By plugging into electronica, Jamie Lidell has broken from the current pack of Brit soul artists.
By Bob Mehr
For Jamie Lidell, now really is the time for a little bit more. Thanks, at least in part, to his song by that name -- “A Little Bit More” -- and its notable appearance in a recent TV commercial for Target, the 34-year-old British songwriter, producer, and burgeoning soul-music star is poised for further breakout successes with his third album, Jim.
If he manages to connect again with the mainstream, as he did through his last album, 2005’s Multiply, the Cambridge-born music whiz will become the overnight sensation that’s lasted a decade. He has spent years honing his craft and developing a following in the electronic underground. Lidell collaborated with Christian Vogel on techno-funk outfit Super_Collider while earning a reputation and has worked on electronic remixes of dozens of songs from a variety of artists. But his biggest success came with Multiply. That disc, whose title track popped up on Grey’s Anatomy and whose content contained “A Little Bit More,” got Lidell noticed for his unique talent of using his surprisingly rich and powerful voice to blend soul music with electronic flourishes. It’s Motown meets the future. Jim continues that tradition, with Lidell again exploring the frontiers of a kind of cosmic R&B. The album is an evocative sonic mashup of the new and old schools and marks Lidell’s first complete album in which he moves from behind the mixing board to stand in front of the microphone. We talked to him about that ongoing transition.
Has it been strange to shift from working behind the scenes to being in the spotlight? Well, I’m not really used to, like, actually working. I like being a kind of a musical bum and hanging around and making tracks. As soon as people around you start to organize themselves into armies to go into battle -- for sales or press or radio -- it all feels a little bit insane to me. The shift in focus from being a guy who spends his days making tracks and having a cup of tea to a guy who has dates and commitments scheduled seven months down the line has been a bit of a shocker.
But with my whole solo career, I felt like it was a bit of an open book, and a couple more chapters needed to be added before I closed that one and moved on to something new. Even though I’ve enjoyed a little success, with the new album I really resisted doing anything formulaic. It’s a bit of a shame when artists feel they have to play to a demographic or an audience. You just become like a food supplier then. Maybe if I was more like John Mayer, or John Legend, even, I could ship a few more records. But I prefer to do things in my own way, musically speaking.
You’ve been lumped, somewhat incorrectly, into the whole UK old-school soul revival that’s going on now. But you actually cut Multiply well before that movement was in vogue. It’s funny: I did Multiply, and I thought, Maybe people will want to hear this kind of music again, because I was really down with it myself. And at that time, there wasn’t a lot of stuff coming out in England that sounded like it.
Of course, now there are many British retro soul artists, including Amy Winehouse, Aimée Duffy, and Adele Adkins. I don’t know how I fit into all that. I feel like I’m the schizo in that crowd. Because, as people who’ve seen my live show can attest, I’m not really loyal to a genre. I’m not loyal to anything. If you want to think about me as an artist, I’m just as liable to draw on Can and Sun Ra as I am on Otis Redding. I’m not a pure soul artist in that sense.
I guess you could say I’m the less clean version of Amy Winehouse. Well … [laughs] actually, I don’t know if I’m less clean than her.
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