Jamie Lidell: I'm summoning my inner Quincy Jones

Jamie Lidell: I'm summoning my inner Quincy Jones
Photo courtesy of the artist

Jamie Lidell has been playing with sounds professionally for over a decade. His music has been dubbed everything from neo-soul to electro-funk, and it fits, but it doesn't quite get to the center of who Lidell really is. Maybe that's why he's chosen to self-title his sixth album -- to give listeners a chance to hear the heart of the artist.

Jamie Lidell is an 11-track assemblage of songs that, at first, seem like a throwback, as though the album was salvaged from a teenage kid's cassette collection from 1988. It sounds like it carries the spirit of Prince inside of it, like if we jumped in a time machine and went back to First Avenue, this is what we would all be sweating and grinding to. And that's a really, really wonderful thing. 

At the same time, Jamie Lidell is very much a modern dance-pop album, supercharged and ready to be pumped -- loudly -- out of some massive speakers. Gimme Noise caught up with Lidell ahead of his gig this Friday at the Fine Line to chat about where his new album came from and how Minneapolis is his "spiritual home."

Gimme Noise: When I first heard this album, I was really surprised -- it sounds like a lot was taken from the early '80s. There's obviously a lot more to it. What were you inspired by when you were making this album?

Jamie Lidell: Definitely a lot of Quincy [Jones]. I always like summoning my inner Quincy -- it's a good vibe. That's the thing with me: growing up in small town England, it was all about dreaming. It was all kind of fantasy, so I've always been the kind of kid that's assimilated sounds, and I've let music be part of this dream world, and I still let music do that. That's the thing about electronics, too... It makes me feel like I'm part of a very open world, and at the same time I've very partial to pop music, and who does that better than Quincy and Prince? So I channel those guys as much as I can, in a very post-modern way, and it comes down in my records.

This is your sixth album, and the first one that you've self-titled. What was the idea behind titling this after yourself?

It was something like to make a fresh start. I was always sort of a crooner guy, and though I love old soul, I'm also interested in so much more. For me to try to represent my sound I had to destroy that image, and I needed to come back with a strong, undeniable pop sound. I wanted to make this record close to something that I've come from, and I've never reached that next level, as it were. I thought I'd come back with ambition, because there's so many people that don't know who I am, and this album is my answer. It's this kind of "Who is this guy" response.

You've said before that there's a lot of layering and a lot of time involved in layering sounds the way you do. For the geeks reading, can you elaborate a little more?

There's a lot more stuff these days that you can add in. On one end, you can get crafty. These days, everything being virtual and digital, you can set up sixty tracks, eighty, a hundred -- and you can do a hundred sounds, backing vocals, and there's no limit. It's always a fun challenge for me, especially when I do vocals, to harmonize vocal parts. The way I write my music is from the voice and the lead instruments, so I kind of write monophonic lines and then write them into vocal parts. I like things to be dense. My wife is always telling to get me to scale it back, and I agree with her on principal... I just think of it as a breakfast. I try to add things, like a sonic banquet, and I think the tracks are kind of crammed together... I try to keep it very elemental; even though there are digital elements, I try to keep it warm with the vocals, and there are real drums in every track. I guess that's what I mean by tapping into my inner Quincy: [the album] has a warm, human sound; it's a very clean sound, and you can swim around in the songs.

Are you satisfied creatively?

[Pause] That implies, in a way, that I would quit. For me, satisfaction is that you've achieved everything, and you've exhausted every avenue, and for me making sounds and music and questioning pop as an endeavor and experimenting with my voice, it's a fascinating obsession. It's a drug I can't quit, and I welcome the next challenge. I would like to produce other artists... I feel that I'm satisfied as a human being. I feel happy. I feel like that's where my satisfaction comes from.

You're going on tour, and you have quite a few dates lined up. Are there any places you're most excited to visit?

It's always a treat to come to do the West Coast because of the environment, and I actually love the long drives and touring America. The romance of touring still appeals. It's like you're doing a real cross country trip, and seeing the flat lands and the desert and the mountains... and it's always a journey to get to Minneapolis, and I'm always happy to be there. When I come to Minneapolis, it's always like my spiritual home, because I'm so obsessed with Prince. It's like the home of the funk.

Jamie Lidell will be performing at the Fineline Music Café on Friday, April 5. Doors 8 p.m. Tickets $17 and up. 18+. Info here.

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