Source: Maxim Fashion magazine (UK) - Spring Summer 2002
Interview: Michael Hodges
Photographs: John Spinks
JK is singing in a South London toilet. It's a basic breach of male etiquette but I'm lowering a microphone into the cubicle as he does it. Since he is supposed to be upstairs in a rehearsal studio with Anastasia or 'the babe', as he will later describe her, there is little choice but to interview Britain's premier white funkster while he is indisposed.
Happily the descending microphone finds him in an energetic mood, you could even say punchy. With only a plastic lid as an immediate audience he is, appropriately, delineating things madly. In the first, forceful head-rush of the interview, this is mainly a matter of how much he hates the Brit Awards. A pleasing co-incidence as he is supposed to be rehearsing for them right now.
'The last time I was at the Brits, Charles Kennedy was sitting behind me. That twit - I blew dope smoke in his face and he just sat there looking at me...'
Correct, he means the leader of the Liberal Democrats, but that party's particularly liberal line on drugs legislation is not going to be a mitigating factor in the following stream of consciousness. 'They turn up to these things trying to be trendy. Don't try and be trendy, you're a mug - fuck off. A great big skunk spliff and I blew it in his face. He didn't like that much. He gave me this dirty look and I thought, well, if you want to sit behind me. You're trendy now... have a toke on that, that'll make you feel a bit better.'
Yes, the Brits. They may be the most public display of profound industry uncoolness, but in so far as they represent the official status of how he is regarded in this country they still contrive to annoy the man presently banging off the walls of a South London lavatory. He is in the unique position of being the artist who gets nominated most often and yet never wins.
'I might be a better performer - because I think most of them are crap - but I'm only invited along for the dinner. Nineteen nominations [it's actually 14 but let's go with Jay] and nothing won. We've been around 12 years, won a Grammy, Silver Clef, Ivor Novello and MTV awards. It gets to the point where you feel they are deliberately ignoring you - have they got the hump because we've sold 20 million records or because we're the only ones doing a jazz, funky kid of thing?'
Bang on the words 'jazz, funky kind of thing' the toilet door opens and presumably the coolest figure this Bermondsey shitter has ever seen emerges, sniffs and makes for the sink. Still talking.
'They just don't like the music we do. They like Travis [he pulls down the towel with justified aggression]. And we don't do that.' Jamiroquai don't do that, but we live in maudlin times where Jay Kay's ferocious tendency to funk plays second fiddle to folksy twaddle. He is just too damn good for an industry that doesn't like him because it doesn't like black music and too damn white for the bourgeois idiots writing style journalism who don't like him because he is neither black nor poor.
As long ago as 1993 The Face said his work 'harked back explicitly, some would say shamelessly, to the early '70s sound of Stevie Wonder, Roy Ayers and Gil Scott Heron,' before adding in sneering mitigation, 'JK would hardly be the first white artist to be accused of "stealing" that tradition.'
The suggestion that he has stolen music causes him to pause, remove his sunglasses and pull an enraged face in the toilet mirror.
'Who wrote that'? Ekow Eshun?'
'Cunt, he's a tosser... a wanker... he's an arsehole. And that's why I don't do The Face anymore. It's like me saying to him he's African and he's stolen an English accent. I've never met anyone who's [he adopts Bertie Wooster tones] so well spoken and eloquent.
'He talks out of his arse and he can continue talking out of his arse because it's not going to affect my record sales. Nobody really listens to him. He's just a little fucking arsehole with a posh accent.'
Chippy eh? So he should be, because this shortish subject of tabloid speculation and women's sexual interest from Sydney to Sydenham, has been given the nod by soul music's gallery of gods: 'Diana Ross,' as he proceeds to make very fucking clear, 'didn't think it was stealing. Stevie Wonder didn't think it was stealing. Gil Scott Heron didn't think it was stealing. I've met them all and they all think it's fucking great stuff. Kool And The Gang, who asked me to do a fucking remix for them, they didn't think it was stealing.' You don't have to be backed up against a soap dispenser to find the list impressive but it helps. It's also a good vantage point as he dances across red tiling and charges into a brighter mood which includes the unexpected admission that he fully intends to open 'The Space Cowboy Coffee Shop'.
And why would we want to go to his coffee shop?
'Because it will be funky.'
It surely will, and after that he'll probably 'fuck off to Ireland or fuck off to France. Because life's about more than just working all the time' and there are things about England that are definitely stretching his patience.
'Honestly,' he shouts, 'the Conservatives, how they ever hope with that... what's his name? I can't even remember his fucking name...'
Iain Duncan Smith.
'Oh fuck me, get rid of him. You tossers.'
You were a Michael Portillo man then?
'No I fucking wasn't. I hate that bastard, I'd fucking hang him. You remember when he was home secretary... was he home secretary?'
Well, Defence Secretary and then Shadow Chancellor.
'Yeah, a right draconian bastard he was until he tried to be mister nice guy and the government are fucking useless aren't they?'
New Labour, you are now in his sights.
'All this giving 20 grand to put a new root on the Girl Guides' hut in fucking Solihull... why don't you take the lottery money and just start building hospitals and roads and transport?'
Unsurprisingly, and unlike Oasis, Kay has not had vol-au-vents at No. 10.
'They soon all changed their tune didn't they? A load of bollocks. Don't fucking mix with politicians, man. Don't pretend to be a politican or an ambassador.'
He's leaning on the toilet wall now, one hip stuck out and pointing a finger at anyone mendacious or stupid enough to take the New Labour shilling. It's not standard ex-public schoolboy stuff, but as far as I can tell he's not a standard ex-public schoolboy. His pre-Jamiroquai period was spent in and around West London where 'I knew some very nasty people. I saw all sorts of things, CS gas and stabbings and all sorts of crap... bottles... I can smell trouble now a mile away. It only takes one idiot and you're dead. I've had someone come at me with a knife and go like that [if you're imagining a rigorous knifing action going on here, you're right] and fucking go to stab me. It's only because I'm a bit quick that I got away with it.'
He was just as quick when a photographer attempted to catch him leaving a nightclub last year. A quickness that ultimately led to an assault charge.
'I believe in having a bit of respect and a bit of freedom. If I'm trying to walk down the street and it's just all getting in my fucking way then I'm going to start letting fists fly.' When the case was dropped due to lack of evidence, Kay issued this statement: 'I am pleased the charges have been dismissed. I'm glad sense has prevailed.'
Right now, in the toilet, he puts it this way. `I've read this [the snapper's] statement and it says, "I was kneed in the groin" and then they [the Metropolitan Police again] say "we've got 84 photographs of the incident". Oh really, well where's the one of him doubled up on the floor? Don't tell me there's 17 photographers taking 84 photographs arid you can't find one with him fucking kneeling on the floor. Your case [the Metropolitan Police's case] has fallen apart, you better start thinking fast 'cos I'm just going to fucking lose you on this.' And lose them he did.
He also, famously, lost girlfriend Denise Van Outen last year. 'Because of the press, it was incredibly hard to maintain a proper relationship with Denise.' And now, although he may not be the loneliest bachelor on the planet ('this having no girlfriend is wearing my nuts out, it really is'), he still finds `times when I'm almost a little bit, not lonely, but just feel I'd like to have some companionship and some kids'.
If he fails to hand on the funk gene to the prospective Kay offspring, they will, at least, have their father's memories to hold onto.
`When my kids turn round to me and say, "So what was it like for you, dad?' I can say, "Well, I had the fucking fast cars and I shagged..." He stops there, which for the sake of the unborn children, is perhaps a good thing.
His own childhood has been the source of much mythologising but the facts are that his mother was accomplished jazz singer Karen Kay and his Portuguese father an outstanding guitarist, a background he uses to explain his success.
'Really I just went back to the roots of what my mum did - which was really big band. Robbie [Williams] can do his big band thing, but, kid, I grew up with the stuff.'
So can Robbie swing?
`You can't pretend to do it. I mean, I did...' he breaks into the best version of the jazz standard 'From This Moment On' that I have ever heard in a toilet - or a bathroom for that matter.
We leave the toilet and immediately encounter a Manic Street Preachers poster, which Kay addresses directly. 'Gor, they're a bunch of miserable bastards aren't they? Go on, smile, you on the right for fuck's sake - smile! Smoke some dope, it'll make you laugh.'
Even for Welsh Libertarian Marxists they do, it has to be said, look uniquely miserable.
'I can't believe one of them said, "I find people who smoke dope so boring." Well fuck me, that's a bit fresh coming from you. Fucking hell, you should try some fucking crack. That might help you.'
He now turns his attentions to a Boyzone poster.
'Ah, there they are. Boyzone. Shouldn't that say "Guttersnipe"? But no Jamiroquai posters? I wonder why.'
I can't help him on this one. 'It's all right - at least I shag all their birds. That's the main thing. They've all got their cocks in their hands on a Saturday night and I'm stuck up some supermodel. You can't say I'm not controversial.'
You can't. He may be referring to Boyzone or the Manic Street Preachers, but seems rather to be addressing everyone that has ever stood in his way, done him down or, worst of all, underestimated his ability. Anyway, as I feel obliged to tell him before he lurches into bad humour, he looks considerably sharper than the array of podgy-faced Dublin crooners before us.
'Yeah, but for years I was such a scruffy bastard. Because of stupid things like the cut of trouser I like to wear. You just couldn't find it anywhere and I didn't know the people to do it. But the thing is, if you're a scruffy bastard one minute and everybody else wears a suit, but then you do wear a suit, you look really good and they look just as they always do. It creates attention. I work the same way now; I flip between the two images. Partly because you don't want to turn up at the Grammys fucking scruffy.'
Especially since, in stark opposition to the Brits, he tends to win Grammys.
So he goes upstairs to rehearse for an industry bash that lacks the wherewithal to recognise his talent or the wit to reward it.
`I find the whole thing quite irritating. You see other little pipsqueaks who do fuck all. They've released two singles and they're strutting around like they're something special and you think, "The point is, son, I'm still going to be here in another three years." And some boy band's saying hello to me, what the fuck you saying hello to me for? Don't say hello to me. See me and see you? You fucking play rugby and I play football, mate - we're miles apart. I'm not interested, just because we are in the music business doesn't mean I have to say hello to you and like it. I've had loads of them shaking my hands and I'm thinking, "Don't fucking shake my hand, I think you're a sell-out and what you do is shit."'
Travis win the Brits of course.