Brit Young Thing

Soul singer and sonic innovator Jamie Lidell has found his groove. He talks to Noelle Faulkner about referencing Prince, Nashville radio and his happy place.

Harper's BAZAAR Australia, March 2013

A true artist in sound, and definitely one of the most fascinating creators in music right now is British soul singer Jamie Lidell. His most recent solo album, 2010’s critically acclaimed Compass, was created from the debris of a broken relationship and a transatlantic move, and, not surprisingly, was also his most emotionally intense record to date. This time around, however, he’s in a really good place, and it shows. His new album, aptly self-titled, is littered with references from Lidell’s original influences, from Prince to Michael and Janet Jackson, Bobby Brown to Parliament, Cameo and legendary producers Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and Quincy Jones — all reflecting Lidell’s current state of mind, where he’s been and where he’s going.

What is the inspiration behind the new sound?
“I’ve always been a huge Prince and Michael Jackson fan, and some of the arrangements and ambition on this record are very Quincy Jones — just a real decadence and an unashamedly ultra-pop vibe.”
Your last record was emotionally raw, whereas this one feels completely uplifting and positive …
“That’s partly because there are a lot of positive, uplifting things happening to me. I recently married, moved into a new house in Nashville [from New York], and set up my own studio in my basement — that was a liberating thing for me. So I really just let the music happen, I wanted to make jams and I didn’t hold back. With Compass I definitely wasn’t in a great place. A lot of people called the record ‘a transition’, which is fair enough because it kind of was … I followed myself to make this album and it just came out and sounded like this.”
A lot of musicians reference the “Nashville Effect” on their output. Did you experience this?
“Yes. The one thing I will say about Nashville is that it is an unlikely home for this kind of music, but there’s an amazing R&B radio station here; it’s pumping George Clinton, Cameo and Janet Jackson … In New York and Berlin and all the places I’ve lived in before I never really had to spend time in cars, but everything here is a car mission, so the radio became a new feature in my life. And this station brought it all back to my ears — I was so happy that a radio station plays this stuff, you know? This is my shit!”
Tell us about your creative process.
“I love playing with sound. I’ve got a big selection of instruments and I am very particular with the precision of it all. It’s like choosing the right colour if you are a painter — the difference between the slightly off colour and the one that is bang-on seems tiny, but it’s huge. I get obsessed. My voice is my instrument, it’s the way I hear music, it’s the most elastic and it’s always been this free thing for me. Phonically, I always make the sounds — I sing it all and just colour it in afterwards. I guess it’s a weird way of working but apparently Michael Jackson worked like that too. He used to beatbox and sing these weird little jams and that’s kind of how
he started writing. So I always remind myself that I’m
not that much of a freak … MJ did alright.”
How do you think the new sound will affect your live shows, which have achieved almost cult status?
“I’m working on that now — it’s a bit daunting because in my head I’m like, ‘I need a 14-piece band!’ but then reality dawned on me … And, I’ll be honest, the thing that made my career and put me on the map was my solo show, so I’m kind of going full circle and taking on the challenge of a new show, with a new reaction and a new set of tools. Just trying to make it bigger and better.”
You’re heralded as the future of soul. Where do you think soul music is headed?
“I feel like the sensibility and ear of the public is a bit more open to soul now. It’s partly because of that big retro-song movement post-Amy Winehouse. Cee Lo Green did great job of opening that up too, and Sharon Jones has brought back that really authentic soul we all know and love. The future is full of things that have been done before, so combinations are always what I find interesting, and I think that’s to do with technology. It’s also about just being open to the future and not worrying if the music is sacred.”
Do you ever feel the pressure when referencing the greats and making that “postmodern” sound?
“I’ve always gone through these battles psychologically, like, ‘Man, do I sound like this; do I sound like that?’, and then came a realisation that even if I tried to make a record that sounded exactly like Prince and tried to do a total rip-off, it wouldn’t sound like Prince, because there’s truly one in a million artists like him. It’s a beautiful thing and you can take inspiration from that but you’re always going to be you. Take full power from your idols because they are always going to remain that to you. When I was younger, I would focus on that a lot. I felt like I had to strive to be original and try to come up with something that is totally mine. And you hear it from older people — just draw from your influences and enjoy it. A lot of visual artists, poets and writers are constantly referencing things — it’s part of the pleasure of experiencing life and sharing it with other people. I think it’s really important.”

Jamie’s top tracks of the moment
- Swimming Pools (Drank), Kendrick Lamar
- Luxury, Azealia Banks
- Atomic Dog, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic
- Nobody Can Be You, Steve Arrington