By: Tim 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 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 odyssey had ventured far off into the realm electronica before coming full circle and landing him squarely in the center of the soul genre with the recent Jim (released April 29 on Warp Records).
"When I was a kid I didn't really give a shit about music," Lidell said during a recent phone interview 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 un-cool. All the kids at my school were listening to The Cure, the fuckin' Smiths, The Happy Mondays and The Stone Roses and while I'd get down to some of that, my bag was Prince and 'the funk.' That put me really on the fringes of popularity to say the least. It was pretty damn un-cool 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 and 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. On his own, and with Cristian Vogel as Super_Collider, Lidell released four albums of wonderfully spacey electronic weirdness that showed tell-tale signs of what was to come. 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 been come known for on the underground circuit, the album also showcased his soulful voice and talent for writing pop songs with catchy hooks.
As strong as Multiply was, it's the recent follow-up that landed Lidell on his press junket in Amsterdam. Though he claimed that he hadn't "even found any of the good shit yet" as he had been too busy with "interviews, photo shoots, subterfuge, smoke screens and general malarkey," he did follow up by saying, "I think I'm going to have to step out and get into some of the coffee shops. I'm trying to write a little song cause I've got a date with a little band called Simian Mobile Disco in a couple of days. I'm going to be recording a track with them so I am in the process of writing something, so obviously I am getting as wasted as possible to allow the muse to work its magic."
To be fair, the conversation was peppered with Lidell's playful sarcasm and humor, so it was tough to get a read on whether he was being serious or not. One thing was for sure; he did have a recording session with Simian Mobile Disco and was going to be heading off to London in a few days for it. "I'm going to go see my tailor and get me a hat for the occasion and basically try and hold it together when they press record. It's been a while and I'm nervous."
While whether or not he was actually nervous is up for debate, it would stand to reason as it had been about eight months since he had last been in the studio laying down tracks for Jim. Lidell's foil on this album 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," said Lidell. "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 of 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."
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