Interview: Mr Jukes – Jack Steadman
“…I always want to bridge that gap between experimental and accessible…”
The journey of the indie-band-frontman-going-solo is a well-trodden path, but when Jack Steadman of Bombay Bicycle Club announced his new Mr. Jukes project, it was always going to be different. We caught up with Jack as he gears up for his UK tour of his new “God First” album – inspired by trips to Japanese ‘kissatens’ and spiritual jazz.
Hey Mr. Jukes!
Loving the new record! How long has it been in the making? A lot of the tracks remind me of your early productions as Jack Steadman. Are there any old tracks you’ve been saving for this record?
A few people have spotted that the sample from “Somebody New” is from an earlier Jack Steadman production. Apart from that it’s all been written in the last two years. All these ideas have been floating around in my head for a very long time though. We were travelling so much with Bombay and I was bringing an MPC or an OP-1 with me everywhere and just sampling records and making beats. I wanted to finally put some proper time and effort into and try and make a cohesive record.
There’s a ton of guests on the album, Charles Bradley, De La Soul and Lianne La Havas to name but a few. Having collaborations on a “band’s” album isn’t common – was it liberating to make music and have the freedom to let the music go wherever it could, rather than it be an expression of yourself or Bombay Bicycle Club?
The whole idea was to see what would happen when a song can go wherever it deserves to go. The initial songwriting process was actually very similar to with Bombay, but the crucial difference was that now instead of having to fit that demo/idea/beat into the framework of a four piece guitar band, I could listen to it and think “I think Charles Bradley would sound incredible on this, with some horns and mo-town bass in there too”.
“…I see my future as a balancing act between making music to dance to – whether that’s Mr Jukes or something else – and making music that’s more stripped back and heart on sleeve…”
Whilst there’s still quite a strong electronic/hip-hop influence on “God First”, you seem to have gone in a jazzier, more organic direction with your arrangements. To me it feels as though you’ve made a conscious regression of sorts when you consider the progression of the Bombay albums. Have you had a musical renaissance, so to speak?
I feel like I’ve come full circle as I grew up playing jazz bass and listening to records by Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius etc.. I found an old demo from pre-Bombay days that sampled “Maiden Voyage” by Herbie Hancock.. So I’m going back to that with all this new experience with writing pop music. I always want to bridge that gap between experimental and accessible.
The album’s title and cover art come from a barbershop in east London. Can you explain what drew you to the name “God First”? It certainly reinforces the “regression” ideal?
At first I was simply drawn to the typography of the shop front. Then I began to think what linked all the music I was listening to during the making of this album. Whether it was soul, jazz, gospel or classical composers like Bruckner, it was all rooted in the church. I got heavily into spiritual jazz like Pharaoh Sanders and Alice Coltrane and I began to ponder the nature of improvisation. But like I said, I also just really loved that hand painted sign.
We hear you’re back in Japan this weekend, where you spent a lot of time in jazz kissas in the lead up to this making of this record. Could you explain to those who don’t know what a jazz kissa is and how they influenced the “God First”?
A jazz kissaten is type of cafe unique to Japan where one goes for the main purpose of listening to jazz records on a great soundsystem. They originated in the fifties and sixties when jazz LPs were introduced to Japan via American soldiers. For your average Japanese person they were very expensive to own so instead people listened to them communally in these spaces. I became obsessed with these places. They were like libraries where I could discover so much great new music. I am a fairly introverted person so to have a space where you can sit alone and just read a book and listen to incredible music was my idea of heaven. I found the sample for the Mr Jukes song “Grant Green” in one of these jazz kissas.
There’s a Japanese sushi restaurant in London called Brilliant Corners with an outrageously expensive audiophile’s soundsystem. I’d love to hear you DJ there with all these new records you’ve collected, have you ever considered spinning your records out? It would make a lot of sense!
I want to open my own jazz kissa in London one day. There won’t be any sushi or fancy cocktails. Just a tiny place for listening to records. I think about my plans for it every day.
You’re being compared a lot with Damon Albarn at the moment – there is a certain parallel between Blur/Gorillaz and Bombay/Mr. Jukes. I see a lot of the XX/Jamie XX too, with you as the “beats guy”. Can you see yourself ever making dance music once this jazz infatuation runs its course?
I see my future as a balancing act between making music to dance to – whether that’s Mr Jukes or something else – and making music that’s more stripped back and heart on sleeve. It can never be one or the other. I love being the “beats guy” but I also have moments when I really need to express something in a direct way. And my infatuations do not run their course. I still listen to Joni Mitchell or John Martyn and get plane-motional on a beery long haul flight. I still want to make folk music.
Will there ever be a second Mr. Jukes LP, or “God Second”?
I hope there are many. I’m going on tour with eight incredible jazz musicians so I would be disappointed if that didn’t spark some ideas. Something more organic and less quantized than God First.
And lastly, a question I’m sure many people want to know the answer to, will there ever be a 5th Bombay album?
It’s not out of the question. We all have very high standards so wouldn’t think about making one without all feeling like the time is just right. You have to feel excited again. Without that creative desire and hunger, you’re heading straight towards mediocrity.
Great chatting to you Jack! Best of luck with the tour and see you at the Leadmill!
Mr. Jukes hits the Leadmill on September 23rd as part of his UK tour, tickets are available here. Support from Puma Blue.