• UO Interviews: Jamie xx

    Nearly ten years ago, Jamie Smith, Romy Madley Croft, and Oliver Sim started playing music together, driven as much by an interest in being in a band as they were in just finding an after-school hobby. Now? The London trio are better known as The xx, and Jamie is recognized by fans as Jamie xx, purveyor of shadow-y, electronic pop and mastermind behind one of the summer’s most buzzed-about releases. His debut solo album In Colour, out this week,  is new territory for the producer in more ways than one. Featuring 10 tracks recorded over a span of about five years, the project wasn’t even intended to be a formal album. As Jamie puts it, “I’m really bad at finishing music, so I just keep coming back to things. I had to tell myself that I was making an album in order to finish all of the stuff I had been working on.”

    Luckily, his procrastination paid off in the form of this stunning new LP. He’s recruited friends such as Young Thug and Four Tet for collaborations, crisscrossed the house-pop soundscape with tracks like “Gosh” and “Loud Places,” and delivered an album that could very well contain several contenders for this year’s song of the summer. We met up with Jamie on a recent morning in Williamsburg to breaking out on his own, working with Lana Del Rey, and deciding what makes it onto his rider.
    Photos by Clement Pascal, words by Liza Darwin

    Even though you’ve been on producing and remixing music for years, it’s only now that we have it all on a solo album. Why now?
    The idea wasn’t to make an album at all until the last minute—some of the music actually started five years ago. I like to mess around until the last day, and then do everything at once. It drives me crazy, but it seems to work.

    What was the recording process like?
    It was recorded almost everywhere—a lot of the ideas were created on the tour bus and on airplanes, but I finished it in London. I never finished anything until everything was finished. Everything was work in progress right until the album was complete. The transitions dictate how the structure of the songs will be, and I wanted it all to be perfect.

    Was it tough working on this while also doing stuff with The xx?

    No, it actually wasn’t. A lot of the stuff I’m making will end up as xx stuff, or will inspire xx stuff down the line. Everything feeds into each other.

    So true—and it seems to work the other way too, as your xx bandmate Romy makes an appearance on “Loud Places,” the first single off of In Colour.
    Romy was in LA writing pop songs to give to pop stars, and she wrote that song. It had the perfect theme for my album, because I wanted it to have elements of club and nightlife. So we worked on it together, and we had the whole song—but it felt like it was still missing something. So I went through my records and picked out a Idris Muhammad's record and sample that eventually went in there; it fit in so perfectly. It was sort of like a eureka moment for me.

    How did you come up with the video concept—which features you both skateboarding—for the song?
    Well, I had to convince Romy to skate! We grew up skating together—we were actually skating before we did music together—so it was this important part of our relationship that nobody really knew about. She was hesitant, because firstly, it can look really cheesy doing a skateboarding video, so we had to do it well. And, you know, she had to go out on a limb and skate in front of a lot of people. But she did it really well.

    Are you still into skateboarding?
    Yeah. I try to do it whenever I can, but I don’t have much time.

    Romy wasn’t the only person you teamed up with on the album—there are so many different artists featured on it. Were they all people who you know personally?
    I didn’t know Yung Thug personally, and I actually still don’t know them. I did it over the Internet, and I am eventually going to meet them. I just don’t do well with other people in the studio, especially hip-hop, because there tends to be a lot of weed smoking [laughs]. But yeah, I was in New York driving from Manhattan to Brooklyn every day for work, listening to Hot 97, and kept hearing Yung Thug and they seemed like the perfect fit.

    Is there anyone who you want to collaborate with but haven’t yet?
    I did some work with Lana Del Rey on our last record, but it never made the album. I’d love to work with her again.

    Besides that element of nightlife you mentioned, was there any other vibe you were going for when you started recording In Colour?
    I think that naturally the music I like to make is slightly sad and comes from a darker place. But it’s also when I’m happiest—I think it comes out in this sense of joyous melancholia.

    Is there any particular song off the album that has a special meaning for you?
    Each one does have a certain thing, but “Girl” was one of the oldest ones. It has quite an obvious theme, and means quite a lot to me. On the other hand, “Gosh” happened in a couple of days and it also means a lot to me. It was the last track I made for the record.

    In your ideal world, where you listen to your album?
    I like listening to music in my house. I spent quite a lot of time making my sound system excellent, so I like listening to music in the mornings there.

    You’ve got a slew of festival and club dates around the world this summer. Are you the type of person who’s excited to be away, or would you rather be in a studio?
    Since I’ve been working so long at home now—which is unusual, because I feel like I’m always traveling—I’m excited to be on the road. I either miss home or I miss touring, it’s just how it goes.

    Are you bringing any special guest performers on tour with you?

    I will probably bring some friends from home. It’s nice to have them with me. I don’t really try to plan too much about the performance itself; it makes it more fun for me, and also more fun for the audience.

    What’s one thing you always ask for on your tour rider?

    Chicken. And ketchup—I love ketchup, so I always ask for that. My favorite brand is Heinz [laughs].

    Get In Colour now