By his own admission, British technoid cum crooner Jamie Lidell is in a delicate spot. In nine years, hes delivered three albums for Warp records that have seen him move from abstract techno-funk to an indie-soul troubadour who fits in somewhere between Beck and Wilson Pickett. Lidell broke out of the gates in 2005 with Multiply, a record that caught a lot of people by surprise for its straight-up love of soul music. In retrospect, that albums fusion of electronics and soul was a transition. The just-released Jim drops the machinery altogether for a very personal sound that has already begun scraping at the mainstream over in the UK, where first single "Little Bit of Feel Good has made BBC Radio 2s B-List Chart. This puts the 34-year-old Lidell right beside Kylie, Goldfrapp, and Jack Johnson.
Its been a long road to this point, both personally and career-wise. At the time of this interview, Lidell had just performed on a Danish television show and was on a bus to France where he now lives accommodating eight other journalists along the way. "Everyone at Warp, my manager, everyones working their asses off to make this happen, he says. "I feel inspired and compelled, in a good way, in a very necessary way, to join the party and give it a good shot.
He sounds genuinely enthralled and exhausted by his rise. "This record has a chance. Its exciting, he enthuses. "You go out fishing, you never know what you might pull out of the ocean. It might be cod, and maybe its some old boot.
At this juncture in Lidells life, the notion of commercial viability comes from the matured outlook of taking personal risks. In his case, he staked his personality in his music. "Theres a lot of soul-searching that went into writing this album, and I want these messages to reach people. Aside from the fact that its going to make it a pop record if I do that, I think just the act of trying that does take a lot of energy. You gotta put yourself on the line a bit, and thats a personal gesture.
On Jim, as on Multiply, Lidell puts himself on the line by placing himself squarely behind a microphone. "A lot of people just didnt realise I had this interest in pop and singing, people who first got hold of my abstract electronic stuff and, to an extent, Super_Collider stuff. I first gravitated toward Prince. He crooned over a beatbox, and I thought that was funky.
This time around, even the beatboxes of Multiply are gone, replace by a full band. As part of the personal gesture he often refers to, only the intimate nickname as title is left. In pop music, he concedes, theres a danger of a personality taking over the music, and one could argue that naming a Jamie Lidell album Jim points in that direction. He sees the pitfalls of such risks, but is not about to blink now.
"I want it to be about music, I think every musician does. But I think inevitably it ends up becoming about personality, which is what gives rise to the music, so people want to make sure that they get a bit of both. The more things do well, the more people want to know why it does well. At this rate, people will be asking Jamie Lidell a lot more questions.