Jamie Lidell

By Any Other Name

Apr 02, 2008 Spring 2008 - Flight of the Conchords Photography by Crackerfarm Bookmark and Share


As the creative process tends to be an intensely private and solitary endeavor, it’s no wonder that many artists simply don’t have the ego strength or interpersonal skills to effectively communicate their vision without freaking out every time someone else leaves their fingerprints on it. Being a songwriter is one thing, but being a bandleader is something else altogether, and it’s up to every artist to strike the balance between stomping on every suggestion and letting collaborators run the show. James Brown dealt with it by being a stern taskmaster, fining members for wrinkled shirts and bum notes. John Fogerty followed the benevolent dictator route for as long as possible, until his Creedence Clearwater Revival bandmates demanded an equal writing share and blew up the band with one stunningly bad album. Having already completed the treacherous shift from IDM sound sculptor to neo-soul singer, Jamie Lidell is about to endeavor upon something even more dangerous. He’s going to lead a band. 

“Sometimes I just look at the band and go, ‘Fuck all you guys. I could do this properly on my own,’” Lidell laughs, standing outside a café on Ludlow Street in Manhattan. “Sometimes I think, why am I playing with a band, all these guitars and shit? Then I think, well, hang on, it’s only your imagination kicking in—or not kicking in, moreover. Look at all these players. All you’ve got to do is work out where it’s sounding too traditional and make sure that they know out how to freak it. I went to L.A., and I spent a lot of money getting a band together and trying them out at this gig, and they were really good players, and a lot of them played on the [new] record. We made the gig sound pretty much like the record. And I was like, ‘Geez, with all due respect to those guys—they’re amazing players and they do what you ask them to—but it’s weird to not be jamming and improvising.’ So I’ve picked a lot of improvisers this time around, because we’ve got to get the energy and vitalization and power of those songs.”

Though he spent four years writing and recording the songs that would form Multiply—the stunning 2005 release where he layered his voice into a one-man orchestra of cut up croons and soulful flourishes—he decided that his follow-up effort would be a much less time-consuming affair. Largely written as he walked around the streets of Berlin singing hooks into a Dictaphone (like “a mad hobo,” he says), his new tracks were designed to be leaner and simpler, with first ideas considered best. Knowing that staying at his transplanted home in Berlin would allow him the luxury of taking too much time, he and collaborator/best friend Mocky flew to L.A., where some prohibitively expensive studio time ensured that they’d work quickly enough to capture the spontaneity the songs needed. The end result was a warmer, even more approachable blend of the Motown and Stax soul sounds that he used as the inspiration for Multiply. It only seemed right to title the album Jim, the name his friends call him.

“I had some unfinished business with Multiply,” Lidell explains. “With that record, I didn’t even know what I was doing. Clearly, this one sounds more like Multiply than Multiply sounded like Muddlin Gear,” he says, mentioning his 2000 ambient laptop debut. “So the paradigm shift was less this time around. It was more of an extension of what I’d already started. I learned a lot of lessons from the last record, like, ‘I wonder what would happen if I went in and tried to write stronger songs as an album?’ We were reading about the Motown machine and how Berry Gordy operated that shit. Me and Mocky were joking around, like, ‘I want to do the same thing, with 20 tracks on the block and see which make it through to the next round. Like Project Runway,’” he says, going on to discuss his love of the reality TV fashion designer competition. “Society tends toward fashion and fornication. I think we see evidence of that as societies decline. But it’s all good. I’m going to ride with it baby! Get a lot of shoes and get laid!”

That happy-go-lucky mindset seems to color much of Lidell’s work, as every negative statement is balanced by a positive conclusion after he’s had a moment to reflect. And, though he seems somewhat uncomfortable with just how much Jim is an homage to the great R&B records of the ’60s and ’70s, he exudes a certain satisfaction with making a deeper and more fully-imagined foray into the formative records that he grew up listening to in Cambridge, England. Having earned some hard won confidence with Multiply, he now knows that the sting of criticism eventually evaporates, even when it’s coming from those who know you best.

“Actually, I thought it was going to be awful,” he says, recalling the days before Multiply was released. “When I handed it in to the boss of Warp, he said, ‘Oh...’ And I said, ‘What do you mean, “Oh”? I’ve spent the last four years doing this, you bastard. I’ve went and reinvented myself!’ And he said, ‘Oh, yeah. Well, it’s good. It’s a bit middle of the road.’ ‘Middle of the road? Fuck off! I gave you something commercial, you idiot. I thought you might like it. You might be able to sell some bloody records for a change.’ But, of course, it’s always a pleasant surprise when things go well, and it doesn’t mean that this one will, too. At this point in my career, at 34 fucking years old, who would fucking believe it? I could just as easily be making bleeps and bloops, and I do in my spare time. But there’s nothing special about a man blooping. This is just one part of me. That’s why I called it Jim.”

All that goes to say that

Lidell is an exceptionally grounded artist, one who might even be able to handle the transition from writing songs during afternoon walks to fleshing them out with a group of collaborators he barely knows. “I’m not used to being a bandleader, and I’m not particularly a fan of it,” he says pensively. “I don’t like bossing people around. But at the same time, I get pissed off when things don’t sound right, and I’m realizing that if I’m the guy taking the rap for it, I’m going to have to work out some of the headaches,” he says. “Some of it has been pretty ugly already,” he sighs, turning momentarily dark before pausing in thought. “But it’s going to be fun.”



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