Interview - Me with Jamie Liddell

In a world obsessed with compartmentalising everything from your sock drawer to every piece of art that’s ever been produced, it’s often a challenge to exist in anything but a dull dichotomy. Popular music is no exception, whereby any conflicting ideas are separated and shelved at opposite ends of the iTunes Music Store, in order for everyone from the marketing men to the shelf stackers to the consumers can know exactly what it is they want and where to find it.

Understandably this is not everybody’s perfect scenario, with beat boxer/​soul singer/​noise making Jamie Lidell a prime example. “People really seem to have an issue with this! Everyone wants to know, ‘Who are you, why do you sound so different live?’ I can sing with a drum machine or a pianist, it’s just what I do.” Intriguing, I’m sure you’d agree. So, let’s start with a rapid history lesson. His 2005 album ‘Multiply’ surprised listeners with a distinctly different tone to both his debut record and live shows, by taking his scuzzy electronic beeps and transferring them into a modern day Stax record. Swapping Autechre for Al Green is not the most obvious progression, but the album was greeted with critical acclaim. Discussing his third album ‘Jim’ by telephone from his Berlin home, Jamie enthusiastically talks Gigwise through the recording process, his upcoming live shows and his future plans.

Recorded in Berlin, L.A and Paris, ‘Jim’ shares with its predecessor the warm organic feel of an album made by collaborators helping to create one man’s vision. Lidell recorded the album wherever he found like minded companions, resulting in a set of songs rich in ideas and influences. “I did a tour with Beck in 2006, hung out with all his musicians and met Justin Stanley. He invited me over to his studio in L.A and I loved it, though it was a bit different looking out the window there compared to here in Berlin! Some songs, like ‘Wait For Me’, I’d already written and then through playing them with (Feist collaborator) Mocky and Gonzales as a trio we made a few modifications, so it had different push-​​pull points and energy. It’s a great way of doing it. My favourite track is ‘Another Day’, because it’s the one track that had a massive transformation from the original version. It was really melancholic from when I first recorded it drunk in my bedroom as a ballad or a weird folk song. Now it’s an upbeat gospel number, it’s a real shock to me.”

Though this is not the first time Lidell has called upon the services of others to help his cause in the recording studio, as a performer he has often preferred to remain as the lonesome crusader, with a trusty laptop as his main alliance on stage. This is all set to change however, as he’s enlisting the services of a full band for forthcoming live dates. “It’s a challenge to get it working because I haven’t got much time with the new band, only five days. One thing I have to learn is that now I’m not just a man on my own onstage, now I’m gonna have to know when to shut up. The only gig we’ve done so far was cool, because I get to a section and I know, ‘Here I’m gonna make as much noise as possible.’ If that wasn’t there I think I’d feel like I was getting bored, so the big lesson is when to pipe up and when to pipe down. The songs that feature Gonzales, with the really distinctive piano lines, are difficult to replicate just because he has a really distinctive style. But we have the energy to put it into someone else’s hands and rebuild every track, which is part of the fun of playing live. I’m of the opinion that you shouldn’t be limited by what you’ve done on record, and at the same time I’ve done myself a favour. I haven’t used any impossible instruments or over the top production techniques, so the songs stand up nicely when they’re played because they’re in a basic, classic style.”

Although already a respected figure amongst those in the know, there’s still a lot of work to do if (and it’s a big ‘if’) Lidell aspires to have his music heard by the masses. Warp records are usually renowned for their electronica, not their lounge jazz, but they could have more to handle here than they expected when releasing Lidell’s debut eight years ago. With some big players falling over themselves to get a piece, Gigwise had to ask if there is a plan to increase the fan base to less hardened music fans, and whether he thought Warp could help him do it. ‘I met Rick Rubin during the making of this record, he’s a fascinating man. He caught wind of this record and got a copy of it, and requested a meeting in Malibu (where else?), so I went to meet him because at the time I was going to sign to Columbia. He wanted that to happen but for various reasons Warp didn’t want to let me go. It’s obvious they’re keen to work with this because they could have made quick money by giving it away but they didn’t, so their hearts are really in it. In a way that annoyed me in the short term, but in the long term it made me realise they’re really serious about this. It’s all part of the plan, the five year master plan. But I can’t tell you about that.” Despite some subtle and not-​​so-​​subtle coaxing, Gigwise were unable to get any more information about this cunning master plan. Apologies.

Being tired of repeating himself on ‘Multiply’ several years ago, Lidell’s frustration at still having to do so after consistently being typecast as a chameleon is completely understandable, especially when most articles you find (including this one, obviously) are inclined to focus on the obvious. However, there is a reason for this. The fact that Lidell has a past in genre hopping is not his most interesting or impressive feature, as if it was he would be no more than the epitome of indecision, unable to focus on an idea and bring it to fruition, or even to produce a musical note of worth or value. However it is his most intriguing feature, and it’s intrigue that encourages a reader or a listener to delve deeper into the paradox of something they don’t quite understand, and so it’s intrigue that leaves you at the end of this essay desperate to hear what all the fuss is about. You won’t be disappointed.

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