The singer of “twentysomething” is now thirty. Uh-oh!
In the scheme of magic music covers, there’s a handful that still stick:
Tori Amos’ much-debated take on “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Damien Rice’s soulful and simple rendition of “Creep.” And Travis’ wink-wink-bang-bang sendup of Britney’s “Hit Me Baby.”
But with the imminent album The Pursuit, musician Jamie Cullum (no, not Cullen!) might get a chance to crack that exclusive club. Besides jazz standards and original piano rollicks, the 30-year-old Brit belts out Rihanna’s dance floor hit, “Please Don’t Stop The Music”… and it totally works.
We sat down with JC – who introduced himself as “Justin Timberlake” on arrival – to talk about the new album, out this week.
So tell us about your new album. What should we know?
The name of the album is called The Pursuit. Are all the questions this easy?
Yes! Why is it called The Pursuit?
Okay, but that’s not easy! I didn’t have a title for a long time, and that always frightens me. But I guess it’s about “the pursuit of love,” a title of a book that’s been very important to me the last few years; it kind of relates to being a musician. You never get to the finish line, and don’t say, “Oh I’ve done that, I’ve finished that now,” you’re always reaching. So this album is definitely reaching farther than I’ve reached before.
Every song was kind of designed in a different way. Previously I had a very kind of jazz approach to recording there, you sit in a room, set up all the instruments, play live, record it to the best of your ability, and then you mix it. For this one… we still recorded live, but we changed the sheen of every song to make the recording tell a different story. Pretty much using different mics, older pianos, using fucked up pianos. All of that.
I heard you recorded a song in your kitchen!
It’s called “I Think I Love.” I have a piano in my kitchen.
I know you don’t rehearse for concerts and don’t plan set lists; do you improvise a lot on your albums, too?
I’m writing, I use a tape player, so if I hear something I like I can go back to it. I really don’t write anything down. I worked with Pharrell and when he’s making his album he does a lot of rapping, he didn’t write down anything. He just does it. Now that was impressive. What’s he doing now? The fashion thing?
Did Pharrell give you fashion advice?
I did get a great pair of trainers when I was with him. I have an amazing pair of patent leather, green, kind of orange and yellow. They’re about five or six years old now. I got them in Miami. I was kind of around all that crew, and they sent me in the right direction to get the ones that no one else can get.
You’re primarily a jazz musician. So how can we get over the “Ew, I don’t like jazz” attitude?
I think it gets a bad rap because we think it’s older music, old men with beards in the back room. But really, the original kind of basis of jazz comes from the coolest set of people ever, the African American black jazz musicians in New York in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. It doesn’t get cooler than people like Coltrane, Miles Davis, Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie, There’s a real thin line between jazz culture and hip hop culture now. I learned about jazz through hip hop, I mean, I didn’t know anything about jazz until A Tribe Called Quest… There’s really a kind of subculture to it, it’s kind of the hippest thing you could imagine. It’s free, it’s very open, very expressive and it’s really individual, it’s not following the crowd, it’s blazing it’s own trail.
Give us a jazz starter kit.
There’s a Miles Davis album from the late 60’s, early 70’s called “In A Silent Way” which is super spacey. Not like the “ting ting ting” kind of jazz; it sounds like a dream, like one long trip or something. It’s really beautiful. Then back to albums like “Kind of Blue” Miles Davis, “Head Hunters” Herbie Hancock, stuff like that I would recommend.
What’s the worst advice you’ve ever gotten?
I can’t remember who told me, but they said, “If anything goes wrong on stage, just keep going and pretend like nothing happened.” And I took that advice and I tried to run and jump over the piano at the climax of the song “20-Something.” I was wearing these big cowboy boots I had bought in Texas, ‘cause I had just been to Austin, Texas for the first time. So I took them off so I could do the running jump, and I slipped and I hit my head on the side of the piano and I thought, “Just carry on like nothing happened.” So I got up and carried on and played and I’m playing and about 2 or 3 minutes later, the keys felt really wet.
I looked down and I was cut and there was just blood dripping from my skull. It was in New Zealand, live on telelvision, too! You can see it.
Eeeew. Okay, so it’s Alice in Wonderland week. The film is coming out. So please answer the Mad Hatter question, “How is a raven like a writing desk?”
Uhhh… Ravens are kind of reminiscent of dark, twisted deeds and I always think that writing, when you sit down at the writing desk to write, you kind of tell all the depths of your soul, and that’s where you find the darkest things. So the raven is like the coming of your darkest thoughts that happen when you’re at your writing desk.
Total high five.
Actually, I had a bird shit on my writing desk once. This bird got trapped in the office in my house. You know you’re going to have a weird day when it’s like, “Nice one, a pigeon shat on my writing desk.”