Esquire Magazine - September 2001


Nature Is Funk To Me

Source: Esquire Magazine (UK) - September 2001

There are dogs and there are dogs. The two German Shepherds growling and baring their teeth on the drive of Jay Kay's Buckinghamshire estate are the kind that phobias arc made of. Stares fixed, bodies twitching, they make the warning sign at the drive's entrance seem woefully inadequate.

Between barks comes the sound of Adidas advancing at pace across gravel, and a Cockney-accented attempt to calm the baying security: "Luga! Titan! Behave!" But Jay Kay's parental instruction falls on deaf cars, and the impressive tooth display continues. Only a bout of affectionate head-rubbing on his arrival diffuses the stand-off, convincing

his canine companions that I'm a visitor of the invited kind. "Don't worry," he laughs, only half-joking, "they're only trained to attack Sun journalists." Kay is amused, but sensing that comments about barks being worse than bites aren't helping, quickly changes the subject." Cuppa tea?"

With the now angelic Luga and Titan following at his heels, the skinny singer, famed as much for his fast cars, eccentric headgear and former relationship with Denise Van Outen as he is for his music, picks up speed again. We turn into a miniature car park and he keeps going past two black Mercedes 4x4s and a silver Sixties Mercedes convertible. "I've just come back from Le Mans," he calls over his shoulder.

"Fantastic. Drove there in that RS4." Without stopping, he points to a mud covered Audi estate: "Phenomenal car."

He's heading for a door at the back of what looks like an old school bike shed, under which is parked a sleek, low object shrouded in a red silk cover on which is printed the unmistakable symbol of the black prancing horse. The procession comes to a halt next to the cloaked vehicle. Not wishing to brag, but with the pleasure evident in his broad grin, he teases by slightly lifting the cover revealing the rear of a silver Ferrari. "My F550," he beams.

Technically, this isn't really the best of times for the 31-year-old artistically known as Jamiroquai. It's late June and his fifth album, A Funk Odyssey, is due in a week. Should that deadline be missed, his record label inform him, its release could be delayed by several months. Unfortunately, despite Kay's own assertion that this is by far Jamiroquai's best album because of the extended recording period, vital stages of the odyssey are still missing, and he has just three days to find them.

Panic is evident in the various personnel scurrying about the home, which doubles as Jamiroquai mission control. Only Kay seems unbothered. To the dismay of those seeking approval for artwork and video edits for disco-stomping first single "Little L', the sun has made its first major appearance of the year and the man in question is more interested in giving Esquire the guided tour of his beautiful 72-acre garden than upping the 16 million album sales denoted by the gold and platinum discs adorning his studio, kitchen and toilet walls.

"HAVE A LOOK AT THIS," KAY MOTIONS, AS HE collects teas from the kitchen of his recording studio, a former leisure room that's the size of a small semi and situated 100 metres from his front door. Cup in hand, he wanders (again, at speed) out of the kitchen door and into the basking sunlight, where a modest 10-metre swimming pool, surrounded by terracotta urns and palm trees, lies blue and inviting. But he's not stopping. Striding across the grass, he points out a meadow, trout lake and market garden. Motioning to two moats, relics of the Civil War, he recites the land's history, including tales of Cavaliers and Roundheads, archbishops and kings. We stop by a winding river. Kay points to a sprawling copper beech tree on the horizon. He ponders, transfixed for a minute. "That's 300 years old. I'm very lucky."

Installed poolside, Kay launches into the first of many uninterruptable monologues that are as turbo-charged as his silver Ferrari. "I thought it best to invest in something I'm gonna have, and want, for the rest of my life," he says of the house that he moved into in 1998. "Some of the places I looked at, with their modern Corinthian pillars and new trees, were just fucking awful. I've got everything here: organic food, fish in the lake, chickens... The other day I caught a trout, dug up new potatoes, green beans and car- rots, cooked them and put the lot on a plate. I couldn't believe it. It all came out of my garden. It was like the first time I took magic Mushrooms, it was like, 'Shit, this is free."'

But Kay's country retreat is more than a rock-star accessory. 'The whitewashed, three-storey manor house may have 11 bed- rooms, but it's no ostentatious mock-Tudor status symbol. It's large, but it's comfort- able. And at a cost of £1.5 million three years ago, his 72 acres isn't the most extravagant purchase in rock'n'roll history: "It's a lot of money, but I couldn't buy anything in London for that, certainly nothing like this." And, like most things he spends money on, with the exception of cars, this idyllic hide- away is part of the Jamiroquai game-plan.

Kay spent half the £2 million advance for 1999's Synkronized album on converting the poolside leisure room into Chillington Studios. "An advance is a big loan from the record company It has to pay for making an album, and it has to be paid back. So, instead of paying to use someone else's studio, I built my own. It was a big risk, though. Whatever you see here, kid ye not, if that album had failed, all this would have had to go back."

FOR ALL THE HATS, ECCENTRIC DANCING AND disco party tunes that have been his trademarks since he signed an unprecedented eight-album deal with Sony Music in 1992, Jay Kay's no fool. Sure, he's the didgeridoo loving tree hugger who sang about saving the planet on debut single "When You Gonna Learn?", and he has a cheeky grin that could make mothers love him even when he's talking about "pulling 185" in his Ferrari and pool parties with "naked birds". But it's evident that the only fool is the one who underestimates him.

"I've had some record executives say, 'Oh you're doing all right, Jay.' Well, yeah, I am. But so are they, because they've got a bigger cut of this record than I have. I'm going out, sweating my arse off and they're sitting on theirs doing fuck all." A look of thunder brews on his face, as he adopts the Michael Caine "blow, the bloody doors off" lilt that marks moments of exasperation. "There's one pot that benefits everyone. And I created it. I signed with Sony. They weren't interested in a band. At the end of the day, it all comes down to me. I'm the face, the frontman and the one who pays back the advances." He jumps to his feet and starts pacing the pool. "And record companies are serious creamers. I audited mine and I won't begin to tell you the kind of money that's..."

He halts his pacing. "Let's just say I never, ever, ever forget that we're not friends." His head cleared, he grins. "I'm a bit of a fucking control freak, but you've got to be, otherwise people take the piss."

If there's been one major influence on Kay, it's his jazz-singer mum Karen. His twin brother died at just six months and he never knew his Portuguese father, so the pair were inseparable. This meant a childhood of relentless touring for the young Kay. Watching his mum play three shows a night instilled a love of "music with horns" and of performance as well as a tireless work ethic. Seeing her swindled made him determined that history wouldn't repeat itself.

At 16, he left the Ealing, West London, home they had settled in three years earlier. It was 1986 and, with a new-found passion for Seventies funk and all things disco, he immersed himself in London's burgeoning rare groove scene. Yet it wasn't until 1992 that he got his break, convincing then trendy label Acid jazz to release "When You Gonna Learn?", the single that subsequently brought him to the attention of Sony. "1 was homeless," he says of the notion that he was an overnight success. "I slept under stairs, in parks, on benches... I delivered pizzas, and worked in a toy warehouse where the only thing I could do to entertain myself was to jump on the dollies that pissed themselves. People see the house, the cars, and they forget all that shit."


Hard-nosed as he is, there is a side to the man that gazes at the pool and asks, "Can you imagine this place with kids? "They'd love it. I'm desperate to have kids." This comes out occasionally on. A Funk Odyssey. Nestled between the album's disco grooves and the sci-fi funk is "Corner of the Earth", a gentle swayer that conveys the romance of an age when gentlemen cruised Monaco's mountain roads in soft-top Mercedes. To a tender bossa nova beat, Kay sings lovingly of the beauty in his walled garden. Then comes the chorus: "On the face of it, I'm blessed when the sunlight comes for free/I know this corner of the earth it smiles at me." Romantic yes, but there's sadness in his words, as if home is the only place Jay Kay can be Jason.

"You're spot on. I feel very oppressed by the world at times." He collects his thoughts for a moment. "The world's a cruel and horrible and cold and nasty place, and 95 per cent of the people in it are nasty bastards."

Such feelings about the world at the end of his drive are not unprovoked. From the environmental protests of 1993's debut album, Emergency, on Planet Earth, to his obsession with all things intergalactic and funk, the music press, in particular, have always found something to laugh at. "I stand up for me rights and I open me gob," he offers in his best Michael Caine. "People don't like that. I tell people to fuck off. That makes me difficult, a big head, cocky. The public arc great, though. Once in a blue moon someone shouts `wanker', but that's funny."

Nearly a decade after he first mentioned them, 'Third World debt and the environment are now national issues. With disco-funk alive and well and calling itself house, does he feel vindicated? "In a sense. But I'll never get the credit for it. just like I'll never be credited for releasing a song called `Virtual Insanity' about genetic engineering the day before Dolly the sheep was on the front of every newspaper."

He tries to remain philosophical about those who've criticised his conflicting passions for the planet and cars. "1'm not defending myself;" comes the Caine-like assurance, "I've given up defending myself. If people think I'm a cunt, then I'm a cunt."

Perfect last words. But he can't leave it. "I mean, look, do you see this as a fucking great car park full of :Ferraris?" he asks, pointing out that most of his pride and joys, which include an Aston Martin DB5 and four Ferraris, are kept in storage. "No. There's a few cars here, sitting under covers. They're not ecologically fucking the planet. And at least I don't sit in a car on the M25 to go to work; I've engineered it so I don't have to leave here. People say, 'Jay you've got 14 cars, how unenvironmentally friendly'. But you can't drive them all at once. Even it I'm driving one, there's 13 that somebody else can't because they're mine.

"I was brought up in the back of a car," he says, explaining the root of his passion. "Actually, I think I was made in one. From an early age I knew what every car on the road was." Although the British, French, German and Italian police who've caught him doing 15Omph would probably say different, he argues that speed isn't everything. "It's not about driving fast, but driving smoothly. But these cars arc like athletes: highly- strung; they like to go fast. I'm not the best driver in the world, so I don't take stupid risks, not least because I've got £150,000 worth of car I don't want to smash up: then you look like a real cunt." His mobile rings. "Speak of the devil, it's my Ferrari dealer. Hopefully my new Moderna Spider's on its way."

After a swift detour to show off the motor home/tour bus he's had sprayed Ferrari-red in tribute to his beloved Formula One team, Kay is back at the pool, considering a dip and reciting a list of interview horror stories. He places a reassuring hand on my shoulder. "People get the idea I hate every- section of' the media. I don't. Just the tabloids."

Certainly, the relationship hasn't been good of late. As soon as he started dating "buxom TV babe" Denise Van Outen, he became the red-tops' favourite pop stooge, second only to Robbie Williams. "I've never had any time for the tabloids. I was never really in them until I went out with Denise. She's a master manipulator of the press." A fag goes in his mouth and the swim is postponed. "I don't court that kind of publicity. They make everything up anyway: me and Denise arc engaged, we're getting married and then they're trying to split us up with some story about me seeing somebody else."

The press will have a field day with "Little L's" lyrical content, which is bound to be seen as an attack against Van Outen after the break up of their three-year relationship in March. "It encompasses one day of my relationship with Denise. Not the whole thing. `You make me love you with a little L, I can't understand what you want from me' - which is what it was like with Den."

He speaks with resigned affection. "With Den, it seemed like I couldn't do any right. She's a great girl, but you've got to hunt for what you really want, and we had slightly conflicting ideas about what that was. I'm a real long-term guy. I really wanna be with someone to love them and have kids with them. Marriage, just because everyone else is doing it, does not come first. You don't need to marry me, cos you can have me, all of me. I've got so much love to give, to the right woman. And I don't think I'm a bad lad, really." His sentimental look fades. "It's not about buying rings, it's about offering love and being treated like the guy- I really am, and that didn't really materialise."


Even after the rash of "Why I Dumped Jay" stories that followed their split, Kay remains gracious. He doesn't openly say who dumped who, and there's care in his words. "I really didn't think she'd talk so much about it in the press. I was a little disappointed at that. I thought we had an agreement that we wouldn't." Is the split amicable' "It's amicable enough. It's just amicable when she wants it to be."

Stubbing out his fag, he searches for a happier note. "She's getting on with her thing now and that's good. And she always will; she's a very driven and ambitious girl, and I think sometimes that got in the way.

Sometimes it's much braver to end something if it's not right than carry on just for the sake of the viewing public."

But with his life purposely conducted behind his garden walls, isn't he in danger of becoming a recluse? "Nah. I like going out and having a good time too much. I can party with the fucking best of them. I was an identical twin and I really feel like I'm living life for two at times; that's where the energy comes from. "There's definitely- two sides to me. One's fucking wild; life and soul of the party. The other's quiet and thoughtful. People don't often sec that."

Announcing that it's time to swim, he takes a lungful of sweet, summer air. "People questioned me moving: `You're going to move to the country' How are you going to do funky music, man' But I look around here and I watch the leaves on the trees sway and it's full of funk. Nature is funk to me."

Single "Little L" (S2/Sony) is out now Album A Funk Odyssey' is out on 3 September

The Band

  • Band Members - photos of all the band members who are Jamiroquai
  • Logos - history of the Jamiroquai logo text and buffalo man
  • Biographies - official biographies of Jamiroquai from over the years...
  • Articles & Interviews - articles and interviews from the press...
  • Cars - a little insight into Jay's love of cars
  • Kiss 100 FM, London - the London radio station that first played Jamiroquai
A few years ago Jamiroquai keyboard player Matt Johnson wrote a track with Gary Barnacle (who played on Emergency On Planet Earth) and he has kindly offered it to this site to pass it onto the fans.
  • Jazz Junkie - Exclusive track by Jamiroquai keyboard player Matt Johnson