a red line connecting everything. But I was drawn to a particular kind of Detroit Funky Techno. Thus for me I could hear it like it was Herbie Hancock on a extension of all the things they got to know (laugh). As far as I could see it was on the point! I don’t see the necessary boundaries. I don’t really see why they would call it Techno even it was made with machines. It had this crazy groove who was funky as house. It was Funk. Yeah it was Funk! Hard, hard Funk. So I tried to make hard Funk with those guys, and it was great. I really think we made amazing records.
CM>>> I also wondered about the combination of your field of studies, philosophy and physics? Aren’t these two things very different?
Jamie>>> No no no, I mean fairly long time philosophy was the forerunner of physics, or that kind of precise thinking. Philosophy came first. So in this sort of context it’s not so divided. When you look at philosophy, it’s often called history. But physics is history too. Newton, Einstein.... In fact this was one of the reasons I wanted to stop doing physics because the prospect of getting on to anything modern in physics was totally out of the question. It was only really a question of learning the rudiments of Newton where I had to go right back to the beginning. “Do you know your Newton? Do you really know your Newton?” and I said, “No, probably not.” “Ok we’ll we do it again…” The prospect of studying all this boring shit was too much for me and also the workload was intense. And, of course, I lived in a small village for eighteen years and suddenly I was in a crazy vibrant city with lots of drugs and a crazy nightlife and I was meeting a lot of crazy characters: women, new friends... I just wanted to party. So (laughing) philosophy was much more my line because I’ve always been a thinker and I had no trouble getting my head around the concepts. But physics was really more like a job; was really like nine to five, Monday to Friday and on the weekends you had to write up your reports and I couldn’t see any future and couldn’t see any prospect. “They wouldn’t teach me how to think” was what I thought.... anyway...it was a long time ago (laughing).
CM>>> I am just a physics laboratory assistant. I just learned this job because the girls and boys who work in this job always look like clever persons.
Jamie>>> (begins to laugh)
CM>>> (still both laughing) Why did you move to Berlin? Because of the growing music scene?
Jamie>>> No it was love!
CM>>> Really? Sounds nice!
Jamie>>> Yeah, the classic reason… It’s true I was in love with someone and then I wanted to leave Brighton. Which becomes a bit of a claustrophobic area for me and I found it creatively a little bit of a problem. I couldn’t really see myself developing so far in that environment because English are a quite cynical bunch. They are quite cynical when you try to come out with an idea and sometimes it’s really down on me. “Oh you try to be a musician! Why don’t you want to do something proper? Why are you trying to do that singing?” Everything was negative and I thought “Fuck off!” because I tried to do something interesting and different here and all you guys want to do is nothing! And so I went to Berlin. Berlin was really alive and there is a crazy energy there. I am really glad that I moved - a perfect decision.
CM>>> When did you move to Berlin?
Jamie>>> In 2000, but I didn’t spend too much time in Berlin. I think this year I’ve
only been there two or three weeks.
CM>>> How do you feel about the terrorist attacks in London in the last few weeks?
Jamie>>> Ahhh, unfortunately I feel it was clear that it will happen. I mean everyone was waiting for it in London, after 9-11 everyone was like “Ok London’s next!” After that was silence and there was no action. What people forget is that the story isn’t finished. It’s getting worse and in Iraq there’s a bombing every day. Now people are very scared to travel with public transport. So this is a very powerful way to attack a place. It’s fucking horrible!
CM>>> Do you have friends who live in London?
Jamie>>> Yeah, yeah..sure. I have a friend who lives in the affected area. I used to travel to Kings Cross every week. I’ve been there hundreds of times in my life and to think about that place targeted is bizarre or better said, surreal... But sadly it’s real (a bitter laugh).
CM>>> On “Multiply” you didn’t use so many effects on your voice than on the other albums. What was the reason to work more with your “pure” voice?
Jamie>>> Well sure, I am 31 years old, you know. I tried to do something in my musical career which expands. I am not very excited about repeating myself. In fact of the title track of the album, the lyrics “I am tired about repeating myself”. Because half the time you can find a style and you can sit on it. You can become a successful artist by that. But for me that’s not exciting. I need to learn what I was doing wrong: why I was perhaps too cocky in the beginning; what I had misunderstood about my voice; how to communicate better… Yeah it’s to step into this spotlight and feel comfortable with myself in other ways. Perhaps more about my identity, it happened after doing stuff with Matthew Herbert; doing the big band and stepping out on big stages around the world. Just doing this simple ballad, I couldn’t do it. I did it OK, but I never really wowed the audience. I never really made it like “Wow, this guy is really amazing in singing!” “Oh he is not bad. He is trying to do a ballad. He can’t really get it!” And I thought, “I have to work hard to do that better,” because it was really an amazing opportunity to come out with this twenty piece brass band playing a Big Band. It is like a great rush. But I didn’t quite have the control of my voice to really do it justice (smiliing). So I thought now it’s the time to go back to the beginning; back to the basics and learn how to sing again, so I did that.
CM>>> But from where do you get this soulful voice, did you train it?
Jamie>>> Yeah I trained it, by training on a personal level. I trained it... yeah I don’t know why.... man it’s weird you know... I don’t know why. I don’t know why I do it.
CM>>> Hmm... but I guess as a child you used to sing the whole day!
Jamie>>>Yeah, I sing a lot. SInging is like a comforting device, it was like a comfort thing for me. You know a lot of shit happened to me in a certain age, so I needed something to keep a consistency, to keep a kind of inner power and I think that was singing. So I was always really interested in singing. My mom was very encouraging and I had a nice environment for singing. I was always encouraged it was never like, “Oh you can’t sing. You can’t do this you can’t do that!” It was always like, “Come on, go ahead.” Even my mom was very strict in a way. She was more like, “You can do better, come on, you can do better!” She was never happy and my dad was the same. So in a way you can see how these psychological things happen. I wanted to be the best. That’s why I did everything I did. Probably sometimes I wanted to impress my parents more than myself. I realize these things now. The pressure they put me under was immense and I think singing was free of all that - free of all that demand. But on the other side still the pressure from my parents is always with me and I am never happy with a show. I am never happy with an album, because I am feeling trained by my parents to think, “It’s not bad but I could do it better!” But sometimes I stop and think...it was nice! (laughing) But most of the time I think “six out of ten”.
CM>>> I also remarked that your live show is totally different to the style of your album..
Jamie>>> Yeah very much,you are right, I wanted to create that. You must know, the original idea for the album was a double pack - a straight album and a live DVD. I‘ve been planning on doing that for two years, unfortunately the record label was not so excited about the idea, because it costs a lot of money, so they told me. Now I think they are probably lying.... (whispering) I don’t think it costs so much many.... anyway. Because you could do these double-sided discs, it’s not so much more expensive. So anyway I am glad we didn’t do it actually, because of a lot of technical reasons. But that was how I designed it in my head and a lot of my fans were disappointed, “Ah, he done a straight album! Boring!” They missed the crazy shit which was planned for the DVD. But there’s also a new audience I wanna reach out too. It is an audience, perhaps a little bit older (smiling). It’s really nice man. I am so happy with the way the album’s worked, because I’ve been out of reach with my old friends I lost touch with. Friends of mine never liked my techno stuff really, so to hear this album is perfect for them.
CM>>> On stage you do a lot of live sampling and editing your voice and do a lot with different loops you create and manipulate live, and besides that you sing. How do you manage all these things on stage?
Jamie>>> Haha, it takes practice... I made the machine myself. It’s my own software. So I write that as well. I am very interested in computers and obviously used them a lot, so I decided a while ago, in 2003, to make my own software. It’s a quite simple process actually. You just make a simple loop by deciding how long it will be. That becomes the first loop. Then you have an extension of five loops you can run simultaneously. So the first loop is the length of the loops. It’s good to make a rider track out of it and then you know the tempo and then you can have the different layers afterwards. But what I found frustrating about guitar looping pedal, where it all is based on, that you couldn’t go backwards. You know, if you made a mistake you just had to destroy it. You couldn’t take just a bit away. So I thought it would be cool to create a basic rider track and you always could go back to that.
CM>>>How do you control your software?
Jamie>>> I have three controllers: one is the main controller keyboard which is used to record and to manipulate the mutes, retriggering and internal re-looping...backwards, forwards and varispeed. Then I have an MPC to reorder the time of the track so I can jump around in time and the other one is a Kaos Pad which is used for Midi Signals not as a effect machine, just to create Midi signals. Haha, sure you can do a lot more with this fantastic machine! The program is much more powerful than I lay on. I don’t really use it to its full potential, because I have my own like habits now.
CM>>> How long have you worked on the Software?
Jamie>>> Three years, that’s not long (laughing).
(The next journalist enters the room, so we have to finish in the next few moments)
CM>>> Currently, what kind of music do you listen to?
Jamie>>> Mad Lib. I like that guy. He’s got a good spirit; the way he creates the music, Hip Hop with a Sun Ra twist. I like Hip Hop. Sometimes it fills a vacuum lyrically and I like the experimental nature of it. I listen to a lot of old stuff like to Marvin Gaye...
CM>>> Ok, Michael’s last question: What do you need for a perfect day?
Jamie>>> Ahhh...eight hours sleep, is a good beginning. A sunny morning, probably with birds: I like to wake up with birds in the morning.... and I need a breeze coming through the window. Wake up with someone I love. Walk out in the nature. Swimming in a pure minimal lake… Spend some time with animals... I am a nature guy. Have a little drink. Being with my friends… Make some music. Go crazy! I never had a perfect day but I have come close to it.
CM>>>... and a hot shower!
Jamie>>> I think I have a strategy for the shower when I go to the hotel this night. First I will turn it really hot and then I turn it cold a bit.....
Photos by Diego Alborghetti
Proofread Max Kageyama
Interview Michael Mück
All rights reserved Cuemix-Magazine