AFTER less than a year in the recording business, Jason Kay, the man who is Jamiroquai, has developed an understanding with the press. They are highly suspicious of him, and he hates their guts.
“It's funny,” he half-grins, half-grimaces, as my tape recorder appears. “I always smoke twice as much during these interviews than normal.”
But Jay likes a challenge, relishes a bit of verbal sparring. And it's not something the European press are likely to give him. At today's press conference at the Rosskilde festival in Denmark, dozens of eager Euro hacks press forward to grab a chunk of the outspoken new star's wisdom.
“Any questions?” invites the PR officer. An awkward hush falls over the assemblage. Finally, a well-turned-out young chap in a black turtle neck gives his pencil a tentative wave in the air.
“What brand of cigarettes do you smoke?” comes his piercing enquiry.
To Jay, this must feel like a holiday. His write-ups in the British press have varied from the sceptical to the downright hostile.
They've tended to focus on his recent arrival in the industry; his alarmingly sudden and spectacular success (a debut album glued to the Number One spot, already outselling Suede's chart-topping opus by over 50,000 copies); his position as a white singer flogging black music (the implication being that he's some kind of soul version of Vanilla Ice who's enjoyed an easy ride to the top); his well-publicised opinions of ecology, politics and anything else beneath the depleted ozone layer that happens to catch his attention.
Jay Kay is none too happy about this. In fact, Jay Kay is spitting mad.
Have you had it easy, Jay?
“I think that's absolute bullshit. I think people just wanna have a look at their own lives and have a look at what it took them just to get there. So if people think that running five kilos of hash down the street in your underpants is easy, and if they think that not wanting to do a nine to-five job, yet not really wanting to be a criminal either, is easy, then they ain't done a lot of living. If they think that having one fucking candle, a grotty sleeping bag and your last spliff of hash is easy - it ain't easy.”
Jay spits out words in a south London voice, heavily inflected, dripping with sarcasm and scatalogy. People who've heard his eco-sound lyrics or read his pronouncements upon the state of the world often expect him to be a mimsy new-age peace freak.
They're at least partly wrong. Here's a new-age peace freak with attitude, and a caustic sense of humour. Even when he's talking shit, Jay talks impassioned and highly entertaining shit.
BORN 23 years ago of a jazz-singing mother and an absent Portuguese father, Jay was largely left to his own devices, which included dope-dealing and building up a collection of musical gear, while sleeping wherever he could find a friendly floor. Although Jamiroquai only became a band after the release of his first single, he'd been plugging away at his music for years.
“If you think it's easy working with a partner who's very negative,” Jay rants on about a former musical accomplice, “constantly showing a great deal of contempt for my musical ability, because I can't play an instrument, staying in bed until five or six in the afternoon while I'm throwing stones at his window, pretending he's not in or asleep or having an extra long masturbating session or whatever; if you think it's easy dealing with a major record company when they want to make you into a pop star, and you're saying, ‘You can have a bit, but you're not having that’ - it ain't easy.
“If I took my hat off I could slip into a Chesney Hawkes kind of thing. But it gives me my aura - it's like a warrior kind of thing. I ain't fucking soft, know what I mean? Shit! I tell them to fuck off, I produce the album, and it gets to Number One. People are ready for something fresh, they're tuning in. Most copies went through word of mouth...”
He breaks off suddenly from his cursing. The bopping and jiggling with which he accompanies the music constantly playing in his head, cease. He makes a dive for the carpet by my feet.
“I thought I spotted some sensimilla,” he explains, disappointedly fingering some yellow-brown stuff on the floor. “It's mud.”
ON MTV Europe, it's Planet Alert Weekend. The likes of Hothouse Flowers wander around the woodlands like solemn dryads, issuing portentous blather concerning the spirituality of trees.
On MTV in America, Jamiroquai's video for When You Gonna Learn, mixing images of cruelty, blight, disaster and genocide, has just been banned - as it has on most other TV stations in the States. “Grrreat!” Jay grins like Tony the Tiger. “That was the whole idea, it's
not a pretty video, not a pretty subject. I want it to make people fucking cry. ‘Haven't we had enough of this?’ NO! No, we have not had enough of this, it's not a game, it's not a joke, it's a fucking serious thing. You know, good. Good. I'd expect America to fucking ban it, because it's just basically having a dig at all the bullshit that goes on in their country.
“I wasn't trying to compare it to environmental issues. But I put in those images of the Holocaust because if you can't see that Nazism is on the rise, if you don't remind people, then it's just going to come back. Like, in America, you can't have the Black Panthers, you don't allow them to operate. But funny isn't it? - the Ku Klux Klan, and the Aryan nation, they're still going.”
Jay speed-talks like a man on amphetamine milkshakes. God knows what he'd be like without frequent recourse to Jazz Woodbines.
Don't you reckon, Jay, that the issues you tackle in your songs are too complex for the way you approach them? That you romanticise nature, simplify politics?
“Yeah. Yeah, sure.” Jay sounds weary of the topic. “I know that I'm not particularly well versed in what I'm talking about a lot of the time. I'm not a politician. I'm not one of the great speakers of our fucking time. I'm just a 23-year-old geezer. But then again, yeah, I might simplify the world's problems, but fuck me, is it that difficult?
“What are we talking about here?” he goes on, punctuating each point with a thump on the table in his hotel room. “We're talking about Americans not being fat cunts and eating so much fucking food, not spending so much fucking money on weapons, and not going into countries to fucking fight because there's something in it for you, and spending some money on food and irrigation for the Sahara and solar panels for fucking energy and electric cars which you could bring out now but don't because motor manufacturers will lose money and the light bulb that lasts for fucking ever on very little energy and these things we can have now!” (Thump! Thump! Thump!)
I wonder to myself whether he's met Jello Biafra and Chuck D. They would get along famously.
“I know what you're getting at. I get at it myself. Do you think I don't go home and watch myself on the television and think, ‘What a prat! What's he talking about?’ Course I do! But what else am I going to do? Because in the end I knowledge myself on the subject and then maybe try and do something about it. I know, I'm a fucking hypocrite, I've got two fucking classic cars, and we have an ozone problem...”
I didn't know you had two classic cars.
Jay's face takes on a look like he's just shot himself first in one foot, then the other.
“Still, I don't drive them both at once.”
SOME have heralded Emergency on Planet Earth as a rebirth for Seventies-style soul and fusion.
Others have dismissed Jamiroquai as this year's Simply Red, although Jason has a long way to go before he can produce as fine a collection of soft-soap soul as Stars. Yet others have compared the band to Curiosity Killed the Cat.
“Too harsh!” howls Jay. “That's mental cruelty. I'm giving up now.
“Look. It's like this,” he calms down. “We're rehashing Seventies music. Yeah. Well, funny about them hip hop boys who just take 16-beat samples of old tunes. Nobody has a pop at them. Nobody has a pop at the many, many indie bands who do sound quite similar.”
Oh, we do. We do.
“Okay. But, fuck, pick on a guy in a crowd!”
Here's my opinion, for what it's worth. I heard your first single, When You Gonna Learn, and it was an unabashed, funky, forceful pop tune, in the mould and class of prime Stevie Wonder, and praise doesn't come much higher than that. Compared to it, the LP seems to consist mostly of limp jams. What I'm hoping is that you're going to write some more songs as good as that first one.
“We will,” Jay promises, “but what you've got to understand is that the album should have been out in September, but because the record company wanted to keep the momentum there was a deadline. We didn't have any writing time - you know, the track Emergency on Planet Earth was written in the studio.”
And sounds it.
“And sounds it.” He gives a rueful cackle. “In the time we had to do it in, compared to what a lot of people put out, I don't think that album's too bad. For a first go, for a bunch of beginners who ain't been together long, it ain't too bad. I understand what you're saying; I think some of the criticisms are fair. But that's good, because, fuck, if the album was fucking brilliant, how hard would it be to come up with something better? The second album will be better. It's a learning process. By the second or third album, you might be hearing - Jamiroquai.”
I've got my fingers crossed. It makes it a bugger trying to type; but I'm keeping ‘em that way.
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