Independence Day, hot off a flight from Dublin and Jose James has a busy schedule ahead of him. No sooner had he gotten back to his London Hotel room for a rest, than the blower goes and on the other end is Musicvein to quiz him on his new album ‘While You Were Sleeping’ here’s what went down.
MV: 2013 saw you touring for pretty much the whole of it, promoting your last album ‘No Beginning No End’, how did you find the time to record ‘While You Were Sleeping’?
JJ: “Great question, I work all the time and find the more creative I am the more things come – it’s the age old ‘Do things more and more and the better you get at it’. So this album, these songs were inspired by being on the road and being creative night after night.”
MV: This album seems like you’ve gone on a spiritual growth, what inspired you to create those songs?
JJ: “Absolutely, travelling different places always inspires me and I’ve been fortunate enough to go to some really exotic places like Japan and Indonesia, meet new people and get immersed in the culture. Just being exposed to other ways of thinking, the economy, food etc is really important to me and for everybody. In the last album a lot of that came through collaborations with a lot of different artists and like 20 different musicians but this album, I tried to consolidate what I had learned and focus on one band – the same band, same studio but be as creative as possible.”
MV: And did the birth of your first child play any part in that creativeness too?
JJ: It did and you know what it kinda gives you a time limit on things. I was like Oh shit I have something non abstract, very concrete and finalized in my life now, it really makes you think about things in different ways – I gave up a lot of distractions and it took me to a place where I’m really focused on my music and just enjoying things instead of wasting a lot of time.”
MV: You have your band members as Co-Producers on the album, tell me how that came about?
JJ: I wanted to give them a lot more leeway to be more creative and really push the sound somewhere else. First I was going to bring in an outside Producer but then realized that it would be far more rewarding to find the sounds myself. As we were experimenting we were coming up with some great sounds, once we did ‘Every Little Thing’ and ‘Anywhere U Go’ I knew that we were really onto something fresh and new. It was really important that I could translate what we did in the studio to the stage as well and that helped me in my decision.”
MV: I notice that Takuya Kuroda only features on one song but amid you touring, writing/recording this new album you even found time to produce Takuya album ‘Rising Son’ how did you fit that in?
JJ: Well basically there’s so much time on the road. For example we were delayed coming into Dublin recently, that’s 5 hours where you can either be upset and in a bad mood or write some new music and that’s exactly what Takuya was doing – he was writing all the time on his laptop on flights and things like that. He would check in with me which was cool, I would bring different songs in for him to listen to and present different ideas. What I’m trying to say is that it’s a very gradual, natural thing, it doesn’t even feel like work. You set a date and say you need 8 songs by this time and you can get results pretty fast. Creative people are so different, they all work differently and I’ve found that if you give people their own space with a concept they come up with something awesome and that’s totally what Takuya did.”
MV: So going back to your album tell me about working with female artists like Talia and Becca Stevens?
JJ: “It’s more and more important for me to work with female artists especially in my field of Jazz as they’re very unrepresented. I think it becomes unbalanced for male artists to not work with women or to not have them write for you. I started on Black Magic with Jordana de Lovely, ‘No Beginning No End‘ with Hindi Zahra and Emily King and now Talia and Becca Stevens on this album. Talia is one of the most amazing song writers I’ve ever met. She’s very smart and helped me write ‘Without U’ and ‘U R The 1’ which are pretty different songs. One’s a break up song and the other getting together. That was the first time I’d ever collaborated with another lyricist so that in itself was pretty cool.
Becca, they’re (Becca & Talia) really good friends . Becca I’ve known from The New School in New York and she has such a unique voice and has a new sub-genre of Jazz/Folk/Indie – I’m not sure what to call it yet. I brought her in to do some vocals and asked her to write the song ‘Dragon’ – I think it’s an important balance on the album.”
MV: So how do you perceive your fans taking the album, as I’ve read a few Facebook comments when you posted your last video and people were like “No Way Jose! what you doing man…not sure about this direction!”
JJ: The majority really love it. This is my 4th album as a solo artist and I think at this point people understand that every time I put something out there, it’s gonna be different. They’re like that’s just how it is. Obviously there will be a small minority who basically want me to do ‘Dreamer‘, ‘Black Magic‘, ‘No Beginning No End‘ again and I understand how they feel, man I felt the same way when Digable Planets came out with ‘Blowout Comb‘ I was like No! I want, I want, I want ‘Rebirth‘ – they just weren’t there you know, so now going through it myself I understand that as an artist you have to be intuitive. It’s interesting because if I was to do an album again like ‘No Beginning No End’ it just wouldn’t be as good cause that was fresh and had great collaborations with Pino and my band, it all happened organically – whereas if I was to make a follow up, people would be disappointed and say it’s not as good and oh he’s just done the same thing again, so it’s kind of like a catch 22. What I do live is that I still play songs like ‘Come To My Door’, ‘Trouble’ and ‘Park Bench People’ I don’t abandon any of my old stuff just because I have a new album.”
MV: I was surprised that Blue Note themselves were backing this album, as I thought it was a little out of their genre. Tell me what they felt about it when you presented ‘While You Were Sleeping’?
JJ: Yeah, they were surprised, I mean everybody was surprised even the band and engineers were like “Shit, you want to do something really different?” It was a different perspective for me, but it was natural, something I was working on everyday. I was surprised by the reactions though and that people thought of me as such a Jazz only sort of person. I’ve never necessarily been that as an adult, sure when I was in High School I was like “I’m only going to listen to Jazz for like a year cause I’m all about Jazz” but as an adult that wasn’t so. I think the real issue wasn’t that people didn’t love the music, it was more that they found it hard to accept I was the one doing it.
To Don Was‘ credit he just said to me “Man I love what you do, I think that you’re super brilliant and I want you to make the album you want.” So that’s what I did and the band, once we got into it, they understood that I didn’t want to make a rock album, I just wanted something in the middle that was cohesive and made sense and they were part of that too.”
MV: So do you have a favorite song on ‘While You Were Sleeping’?
JJ: “Yeah, it’s between two either ‘U R The 1’ or ‘While You Were Sleeping’ which are pretty different, one is very Hip Hop in production everything is sampled and makes it that kind of RnB vibe and ‘While You Were Sleeping’ I think is my own most ambitious composition that I wrote by myself, it’s the longest song I think I wrote and like ‘Do You Feel’ and it’s the most production development. I’m really happy with those two songs they’re breakthroughs for me and really fun to play live too.”
And with that last answer my 15 minutes of questioning was over and time for Jose to get some rest before a weekend of Festivals! If you didn’t manage to catch him live, ‘While You Were Sleeping’ is available now for download on iTunes.
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Tomorrow read my review of Jose James gig at the Scala Club, London