Britain’s Jamie Cullum is swinging back with his sixth studio album, 2013’s Momentum! (Get it?) The british native has sold over 10 million copies worldwide and has worked with a wide range of artists from Stevie Wonder, Pharrell, Sander Kleinenberg, Rizzle Kicks to The Roots.
For this album, he has approached the record in a completely different way to his previous LPs, for the first time using DIY home demos as a blueprint for the majority of its tracks… and for a while, using everything from iPhone apps, charity shop keyboards and cassette recorders as his ‘go-to’ instruments during the process. Check out the interview below for a better insight of the making of this epic album!
Tell us about ‘Everything You Didn’t Do’?
‘Everything You Didn’t Do,’ this was a song I wrote that came out of two things. One, when I finally got my studio set up at home, there was finally a drumkit set up, which I could go and bash the hell out of and record it properly. So I used to go in the studio, the first thing I’d do would not [be to] go anywhere near the piano, I’d go straight to the drums, and I’m not a very good drummer but I can play the drums, so I set record and I just started doing a drumbeat that I heard in my head, which is [makes drumbeat sound], like that, and I think also at the time I’d been listening to a lot of LCD Soundsystem, and there’s a great song he wrote called ‘All My Friends,’ and it’s got this really odd piano riff that goes like this [plays], reminded me a bit of Philip Glass. That all came together on the same day, so there was that drumbeat going, and I started doing this over the top [plays], and I think I flicked into the first page of my notebook and there was the sign, I’d written a note that said ‘Everything you didn’t do is standing right in front of you,’ and I think I wrote this song in maybe less than half a day, it just all happened very quickly. The hilarious thing on that song is I’m playing all the instruments, so it’s like a big Jamie choir, it’s quite funny.
“The hilarious thing on that song is I’m playing all the instruments, so it’s like a big Jamie choir, it’s quite funny.”
You do have a couple of regular collaborators playing on the album, don’t you?
Yes, this is the first record I’ve properly, properly made entirely with my band, that’s Chris Hill on bass and Brad Webb on the drums, and they both sing as well, and they contributed hugely to the arrangements and just the level of sonic intricacy on the record. It was amazing to have a team in the studio working like that.
Your records also reflect your extremely wide listening tastes, don’t you think?
I listen really widely. I think it comes from falling in love first off with sampled music culture, from DJ Shadow to Beatnuts to drum ‘n’ bass, Roni Size, all that kind of stuff, it’s all sampled music, and you become a bit of a musical magpie when you go to record stores and you’re picking up old Supremes records and Herbie records and old wailing folk songs and things like heavy metal records and stuff. My brother was like that and I think I kind of copied him a bit, but it has led to me being a bit of a musical magpie within my writing as well.
Tell me about this amazing cover of ‘Love For Sale.’
‘Love For Sale’…I’ve played these song for years as a standard, just like [plays, sings]. But I’ve always thought the lyric is…again, Cole Porter, he’s a genius, his songs are so timeless. This sounds like a song that could have been written about the, whatever you want, the sex trade, or the way that sex sells everything now, it could have been written, you know, last week, it’s so contemporary sounding.
So it’s always a song I wanted to try and reinvent, and somehow I came up with this idea, I’m a huge fan of Roots Manuva, most people my age who grew up listening to UK hip-hop are, and his huge hit ‘Witness The Fitness,’ huge hit for him. It has this bassline that’s never out of my brain that goes [sings], like that. So one day in the studio I just got my bass player to play it, and I was playing around with the riff and I suddenly started singing ‘Love For Sale’ over the top, and I went ‘That’s it! That’s how we do it!’
So we started putting that together, Dan The Automator came over and helped record it, he hooked us up to two space echoes like an old Jamaican dub trio, so we played it live, we played that whole take live, just Fender Rhodes, bass and drums and all these amazing live echo techniques, so it’s full of life, it’s not just gridded on a computer, it’s a band playing for real. And of course not only did I need permission from Roots Manuva to use his bassline, as well as the Cole Porter estate for singing ‘Love For Sale’ – that was an interesting publishing question – I wanted him to rap on it, that was obviously my first choice, I knew I wanted a rap on it. So he agreed, he heard it and he thought it was cool, called me up on the phone, said ‘I’m going to do it in the studio today, can you come down?’, I said ‘No I can’t,’ he said ‘Ok, I’lll do it and email it to you.’
He did it, emailed it to me, slotted it into the track, sounded amazing, hasn’t changed since the day that came about. It’s beautiful, because to some people it might be a mystery that I’m into hip-hop, but anyone who knows me or my music with any sense of depth will know that a lot of my knowledge and interest in jazz has come from hip-hop, and I would never want to get a rapper on a track for the sake of adding an interest factor. I think the fit with Roots Manuva is so correct, and as a result he delivers this brilliant spoken word rap, fantastic.
You can imagine how controversial that song was when it was new, in 1930.
Such a controversial song, and I don’t go through the Cole Porter songbook looking for songs, I just know tons of standards and the ones I end up playing normally end up as Cole Porter ones, and it can’t be an accident every time.
What do you think about collaborating, do you like collaborating, or is it hard?
Sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees when you’re working on your own, and it’s really good to have someone sitting in a room and go ‘Hey, that’s worth working on, keep going with that,’ even if it’s as simple as that with a collaboration. I did that with my brother on this record, but even our collaboration on this record was different to how we’ve normally worked. Normally we’d sit in a room and write a song. This time, I had the ideas, and I would go to him and he’d help me tie it all together, so in that sense it was much more personal, the collaborations on this record.
“Sometimes it’s hard to see the wood for the trees when you’re working on your own, and it’s really good to have someone sitting in a room and go ‘Hey, that’s worth working on, keep going with that,’ even if it’s as simple as that with a collaboration.”
You looking forward to getting out there and playing this stuff?
I am, yeah, y’know it’s always nerve-wracking presenting a new thing, especially when it’s another kind of leap forward, in my mind. But, you know, I believe in it so it should be really fun, I hope people enjoy it as well.
But some of the old favourites will be there too?
I couldn’t get away from the old favourites if I tried, because they just come out of me without even being asked to, so yeah, they’ll be there. I don’t think I’ve ever played a song the same way twice, and I don’t say that because I’m some ‘Oh, he can’t play the same thing twice,’ I just normally forget what I’m doing, so it normally comes out differently. So yes, they’ll be adapted on a nightly basis while I try to remember how to play them [laughs].
Photo credit: The Pursuit Tour, Sunset Beach Club