During presenting a weekly jazz show on BBC Radio 2, JAMIE CULLUM recorded his sixth album ‘Monumentum’ which was released on the 20th of May by Island Records. It’s about the crossover period from a young man to a grown-up and in this context about momentum that helps provide achieving the balance between childish fantasies and epic responsibilities of the adult world. The jazz-pop singer- songwriter is about to perform on Czech Festival COLOURS OF OSTRAVA which takes place in the middle of former blast furnaces, mines and ironwork. An appropriate location for presenting his new album live on stage. Before we asked to grant us an interview.
Please introduce the musical concept behind your latest album “Momentum” to us!
Well, it seems like a good title for the album for a lot of reasons. One is that this album was entirely made with a sense of momentum. My life’s changed in a lot of ways since the last few records, you know, I’m a father now, I have multiple responsibilities, far beyond just looking after myself, and so this album was made in pockets of time, rather than the luxury of all the time in the world. So I just kind of hurled myself into it, and the whole thing happened without a great deal of thought, which sounds careless, but I’ve come to realize that thought is the enemy of creativity in a lot of ways.
The other thing, the album is really about that crossover period where you’re really still a young man, but also you’ve got one foot in this incredibly grown-up, adult world where you’re the leader of your pack, and the album really is about that kind of balance of your childish fantasies with these grand and quite epic responsibilities. I think it’s momentum that carries you through that, really, so that’s how I came up with the title.
Sounds like bringing your new album into life was different to your former strategy. How could one imagine your new way of proceeding?
Instead of going into my music room, my work room, my studio, whatever you want to call it, and worrying whether I had this type of song, or whether my fans would like this type of song, or whether this type of song fitted into my world, I just went in there and had fun in the small amount of time I had available, and made the music, and kind of worried about it afterwards.
Relying on your instincts and putting thoughts in the rear seem to benefit your creativity?
It’s surprising how you forget to rely on your instincts, especially when…it’s easy to rely on your instincts when you are more or less unknown, and people aren’t expecting anything [from] you [other] than to play a gig in front of 20 people or whatever. There comes this level of expectation, and as much as I’ve always tried to push that aside, it always comes into play, so I think big life changes help to put things in perspective, and you realize that you do need to hurl yourself into it without thinking, without reading, I don’t know, Twitter too much, or YouTube comments, or anything like that, because if you find out what everybody thinks about you, then you’ll act accordingly, rather than following your artistic instincts, so that’s what I did, I call it artistic instincts, I call it going into the studio and having a bloody good time [laughs].
What were your major musical influences and which specific sounds inspired you while creating “Momentum”?
Well actually, this time I’ve been doing a radio show for the BBC, alongside making this record, and it’s a jazz show, more or less a pure jazz show. So I’ve kind of listened to more jazz, and been in the company of more jazz musicians, than I ever have in my life. And actually, in a lot of ways, that’s made me focus more on my songwriting, and perhaps a little bit away from the more classic jazz sound which is more my earlier work, partly because I keep coming across people who are just the greatest in their field, and it really made me focus on the things that I think I can bring more to the table, which is bringing a lot of things together, bringing that jazz aspect but, you know, my enhanced abilities of songwriting.
How would you describe that enhancement?
I think I’m learning to be more honest in my songwriting, and not cloud the songs in ‘oh well, this is about the grand human condition,’ you know, these are the things I’m experiencing, they’re the very profound things I’ve experienced over the last two years, which have been very surprising to me, which is, that feeling that in a lot of ways your youth genuinely is over. It doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, and it doesn’t mean you can’t…it’s not a sadness, in a way, it’s kind of a beautiful thing putting that stage of your life behind you, and moving forwards. So I think the album’s about remembering that childlike excitement and marrying it up with that level of responsibility.
Also, I think when you experience great, profound love for someone you end up coupling with and having a child, in a lot of ways that enables you to see how sad the world is, and it’s not meant to sound depressing, because actually when you get a more rounded view of what the world is like, it’s a more beautiful experience. They’re the kind of things I’ve really been experiencing, and hopefully that’s informed the songwriting.
JAMIE CULLUM: “I made this record in a totally different way to any other record I’ve made”
You’ve moved to another part of the Universal family. What was the reason for this step and which things have changed since then?
I’m on Island Records now. I said goodbye for now to my friends at Decca, because I think my music has moved in a direction, it still has a root in jazz, but I think it’s, I’m really very keen on embracing the modern music age that I love so much, and I felt as though, and everyone felt as though it would be good for me to try a bit of fresh blood, and everyone’s been very supportive about it from the label I’ve left to the label I’ve joined. So it’s exciting, and of course the history of Island Records encompasses most of my favourite music of all time, so it’s a wonderful thing to be a part of.
Could you describe how the process of creating ‘Momentum’ was like in comparison to your former albums?
I made this record in a totally different way to any other record I’ve made. A lot of the songs not only were written in the studio, but a lot of the bones of the songs were recorded with me on my own in the studio. A lot of things like certain guitar takes, certain piano parts, even full vocals are recorded like me in my pyjamas. The song ‘Sad Sad World’ on the album, that’s the very first time I sang that song into a microphone. I’m turning the lyric page having literally just written the lyric, just written the song, and it just sounded so truthful that we never decided to replace it.
So I had the bones of these songs where I’m playing all sorts of little bits. Previously, you would have called them demos, I guess. Nowadays, they’re more like kind of blueprints, and I decided to go and speak to a few different producers about working with them. I booked trial weeks with Jim Abiss, amazing producer, he worked with, back in the day, Mo’ Wax, SEAKER PIMPS, ARCTIC MONKEYS you know, he’s really great working with bands. Because I was using my band on this recording, I wanted someone who was really good working with bands. So I went for a trial week with him, and we ended up recording four things in the trial week.
Who was the next one in line?
A guy called Duncan Mills, who I met through a friend of mine and who’s worked with a great band called CROCODILES, worked with FLORENCE AND THE MACHINE. Again, really good at working with bands. We had a trial week and we recorded four tracks! My old friend DAN THE AUTOMATOR, who worked on Catching Tales with me, he did Get Your Way. I had two tracks that I knew would be perfect for him to produce. He came over for a week to see what we could come up with, we did those two tracks, and before you knew it, we had an album in that time. There was obviously a lot of bits to work on afterwards, and kind of tie up loose ends, but it was recorded in these pockets of time, and it kept the energy really flowing through the record.
Before you began to record your new songs your daughter was born. How do you manage to keep the professional life separate from your family life since you have your own little family?
I always share my new music with my wife. She’s been really helpful with me when I write songs and I play them back and say ‘I wrote this but it’s not for me,’ she goes ‘Why is it not for you?’ and I said ‘Well, that’s not the kind of thing I’d normally sing,’ and she’d kind of metaphorically slap me and say ‘For god’s sake, that’s a great song, just do it. You wrote it, of course it’s for you.’ So she’s really helped me do what I want. I think early on, right after we had the baby and I was working in the studio, I felt like I was hitting a brick wall, I was quite tired and my head wasn’t in the right space. She said ‘Just go in there and have fun, don’t think about it too much.’ That was the beginning of the record for me, when I just went in there and started having fun.
You have a several regular collaborators playing on the album. In which way does cooperative work with different musicians enhance your music?
Yes, this is the first record I’ve 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. 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.
As before, the album recording is literally designed for live performances, even when you could play the whole album back to front just you and the piano. Are you looking forward to present ‘Momentum’ in front of an audience?
I am, yeah, you 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.