It’s not too often that an artist comes along who describes his sound as “schizophrenic.”
One listen to the blue-eyed soul of Jamie Lidell’s most recent Warp Records release, Jim, conjures up the sounds of classic funk and soul artists of the ’60s and ’70s. Step into a Lidell performance, however, and you’re as likely to hear the singer crooning in front of a Stax-style backing band as you are to find him beatboxing, mixing, sampling and synthesizing up a storm.
The combination makes an interesting duality, encompassing Lidell’s past as an electronic techno-funk wizard and his more recent turn as the leader of a touring soul band. It’s one that hasn’t necessarily come easy to the U.K. singer.
“I’ve been in many a band in my time, but I guess I’ve never been the leader,” Lidell told Pollstar. “My approach to music is a little bit non-standard. For me to organize and lead a band has taken some sort of strange feats of communication.”
With his background in electronic music, Lidell explained that he was accustomed to having complete control of every aspect of his performance, something he’s learning to put aside to keep things moving.
“I was nervous to drop the solo thing. I felt really comfortable doing it after a while,” he said. “When you come from the electronic music school, it’s very much about what you can do alone. Electronic music seemed to be about that for a long time for me – showing off your skills, a bit like turntablism or something like that and I kind of got sucked into that world.”
Turns out, facing his fear of “a really dry experience” with a band has added a whole new level to the show. Lidell’s electronic music features layers of sound, and backed by sax, guitar, drums and keys, he’s doing the same with soul.
“When we’re our best, we kind of blend together all of the funk and the punk and the techno and the soul in one big gumbo and I feel like at last we’re touching on something that’s truly our own,” he said. “We’re not just another band going through the motions, trying to simulate the backing tracks on my record – that wouldn’t really make me happy.”
The Windish Agency’s Tom Windish, who started booking the singer back when he was with only his microphone and mixing table, said he stuck around as Lidell moved into soul because the performances were so unique.
“I think what he’s doing – there’s nothing else like it,” Windish told Pollstar. “He’s not just a soul artist. He incorporates a lot of electronics into it.”
Windish isn’t the only agent Lidell has stayed loyal to. The singer’s team is a big one, comprising territorial agents including LittleBig’s Ned Beckett booking the U.K. and Holland; Planet Rock Booking’s Christoph Linder for Germany, Austria and Switzerland; and Sonar Festival’s Georgia Taglietti booking Spain and Italy.
Lidell, who says he enjoys the “diversity of gigs that each agent brings in,” booked his own shows out of necessity for years before hooking up with the team in an attempt to broaden his horizons. As his career has taken off, coordinating touring schedules with the various agents has become a bit of a challenge, but one that manager Melinda Cody has been up for.
“He’s just a really loyal guy,” Cody told Pollstar. “He didn’t want to stop working with these people because they had worked with him all along.”
Cody was managing Feist and Gonzales and looking to pick up another artist when she first heard about Lidell.
“Gonzales said to me, ‘You should manage my friend Jamie. You’ll never make any money, but you’ll be managing one of the musical geniuses of the century!’”
Cody agreed to take on Lidell, and said her job since has really been to provide structure to the singer’s frenetic life.
“He’s very surreal and in his head,” she explained. “I just kind of spend a lot of time with him and manage to extract from his head and make it concrete.”
At this point in Lidell’s career, that includes managing his time in the midst of a breakneck tour, “hopping from L.A. to Japan and then Montreal to Helsinki – full, nonstop, two transatlantics in a week,” the singer said.
Still, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I think touring is great because you start to realize what it is you don’t want to do more of,” he said. “Some of the music on this record has been great. Some of it I wish I’d never done. … You can’t predict what material’s going to turn into stuff you hate and what’s going to keep on evolving.”
In fact, the one constant for Lidell might just be change, but his crowds don’t seem to mind.
“I’m really happy to see all the different kinds of audience members out there,” he said. “Sometimes I look up and I’m getting people to dance to all kinds of weird sounds that, perhaps in any other context, they wouldn’t be into. I kind of win some people over with that, which is a cool feeling.”
Lidell heads back to the U.S. and Canada for a fall jaunt before hitting the road to support Elton John in the U.K. and Europe. –