Everybody loves Jamie Lidell.
Critics love Jamie Lidell. His mix of progressive electronics and blue-eyed soul has been setting discerning hearts a flutter since 2005’s masterful Multiply. Not everything Lidell has been perfect; in fact, after 2007’s slick and streamlined Jim, this year’s Compass seems to revel in its serrated edges.
Musicians love Jamie Lidell. Beck, Feist, Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor and Daniel Rosen, Wilco’s Pat Sansone, Nikka Costa: they all lined up to contribute to Compass. Read interviews with artists who’ve worked with him, and there’s a genuine sense of awe over the creative spirit and general affability he brings to an environment. Or sneak a peak at The Reminder’s liner notes, where Feist credits Lidell for his “energy arrangement.”
Your Mom loves Jamie Lidell. And if she doesn’t yet, make her a Jamie Lidell mix. Moms eat that shit up.
I caught up Lidell on the eve of his current U.S. trek, which comes through 9:30 Club tonight. Lidell took a break from rehearsing with his band to chat about his high-profile collaborators, touring, and the Purple One.
BYT: You did some touring earlier this summer, how do you feel the new material has been received so for?
I think the tunes on the new album really come alive when we play them now. The way I wrote them, and the way the album came together, it kind of left a lot of room for exploring inside the arrangements. You know what I mean? A song like “The Ring”, for example, has got a real stomp now. It really moves in a completely different way from the album version. When you take a song to the stage, you’ve got to work out how much to give and where to give it. You’ve got to create a different kind of arch and energy. It’s a different thing. I’ve been really enjoying making arrangements with the band. With six of us onstage, we can really make the songs massive.
BYT: I had a chance to see you a few years ago, when you were performing solo and looping your voice to create backing. But you’ve been playing with a band since around when Jim came out. How has bringing other guys on the road with you changed touring?
I mean, it’s a real tour now. It’s a lot of instruments crammed into a bus. It’s a lot of sweaty guys and my girlfriend kind of hanging out. But they’re good guys. It’s one of things where you find a really cool crew and all the experiences are shared. You live it all together. You’re family. It ‘s a completely different thing. When you’re alone, it’s a real lonely experience, but it’s also very efficient. There are pros and cons to all sides of it. I actually really like to mix it up. I think I’m luck enough that I can actually do that. I really enjoy having a band though. But we all need a break from one another after a time. I mean, I think it’d be fucking crazy to be in a band for like 10 years or 20 years.
BYT: Do you feel less pressure because it’s not just you up there? Or is that offset by the obligation to be a leader to kind of a large group?
It’s both of those things. Exactly. I remember the feeling of playing Australia after that whole tour with the band, when we did the Jim thing. Suddenly I was solo again and I thought, “Man, I wish I had the band right now. They would really cover me.” I felt really like shit. It’s really hard to entertain a whole crowd. I felt like I wasn’t really experienced anymore at doing that. It’s amazing what you get used to.
But, it’s true. When all eyes are on me, I actually don’t like bossing people around. I want people to express themselves and be themselves. At the same time there’s got be a certain amount of direction – telling people what you’re hearing and how you want it. Because otherwise you start harboring resentment for people, like, “Man, you know you always play that shit wrong.” It’s a really weird combination of trying to be open-minded, and open to everyone’s ideas and their playing styles and trying to bring them out. I don’t love being a bandleader. I’m not a natural bandleader by any means, but I do my best.
BYT: How did you end up with this group of guys?
Willie B is on the drums. We played on the Jim tour, but he’s the only remaining member of that band. My guitarist is only 20 years old. He’s kind of a friend of my girlfriend. I knew he played. I mean, he’s got a nice touch. When I was getting the band together initially, I was like, “Man, who do I know in New York who could come onboard and be up for it?” He was still in school, and I was like, “Shit, I don’t know if he can come with us.” But he managed to get out of that. And at the same time, Jake [Aaron] – who is playing bass and guitar and stuff – I met when I was mixed the album with Chris Taylor, because he’s a mix engineer usually. He plays in a few band too. And we just got along so great. I was really psyched about him when I was choosing my players. I feel like sometimes with musicianship, that’s one thing: you really gotta be able to hang with people. Because you can always learns, and you always prepare the people that you connect with on a cerebral level.
Guillermo [Brown] is on percussion and vocals and all kinds of stuff, drums sometimes. And we just met. I saw him play a show in Brooklyn and he really blew me away. He’s just crazy talented. A like-minded a spirit: an electronic soulman with just a crazy, burning voice. The last member of the band is Mr. Jimmy. He comes from Arkansas. Hope, Arkansas. He actually got introduced to me through Pat Sansone. We told him we needed a keyboard man; someone who could really keep up. And he was like, “I think I know someone.” We actually interviewed Jimmy over Skype. I was like, “Man, I need this guy, but I can’t meet him, so Skype will have to do.” And it was actually a brilliant little session. Within 20 seconds of hearing him play, I was like, “Man, he’s really good.”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T–j0_yxBaY
BYT: You opened for Prince [in Belgium] a couple months ago. How was that experience?
It was pretty epic, you know? I kept getting my microphone tangled with, like, Prince’s effects units. They keep all of Prince’s equipment on stage. They don’t move a damn thing. So you’ve got to try to set up – and we’ve got a fairly large set up – and it was a bit of a clusterfuck. But, I mean, man, I was really thrilled, because I thought we’d turn up – and we played at 6 o’clock, when everyone was getting to the venue. It’s an outdoor space. It can hold 80,000 people. By the time we played, there must have been twenty or thirty thousand people already there. It was a hell of a crowd for us. And the cool thing is, they actually knew my shit. I got them all singing along with one of my tunes. In Belgium and Holland, I seem to have a very big following, which is kind of bizarre, because pretty much in the rest of the world, I’m really kind of an unknown. So it’s really cool for me to play in those kind of spaces, because everyone shows up and it’s full. It’s kind of surreal.
BYT: I saw a clip of it on your website. It seemed you all were firing on all cylinders.
Well, you’ve got to give it your all. It’s a little hard. It’s hard to play in the broad daylight outside. That shit is always kind of cruel.
BYT: You all haven’t avoided the festival circuit though. Do you view them as a necessary evil?
I kind of like it though. It’s like a rush. That day we did the Prince show, we did two festivals the same day. We played and then drove to another festival and headlined after Elvis Costello. And that’s what I’m talking about: Belgium. It’s a weird thing, man. We’re fucking headlining.
BYT: Well, I hope you enjoyed it. I don’t how often you get Elvis Costello as your opener. Earlier that day, did you get a chance to interact with Prince?
I did actually. It wasn’t at that gig though. It was at the Montreux Jazz Festival. I played a lot with Janelle Monáe and Prince is a big fan. He was there to see her show again. He already seen the show when we were playing together – Janelle was my opening act for a whole leg of touring with the Jim thing. He was there with Quincy Jones. So we walked out to try to get to the stage and Quincy Jones and Prince were kind of hanging around.
BYT: That must have been a sight.
To be honest, Prince wasn’t very easy to interact with. He wasn’t particularly up for hanging out. He had come to see Janelle, and we didn’t have a great moment. It’s a shame, because he was a big idol of mine growing up and I was longing for a kind of meaningful interaction, but it wasn’t to be that night. You know, he’s an eccentric fellow, so I don’t expect anything less.
BYT: Are you a fan of Janelle?
I love Janelle. Janelle’s been really a great character. I’ve seen her come up, you know? I’m always rooting for her, because she’s really ambitious. An ambitious lady. A very talented lady. I wish her all the best. And she really wants it.
BYT: It’s remarkable though, really wanting it and not really be willing to comprise her weirdness, for lack of a better.
Yeah, I don’t know, that might be her downfall ultimately. I hope she doesn’t give in. I hope she stays herself, because she’s a real freak. I mean, she’s great. I always had a really crazy time. She’s a real character. Have you ever interviewed her?
BYT: No, I haven’t.
Well, she’s a trip.
BYT: Are you all in New York right now?
BYT: Is that home for you?
It’s home. I mean, for now. We’re going to probably move at the start of next year. Just to get some space. Because I’d really like to have a studio and not be living in a box. You know what I mean?
BYT: You’re trying to set up your own studio?
Yeah, I mean, I’ve got a lot of gear. I’ve got enough gear to make a pretty sweet studio. But at the same time, the gear of mine is looking kind of sad and unloved and just kind of scattered all across the place.
BYT: You’ve moved around a bit. Do you ever find you ever find yourself in a city for a gig or festival and think, “I could find myself here someday?”
It doesn’t happen all that often, I’ll be honest. I mean, I wish it did, to an extent, because I feel like we’re at that point now, me and my girlfriend, where we would to like settle somewhere that we love. She’s a really neat, sweet artist too. Sometimes I think I can handle L.A. I know a lot of great people there. But at the moment we’re kind of following around with different ideas. We’re even talking about Nashville these days, because you can get great spaces there for a lot less money than other places. A lot of cool characters hanging around. But we’ll see. We’ll see.
BYT: Compass was recorded partly in L.A., right?
That’s right. We did a fair bit there. I recorded at Ocean Way, which is crazy. It’s just really great. And, also, Beck has a studio in his house, where we recorded. But that was pretty much the L.A. experience. It was short and sweet. But that’s kind of what I loved about it.
BYT: You mentioned Beck and Pat Sansone. There’s a lot of notable collaborators on the album. How would you describe their role in shaping the album? How formed is the material that you bring into the studio, and how does it change as you receive input?
This time around I really wanted to make it my record. I think a large part of my sound for Multiply and Jim was a collaborative force rather than production force. It was kind of me and Mocky working very closely together. And I thought, “Man, what would I sound like without Mocky?” Because I was kind of almost feeling like I was dependent on him to express myself. I thought it was important for me to see where I was at. So although Beck wanted to reach out and help me out a lot, in the end he understood that I wanted it to be my album. I needed to write my songs, my lyrics. That’s what I did, I spent about a month of time just concentrating on lyrics, and working on the outlines of songs. I did that completely on my own, for pretty much the 14 songs, except for “Coma Chameleon”, which is a song that me and Beck kind of wrote. I mean, it’s essentially a Beck tune, to be honest. It kind of sounds like a Beck tune too. And I think that’s the thing: when I started working with Beck, he’s very a spontaneous and prolific guy, so we got a lot done in s short period of time. We wrote “Coma Chameleon” and three other songs, which didn’t make it on the album. I just realized, “Man, this album sounds very much like Beck with me singing.” I didn’t really want that. I needed to figure out what I wanted to say. I guess Beck really kick-started the album and helped me to work with [drummer James] Gadsen.. We only worked for about ten days on the record, but it was great having him around.
Want more: Follow Jamie on myspace/facebook/twitter and WE HAVE 2 PAIRS OF TICKETS TO GIVE AWAY TO HIS 930 CLUB SHOW TONIGHT SO IF YOU’RE INTERESTED, LET US KNOW IN THE COMMENTS YOU’RE INTERESTED. Cool?