Published Mar 25, 2013Although a United Kingdom native through and through, Jamie Lidell is a bit homesick for his home base in Nashville right now. But the eclectic singer/producer has been doing this long enough to understand that putting in the final prep work before heading on world tour — in support of his new self-titled studio project — trumps any niggling emotional predilections.
Heavily Prince and golden era Motown-inspired, the 39-year-old's continued experimentation with all things soul, funk and electronica have served him well, supporting a five-album deep career as he carves out for himself a nice "inspired by retro-R&B" niche within the modern day, post-electro landscape. "I don't like being put in boxes, but when I hear other people's music, I tend to categorize it myself. Humans tend to describe things based on other things as that's the only way he can do it," Lidell admits. "I just wanted to make a record I liked, make it electric, and throw in a healthy dose of pop hookery throughout. Just basically make a really fun listen."
What are you up to?
We're in sunny, tropical London right now. Actually it's miserable, grey. But's it's good to be in London: we're on the East side and we've been here so often we've kind of made a little home. I'm not really up to anything more than getting ready for these shows, to be honest. It's an all-consuming kind of marathon. I think every album campaign, I kind of forget just what goes into it. I've been looking at all aspects of making a show. It's been very enlightening. It's full production mode really.
What are your current fixations?
I tried to read the Nile Rogers book, which was great back when I had time to read anything. I think I got through a chapter or two. My wife and I got pretty addicted to watching Breaking Bad, which is a healthy addiction I think. The other day I went in to get some medicine for a cold and the friendly Belgium pharmacist reminded me that it had ephedrine in it. And I thought, 'Oh that's speed isn't it?' And the way that he bounced that question back at me with a knowing smile saying, it's not really speed. So in my mind I clocked it was, yes, it's speed. It took me back to Breaking Bad — I felt like I was buying illegal drugs off a nice friendly man in Ghent. So Breaking Bad has been infiltrating my daily life. Musically, I got really into the Kendrick Lamar thing. I'm really feeling pockets of that new record really hard and that made me happy.
What has been your most memorable or inspirational gig?
It's funny, really, as I was just watching Prince on Jimmy Fallon. I'm a massive Prince fan and have been since I was really in my teens. One day I got that call that I was going to open for Prince. And I opened for him with my band and shared the stage with him in Belgium. I'll never forget that because Prince never removes his equipment from the stage so I essentially had my mic stand, and right next to it was Prince's mic. Just two different poles standing up. It was at his height and his pedal board was fully set up. I remember as a kid I would wonder what type of pedals he had and sure enough, everything was right in front of me. It was just surreal and amazing. And we got to meet Larry Graham that day. It was just a brilliant day.
What have been your career highs and lows?
I opened for James Brown once, in Stuttgart. And one of my favourite things ever was hearing James Brown say "Danke Schoen." I don't know why but it always made me very happy. There was just something so proud about it in all the right ways. That was amazing. And when we finished the show we got to watch James Brown from the side. I was literally a few metres away from him and he was really good that night. I remember seeing him back in 1986 and it really wasn't good. But this show was actually pretty stripped down and it was brilliant. Career lows? We once played a gig in Paloma, CA and we turned up and there were about ten people there. Someone had a private party arranged and it was just them and their mates. But to be honest it was actually quite good. So I wouldn't call that low but just surreal. But I quite like lows, you know what I mean? I quite like that lows are the things that you learn from. It's always where things go wrong that you actually get a glimpse of what to do next.
What should people shut up about?
I don't know. I think that it's a strange time. I keep getting told that the attention span of this generation or internet culture is ludicrously low. And basically it's this doom and gloom message that it's fucked for artists and musicians and how are you ever going to get your window or 15 minutes of fame have been reduced to a minute of fame now. There's a Dutch television show that we're trying to get on that's like the biggest one ever and the advertisers that pay for the show were so worried that if the slot goes over a minute that people will change channels. So you've literally only got one minute and lot a cases that wouldn't even get you through a verse. So it's a really bizarre thing. What I want is for people to really shut up about our generation not really having an attention span because I actually don't think that's true. I think that people are shortening content so much that we assume that's what everyone wants. But I don't believe that. I'd actually love a music show that didn't have ads and let people play their bloody songs, you know what I mean? Like ten minutes, 20 minutes. I think that our generation would fully embrace that.
What traits do you most like and most dislike about yourself?
I don't like the fact that I've become pretty self-centred. Just like a needy kind of road animal. I tend to be all "So where are we going now?" or "What's happening now?" You end up listening to yourself and you end up being sort of a needy sort of thing. That's pretty lame. What I like is that I really put the hours in and I work pretty hard. It's not like I'm a diva without really trying.
What advice should you have taken, but did not?
Maybe not to do amyl nitrite. Yeah. I didn't do a lot of amyl but I did do a bit. It's funny miserable stuff. I can blame some of my memory lapses on the amyl. Stay off the amyl.
What was the first LP/cassette/CD/eight track you ever bought with your own money?
I always think it was that charity single "Feed the World," but it felt that everyone was doing it and it was probably my first purchase. I remember a few cassettes, there was the Peter Gabriel album So, that was it. But I didn't really have a music identity until I got into Prince.
What's your idea of a perfect Sunday?
Definitely a good feed. I'm a man of creature comforts. I love cooking, the epicurean lifestyle in a manner of speaking. I'm a snob really. To put it mildly, I like to snob out. Get my snob on a good Sunday. Sunday snobbery. I actually really like just to have good air quality and a nice log fire, proper solid breakfast, quality coffee, the woman I love, a good book, you know. As many episodes of Breaking Bad that can be crammed in as reasonably possible without overdoing it. You know, just decadent stuff.
What would make someone kick you out of your band or bed and have you?
I think someone else being a bigger diva than me really qualifies as some trouble. Basically being told by someone what to do when I'm the bandleader, you know what I mean? When they're being fair, okay, but when they're being totally insane like it doesn't make any sense and they're undermining you. It's hard to quantify but generally you can smell it coming. And yes I have done that. I'm quite forgiving but there is a line that gets crossed with me that once you do that, that's it. I haven't kicked anyone out of bed. I did a brief spell of getting involved with groupies and actually think I did chuck a couple out. But it was never a good vibe. At the same time you don't want to wake up to that. You know you've made a mistake where you should have cut it off before it got that far. But we're talking about a long time ago. Maybe it's the amyl talking.
What do you think of when you think of Canada?
I've had a long-term relationship with Canada. Obviously I've made music with Feist, Peaches, Bryan Adams, Rush. I've been involved with many of those artists. And I lived with some dudes in Vancouver for years, a guy called Pablo Fiasco. He's brilliant and I've always really just gotten along with him. Canada's a really cool combination of English in mentality and humour. I really relate to an underdog and Canada is a lot like that. Perhaps I'm assuming too much but there might be a little bit of that in the Canadian style that I really like. A little bit of a misfit style and I really appreciate that. I haven't lived in England for a while, 13 years, and I never really felt that I fit in there or had any sort of identity. I spent a fair bit of time in Canada and I loved the country. The nature there is just incredible and people don't know that about Canada and what it has to offer. It's been good to me.
What was your most memorable day job?
It was a classic one: I worked at a [book store] called WH Smith. I remember the interview, as I was just a little twat. I go into the interview and the guy is like why do I want the job and I was like, "Well I think it would really be a good opportunity to meet people." I was listening to myself and all I really wanted was some money. And he knew that and I knew that so tried to sell it. Anyway I got the job and on my first day I went to the storage department and saw some of those "As Seen on TV" stickers. I put a few of them on myself and went downstairs to the shop floor because I thought it was funny. But I caught by the manager who was like, "What are you doing?" And I said I thought it would be kind of cool. And he fired me. The job lasted a few hours. It was terrible after all that good boy routine gave him, I blew it. But fuck him, now I am seen on TV and where's he? Naw, I'm joking.
How do you spoil yourself?
There are plenty of ways. Usually gifts to myself that I can't afford. Music gear, clothes, robust coffees from around the world.
If I wasn't playing music I would be…
Hopefully not working at WH Smith, no offense to anyone who does. I don't know. It's always like a rhetorical question. Is rhetorical the right word? Not really. I don't know. I don't like thinking about that. It makes me sad. I have thought about, recently just because I get into these really nerdy things, like making software with people who can program. I feel like I've been using music software for so long that I can actually give legitimate advice based on my experience around it. So maybe programming. I've certainly got the glasses for it.
What has been your strangest celebrity encounter?
Definitely meeting Prince at the Montreux Jazz Festival. And with Prince being like my only ever childhood idol, it was always going to be an awkward time. It was never really going to be natural. I was properly tongue-tied, sweating, and various salivary glands working in opposite to my mental faculties. Just everything was going wrong. And I didn't wet myself or anything, but I mentally wet myself. Then on top of that, Prince was basically shoegazing and wasn't giving me any kind of direction at all. So I was gutted. And I had to go on stage to play the show, but the second time looking back at that experience was perfect. I was really disappointed at the time because I thought that he just didn't like me to be honest. But was gutted at the time but now I really think it was kind of perfect. He was quiet, esoteric and brilliant. I think it would have been weird if he was all "Hello, my name is Prince!" or something like that. That would have been lame. It was so weird though.
Who would be your ideal dinner guest, living or dead, and what would you serve them?
Maybe Bob Marley. Get him over and maybe give him a nice soup. He likes to lively up himself so give him some of this Sinutab with ephedrine. He probably wouldn't mess with that though.
What does your mom wish you were doing instead?
That kind of question can make me sad. There's an inherent sadness to that question that I'm afraid I can't follow you on that. There's no regrets in life, you know? I don't think my mum would be regretting anything. She comes to shows now and she really enjoys them. I think she went through a few nervous years thinking her son is going to end up like a tramp. I've managed to avoid that so far. But there's no guaranteeing it won't actually come true. But things are all right now. I really reassure her that I'm big in Belgium.
What song would you like to have played at your funeral?
My aunt died recently and they played "Always Look At The Bright Side of Life" and it was really weird. I'd probably pick the same song, having heard it, because it really makes you fucking sad somehow. I makes you extra sad. Somehow you want to listen to its message and she was really perfect for that song. It's almost really selfish wanting that song to be played for you because you can't be there to enjoy it with them. At the same time it was cool because at the end it really sort of made me laugh and I remembered her laughing. I was like, "it fucking worked," it's magic. So I'm going to go with that song as well.