Interview
Jamie Lidell



few saw Multiply coming from Jamie Lidell. The artist behind Muddlin Gear or the Super_Collider project (along with Christian Vogel) was most well-known as just another faceless knob-twiddler. Now, he’s gracing the cover of magazines, getting into pissing matches with James Blunt, and toured the world several times over. Stylus caught up with the clown prince of blue-eyed soul before a late-fall tour stop in Washington, DC.

Do you have any thoughts on why young white kids won't attempt to perform in the soul idiom, whereas they have no problem attempting blues, jazz, or hip-hop?

It just brings on the question of, “What is soul?” They express themselves over a skiffle beat, and so do I. I don't really think about it.

But you did put some thought into Multiply, because it took you nearly three years to do, following Muddlin Gear and the Super_Collider record. When you were putting Multiply together, was it an idea you had from the beginning, that you wanted to do a song-based soul record?

No. Basically, I did a remix for Matthew Herbert. Because of the situation I was in in Berlin, I said okay, but I only had three days to turn the remix around. But I hadn't completed any music in the studio for a long time, and I was really out of practice. Day one went past, and I really hadn't done crap. But then I heard the song again in a different way, and I thought it had a kind of a Motown thing, but not straight out, so I decided to try to make it like that - the real deal with proper sounds and vocals. I got so much out of it. It was almost a guilty pleasure, you know? When it was really going and I was hearing the song, it just kicked in, and I had a lot of energy and excitement, and I just needed something to bring it out.

I was racking my brain for ages, because obviously Super_Collider covered a lot of ground, and I didn't want to repeat myself and do the same thing with electronics in a certain way and vocals and lyrics in a certain way. I found myself picking out different records in the morning and I decided to make one of those records. After a while it dawned on me what it was all about, but it did take me ages.

As those songs were coming to you, did you find yourself working up stuff that didn't make the cut? Are there a lot of ideas that you left off Multiply?

There's a few songs that didn't make it. I'm a really big believer in short records - I get really tired of really long playing CDs. I didn't want any chaff on there. When I put the playlist together of all the material that I had, I realized what was going to stay and what wasn't. It's a tricky decision and it's hard to say goodbye, but some of the songs weren't strong enough.

Now that Multiply been out for a while, looking back on what you've been doing since it came out - how do you feel now that the touring cycle for this album is almost done and you can start looking ahead?

I don't want to be boxed in now after this record, with the expectations being one thing and what I want it to be something else. I don't even want to commit myself to what the next record's going to be like. I haven't even had the luxury of time, a month or something, just to get some stuff together. I do have five or six new tracks I've been fleshing out, and some of them are pretty good. For the new album, I know one thing for sure is that I'm going to do a lot more sketches first and keep the barriers down, making it alright to do this and do that. Until I've got a bunch of tracks, I'll try not to develop those sketches too much. It's a weird prospect, and kind of daunting, but it's okay. I love making music and if I trust in that, then good stuff comes out. It's the same thing with shows, so I just have to make sure I surround myself with good people.

Do you plan on working with the same band you used for Multiply?

For some of it, definitely. I was lucky enough when I was touring with Beck to meet some great musicians and I want to work with them as well. It opens up Los Angeles for one thing, which is a great place to be in terms of productivity, and a good balance between bedroom studios, which is where I'm comfortable, and really professional musicians.

How long have you been based in Berlin?

About six years.

What precipitated the move there?

A lot of reasons. I had to get out of England for sure. Sometimes you feel like you're just bashing your head against the wall and you don't know what to say. Maybe it's the case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but I was getting pretty tired of it. I remember touring with Super_Collider, and the people in Germany were going crazy and loving it, but in England it was like, 'C'mon man, where's the house music?' Really basic stuff. If you've got something you believe that causes any kind of friction, just be prepared for the beatdowns.

Have you reached out to the German musical community outside of Berlin, people like Mouse on Mars or the Kompakt camp?

I know the Mouse on Mars guys pretty well. I like those guys a lot, they're very cool and have lent some support. They're always doing interesting shit. I don't know the Kompakt lot so well. Germany is such a hotbed of talent. I did a record with F.M. Einheit of Einsturzende Neubauten that came out last year. That was a weird, crazy, dada kind of poetry record with computer-generated lyrics and industrial weird shit. I really enjoyed doing it. It's not something I could carry on doing for various reasons. It was great to work with those guys, like a breath of fresh air that I really needed at the time. You can get forced down some alleys because you committed to some types of gigs, and then you can't expand your horizons. I'm not one of those guys who is good at multitasking. When I've got my head in touring, I do that, and I've been doing that a lot over the past year and a half.

Did you think when you released Multiply that there would be that much time on the road?

I didn't know what to expect. I didn't expect much. Most of it's been amazing, and very positive. It's grueling and people warned me about that and I listened to that. I'm doing what I want to do, and it's all good.

But you're happy with the way Warp has pushed the record?

It took them a while. A lot of people wonder what this record is on Warp for, and they're probably thinking the same thing.

England got on board first, and the press was really good. Because they embraced it so well, it had a good chain reaction. It took a while. For it to come over here, it was much later. Warp is a small label and in America it's bloody hard to get noticed. It's a little bit of a handicap being with a smaller label. But I really like the guys at Warp. They've been good at trying to learn how to expand with me and see what could be next.

How much advance warning did you give them that Multiply wouldn't be like Muddlin Gear?

I didn't give them any. I just said I was working on songs and that I thought it would be a bit more accessible. Then when I handed it in I think they were a little disappointed that it was THAT accessible. But it wasn't my intention, just a weird by-product of the songs. But it hasn't sold that well, and for me it seems like it was a record that did the rounds, but not really.

I know there was definitely some blogger support for the album before it came out, some of them based in England and some of them based here.

I know some of that was all about the live show more than anything else, and that's a separate entity. I was doing that even before the album dropped, I was already working on that. Using that to kick-start shit - a lot of ideas came from the way I played live.

I have to say I don't think I would've necessarily checked out Multiply without the blogger support. You were on the cover of The Wire, and I may have decided after reading that article to check it out.

It takes a lot, I know what you mean. It's given me a lot more respect for people who get out there and push their thing. You really gotta be a certain kind of person. I've got some of that, and another part of me, which I think a lot of people have, is a destructive edge, where you just want to get out of it all and not hang in that kind of way or think about things. You sort of think of yourself as product and it's such a twisted thing, it's disgusting. I hate that. i just want to make music and I don't like me being a product. Unfortunately you've got to step a little into that realm.

You've mentioned that you studied philosophy and some physics. Do you do a lot of computer programming between records?

I did that to make this live thing. I got really into that, and stopped making music in fact. I got really into Raymond Scott and a bunch of algorithmic composition guys. I never really took it that far, but I did become sort of anti-music for a while.

If you weren't doing music now, do you feel like that would be what you would be doing?

Maybe. I do enjoy that, I like to get cerebral. I find when I tour I get a bit stupid. There's not a lot for your brain to do. Doing shows is a different things, and I did a lot of education and my head is in a lot of different places, and I feel like there needs to be a time and place where I can exercise that muscle and think and explore. I feel that's what gives me my unique twisted edge—that I do this nerdy shit and I'm also into singing. I'm not closing that down.


By: Dominc DeVito
Published on: 2007-01-29
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