By Alec Wooden
Over the course of his thus-far short but packed career, the only constant for Jamie Lidell has been change. As he embarks on a tour behind his latest record, Compass, Lidell comes to terms with yet another varied sonic chapter in his notebook – his most varied and perhaps most challenging record to date. The British-born renaissance man, now a Manhattan resident, chats about Compass‘ therapeutic writing, why he loves improv, and his new philosophy on music.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but this record is not only much more gritty and raw, but substantially more personal — particularly in the lyrics, yes?
I feel like, with the lyrics, and within my life after Jim, a lot of shit went crazy. I moved. I changed relationships. I changed management. So I had the three real cornerstones of solidity; my business, my home and my love life all completely gone, turned upside down at the same time. I was like “all right, this is cool….now what?” I needed to address that feeling and I needed to talk about it. I couldn’t have made another sunny soul record. It couldn’t be “la-dee-da” because some heavy shit was happening. I wanted to set music to something that connects with what I was trying to say and how I was feeling. Gritty and raw is how it felt. And that’s how I needed it to be. It’s a really weird album, but I’m really proud of it.
You’ve always been known for numerous, high-profile collaborations. Do you go out of your way to pick up something from everyone you work with? Or does it just happen naturally?
It’s kind of a karma thing, really. I’ve always been quite a naive musician. When I collaborate with people, I really want to do a great job, just because I love music. I’ve had a bit more luck than your average person, ya know? I think that’s how it was with Beck, that’s how it was with Feist. Over the years, you meet people that you really like and you get a chance to actually hang out with them and things can really click. I just tend to gravitate towards the people who I like and who seem to like me.
Particularly early on, improv was a huge part of your live set. What’s always excited you about the idea of in-the-moment creation?
Improv is the true expression of your mind. You have to be on for it to flow. It has really negative sides, of course, when you’re not on and you’re forcing it. It makes you feel like, “Shit, this thing could fall apart. This could go horribly.” And I think that’s what I like about it [laughs]. It feels real. That really feels alive to me. It’s very akin to other times in your life.
Going from solo artist to now having backing band, what are the biggest adjustments you’ve had to make? The potential for an improv train wreck certainly multiplies, yes?
I liken to it traveling in a convoy. You’ve got to tell the whole traveling party when you’re about to make a left turn. Otherwise, you’ve got a train wreck on your hands, ya know? Communication becomes really key. And I think by playing on my own so much I became selfish. I could stop a tune whenever I wanted, double the tempo, whatever.
Does it feel natural to you? Are you comfortable as a band leader?
I’ve started to become more out there with my cuing and getting the band to follow the impulses I may have. I’m a little lacking in experience on that level, to be honest. I’m trying to grow as a band leader. I’m starting to become more experience in that, and it’s a really good feeling.
Have pre-show rituals changed with the band on board?
I’ve gotten a lot more into vocal warm-ups. I’ve got to protect my instrument, ya know? And lately I’ve gotten the whole band to chime in with them, so that’s a sort of new ritual. And it’s actually kind of awesome. One of my favorite things in music is vocal harmony; it’s got to be one of the best musical pleasures to be had. There’s something so amazing about a bunch of people singing. We feel pretty nerdy when we do that shit, but I fuckin’ love it [laughs]. We look so un-rock ‘n’ roll [laughs]. But that’s the real music shit. I’m all about getting better. Sometimes you’ve gotta say “I need this to get better.”
So moving forward, as you prepare another record that we can be sure will be nothing like your last one [laughs], what’s Jamie Lidell’s philosophy?
It’s funny, actually, because I think I’ve sort of come, to some degree, full circle. I used to have a very open mind — “anything goes” — and then I started to concentrate a little bit more on focusing on a certain style; and now, I’m very much more “anything goes” again. I go in cycles. I get drawn to certain things for a moment and then move on. Nowadays, I’m in the mindset of, when you’re in a song or a setting with a certain mood, you’ve got to embrace that mood and take it where it wants to go. Just take it there. “Embrace” is my new philosophy. Really let it come out, and everything really seems to come into place. When you’re fighting against things and trying to be cool, things fall apart. Basically, I’ve just given up on being cool. And it feels nice. Feels so relaxing.
Jamie Lidell plays The EARL, September 22.