DeadJournalist.com Exclusive Interview: Jamie Cullum
by Chuck Norton
Who is Jamie Cullum?
If he were an athlete, his stats would look great: Golden Globe, BRIT Award and Grammy nominee. Winner of BBC 2′s Artist of the Year in 2005. He’s sold millions of albums since his first album came out in 1999. His background is as a Jazz musician, which is timelessly cool.
So why had I not heard of him before six weeks ago?
You might say Cullum and I run in different musical circles. It’s the annoyingly school-age problem of socializing with those who share a common interest. Despite what I consider a diverse musical portfolio, I tend to shy away from “popular artists”. It is a bias that is both self-serving and, typically, worthwhile.
Except when it prevents you from discovering artists who deserve the popularity they have achieved.
As a piano-playing, singer-songwriter, the comparisons for Cullum are obvious: Harry Connick, Jr. and Ben Folds. It isn’t wholly inaccurate.
Cullum’s a mixture of Connick’s Jazz passion and Folds’ exuberance and exploration. Like Connick, Cullum has crossed over to movies, but Cullum performs with the daring of a punk artist, like Folds.
Better late to the party than not getting there at all, I suppose.
If you are unfamiliar with Cullum’s work, here’s our recent review of his album, The Pursuit. He’s an artist worth your attention, regardless of your musical disposition.
Cullum, who released his first album in four years, The Pursuit, on March 2, 2010 (in the US) is currently on tour in support of the album. He will perform March 12 in Atlanta at the Cobb Energy Centre.
For more information on Jamie Cullum, visit his Web site www.jamiecullum.com.
DeadJournalist.com proudly bring you this exclusive interview with Jamie Cullum.
Having released your most recent album, The Pursuit, a few months ago, how would you, in retrospect, compare the creative process around this album to your past works?
JC: I spent a great deal more time designing the sonic landscape of each song this time. On previous records I would concentrate on getting the performance in a setting where the engineering was spot on. I still concentrated on getting a performance not just loads of takes to edit between, but prior to every song we tried to mic things differently. Use different equipment, use different pianos, different rooms – so the way it sounded set the scene, the sound of the room telling part of the story.
Once that was done and recorded we spent more time in post production, adding effects that would enhance the communication of each song’s core and bring my sound kicking and screaming into the twenty first century.
Have the songs evolved from how they were originally structured for the album?
JC: There is always an evolution, in fact, you should be worried if there isn’t! But this time nearly all the original intentions within the demos were followed through in the final recordings. The record was in my head months before I made it. It was just hard to make it a reality.
As you set out for another World Tour next month, what are you hoping to accomplish on this tour that you haven’t on past ones? What are the biggest challenges you face during your time on the tour?
JC: I hope as always to bring something new to the stage every night, embracing the handful of new songs into the repertoire but not being beholden to how they must sound. I am very hard on myself every night to be as spontaneous as I can. It can be quite exhausting.
I am aiming also for an even greater communication between the musicians and to use the breadths of their skills more than I have before.
The biggest challenge on tour is maintaining consistency! That is hard with the level of traveling and late nights but the music always guides you back to earth.
You’re noted for your propensity to improvise your set-lists during your shows. While this would surely terrify many artists, you seem to thrive on it. How does this let you cultivate your audience based on the mood you are in on a particular night?
JC: It is incredibly liberating and, as you rightly state, kind of terrifying. It means you can play a set that can play to your strengths and feelings on any given night.
Sometimes ballads will be played more effectively, other nights it can be all about sweat and energy. The audience, unwittingly become part of this cycle as they react to the things that are really connecting.
It is somewhat indescribable in a way but an essential part of the way I perform.
What is the most comical or bizarre moment that has happened to you while on tour?
JC: I tried a running jump over the piano at the climax of my song “twentysomething”. I missed and bashed my head on the side of the piano. A little dazed I returned to the piano and carried on playing.
About three minutes later I noticed the keys felt wet. I was bleeding all over the piano live on VH1.
Which do you enjoy more, performing live or writing and recording?
JC: You can’t have one without the other. Studio work and writing gives you that important closeup of who you are as an artist; live work reminds you to become a little less self-obsessed and cut loose. It’s all part of a circle.
Are you working on material for a new album? If so, have you settled on a concept?
JC: I am always coming up with new ideas for songs and covers. I feel as though the Pursuit has really opened up my “concept” for the next few albums.
Having been recently married, do you think that this new facet of your life will provide you with a new perspective on your songwriting?
JC: It has made me more confident as a person and a musician. Confidence enables me to push farther with ideas and follow them through. It’s funny to me that people think you will be “safer” once you are settled. Quite the opposite appears to be true.
As a songwriter, do you find that you are constantly chasing a perfect song?
JC: Absolutely. It is elusive and beautiful and the best reason to keep going.
Having worked with a number of artists over the years, is there someone with whom you are still hoping to collaborate?
JC: I would love to sit in on a Ben Folds songwriting session, sing a duet with Herbie Hancock and write a melody over a Timbaland beat.
When beginning your career was there an artist who took you under their wing; providing you with advice or insight that proved beneficial?
JC: There were many. Mostly older Jazz musicians whose careers were based around playing in local pubs. Their talent, ability and spirit was no worse off for that fact. I found that simple pleasure in the act of merely playing and getting better very inspiring.
Likewise, what advice might you have for a younger artist who is just starting their musical career?
JC: Do it cos you love it. It is far too much hard work otherwise. You’ve got to get up and want to play everyday. Carry that simple mantra and you can’t go wrong. Also, get out there and play live straight away. Don’t wait until you’re perfect. The best lessons are learnt [sic] on the bandstand.
Is there an artist that you’ve encountered recently that you’ve been recommending to your friends?
JC: I am enjoying the mysterious sounds of Holly Miranda very much.
What were you listening to in 2000?
JC: Jeff Buckley, Nina Simone, Ben Folds Five and Herbie Hancock.
Which do you prefer: MP3, CD, Tape or Vinyl?
JC: Vinyl and Mp3s. Inconsistent I know but they both offer different pleasures.
Web site(s) you read regularly?
One Drink; One Movie; One Album:
JC: Whiskey and Soda; Crimes and ‘Misdemeanours’ – Woody Allen; Bitches Brew – Miles Davis.
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