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Jay Kay Itnerview - The Jamiroquai interview

2006-03-30 08:53

REVIEW: Read what we thought of Dynamite, and hear song clips

The new Jamiroquai album, Dynamite, has quite a different feel to the last album, 2001's A Funk Odyssey. It's got a harder, edgier sound. How did that come about?

Jay Kay: Well there's been more writing done on the guitar for this album and I wanted to bring that rock-funk feel to some of it because it's a great thing to perform live. But really, it's just the fact that I've done more writing on the guitar with Rob [Harris, Jamiroquai's guitarist since A Funk Odyssey] this time.

You've spent almost two years working on the album, apparently changing a lot of things at the last moment, why was that?

Jay Kay: Just because I felt it wasn't right. Sometimes I felt it was too similar to what we'd done before, sometimes I felt it didn't have the energy it was supposed to. Sometimes I felt the melody was all wrong. I mean Give Hate A Chance was one of those tracks that was ready to go and I'm singing away and I'm thinking, I don't like this, this is all wrong, it's all got to be changed around. Sometimes it was about stripping things back. We've had a tendency in the past, to think 'ohhh, horns, yeah, let's have some horns', 'Oh, let's have an alto-flute', 'oh, let's have some more of this', and this time it was about stripping it back, letting it breath a little. Although there's a lot of depth, there's a lot of layers on it, it hasn't got so much of me all over it. It's been much more cut down. Most of the tracks reach a climax in the middle and then they tail off towards the end.

So you wanted to keep tracks simple?

Jay Kay: Yeah. A track like Dynamite, is just a very simple line and a simple melody and I think sometimes when you're trying to get people to listen to your stuff you can confuse them. It's a real balance between giving them too much 'hold on aural explosion, I can't take all this going on' particularly over the course of an album. Also, we spent a lot of time on tracks because we don't really like to put filler tracks on it. We just don't want to do an album that's going to have two great tracks and the of it's rubbish like telephone answering machines and crap like that.

This is the first album you've written without keyboard player and co-writer Toby Smith. Was that daunting? Did you feel you had a lot to prove with this album?

Jay Kay: Err yeah. Toby not being there doesn't bother me, I mean I can work with anybody as long as we get along and as long as they've got an understanding of what I want and what I'm aiming for. To start with, when he left, it was difficult. We had an important gig in a week and he wasn't around to do it, and I was like ' we are back at square one' [said in pissed off voice] but I didn't find it particularly daunting. There's a lack of familiarity, you're used to something and suddenly it's not there anymore. But you've just got to knuckle down and get on with it and in a way it does give you extra resolve to make it work because you kind of wanna turn round and say, 'with you or without you, here it is, it's still rolling, it's still going'. And that's what's happened. And that's kind of pleasing.

First single Feels Just like It Should really typifies the new sound of the album, what's the track about?

Jay Kay: Well Feels Just like It Should was kind of...I had this vision of a young guy who's just trying to find his freedom. Like a naughty teenager who wants to go out and see what the big word's like. He wants to see the bright lights and the song's almost like a journey, the video explains it best. It's a journey from him being a kind of nerd and suddenly he gets a bit cooler. It's an experimentation journey, what all teenagers and kids do. He goes and gets himself a girl who's a bit more experienced than him and of course he's all a bit shocked and she's like, don't worry about it, it feels just like it should. He's thinking, is it supposed to feel like this, that's what he's asking, whatever I'm doing, is it supposed to feel like this and she goes, feels just like it should. But you'll see that, the video explains it better than I ever could. But there was a scene in the film Traffic which sums it up, where this kid goes downtown to score in the dodgy streets, you know, in his school uniform. Suddenly he's thrust from being in a nice safe environment to seeing what happens on the bad mean streets.

The track's got a real hard edge and a filthy bassline hasn't it?

Jay Kay: Well the filthy bassline, isn't a bassline. The filthy bassline is me. On the end of the last album I was mucking about with a small machine called a Helicon, it's like a voice synthesis thing, you twiddle it and it makes you sound like Barry White, or it gives you three part harmonies or whatever. I was mucking about with it I went off doing this beatbox thing which we recorded and kept. There was a little part of it that I thought would be great with a beat over it, but we never got around to doing it. So this time around we fished it out and cut out the piece that we wanted and Derrick played the beat over the top and already you could just see this thing forming and it was heavy. I sang it completely differently, I tried to sing it in my normal register and there wasn't really anything happening, it wasn't really going where I wanted it to, and then I tried it falsetto and it kind of gave it this Curtis Mayfield kind of funk, this Wild Magnolias kind of flavour. I just thought it was a good flavour, something different.

The video for Feels Just Like It Should is pretty stunning, who directed it?

Jay Kay: Joseph Kahn who's done a load of great stuff. I think his last big thing was Toxic for Britney Spears.

You've got a reputation for amazing videos, is it hard to chose directors?

Jay Kay: Yeah, for me it's a mine field you know. Video directors are a mine field. It always starts with a list. Most of the list I'd worked with at some point and I had clear ideas about what I wanted to do with this one. You know, you've got to tread carefully. The record company want to use certain people because they think it's a guarantee that you're gonna get your video played. I'm not like that. I just want the video to be right and I just want it to suit me, and we are an audio-visual band. I've got a reputation, for good videos, so you do have the onus of living up to having five MTV awards.

So the concept for the video was your idea?

Jay Kay:
Yeah. I wanted to do something where I played the four different characters. I play myself, I play the nerd guy, which I think is hilarious. I dressed up as my co-star in the video which is this girl called Soleil, we've done this weird thing where you think it's her and you go 'Is that her or is it him?' because I'm wearing exactly the same dress and stuff. I had to have my chest shaved for that. They said 'do you want to have your legs shaved?', I said 'I don't think so, let me look through the lens, how wide is that shot? I don't think you're going to see my hairy legs on that', and I play another character called The Candyman who is intrinsic to the whole song.

The video looks like it was a lot of fun to shoot.

Jay Kay: It was a lot of fun to do. We went to Los Angeles, we got the NYPD Blue set which hadn't been used for about 12 years. It was the first time it was available. We wanted that kind of gritty New York street thing and it was really weird, because you drive into Fox studios and you've got all these palm trees and you drive round the corner and you've got just this dirty New York street, amazing really. It was a coup to get it. But that was an experience, having a street blocked off, 5th and Main downtown Los Angeles, with all the drug freaks. As the song goes all the freaks come out at night, and my god do they. Unbelievable, so it was the right kind of place.

Parts of the video look like they were quite dangerous to film, did you do your own stunts?

Jay Kay: Yeah. There were a lot of stunts. We went from the set down to downtown LA to do this scene where I'm sliding behind a car, and the stunt guys are going to me 'have you ever done this before?' and I said 'Yeah'. They said 'have you ever fallen over Jay?' and I said 'no'. I'd only done it once, but I convinced them that I do it on a regular basis, that I slide behind Cadillacs at home all day. So there we are, haring down at about twenty-five miles an hour, which doesn't sound like that much but I can tell you, when you're hanging on the back of a Cadillac it is. And you've got all the drains and stuff, so once you hit a bump, there's no way you're gonna save yourself. So they said 'will you wear a helmet?' I said 'well a helmet's not gonna look very good is it?' so they said 'well, will you wear a harness?' and I said 'well that's not gonna save me, wearing a harness. You're gonna drive behind me with me harnessed so that if I trip you yank me up, it's not gonna happen'. So anyway I convinced them, I said 'I've flown all this way to get the speed out of the stunt'. I like speed and I like to do something that other people don't get to do because they don't do their stunts. But everything was alright, every time we did a good take it was pavement nil, Jay 10.

The track Dynamite's got a great disco groove, a real feelgood, carefree vibe, where did you write it?

Jay Kay: Dynamite is very much Los Angeles inspired. You see lots of pretty well-to-do girls driving round in very flash motor cars, sun glasses on, hair in the wind, and that's basically it. It's not gonna win a Pulitzer prize but it's more of a groove, more of a feel. I just wanted to have something that goes straight to the clubs. It's got that bouncing bass feel. Inevitably it'll get some horrendous remix from somewhere no doubt. It'll get mullered and massacred and pulled about like everything else, but it sounds great to me as it is. I did a couple of test runs with it, I went to some clubs in New York and slipped it to the DJ and it went down really well.

Electric Mistress sounds like an intriguing title, what's the track like?

Jay Kay: It's an old Detroit Jack kind of feel to it. It's almost like a pallet cleanser for Starchild, the track that comes after which is quite a pivotal track in the whole album, because it's classic us and it's quite focused about what it's trying to say. Electric Mistress is much more dance orientated, a little bit more contemporary than the other stuff. Not a lot more to say about it than that really, but I like where it sits in the running order. I mean the running order of these albums is always a problem, because you put on track next to another track and suddenly it doesn't have anything like the impact. Time signatures vary, tempos vary and it suddenly doesn't make sense. You want it to be a bit of a journey. You know you put two rocky tracks next to each other and you've lost the impact. So Electric Mistress it's quite deep and dark and again, not over done it's quite raw. It's a real kind of Detroit garage bass sound and it's quite cool.

And that sets you up for Starchild which is a key song isn't it? Lyrically it makes quite a statement.

Jay Kay:
Yeah. Starchild is just my reaction to seeing all these evangelical preachers on the television, Benny Hinn and people like that. You know you see it so much in America, these huge great churches and I just kind of think, I don't know, I'm not sure they tell the true these people. I think they're leading people astray somewhat and they're making a fortune out of it. They're telling people that they're gonna be saved in the not too distant future, well you'll be saved if you put your ten dollars into the little bag. You know, seeing these guys in white suites, and big rings and gold chains and all the rest of it, preaching about their purity and the lord and then there was that one who got caught with a know, I just don't trust them at all. I don't trust them, I don't particularly agree with it and I don't think it's right. So you know, the question is, where is the starchild? Still waiting. You know I just felt it was time to write something about it.

With Black Devil Car, Dynamite, Seven Days In Sunny June and Electric Mistress, the album's got a very positive feel with a lot of good time tracks. But there's also a darker side isn't there, where you're voicing your opinion about just how messed up the world is at the moment, I'm thinking of Give Hate A Chance.

Jay Kay: Well Give Hate A Chance, is...I don't know how many conflicts are going on in the world, 85, 90 separate different conflicts of some sort or another and it's most I might add to do with religion and it seems impossible for man to give peace a chance. Everyone's shocked about calling it that, 'what do you mean give hate a chance? You might send out the wrong message', but what do you mean it sends out the wrong message? It's what everybody does every day, of every week, of every year since time began. So it's almost like saying, well you can't give peace a chance so you might as well give hate a chance, because that's all you ever do. It's an I'm-tired-of-people track. It sounds light and fluffy, but it isn't, it's quite dark. It does what it says on the box and it leads into The World That He Wants.

Which is probably the most political track of the album isn't it?

Jay Kay: Yeah, The World That He Wants, I suppose, is loosely aimed at any dictator, but in this instance it's aimed at George Bush. George Bush is just making money out of war. He's got shares in weapons companies. You get the oil to run the weapons while you're there. Obviously the longer the conflict goes on, the more personnel are there, what do personnel need? Personnel Carriers. You know, he's opened up a corridor, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, it won't take him long to start dealing with Iran. I mean this guy has got to realise, we don't all want to live like America. We don't all want a town that's got a Taco Bell, a McDonalds, a Burger King stuck in every town. You know I've just driven across the desert and it's exactly the same. Every town you hit the same thing. And some people don't really want that. And the whole administration is slippery and it's something I wanted to write about. It's something I felt strongly about. I feel strongly about that guy, I mean, we've got to get rid of him because he's trouble, for all of us. The shit we're all in now, it's all been caused by him. You know, the moral standards are just all cock-eyed. The picking and choosing between evil dictators, I don't get it. There's a lot of evil dictators to go after. And if you wanna go after terrorists, we had Irish terrorists coming and bombing Britain for 35 years. You weren't so worried then. Terror goes on all over the world. And in the past America has created a lot of mess by using the CIA to interfere with places, like South America. Salvador, Nicaragua, you name it, Chilli...Allende, the CIA don't like him, left wing, get him out, put Pinochet in. It's all done for America's purposes and solely for their purposes. The bottom line is he's sending away young men to war and like the line says in the song, he knows they're not coming home. He knows they're not coming home, you're talking about a Vietnam style thing. I thought you'd won this war. You're not gonna do it. I mean Saddam Hussein's a tyrant, I'm not suggesting he wasn't, but that's not the reason they've gone in there.

It's definitely an album of two halves, positive music for troubled times. Was that your thinking behind it?

Jay Kay: Yeah well, I find that sometimes I'm two very different people. One of them's quite morose and quiet, the other one wants to have a laugh and party. They're the two sides of me and that comes out in the music, and it's really that kind of simple. But also, music's escapism for people, it isn't just doom and gloom.

What about the future? This is your sixth album, you've been releasing albums for 13 years, do you see yourself doing making music for many years to come?

Jay Kay: I don't know... I just take it one step at a time really. I suppose inevitably the greatest hits will come along at some stage, which I'm kind of opposed to. I suppose it's been long enough, you've got to remember that some people in the states have only really heard Virtual Insanity and Cosmic Girl, they didn't really hear any of the first two albums. I met a 17 year-old kid the other day, he was 5 when we put our first album out. So there were a lot of people who came on board to us on the third album, so I suppose you could collate the good ones you've got and put them out, I just don't want to feel like I'm feeding people stuff twice. I can't stand all that stuff, this version and that version and then there's that version. People have got all of that already, what do you want to give it all to them again for? But hey, what can I say? You just keep doing it for as long as you can do it. As long as you enjoy it, you do it and I do still really enjoy it.


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