Jamie Lidell Talks New Album, Collaborating With Beck, More

[Photo by Sean Edgar, homepage photo by Doug Seymour]

Jamie Lidell is looking forward to getting home. Stranded in Atlanta after his flight to New York was grounded by snow, the UK electro-funk virtuoso muses on what it means to find a place. “If I knew how to make a hotel feel like a home I’d be a millionaire,” he says. “Then again, for a long time it really felt to me that I didn’t have a home. It feels good to know where I belong for once.”

Lidell recently joined the masses in the Big Apple after a decade of living in Berlin. Compass, out May 18 (May 17 in Europe) is his first record that, “like the Boss, was born in the U.S.A.”

“The whole album has a charmed existence,” Lidell tells Paste, and to hear him tell it, Compass gelled out of the ether with some kind of serendipitous mojo. For example: “Back in February 2009, I’d just arrived at the center of the universe, so I went to buy fish to celebrate, and during that time, Beck called and asked if he could be of any assistance with the production of my next long player.” Off Lidell went to Beck’s studios in L.A. There, he met up with Feist, Nikki Costa, James Gadson and a slew of others who lent their talent to the new album. Pat Sansone of Wilco joined Lidell for “a long overdue” collaboration after the two met backstage at one of Lidell’s shows and struck up a friendship. Lidell “fell in love with sweet music of Grizzly Bear all over again” during the making of the record, so who should he pester into helping with mixing (and contributing a little clarinet) but Grizzly’s Chris Taylor?

Compass promises to see Lidell tread some emotional ground he hasn’t touched on before. “Some emotions translate to sounds directly, others can be revealed in lyrical sunbursts,” he says. “In the end, it’s all interwoven and tangled up. One thing’s clear though; I wanted to dig deeper inside this time and try and share my thoughts more openly in my songs than I’ve done in the past. I had a lot to draw on from these last couple of years. I had journals plump full of my inner [thoughts].”

Some might balk at the word “emotional,” but coming from Jamie Lidell, the word in question feels much more like a synonym for “happiness.” Even via e-mail, his sanguine enthusiasm is palpable. His discussion of the new LP is peppered with exclamations like, “Blessed be the whirlwind of the Compass!” He speaks of writing “the most epic songs” on a ukelele and mentions that all it takes for his band to diffuse latent aggression on the road is a spirited round of dominos.

No matter what the subject matter, Lidell’s music will always exhibit the fluent blend of classic and of-the-moment sounds that he’s become known for. “I learned to compose on a computer and drum machines but I was also part of the school brass band playing the most traditional northern English mining anthems,” Lidell remembers. “So it’s always been my way. Mixing the trombone with the Atari. Nothing’s changed. Now it’s iPad and kazoo… Now gimme that compass and I’ll fly you away.”