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Jamie Lidell On Perfecting His Cyborg Soul Music, Prince, and Nashville Futures

A belated interview from Montreal's Mutek festival.
July 21, 2013, 1:00pm

It's hard to categorize Jamie Lidell's sound. An eclectic amalgamation of contemporary techno, dance and house influences mix with soul, funk, and an undying love for Prince that Lidell has carried with him since his teenage years intermingles to produce a sound that sits squarely outside traditional genre boxes. But whether you want to call it "techno-blues" or "post-funk" or "electro-soul," the point is that it's just plain good and unlike anything else you're likely to hear on the dance floor.


At Montreal's Mutek festival last month, we caught Lidell performing a slew of synth heavy, 80s-inspired tracks off his latest album, Jamie Lidell, and spoke about how his recent move to Nashville is influencing his music writing these days.

The Creators Project: You started out as a one-man-band beatboxing and looping your vocals, then your production expanded to include instruments and collaborations with people like Beck, Gonzales and Feist. In some ways, your latest album feels more stripped down than before.

Jamie Lidell: Yeah, it's more solo in every sense--writing, performing, engineering, mixing. [I was] just trying to see where I was, what I wanted to do, and that kind of collided with the general urge to make more electronic again. I miss it. Also, moving into this house in Nashville and having machines set up again [and] just thinking "man what does this sound like"? Just getting ideas, you know?

So it's kind of like, in a way, me going full circle. Almost going back to the techno days where I did everything on my own, wrote everything. But at the same time, having known Gonzalez and Beck, I've got a little bit more of a song writers itch now. So I kind of tried to throw a little bit of that into the process as well.

Tell me a little bit about your set up in Nashville. I'm always really fascinated by people's studio spaces and the way that they work there. Especially that element of play that can sort of happen when you're locked in a room for weeks on end and sort of tinkering and tweaking and discovering new sounds.


Totally. Well, I mean, the reason my wife and I moved to Nashville was really because of the house we found. I'm really lucky, I'm sort of in a library. A new, modern, modernist library. It's got an entire construction, kind of a pyramid's construction. And so I think that's really strange to find in Nashville, very different to your porch and your 1920s kind of four square living. I mean it's got that in the front of the house, and then they made this huge addition on the back. So my studio is in there. Plenty of light and loads of wood from all these bookshelves. It's even got one of those ladders that goes onto the rails.

I've never had any place like that before. I mean, when I did this album, I actually mixed it on a console that's 12ft long and I could fit that in my new studio. So I drove the car in just going, "Yeah over there." And that's something that you can only do in a really professional studio, you know? So it's just a good space and a really big space and really light based. I'm getting a little bit more wary of spending all my days, you know, in a dungeon. I really appreciate the light. It's a very church-y kind of space.

Do you feel like it changes the quality of your songwriting?

Probably. I mean, it could possibly be more distractions. I know a mix company in Paris that liked to mix with all the lights off because it's like less sensation coming in. It's really your ears that are doing most of the work. There is something to be said for that. But I mean, it always gets dark and I like to work at night. But it's not that crazy a prospect to be mixing in the day. In a way, I am writing like a traditional Nashville artist. Sort of in the park, on the bench and all that. I'm on the porch, kind of with the roof over my head.

It'll be interesting to see how Nashville influences find their way into your work. I think what's interesting about your style is that you're synthesizing influences from like music history and the contemporary moment. So your latest record feels very 80s, very Prince-inspired, but at the same time, it's got that sort of new disco vibe that's everywhere right now.

Yeah, I definitely put a lot of Prince in. I mean, yeah, that's it. I do that. I mess around with synths hanging around and [used] a lot of the ones Prince used back in the day, back in what I consider to be his prime time -- 1979-87. That was the window where Prince could do no wrong for me. It's like someone said to me, Prince went to Guitar Center and got everything that was cool at the time and it happened to be amazing synths. And now he goes to Guitar Center still and it just happens to be slightly less cool, from my particular perspective, I think. I wanted to bring back these big sounds. They're a lot more work, it's a lot more tech required to keep them alive 'cause they're old now and go a bit cranky.

But yeah, I brought in an old desk. The same kind of desk they used with Jamie Lewis--a big old SSL, 56 channels. It was like a massive undertaking, just to do it all. And I don't know why I did it like that. I could have done it just as well with programs and no one would have noticed, but I mean, that's the thing. Those people don't really know what I'm trying to reference, but I do. So I'll be like, that's not right, that's not it. It's like I'm trying to give someone some frozen pasta and they're Italian. Some people might be alright with that, they just want to eat. They're never really gonna tell the difference anyway. But some people will know.

That's the weird thing about art and music. You can be so crazy about a tiny detail, not saying the difference between frozen and real pasta is a huge difference, but the difference between a good pasta and a kind of bad pasta is small, but some people are gonna want to find that little edge. And that's where all the magic happens -- between 90 and 100 percent. Sometimes I can take it to 90 percent quite quickly and a push to 100 is where all the pain happens. You know what I mean? It's good but why isn't it great? It's like "aw shit, we gotta go through this again." It's like "yes, we are gonna go through this again. Alright, come on." It's trying to get to perfection in a certain amount of time. You have to put the pain down after a while and say to yourself, I did the best I could.

How often do you feel like you reach that 100 percent?

Never. But it's good. I don't know if I ever could. You know, cause you get sick of shit when you hear it, and therefore, by virtue of that, you want to change it when it was already perfect. Like perfectly in key and already done… Just put the damn brush down.