Q+A: Jamie Lidell

November 19, 2007

Last week at Marvimon in Los Angeles, for a party celebrating the launch of the new MINI Clubman, England’s Jamie Lidell kicked out several brand new jams from his forthcoming album (for the first time ever!), along with a handful of heaters from Multiply. Lidell rocked his customary solo approach, as well as performed with a band (for the first time ever!). At one point, he even sang to a BBQ tiger prawn, gazing deep into its non-existent eyes. There were also various other delicious foods on various small wooden sticks (and red velvet cupcakes for dessert—Los Angeles, this is how we do). We spoke with Lidell a couple of days later as he roamed Hollywood Blvd, scouring for talent.

Other than performing at the MINI event, what are you up to in LA?

We’ll see, we’ll see. To be honest I’m sorta looking for a band. A shit hot band, drunkards and the like. Maybe it’s a crazy dream, finding a band abroad. Actually, as we’re speaking, I’m hearing a band on Hollywood Blvd—just a guy playing with a couple of forks and a bucket, really. But he’s really good. There’s talent everywhere in LA. So yeah, if you know anyone that plays with spoons let me know? And, speaking of spoons, that was one real highlight of playing with Beck [on tour]. He was like, “Hey, you wanna play with us on the table?” And everyone would make music by banging this table on stage with various pieces of silverware. One guy actually brought out a special wooden fork at one point and really blew minds.

How was it playing with a live band the other night?

It was interesting. To be honest, this was really the first time for me really playing my stuff live with a band. I suppose it’s me trying to let go of control a little bit. Let up on the reigns.

It seems like some pretty big changes from your old way of doing things. Now instead of you and some machines, it’s also your voice and a whole bunch of other people. And machines.

I like the word “progress.” I also like the word “growth.” I don’t really like the word “mature,” and really any other words that could be used as adjectives for cheese, except for “runny,” which I do like. “Stinky?” No. Maybe my next album should be related to the pasteurization process.

If you don’t like the word mature, how are you immature?

For one thing I don’t drive a car. Which I suppose now seems sort of eco-friendly and all that, but really it’s because I’m fucking lazy and can’t be bothered to actually learn. Generally, I don’t really know how to be an adult. But I’m trying. GROWING.

You collaborated with Feist recently. What was that like?

Yeah, for the Feist record, I was actually credited as “Energy Arranger.” My role with her was slightly strange. I did a bunch of stuff: singing, inner vibrations, outer vibrations, hitting things, slapping things, banging on various items. She had a really cool studio space, and we sort of just made it happen. It was all very informal, a great experience. I’d actually seen her play and met her a couple of times as well beforehand, and it was really natural for us to come together and collaborate.

During the live show people loved it when you sampled your own vocals, looped them, played them back via midi and then sang on top of them.

Yeah, that’s something that’s been my trademark for some time now. I don’t really play instruments, except the spoons, so I’ve concentrated on that machine that I made. I think I should make an album doing that stuff at some point.

You still use a pretty old laptop, do you like putting technological constraints on your work?

Well, sort of, yeah. It gets the job done, you know? It works. But it’s falling apart pretty badly. One day it just won’t work. I have a story that relates. We have a friend in LA who was able to help us out with a recording session—he took us to Sony Studios, where John Williams did his recording for Star Wars and all that stuff. There’s a guy there who won an Academy Award, his name is Richard Grant and he created this system for composers on Oracle. Rather than him looking at the action and conducting to it, there are these colored streamers on top of the screen that imply emotional cues, essentially making it easier for him to score to film. Point being, this whole thing was being driven by a really, really old PC laptop. But this guy is like, “This is perfect, I’m never gonna change it.” So yeah, the constant craving for the new, it’s just flames for the industry. You could buy yesterday’s setup and still fully rock out.

That said, I’m still a bit of a gear whore. My studio’s full of old rusty boxes, it’s just a mess of shit. Analog gear, Turkish bajos, Korg workstations, loads of mics, and everything in between. I’m a nerdy, techy guy, and I want to know how to invent new instruments. Making a pop record is sort of a sideline. I like it at the moment, because it’s a hobby of mine. If it stops being fun, I just won’t do it. Also, there’s cash in it, I’m not an idiot. Making weird sounds on computers won’t make you a dollar. The joy comes from mixing it up. I like making music, but like I said, I’m not that into playing instruments. My voice is the only one I can control and actually play, so it makes sense to use my voice to make new sounds. The good thing about being a singer is we’ve all got a voice, and it’s pretty easy to see how it happens. That said, and I hope this doesn’t sound pretentious, it kinda upsets me when I see people seeing artists doing the whole vocal sampling/beatboxing thing and thinking it’s so innovative and new. I’ve been doing it since 1999! And now since [Ableton] Live has come along, everyone’s doing it. But whatever, some of it is great, and that’s great.

Obviously there was a fairly huge change between your last two albums. How would you say the new album differs from the last?

The challenge with Multiply was writing the perfect pop song. It’s fun and you can never really do it. So I just tried to make really strong songs. Before we tracked anything, I made sure it sounded good on acoustic instruments, and had it really solid before doing any real recording. On this album I’ve put together ten songs that really hold water, a bit more of a laser focus, putting the brackets on a bit. It’s a really positive record, lyrically. I think as much as anything it’s a dedication to my little nephews, as I see them getting older. As I’m writing the songs, I think about them a lot. It’s really hard to write cold, you know? This one goes deeper than the last record. There’s a balance that I’m really happy with, and I brought some new vocal styles to the table. I thought it was really like Multiply 2, but I’ve heard some pretty heavy people say they like it much more, so hopefully others feel the same way. Sometimes you’ve got to grow sideways before you can grow upwards, you know?

Posted: November 19, 2007
Q+A: Jamie Lidell