Jamie Cullum On stage, in the studio and at home with the Korg SV-1 & Wavedrum

Interview with Korg UK

On stage, in the studio and at home

Jamie Cullum is undoubtedly one of Britain’s most energetic and charismatic performers, at least partially responsible for introducing jazz to a young audience who might otherwise have thought it ‘old-hat’ and ‘un-cool’. Jamie hit the big time back in 2003, when his Twentysomething album went Platinum. Since then, he has enjoyed a string of hugely successful album releases, often defying genre definitions by mixing jazz with hip-hop and electronic instruments.

Speaking to Korg mid-way through his 2010 European tour, promoting his hit album The Pursuit, Jamie explained just how vital his recently-acquired Korg MicroSampler, Stage Vintage Piano (SV-1) and WaveDrum have become in the live setup and song composition process.

“The SV-1 is my primary practice keyboard,” says Jamie, “so it’s the first thing my tour manager puts in my dressing room in the morning – I walk in and it’s there! This is the first tour it has been on, so I’m not yet using it live, but I’m sure it is going to end up on stage by the end.

“Another reason for having the SV-1 back stage is that I’ve been writing a lot while on the road. The tour finishes in December so I’ll be back in the studio early next year to begin recording the material I’m currently composing. I’m using the SV-1 for over three hours a day, so I actually play it more than my stage piano!

“The key weighting is something Korg have really got right on this one, yet somehow they’ve managed to do it without making the instrument really heavy. It’s great because you can easily carry it around without it breaking your back.”

Making Waves

The Korg instrument Jamie plays most on stage is his WaveDrum, which has been used throughout each gig of the current tour. Off stage, however, it also plays an important role in the studio. “I am very fond of getting loops and drum beats going to write over,” explains Jamie, “and quite often, I start with a WaveDrum loop and improvise to a click for five minutes. It’s so creative because it speaks to the way I work, which is to improvise. You can hit almost any part of it and get a sound!

“To be honest, it is one of the first electronic instruments I’ve played that feels as though it is not electronic. If you have headphones on or have the level up quite loud, it’s as though you are playing a real instrument.

“Although I’m not really a drummer I can play with sticks and brushes, but I prefer to use my hands because then I have that real connection with the instrument. Having said that, my drummer had a play using brushes and got some amazing sounds out of it. It was interesting to see a drummer really connect with an electronic instrument like that. If you are not a drummer then it’s possibly easier to get used to, but a drummer, who really relies on the feedback they get from an acoustic instrument, is usually more demanding. So to see him covet an electronic percussion instrument is very interesting.

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“Most electronic instruments have loads of sounds, but normally you find that there are only about five you like and you have to design your own, but I’ve probably used 80 of the WaveDrum ones so far, which is a good sign with an electronic instrument. The Djembe sounds are particularly good. I’ve got a real Djembe, but with the WaveDrum you can really muck around with the sound in a totally new way.”

The MicroSampler

Jamie’s MicroSampler has yet to appear on stage, but his excitement over its potential is very evident. “I’m loving the MicroSampler – it’s just ripe with possibilities. It’s an incredible little instrument. There is so much you can do with it and it’s really intuitive. “I’m just getting to grips with it and contemplating the possibility of sampling strings from my album and using them for gigs.

“I’ve also been doing a whole lot of sampling of bass drums and snares from old records. It’s so easy to do; using MP3s I’ve ripped from the internet and sampling them straight from my iPod into the MicroSampler.

“I haven’t yet tested the vocoder, but I used to use the one on my MicroKorg a lot, especially when I was doing DJ gigs with my brother. Vocoding is obviously really good fun, but doesn’t currently have a place in the set.”

Jamie is also considering the possibility of using the MicroSampler as a live sampling tool on stage, having experimented with the technique in the past. “I’ve done a lot of live sampling using a Boss pedal, and I love the idea of stacking up sampled vocals and piano sounds, but I’m still trying to work out how that would work in my set. I’ve done it a lot with my beat box style tracks in the studio, but the reason I haven’t done more of that sort of music live on stage is because it is very hard to re-create in the way I would like to; which is not being tied to tracks and clicks that you have to follow. Instruments like the MicroSampler give you the opportunity to make that music breathe, and make it more about live creation than pressing space bar over and over again.

“At home, the MicroSampler is always hanging around because it takes batteries and I can stick it in my bag to take home and use on the sofa next to my laptop, or the cat! I know it is going to be a very prominent and permanent musical friend to me.

“It reminds me of an old home sampling keyboard I had where I could sample my own voice and do amazing things with it, using echo, fuzz effects and so on. This is an extension of that, but just more thought out and better. It taps into that child-like exploration of music which I am interested in.”

Read the interview in full here

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