Source: Blues And Soul (UK) - 4-17 September 2001
Author: Toussaint Davy
"It's a better album than our last one, definitely." But then you'd probably think that Toby Smith would say that as he's been one of the brains behind Jamiroquai's funk sound for the best part of a decade and, of course, a hungry workman never disses his tools. Right. We're at UK Funk HQ, better known as Jay Kay's palatial country spread in Hertfordshire and Smith, longtime collaborator, is quietly detailing the merits of the band's fifth musical opus, "A Funk Odyssey".
The band's main mover, 31 year old Jay Kay, is in the house. Having just taken a break from the mammoth half day interview in his purpose-built studio, he's rushed back into The Manor to get some glycerin tablets that he sucks in order to keep his chords tuned. The concept called Jamiroquai is a one-man vehicle and the 'gears' of its vehicle must remain well-oiled. Jay's in a good mood, which is something he told me earlier is a regular occurrence these days. Gone, he says are the days of over-indulgence and chemical excesses that made his '90s life the stuff that tabloid and magazine editors have wet dreams over. In its place, a more considered but no less talkative man has emerged.
"My public know that I wasn't in a boy band last week and am headlining festivals the next; they know I've been doing this for years" he laughs explaining his reason for doing his first headline gig of the year at this month's Knebworth. Even though the dance event as a whole was woefully undersubscribed, 99% of the people that did turn up, were in attendance to hear the man whose sound remains as deeply rooted in 70s funk as ever.
"I was born at the wrong time." he says now firmly seated back behind the studio boards, explaining why Jamiroquai will probably never really deviate too far from the sound that has made them millions of pounds. "I don't need to hear today's stuff." he laughs "And I don't think any of us are as good as they used to be" Jay reckons, tacitly invoking the names of everybody from Marvin Gaye to Stevie Wonder and everybody inbetween. But despite his reckoning of the real lack of current talent, there are notable exceptions.
Craig David has caught his ear. Like David, Jamiroquai in the past have been nominated for numerous Brit Awards and lost, so Kay recognises how Southampton's finest must be feeling. "Craagl" he shouts out boisterously to no- one in particular, "I know how you feel! He's young, talented and British and I like his stuff. It's a load of bollocks he didn't win anything but I'd rather have the Grammys that I have than ten Brit Awards. It means so much more to win one of those than a handful of Brits. I've had 15 Brits nominations over the years and haven't won a thing. I'm not bitter but just because I don't win, what does that mean... I'm no good? Craig's no good? Rubbish. The Brits are voted for by the industry.
"Craig's music is great and I'd love to work with him. Why didn't he win? He's too young and too talented." He pauses, stopping to shake his head and laugh. "They look at him and they're scared because they know that he's got thirty maybe forty years of music left in him... who knows? Craig's got a couple of Ivors, he's doing alright." Craig's doing okay Stateside but did Jay think he'll break America big time? "Why not, we did."
Jay's worldwide success, almost 20 million records sold in the last ten years, hasn't made it any easier for the self-confessed perfectionist to put out another album. In fact, it's the exact opposite. "I want to see this album at number 1. I need to see it there for my own personal pride. We're good enough to be there" he says. "Nobody does music to have nobody else listen to it. I want to sell millions. I put pressure on myself."
And despite the pressure, there still remains a hunger for international success. "When I first went to the US I was playing to crowds of 1500, when I last went there I played to a crowd of 850. Now I like small crowds, I want to do the Jazz Cafe again, soon,." he reveals. "This album is so much better than the last.
There were bits in that I wasn't okay with but with this one it's not just hype; it's a bigger sound and we've had more tracks to play with."
And there are some massive tunes contained. "Twenty Zero One", which is so cinematic in its scope it sounds as though it should be on a remake of Kubrick's Space Odyssey: 2001. There's the current single "Little L" which can admirably hold its head high among the "Canned Heat", "Alright", "Cosmic Girl" and "When You Gonna Learn?" Jamiroquai back catalogue. There are two stand- out acoustic numbers - "Picture Of My Life" and " Corner Of The Earth" both simple drum-free productions, yet nonetheless slick ballads. But two of the album's definite highlights are the inclusion of Wolverhampton's very own Beverley Knight on "Main Vein" and the four- part harmony " Love's Foolosophy". Watered in the soil of 70s funk throughout, it's impossible not to digest this LP as anything other than one of the most modern-sounding pieces of work you'll consume for many a year.
The fame, the women, the riches and the A-list lifestyle, all apparently every day obstacles for Jay. So what is the weirdest thing about being one of the most rated musical British exports since The Stones? "I find it weird when I'm in places like Japan, where I'm huge," admits Kay. "'cause I feel that I'm quiet a shy and reserved person at times. I can't handle too much adulation at times because I know myself. In a sense there are two sides to me, one is very quiet who wants to walk around a garden and the other one is just full on."
Needless to say Jay's been forced to grow up in the limelight owing to his own talent. As a frontman he was living on the A-list when Liam Gallagher was probably still signing on and Robbie Williams was entertaining himself.
But now he's grown up. It's a fact apparent for all to hear on the new stuff. The band have well and truly grown up. Drummer Derrick McKenzie was married last year whilst Toby Smith, now a father himself, swapped his own two-seater sports car some time ago for an eminently sensible high-powered German estate car. It's a swap that Kay reckons he's already well geared up for.
"I'm getting broody." he chuckles mischievously, "And I do need some kids, soon."