Maureen Cavanaugh (Host): There's so much going on in music, we tend to pigeon hole performers in one-category: pop, punk, indie-rock.
But try as you might, some musicians just don't fit into those boxes. Singer-songwriter Jamie Lidell experiments with genres and forms funk, disco grooves, gospel and soul just as he expands on tracks..layering his singing with beat-box rhythms. Jamie Lidell performs here in San Diego tonight at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, and it’s a pleasure to welcome Jamie Lidell to These Days. Good morning.
JAMIE LIDELL (Singer/Songwriter): Morning. How you doing?
CAVANAUGH: Just fine. Now you’re actually on your way to San Diego as we speak.
LIDELL: Yep. Yep, we’re kind of trucking through like some pretty barren desert land at the moment, on our way from Phoenix and, yeah, it’s a bit of a race against time because the bus had some issues and, you know, it’s all very – it’s all – And, actually, to be honest, things have been going without any hitches on the travel side so fingers crossed, we’ll be there tonight.
CAVANAUGH: Yeah, we will cross our fingers. Let’s talk – let’s begin our talk with a cut from your new album, Jamie Lidell’s new album, “Compass.” Let’s hear a portion of “The Ring.”
(audio of Jamie Lidell performing “The Ring” from his latest album “Compass”)
CAVANAUGH: That’s the cut “The Ring” from Jamie Lidell’s new album “Compass.” And, Jamie, on that, you know, there’s a lot of vocal embellishment, a lot of sound embellishment. Do you improvise in the studio or do you really map out your vocal lines before you get behind the microphone?
LIDELL: It’s a lot of improvising basically. I just try to capture, I mean, especially on this album “Compass,” I mean, I’ve made – I haven’t made that many records and I wouldn’t call myself prolific but this is a – this album was an attempt to try and do something like deliberately more spontaneous and raw sonically and just in terms of like translating like lyrics to like their final, you know, resting place on the – on the record. But, yeah, when I did that song, for example, it was – I’d written already that song and played in several styles and I wasn’t really happy with the way they were sounding so I just kind of had a kind of flash one afternoon and started laying down that version just from a kind of beatbox I was feeling in that moment and then sure enough, I mean, what I usually do is like three takes of a vocal and then cut between them and so just kind of – But I just kind of really enjoyed just jumping in and trying to keep it as live and spontaneous as possible because, true, I mean, I love to do that as a vocalist.
CAVANAUGH: Now, Beck Hansen, Beck, acted as your producer for “Compass,” right?
LIDELL: Yeah, exactly. We worked together on the record, together with Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear. It was quite an interesting personnel lineup on this record but, yeah, Beck was very much involved.
CAVANAUGH: You said that he gave you a lot of confidence. What do you mean by that and how do we hear that on the album?
LIDELL: Well, I mean, obviously Beck, having made a lot of, I guess, difficult records, you know, in terms of like, you know, the pop canon, he’s reached a lot of people with some strange sounds. So in a way I kind of always align myself with his approach like whether I did that sort of explicitly or not, I think we were kindred spirits and he saw that and that’s one of the reasons he reached out to me and I’m pretty certain of that. And I think just the very fact that he gave me that call and said, hey, would you want some production help, you know, I’d really love to try and do something with you. I mean, that alone, that kind of endorsement, that signing off on my sort of ability or approach was a big kind of boost, you know. And then getting in the studio and realizing that I had, you know, something to say and I had a way to say it, you know, and just having a person like that, a kind of peer of mine basically just kind of looking on, nodding, going, yeah, all right. You know, that’s just – I don’t know, that’s – it just feels like, you know, you’ve arrived at some new place when that kind of thing happens for whatever it means. But, I mean, like your ego gets a pat, I mean, it’s something to do with that but it’s something more than that. I think it’s more – it’s an artistic kind of, you know, nod from one artist to another like, you know?
CAVANAUGH: Right. I’m speaking with…
CAVANAUGH: …musician and singer Jamie Lidell. He’s actually talking to us on the bus on the way to San Diego to perform tonight at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach. And, Jamie, I wanted to – wanted our listeners to know that a lot of people might be familiar with your work from that “A Little Bit More” song that was featured in a Target ad a year or so ago. And I wonder, are you aware of the commercial potential of songs as you go through the songwriting process? Or does that always come as a surprise to you?
LIDELL: I mean, I think if you were to design songs specifically for the purpose of like having them on advert, that would be quite a – I don’t know, that’d be a specific kind of approach to making music. It’s definitely not mine. It’s always a bit of a shock when anyone wants to use anything I’ve done to me. But – And to be honest, it was a tough decision to put music on an ad. I mean, there is always that kind of thing of like, oh, I’m not that kind of artist and I want to have this kind of integrity and what have you but in this day and age, there is a very important way for music to kind of – I’m on an independent label on Warp Records and they’re a great label. They give me a lot of artistic freedom but – so all of their – all of the plus points being on a label with that kind of integrity. Of course, I don’t have the kind of clout and fire power of a major label in terms of promotion and backing me up so ads like the Target thing are really like – really are amazing ways for me to get my music out to all kinds of new people so I had to really just embrace that and say – and I’m glad I did it, you know.
CAVANAUGH: You know, you started as an electronica musician and deejay and, you know, often recording with just a laptop and a microphone and, you know, you can – you can hear that through this new album “Compass.” I want to play another cut and this one is called “I Want To Be Your Telephone.” This is from the album “Compass” and the artist is Jamie Lidell.
(audio of Jamie Lidell performing “I Want To Be Your Telephone”)
CAVANAUGH: That’s “I Want To Be Your Telephone” from my guest Jamie Lidell off his new album “Compass.” You know, Jamie, I know that you have said that a lot of your musical influences were recording in the sixties but, you know, it would be very difficult for them to produce a sound like that. How do you think your music would sound if it was recorded 40 years ago?
LIDELL: I mean, it’d be really interesting. I got really fascinated by this (audio dropout) artist called Raymond Scott who, funny enough, was mostly employed by radio stations in those days because radio stations really wanted these futuristic sounds for their adverts. (audio dropout) and looking for these (audio dropout) and it’s very, very forward thinking. I think Jim Henson wanted to work with him and, what was it, Barry Gordy commissioned the machine for Motown, which would’ve been this crazy electronic instrument which never really came to fruition. But, I mean, I would’ve liked to have thought that had Raymond Scott made that machine and Barry Gordy got hold of it, somehow (audio dropout) some studios and, you know (audio dropout) I got to record with all of those guys and with that kind of equipment and, I don’t know (audio dropout)…
CAVANAUGH: I – Jamie? Are you there? We are – will be playing a song by Jamie Lidell. The next up is “Compass” as we try to reestablish contact with him. And you’re listening to These Days on KPBS.
(audio of Jamie Lidell performing “Compass,” the title track of his latest record)
CAVANAUGH: And that’s the title track from the album “Compass” by Jamie Lidell. He’s my guest on These Days this morning. We lost him for a little while somewhere out in the middle of the California desert. Welcome back, Jamie.
LIDELL: Hello, yeah.
LIDELL: I’m slightly – Okay, it’s just bizarre. I mean, I’m not surprised that there’s no real cell phone reception out here, you know, but it’s a beautiful drive, I’ve got to say. But, yeah, thank you. I’m really happy with the tracks you’ve chosen to play off the record. I think they really are some of my favorites.
LIDELL: I just wanted to say that. Yeah, great, fine choice.
CAVANAUGH: Since you’re coming here to Solana Beach, we want to talk a little bit about your live performances. I know that this time it’s not a one-man show but, you know, you tend to loop vocal tracks, percussive noises, sing over them, I’m just interested in what you’re thinking the show is going to be like at Solana Beach tonight?
LIDELL: Yeah, I mean, what you’re describing is kind of like how funnily enough, when I was playing as a solo artist, that’s how me and Beck got together. He asked me to open up for him as his support act in 2006 and at that time I was kind of touring “Multiply,” my album that kind of had a little bit more which found its way onto the Target commercial and so on. And that was kind of the only way I was touring. And then the album that came off of that, “Jim,” I had a band and I really enjoyed the experience, so for this one I’ve actually got an even bigger band so there’s six of us onstage.
LIDELL: Everyone has electronics. Everyone has kind of, you know, acoustic instruments, too. There’s guitars, bass, synthesizers of all kinds. Even the drummer has synthesizers. I have synthesizers and electronic equipment to loop my voice and to create the tones of this album which, as you said, are very wide-ranging, you know. There’s a lot of different textures and moods on this record and I wanted to represent them live with a band in a new way and explore them even further, so it’s a great setup, great vocalists, a lot of vocal energy and also a little bit of a legacy section for the show where I will be doing some looping just for the old school fans. Ha-ha.
CAVANAUGH: Now you’ve said in interviews that your voice is your instrument. And I’m wondering…
CAVANAUGH: …is using it in that way, in that beatbox way, in that layered way, is that your musical signature?
LIDELL: It’s definitely one of them. I guess it has been my live signature and it’s definitely what, I think, attracted Beck to what I do. And I did, in the end, realize that there’s all these instruments that I can’t play, which is a great frustration to me being a musician and wanting to like express myself. I thought, well, it’s not – it’s not so bad because with this ability to layer vocals I can create and demonstrate to other musicians like what it is I’m thinking. You know, I just use the layers of voice to create interballic relationships, which you might not necessarily choose to harmonize, you know. If you were sitting on a piano, you wouldn’t choose to harmonize voices that way. So I’m really glad that that’s my means of expression and I just – it’s true, I’ve embraced it as my instrument. I equate technology with kind of a funkiness, you know, and I think…
LIDELL: …you might as well just see the possibilities. It’s just the way – it’s my instrument, too.
CAVANAUGH: Well, I tell you, I’m going to let you get a little rest on that bus headed to San Diego. Jamie, thanks so much…
LIDELL: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: …for talking with us.
LIDELL: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.
CAVANAUGH: Okay. Jamie Lidell’s new album is called “Compass,” and he will be performing at the Belly Up Tavern tonight. The doors open at 8:00. And I want to let you know that you’re listening to These Days on KPBS.