Great artists are the ones who strive to move forward, the ones who shed their skin and reveal the glorious colours gestating underneath. So Jamie Lidell can be forgiven for taking the odd unusual diversion, following his whims and moods as he sees fit.
Signed to Warp, the producer-cum-soulman recently upped sticks from his base in New York – to Nashville. Housed in country music’s mecca, Jamie Lidell began working on new material – inspired by the 80s machine funk of Cameo, The Gap Band et al. The results, gathered on his latest self-titled opus, are some of the most daring, flamboyant recordings from a career which thrives on its adherence to both qualities.
“Well, we moved a couple of years ago now” he says, over a crackling phone line. “It’s been a fairly recent move. It’s a strange re-location, it still feels pretty mental which I actually think is one of its real advantages in a way. It’s bizarre. It doesn’t ever seem real”. Clearly, though, Jamie Lidell is settling into life in a city which is more cosmopolitan and outward looking than the image often afforded to it. “People seem really up for a change, for mutating Nashville into something unknown, something better – you know what I mean? There’s a cool little influx, a small percentage of hipsters have taken on buildings which are still affordable. The whole thing has this air of – dare I say it? – ‘yes we can’. It’s got that sentiment, Nashville. It’s ripe for a little bit of a change.”
It seems that Nashville has already got into Jamie Lidell’s blood. The cheaper rents – in comparison to New York – allow the producer to flex his studio muscles, using a far more advanced kit than space had previously allowed. “I’ve been living in New York for a couple of years and it was a nightmare, cooped up in a cupboard studio. Not possible” he states. “All my gear was gathering dust, it was stacked up in corners and in shelves – it was not ideal by any means. Now, the contrast is epic: all the stuff is in this beautiful wooden library room, it’s full of light. It’s a bit insulting how much of the house I’m using for the studio really. It’s been brilliant”.
In need of escaping the rat race, Jamie Lidell’s Southern sojourn has brought with it another, rather more unexpected, aspect. “It’s weird actually because people associate Nashville with the country thing but when we moved we started tuning into this R&B station called 92Q. I’ve never heard a radio station like it; it’s just pure gems from Gap Band, D-Train, Cameo, Zap – the whole catalogue” he enthuses. “That kinda funk. The stuff which really influenced me on this record, stuff that I definitely grew up loving and haven’t heard for a while – real maximalist drum machine shit. A lot going on – that really appeals to me. I’ve always been that kind of musician, in a way, I like a lot happening. It suits me just to go back to that feel. I tried to filter it through my weird brain and see what kind of music came out”.
What came out is colourful to the point of being neon – Future funk which is at once nostalgic and forward facing. Chewing up a raft of different sources, ‘Jamie Lidell’ wears its influences on its loud, garish sleeve whilst also carving out its own, quite distinct, identity. “It’s funny with all that” he sighs. “If you make a film, or any kind of art, you’re drawing on what makes you tick, you know what I mean? You’re always going to be influenced by something, you can’t re-invent the wheel. I’ve done a few more records and I’m starting to realise that there’s no harm in wearing your influences on your sleeve because ultimately you’ll always make it your own anyway. I’ll never be Prince – I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be Jam & The Hood but I want their energy, I want to harness what they make me feel. It’s almost like trying to get the essence of something. It’s like eating out at a restaurant and thinking: man, that was delicious, I wonder how they made that? Then you make it at home and inevitably you won’t re-create it but you’ll make something else. Only Coke have the formula, so you can make some Coke but it will be your own brand of cola. I’m just kinda making cola, really”.
Although not strictly a solo record – Lidell was joined by a small batch of fellow musicians throughout the album sessions – the title is a deliberate attempt to enshrine the producer as a solitary figure, as a funk auteur. Equally, though, there’s a rather more prosaic reason as to why Jamie Lidell chose to use his own name as a cloak for this music. “To be honest with you I just didn’t really have another album title which worked. It’s a bit of a lame answer but it’s true!” he laughs. “I was thinking it was a bit weird but the more I thought of it I just couldn’t find a reason why not” says the producer, before chewing over the next part of his answer. “It’s hard to stay in the game. I know I’ve got more to say. People are like, you’re almost forty, you’re over the hill! There’s so much hate just ready to pounce on you for doing anything, almost. The YouTube world of crazy hate” he says with a grimace. “I just knew.. I know this record is banging and it’s really fucking hard to make this kind of music but I just did it and I’ve made seven albums now, in all kinds of genres. It was kind of like, I should be proud. Maybe it’s my transition into America, learning not to be completely self-deprecating the whole time. Time to say, I can put my name on this. It’s a weird one – I guess I’m going through mental transformations as well as sonic ones. Spiritual.”
Taking ‘Jamie Lidell’ out on the road, the Warp artist was forced to re-invent the material as a live performance. Working with a vast array of technology, Jamie Lidell even commissioned a new app which allows lavish visuals to respond to his – frequently heavily improvised – sets. “I think back in the day I thought, you’ve got to play that stuff, you’ve got to make it, you’ve got to re-create it in another way. I’m starting to come to the realisation that you just can’t. You might as well, sometimes, just DJ the tracks – sometimes I’m just going to DJ the tracks and sing on them. It sounds great, it sounds rocking – that’s the bottom line, if it sounds good then it is good” he says. “I’m doing a weird combination of remixing the tracks, singing on top, looping myself. It’s a pretty complicated electronic set up, it’s a lot of work. It’s conceived as a way for me to interact with the music and enjoy myself. I’m actually carrying a tonne of stuff. I’m actually already regretting how much stuff I’m taking out on the road – I’m looking at it all now before I pack it again. Then we’ve got the visuals, with a light guy and a projectionist with a custom projection app which we’ve made for the show. It generates abstract art. It looks really sweet, really clean”.
Looking ahead to the shows, it seems that Jamie Lidell is in the middle of the throes of a new creative spell. Obviously keen to display his music in the context of a live performance, the producer is also itching to return to Nashville and play with his latest piece of kit. “I’m experiencing something which I haven’t experienced in a long time” he says, obviously relishing the prospect. “Once I did the music for this record I actually sold the big console which I was using for this album, which was a bit of a bold move. I just thought, no fuck it I’ve done the album so I’ll sell that and start again. I’ve got a whole new studio waiting for me to build in Nashville, which is a huge undertaking and a challenge in itself but it’ll inspire me to write in a whole different way. I had a quick play with it and it’s going to give me this clean, open sound. I don’t know what’s going to happen with it - but I’m looking forward to it.”
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'Jamie Lidell' is out now.