Question time with Jamie Lidell
Jamie Lidell is a man who has supported the likes of Elton John on stage, yet still has the same hunger for music – producing it, performing it, writing it – as he did when he first fell in love with it.
His stage persona is one that emanates an infectious energy and he is widely regarded as one of the most entertaining, and talented, performers on the circuit. Fresh off the back of several gigs across Europe, including a standout performance at Sonar, I spoke to Jamie.
How did your love affair with music begin and when did you get to a point where you started experimenting with your sounds rather than just listening to music?
Music was my buddy growing up. My mum was happy when I’d sing and make noise. She never shut it down and, in fact, it was a sweet bond between us. I liked that. I liked that adult attention. The performer in me was born young. I started with the sampler, keyboards and recording at 16. I spent everything I had on a couple of bits and jumped in the deep end. I’m still working it out now!
So was your voice always incorporated into the creative process?
I realised early that my strength as a solo artist was going to be combining high and low tech. The low tech being my voice! I was playing with Cristian Vogel and some heavy hitting techno acts in 1995 and they were the masters of the live PA. I was never going to match that so I needed to get my voice in the mix. I spend six months or so learning how to program a looper which became my way of making the crossover into the live world. I’d throw FX at the voice, beatbox, sing, loop.. make noise! After a while I started getting paid! We’re talking about 1999, 2000, it’s been going on for a while now.
Can you remember what kind of sound/music you were inspired by/aiming to recreate when you first started?
Funk. James Brown, Stevie… and of course, Prince. Human League, Jam and Lewis. A lot of stuff that was on the radio. Synths made me happy, I loved that electric sound. I wanted to sound like Prince. Put the one on it! He was the best gateway drug – led me on to hard stuff like Funkadelic, Sly Stone… all that!
How did you progress from making music at home to actually getting out there and performing?
Slow and steady really. My first recordings happened in 1995 with two Londoners. We were called Subhead and it was a productive time. We threw out 10 Eps in a year or so. I was finally part of something. I needed that. My skills were getting honed and I had an outlet to make records. We needed tracks for a club night called Growth - a legend now to those who know. They other two guys, Jason and Phil, they would make parties on submarines and disused office blocks. I mean there was a party in a SUB! Bring it on. 1996 I was in Brighton and making stuff with Mr.Vogel.
Who would you define as your key inspiration, career-wise?
Prince for sure. He set the bar way too high. That’s important, I think. He could do it all; Sing, dance, write, record, play everything. He looked like a freak. I have been trying to shake my English uptight thing since I was a kid. It’s not easy! It comes in waves.
You’re known for your energetic performances, how does your on-stage persona compare with what you’re like off stage?
Oh you know… I have my moody moments. I think you need to ask my wife! I definitely like to grab as much sleep as possible. I’m that guy asleep on the plane before it takes off. I like to get it when I can because I need that juice when making and gotta hang on to the voice too. Balance… trying to get a little more zen as I get older. Not wasting too much energy on little things really helps.
What effect has living in Nashville had on your approach to music?
Having a house has made all the difference. For years I’ve had my stuff in boxes. I literally broke it all out and now I’m having a ball. The house has room enough for all my stuff and then some, and I can make noise without getting on the nerves of the neighbours or my wife… it’s my world now and I’ve been so much more productive as a result. It’s just the beginning of my prolific period.
So what do you miss most about the UK?
Definitley the humour. It’s so different in the US. I have started to get a taste for Louis C.K. and some comedians in America but it’s taken a while and I miss a good belly laugh. The Brits really do have it down that whole laughing at life thing. I need some of that sometimes, reminds me to watch a little more English telly!
How important is new technology to your musical output? Have you picked up any ‘toys’ recently? Or do you have your eye on anything?
I’ve calmed it down of late. New stuff tends to be less interesting to me versus the gear of the Seventies and Eighties. Things I have my eye on are the crazy expensive things now. Plus with the house there’s so much to take care of. It’s a new world to me. I’m not complaining though, I love having to think about house. Making house. Nashville house music! Toys I have plenty – too many!
What are you currently listening to that’s really inspiring you?
Bobby Womack (If You Think You’re Lonely Now!), R.D. Burman, Gucci Mane, The Time, Slave, Machine Drum, Tensnake, Ludwig Persik – loads!
Any new artists you’d recommend checking out?
Ludwig Persik and Guillermo Brown. NEW and under the radar y’all. Google em!
What are you working on at the moment? How would you describe your current lifestyle?
New live show. I’m in Belgium with a trio and working on an all-new show. It has to be ready in about a week, so we are moving as fast as humanly possible which is pretty slow today because I just flew in from Nashville straight from a new video for the next single off the album. That straight from a month on the road. Mexico, Brazil, Montreal, Sonar, Turkey. There’s a riot going on. I describe my lifestyle as hectic.
What do you enjoy the very most about your lifestyle/career?
I’m living the dream! This is always what I wanted to do and I’m still at it. Still growing, still getting better at it. I spent 12 hours hanging with Bootsy Collins recently. I’ve opened for James Brown… opened for Prince, Bjork, Elton John. It’s been a trip. As Bootsy might say, ‘It’s been the BOMB!’ Still is. I’m just learning all the time.
If you could go back in time and give young Jamie a bit of advice, what would you say to him?
Use the 20s. Use them UP. Drink less! Work out. Health just started for me and I wish I’d known about it earlier!
Where do your ambitions currently lie? What would you like to achieve over the coming years?
Bringing up new artists is my hope. I’m moving into production more and more. Getting a feeling for the way that works. It’s like starting all over. I keep thinking music is going to get boring it’s the gift that keeps on giving!
What are you looking forward to most about performing at Oval Space in London?
I’m mostly playing festivals this time of year so having a headline show will be a good rush. The trio and I can really stretch out and let loose without that guy on the side of the stage tapping the clock!
Jamie will be performing on Thursday 11th July for Oval Space Music, with south London songstress Moko in support. For more information, click here.jamie lidell
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