:: Jamie Lidell ::
:: Bluebird Theatre :: June 2 ::
By Timothy Dwenger
White singers making a mark on the traditionally black world of funk, R&B and soul is not a new concept, and from Van Morrison to Tower of Power there are many that have done it well. In recent years, however, “blue-eyed soul,” as it’s called, has been a genre that has been frequently ignored or scoffed at by younger music fans because of its connections with smooth jazz and modern Motown.
However, there is a new blue-eyed soul man on the scene and he is making the youth of the world stand up and take notice. Though Jamie Lidell has been creating music for years, his personal musical odyssey had ventured far off into the electronica realm before coming full circle and landing him squarely in the center of the soul genre with his recent Warp Records release, Jim.
“When I was a kid I didn’t really give a shit about music,” Lidell said during a recent interview with The Marquee from Amsterdam, where he claimed to be eating tons of dim sum. “But when it came time to decide if I was cool or not, I chose Prince, which made me really uncool. That put me really on the fringes of popularity, to say the least. It was pretty damn uncool to be into ‘the funk,’ but I felt it. I couldn’t handle Morrissey, although now I understand why people were down with it, I was like, ‘Where’s the beat, man, I can’t dance to this.’”
As he made his way through some tough high school years in England, it wasn’t long before Lidell found something he could really dance to when he got into the rave scene. He completed the migration toward electronic music when he bought his first sampler. “I had been playing a little guitar but this was different as suddenly I was sitting in my bedroom taking samples from Gil Evans and Miles Davis and huge mega-productions like that and it sounded like I was making that music,” he said. “I became a little producer all of a sudden because I was pitting different elements together. It taught me very quickly about what makes up sound and music. It is a really cool, open device to have at that age and buying it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
This foray into electronic music formed the backbone of Lidell’s musical career, as he blossomed into a respected producer and electronic artist in the late ’90s. Then, in 2005, Lidell dropped the album that propelled him one step closer to the mainstream, Multiply. While Multiply featured the electronics that he had become known for on the underground circuit, the album also showcased his soulful voice and talent for writing pop songs with catchy hooks.
It was Jim, the follow-up to Multiply, that landed Lidell on his press junket in Amsterdam, promoting this soulful gem of a record. “I tried to summon ten tracks from me that were really upbeat and characterized the kind of musical situation I am in and what I want to present to the world right now,” Lidell said.
While he seems to channel Curtis Mayfield on “All I Wanna Do,” “Figured Me Out” seems to steal a page from the playbook of Jamiroquai, and the smooth and jazzy feel of “Green Light” could land him on tour with Steely Dan.
Lidell’s musical foil on the project was musician and producer, Mocky, who was also involved with Multiply. “Mocky has been a longtime collaborator of mine. He’s a great friend, a great producer and a great musician,” Lidell said. “I knew that we were going to have to do this together because, A: I’m insane; B: He’s sane; and C: We think differently, but the overlap of our conflicting skill sets is an essential force for me to be productive and think outside of my narrow musical world.”
Having worked together on several projects, the pair drew on their past experience to ensure that the recording of Jim went as smoothly as possible. “Mocky and I spent a lot of time, before we went into the studio, solidifying the foundation songs. We would just write really old school, on a piano or a guitar with some kind of timekeeper, and make sure that the verses were tight, the lengths of everything were good and the bridge provided a satisfying release. A lot of arrangement decisions were made spontaneously listening to quick demo recordings we’d made before we even went into the studio,” said Lidell.
Though Lidell and Mocky were the core of the project, there were several others who contributed significant pieces to the puzzle, including pianist and songwriter Gonzales, Nikka Costa and Justin Stanley.
After playing with so many talented artists on the album it is easy to assume that Lidell was able to pull a band together easily, but that didn’t prove to be the case. “I’m in a difficult bind as a solo artist who’s decided to get a band together. It can often go wrong when people do that,” he said. “But I got pretty lucky, I found a drummer who can play bass at the same time as drumming,” said Lidell. “He uses organ bass pedals on his left foot. He’s kind of a freak and it is amazing that he can do it.” Also joining the band will be a guitarist who also plays bass, and a horn player that brings something very interesting to the table. “My man, Andre Vida will be taking on horn duties. One man, two horns. Think Roland Kirk. Crazy harmonized saxophones from one mouth. It’s amazing to see and to hear,” Lidell said.
While he has obviously chosen musicians that he works well with and shares ideals with, Lidell is not simply spoon-feeding them the charts and expecting them to play them note-for-note. “I decided I wanted a bunch of innovative and expressive players up there with me, as opposed to talented but traditional players. I am very conscious of the fact that there are so many great players that can really kick my ass and rather than viewing that as a weakness of mine, I really enjoy the fact that I get to open it up and hear how other people interpret my ideas and add their experience and knowledge to them,” Lidell said, adding, “I’m going to try to pull a Duke Ellington and work out what everyone’s strengths are and not just make them play my music, but have them play their music and my music at the same time.”
Whether or not he is crowned the king of the next generation of blue-eyed soul singers remains to be seen, but with nods to Smokey Robinson, Sly Stone and other classic funk and soul artists of the ’60s and ’70s, Lidell has released an album that is sure to appeal to many walks of life and get all generations out on the floor and dancing. “I put myself into this record like a man jumping into a pair of old shoes and I’ve been proud to walk in them ever since,” said Lidell. “Deep down I was always a beats man and for lack of a better term, a soul man. That’s what always stirred me up inside.”
:: Jamie Lidell ::
:: Bluebird Theatre :: June 2 ::
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