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Jamie Woon

June 28, 2011

Heading a new army of YBSSs (that’s Young British Singer-Songwriters), Jamie Woon’s personal, heartfelt and funky tunes have had critics fawning recently. Ahead of the Londoner’s gig at the Rescue Rooms, Shariff Ibrahim sat down with him for a parlay…

What can people expect from your live shows, and how do they differ from your album?
I’ve come from a live performance background – singing, playing guitar and using Loopstation, then I moved into producing my own records which I’ve been doing for the past couple of years. But then I got to the point where I wanted to play the album live, so now I’ve got a four-piece setup with myself and three other guys. There’s a lot more freedom for me now to really get into having a little groove on stage and being more of a frontman.

You’re often categorised in the same bracket as dubstep artists. Is that a fair assessment?
It’s been really nice because I’m into that kind of music and am always interested in working with different producers and getting remixes of my tunes. My own stuff doesn’t come from that background but Iʼm inspired by the sounds from a distance, without knowing all the tunes and all the DJs.

It’s been a long wait since your first EP came out in 2007. Are you a perfectionist?
I think that’s a big part of it. And also I didn’t have enough songs and I didn’t have the sound. I was just having a lot of fun doing my solo shows and making a living from doing that with selling my CDs at shows and doing the whole troubadour shtick. I was just about scraping by, living at my mum’s. Then it got to eventually a couple of years ago when I was ready to start, so I got my laptop and took it from there. It did take a bit longer than I wanted it to, but twas ever thus.

How did the title Mirrorwriting come about?
Mirrorwriting is a code that Leonardo da Vinci used to write his notebooks in, which is basically just writing in mirrored characters. People didn’t know it then, but obviously once you realise, it’s a stupidly easy code to crack, but I like the idea that all these songs are personal, coded notes about myself. There’s a song on the album called Street which is about a really beautiful day in the city when possibilities seem so huge and endless – it’s almost a bit scary and a bit sad. At the end of the day I’m singing these coded messages to other people and I want those people to hear them as well, so it’s kind of like a crap code.

What did you grow up listening to?
A whole bunch of stuff. My mum’s folk singing and commercial session singing career got me into folky singer-songwriter stuff, but also a lot of pop radio like James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, things like that. My dad’s more into Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon and other well written songs. So I was exposed to both of those communities and then I personally got into things like Britpop which made me want to pick up the guitar and write songs like Oasis. I became a massive Radiohead fan and that got me into DJ Shadow and then more into hip-hop. Plus, I was always into Michael Jackson as a kid. You’ve just got to love a bit of Jacko.

You attended both the BRIT School and the Red Bull Music Academy. How did your time there influence you?
Red Bull was a big part of it actually. Also just growing up in London and making music and having mates who got strongly into dubstep when it first came about. I’d always been messing about with computers and making tunes, but just for a laugh. But when I started making my album, I got a laptop and just got into it really. I realised I probably could make my own album and I liked working in that way on my own. I met a couple of people in my band and a lot of mates at the BRIT School, but most of the people who are now quite famous happened after I went there in the pre-Myspace days. Before I went, there was Dane Bowers from Another Level, Lynden David Hall and Imogen Heap. It was a good place to go.

Apart from your own voice, what’s the most low-tech instrument you use on the album? Any cowbells or triangles?
I’ve got a very nice shaker that I got free with a Havana Club cocktail. It’s the best shaker in the world. I don’t take it on the road because I’m scared of losing it as it’s only small. But there’s also some ambient sounds on the album, recorded from down by the sea in Cornwall with drums made out of gravel and grass. I really like natural sounds and what you can do with samples to attach meaning and take it to a completely different place.

Has being nominated on the BBC Sound of 2011 list with winner Jessie J been a help or hindrance?
There’s definitely the hype and exposure with their associated pros and cons. Just because there’s so much good music out there that doesn’t get recognised. But I’m getting such great publicity from it and have sold out nearly all the dates on this tour off the back of that, pretty much. I’m lucky in that I finished the album by the time I got nominated so I wasn’t feeling any sort of mad pressure to finish it. It hopefully means a few more people are looking out for my record.

Who do you rate most off the list?
I really rate James Blake and Jai Paul too – I can’t wait for his record. The first time I heard BTSTU was just bananas. Those XL Recordings boys always come correct, don’t they.

What was the last record you bought?
I do get a lot given to me. I hadn’t bought records for a long time but I’ve just been on a bit of a splurge and got the Dirty Projectors’ last album, Hudson Mohawke’s album, Arthur Russell’s World of Echoes. I think when I was making my record I was just so tied up in my own stuff that it’s been nice to listen to something different.

Originally published at LeftLion.co.uk, June 1, 2011.

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