Five minutes with Jamie Cullum

“Steam rooms,” says Jamie Cullum, with a grin on his face. “I really love steam rooms. It’s almost unknown, but Frank Sinatra used to travel with his own steam room and he loved spending time in it with his cronies and gossip. I think that’s one of the reasons he could smoke, drink, stay out late and yet still be able to sing very well.” Anyone hoping for reports of Rat Pack-inspired bacchanalia will be disappointed, however. Cullum, the UK’s biggest-selling Jazz star, is far more likely to be found with his nose buried in a book or tinkering with musical instruments.

jamie cullum interview

“These days we have this great opportunity to travel with so much fun gear, I’ve got loads with me. I like to make funny electronic music and play on my laptop with this Akai USB keyboard I have, or do non-music stuff like taking photos,” Cullum says, revealing that he takes a lot of camera equipment with him when touring. Meanwhile, his love of reading led to several songs on his 2009 album, The Pursuit, being inspired by Nancy Mitford’s novel, The Pursuit Of Love, a romantic tragicomedy set against the backdrop of World War Two. “It’s actually Sophie’s favourite book,” Cullum says of his wife, the author and cook (and ex-model), Sophie Dahl. “She’s read it hundreds of times. Some parts of my album got their inspiration from the book. Now I’m reading this big heavy book, Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which I’m really enjoying.”

His happy home life permeates his work, and while his work also permeates his home life, it’s a balance he enjoys. “I’ve got a piano practically everywhere in my house,” he says enthusiastically. “I have a piano in my kitchen because it combines my three favourite things, cooking, eating and playing music. My cat often sits on it and helps me get some inspiration for my work. I realised that there were also some things we couldn’t recreate in a studio, so the kitchen it is.” This homely, intimate vibe infects a couple of songs on The Pursuit, particularly I Think, I Love, one of Jamie’s more typically skewed love songs. But if anyone was in doubt about the debt Jamie owes to The Pursuit Of Love, the album cut “Love Ain’t Gonna Let You Down is probably the first love song I’ve ever written without a joke in it,” he admits. “The only pure love songs I’d sung before were by George Gershwin, not my own. It is totally written for one particular person,” Jamie adds, with a look in his eyes that radiates contentedness.

The Pursuit by Jamie Cullum is available to download at Nokia Music Store. If you’ve got Comes With Music you can get it and a world of other music for free.

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Gabriella Cilmi-Interview

 

Should you happen to see Gabriella Cilmi leaping buildings in a single bound, clad in tight blue leggings and sporting a fetching red cape, don’t be alarmed. “This is my superhero record,” the Australian singer-songwriter says of her upcoming album, Ten, with a hint of laughter. “One track is called Invisible Girl and another one’s called Superman, which is quite smooth and sexy… Another track, Defender, is all about going into battle to protect people that you love. I am a bit of a guard dog like that, so if anyone messes with my friends or family then I get a bit mad.” It’s a departure for Cilmi who, following the success of Lessons To Be Learned, could have conveniently been pigeon-holed as yet another white, female Jazz and R’n’B singer. Ten, Cilmi tells us, is “not quite what you’d expect. It’s definitely more electronic than my previous album, which sounded quite retro and fifties.”

Gabriella Cilmi

 

The themes of empowerment and musical diversity percolate through the entire album. “I didn’t just want to make Lessons To Be Learned Part 2, that would be a little too easy and probably a bit boring,” reasons Cilmi, who talks with the sort of self-assurance you need when you’ve signed a recording contract aged just 13. Now 18, she’s keen to show that she’s not going to conform to anyone’s expectations but her own. “I had so many different possibilities for this album and have toyed with lots of different ideas. One was to do a New Orleans piano album, but I sat in front of my piano and realised my playing isn’t quite up to the standard of Dr. John or Professor Longhair.” The artists Cilmi references – two of the most celebrated Louisiana Jazz pianists – aren’t part of the average teenager’s CD collection, but they highlight her eclectic tastes and influences. Ultimately it was Donna Summer, the seventies disco diva, who set Cilmi on her way to Ten. “One of my mates gave me I Remember Yesterday and it kind of rocked my world and inspired me, so I started listening to Giorgio Moroder, who did Flashdance and worked with Blondie when they went disco, and other things like Amy Stewart and Gloria Gaynor with I Will Survive. Powerful women on a mission.”

Now Ten is in the bag – it’s released in the UK on 22nd March – has Cilmi settled on this new sound? “Oh no, probably not,” she responds with enthusiasm. “I have a zillion ideas and don’t know which road to go down. I love all different types of music, so I’m always looking at new things to try out. I would like to make a country record one day but don’t tell my label that,” she adds jokingly. The only constant that Cilmi will admit to, is making music that people can relate to. “I remember this video of Cat Stevens playing Father And Son. The video is him sitting in a corridor playing and I remember watching it and thinking that this is why I want to make music, music that people can feel.” Returning to her musical tastes, Cilmi admits to enjoying everything from the Macarena (“because they say ‘Gabriella’ in it”) and Shaggy (at the mention of whom she bursts into song, giving a quick medley of his hits) to Curtis Mayfield and Led Zeppelin. The latter’s House Of The Holy is a particular favourite. “I am a massive Led Zeppelin fan and there’s something for everyone [on that album], with a bit of everything on it, even some Reggae. I love the variety of it.” Asked if she’s heard Them Crooked Vultures (a collaboration between Led Zep’s bassist and keyboard player John Paul Jones, Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl and Queens Of The Stone Age Josh Homme), Cilmi says she’s only heard one track. “My brother’s into it, so I will have to go home and listen to it. I did like Robert Plant’s collaboration with Alison Krauss, it sounded really good.” There’s a pause. “I got to meet Robert Plant backstage at the O2 and made the biggest fool out of myself,” Cilmi says, unable to stop herself. “I was in the queue for food and he was in front of me, so I tapped him on the back and the only thing I could think of asking him was, ‘Are you having the pie or the salmon?’, it was the most embarrassing moment of my life.”

It’s refreshing to hear that Cilmi’s managed to keep her feet on the ground, despite the global success she’s enjoyed so early on in her career, and the number of superstar artists she’s come across in her rise to stardom. “I played in front of Ronnie Wood when I played Jools Holland. When I played Sweet About Me he was tapping his foot along with it.” Cilmi gives the impression that she doesn’t take what’s happened for granted and still gets massive enjoyment from the journey she’s found herself on. “I felt super-special playing the main stage of Glastonbury, it was the best thing in the world,” she explains. “When I got up on stage in front of all of those people, it was amazing.” She readily owns up to still getting nerves prior to performing, despite doing live shows for the last five years. “I used to get really nervous and had to do meditation classes to calm myself down, but now I find that the best way to deal with it is to use my nerves as a fuel tank, to just throw myself into it.”

Cilmi is equally open about the fact that she doesn’t know quite where she’ll be, musically, tomorrow, next month or next year. It’s a trait she finds appealing in others, too. “I would love to collaborate with Danger Mouse,” the innovative producer behind The Beatles/Jay-Z mashup, The Grey Album, Gnarls Barkley and, most recently, Broken Bells, among others. “He is so versatile from all of the different artists that he has worked with. I would love him to produce one of my albums,” wishes Cilmi. “Also I would love to work with Justin Timberlake. It’s really interesting to see how he has evolved out of NSYNC to what he is doing now. He would be a good guy to take home to meet your mum. But probably not the type of guy I would take home,” she adds slyly. “I love his music. For a pop artist he is just the king, has some great melodies and when he’s on stage you just can’t take your eyes off him. Yeah, I would definitely love to work with him.” It’s this mix of youthful honesty, unadulterated talent and willingness to acknowledge and expand her musical roots that make Cilmi so compelling. So much so, that you can’t help hoping that she gets her wish.

You can download Gabriella’s single ’On A Mission’ from Nokia Music Store – if you’ve got  ‘Comes With Music’ , it’s completely free! Her new album, ‘Ten’ is out on 22nd March.

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A Brief Interview With Alex Gardner

If you haven’t yet heard the name Alex Gardner, don’t worry… .you soon will. With coveted support slots for the likes of Paolo Nutini, Mika and Paloma Faith already firmly under his belt, this 18-year-old from Edinburgh is on a fast track to success.

If you were to ask most 18-year-olds about their musical heroes, they probably wouldn’t be able to name any artists that were around before 1980, but Alex reels off a veritable who’s who of old-school legends such as Frank Sinatra, Marvin Gaye and Bob Marley. Marvin Gaye stands out for him at the moment, but he laughs, “If you ask me again tomorrow, I’ll say something completely different. My mp3 player has a bit of everything on it – from Mos Def and Kanye to Sinatra”

Born into a musical family, he says he never felt any pressure to be a musician. “I just always had music around me as a kid. I’m a 90s child, but I had all these different influences from different ages floating around and that kind of rubs off on you”.

alex gardner

As far as inspiring contemporary acts go, his response is immediate, “Miike Snow”, he says with no hesitation, “they are just amazing. I’d love to go on tour with them.”

His rapid rise is in no small part thanks to Brian Higgins, director of Xenomania, the songwriting and production team behind a multitude of hit songs from Cher, Pet Shop Boys and the vast majority of Girls Aloud’s output.

It was only a year and a half ago that Alex went on a failed audition to join a band in London. “It was weird”, he remembers, “I looked around and I was ten years younger than anyone else. They all had haircuts and these real fashionable clothes. I turned up in jeans and a t-shirt. I didn’t get it”. Despite not being asked to join the unnamed band, the audition was a turning point in Alex’s career. “A couple of days later, I got a call saying that I didn’t get in the band, but that a guy named Brian Higgins had been there and wanted to see me again”.

Eighteen short months later and Alex is signed to Higgin’s Xenomania label and is nearing completion of his debut album. Despite the fact that Xenomania have a proven track record for writing hits, he says he’s not interested in just being handed a fully-formed song to perform. “Obviously, I know how amazing Xenomania are at what they do, and what a privilege it is for me to work with them, but one thing I insisted upon at the beginning was being a co-writer on this album. I know I’m only 18, but I still have a story to tell. Some of the songs on the album use recycled lyrics from songs I wrote when I was 13.”

A Brief Interview With Alex Gardner

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Craig David – Interview

As a child, Craig David was already a big Michael Jackson fan and then he broadened his musical horizons and discovered artists that would influence his musical direction and taste for the rest of his life. Artists including Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Al Green captivated the young Mr. David and now, almost 20 years later, he’s paying homage to them on his new album, ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’. “I think that I have taken a different approach to making this record,” Craig explains. “For me it is an album of songs that I have wanted to put together, that had an impact on me growing up as a kid. Influencing me both consciously and unconsciously. I felt like this album was not as much about new material but about me having the challenge to vocally step up to perform these iconic songs.” Despite his passion and enthusiasm for the Motown sound, David was concerned – even anxious – about the project. “I could easily crash and burn on this album, songs like ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’, like ‘Mercy Mercy Me’, like ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’. These songs have a place in musical history and are performed by iconic artists so the pressure is on me to step up and do it properly… I thrived on this challenge.”

It’s obvious that Craig’s relishing this new focus and direction, along with the freedom of the new contract that he signed with Universal Records. “Universal showed a lot of interest in me and my talent as an artist. I had the opportunity of staying with Warner or going for a new deal with Universal. It sounded a bit too good to be true because Universal is by far the biggest label in the world right now. While not having a record of new material, and for them to sign me on the basis of my talent, I felt that I could make the record that I wanted to make.”

craig david interview

To cover a few songs on an album is already a big ask as people will instantly compare it to the original. But to create an album full of covers, that’s quite dangerous. “As a songwriter I can respect what it is like when someone covers your songs. I think that it makes sense to bring something new to the table by adding your own style while also respecting the original. With Stevie Wonder’s ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’, it is a song that technically you try and sing but it’s not a technical song, so it is more about the performance. You can only capture that if you approach it in the same way that he recorded it back in the day.” With modern recording techniques it is possible to create an almost perfect vocal track while not being an accomplished singer, and Craig was keen to avoid over-producing the tracks. “We did use Pro Tools but without the plug-ins and effects, keeping the process as basic as possible. When you are singing a track from start to finish, you get those points when you capture your breath which has knock-on effects with the next notes.”

With a new sound and technique in the studio comes the challenge of delivering a live show that’s equally as engaging. Something that Craig’s looking forward to. “I have the eight-piece band that I always had and we are thinking of stripping that back for some of the shows. It has been 10 years since Fill Me In, so with my repertoire of past hits plus these new classic songs, it is going to really make it a show for someone to see who hasn’t seen or heard it before. Or someone who has and give them something a bit different that they wouldn’t expect from my usual shows.” It’s not all about the heady decade of the Seventies, though, and Craig enjoys getting fired up for live shows with something a little more contemporary. “Notorious B.I.G and Faith Evans’ remix of ‘One More Chance’ is the best song to get me going and my favourite song to play when I DJ.” Is there a chance the Craig will be showing off his talents on the wheels of steel anytime soon? “I still DJ and have my 1210s here, but I don’t play as much. I think that I do it when people are least expecting it. If there is a house party then I would rock up and play with some vinyl. It is one of those things that if I wasn’t singing then I would be a DJ. There’s something fascinating about watching a DJ who loves what he’s doing.”

As Craig’s musical influences are highlighted throughout the new album, it’s easy to see this most recent project as the soundtrack to his life. He agrees and when asked to pick out a particularly significant track, thinks quietly. “To be honest, a song by Curt Stigers, ‘I Wonder Why’, which is on the record. It was a song that when I heard it, it struck a chord with me. I wanted to write classic songs with a structure where every part had a meaning and a reason for being there. Some songs have a section that you want to skip to get to the better parts, this one just has it all and that is why this song is on the record.”

Craig’s top tips for 2010? “The door was open back in the old garage days, even with acts like the Artful Dodger, and this has set a foundation for acts like Tinchy Stryder, Chipmunk, Tinie Tempah and Dizzy Rascal. They can be deemed as credible artists and also have commercial success and I am excited about the movement, they just need to keep it at a consistent level.” The thorny issue of commercially successful versus so-called credible’ artists prompts a question from OggieMusic, a Nokia Music follower on Twitter: Does Craig feel that the UK music industry hasn’t supported him fully, for example, by not awarding him a Brit award despite creating an album that sold over 11 million copies?
“I have never really been about the industry for me. It has always been about the music and making an impact, which is why I used to DJ. People who want to come and see you will do, and that’s why I do it.”
Craig Davids new single “One More Lie (Standing In The Shadows)” is in stores on with the album signed Sealed Delivered released on the 29th March.

All of Craig’s albums are available to download at Nokia Music Store or if you’ve got Comes With Music get them all for free!

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