dynamic British singer, songwriter, and pianist Jamie Cullum
Having weathered a non-stop, whirlwind schedule for the past two years, dynamic British singer, songwriter, and pianist Jamie Cullum could have easily taken some well-earned time off in 2005. The 26-year-old’s Verve debut, Twentysomething, was a worldwide smash last year, selling over two million copies (including nearly 400,000 in the States) and garnering a GRAMMY® nomination. But instead of cooling his jets and catching some ZZZs, Jamie kept doing what he loves best: Making music, and recording a new album, Catching Tales.
“I was so ready for it,” Cullum recalls of crafting his sophomore set for Verve Forecast. “The only way you get the energy to tour the world and do all the hard work is to love the music you make. I’d had two mad years but I was back at the place I remembered the best, which was just really wanting to do my music.” The new album took shape at a brisk pace, reflecting his high levels of enthusiasm and inspiration: Cullum wrote enough material for nearly two albums in four months, then set to recording in Los Angeles and London, between April and June of 2005, with Stewart Levine (who also oversaw Twentysomething) producing.
The fourteen-song set begins with “Get Your Way,” a strutting number featuring celebrated hip-hop DJ and producer Dan the Automator (Gorillaz, Handsome Boy Modeling School), which juxtaposes cascading ivories with bursts of brass and a fat, funky backbeat. But this aesthetic team-up isn’t as unlikely as it might seem, provided one is familiar with Cullum’s eclectic musical background. “I listen to a lot of very percussive music; I used to always drum on my desk at school. I’ve always listened to a lot of dance music, and I love hip-hop.”
Alongside a beautiful cover of the Doves “Catch The Sun” (“They’re one of my favorite British bands”), Jamie couples his trademark takes on choice standards (“I Only Have Eyes For You,” “I’m Glad There Is You”) with many self-penned tracks: The panoramic “London Skies”; “Photograph,” a wise and wistful reflection on simply joys remembered. Sly humor once again plays a pivotal role in Cullum’s originals, such as on the pointed parody “7 Days To Change Your Life,” and “Nothing I Do,” which offsets grouchy lyrical sentiments with animated rhythms and gossamer vocal harmonies.
“I wrote more this time, because I had the time, and I had the audience, and I wanted to,” shrugs Cullum, reflecting on his increased number of songwriting credits on Catching Tales. “I also play standards, but when I made Twentysomething, not a lot of people were doing that. But it’s become a little bit more popular in the last two years, so it immediately has less of an interest to me.”
Not that he deliberately reacted against the increased popularity of revisiting the great songbooks, either. “I just had loads of ideas and loads of good songs floating around and I fancied doing them. I put as much of myself into the arrangement of a song as I do into the writing of one though. I just had this burning desire this time to want to write. but I would also think I failed if I didn’t get just as much of myself through an arrangement of someone else’s song.”
Catching Tales also features singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt, a collaborator on one of Jamie’s own favorite new tracks, the sublime “Back To The Ground.” “It’s a classic touring song about when you get home and you readjust to life,” he remembers. “We polished off a bottle of wine and jammed this blues song. He got on the guitar, I got on the Wurlitzer and we wrote the song within an hour. Ed was so inspirational, his impact is far more than just that one song, and I definitely want to continue to work with him.”
Born in Essex, and raised in Wiltshire, Jamie Cullum was obsessed with all types of music from an early age: rock, hip-hop, acid jazz, blues. He discovered jazz as a teenager, via artists like Herbie Hancock and Miles Davis, but also showed an interest in the groundbreaking Steely Dan albums purchased by his brother Ben (who plays bass throughout Catching Tales). While studying English at college, he began working as a singer-pianist anywhere he could get a gig: on cruise ships, in pubs, even wedding receptions. Here he crafted the explosive on-stage persona (captured on the 2004 DVD Live at Blenheim Palace) that would win him accolades in The New York Times and Variety in the years that followed. When Universal Classics & Jazz snatched up the rising talent in the spring of 2003, and sent him into the studio to make Twentysomething, he was ready for the rigors and joys that waited ahead.
With Catching Tales, Jamie Cullum continues to redefine where the parameters of pop, and jazz indeed, all musical genres are drawn. “At first I didn’t think certain songs had a place in what I was doing with jazz, but I’ve realized that everything does, and that reaffirms my belief that jazz is the greatest platform to do whatever you want. People ask why I play jazz. It’s because you can take it to so many different places. You can embrace dance music, rock, pop music, classical, funk, everything. And I touch on all those things in this record.”
“This is a better representation of what I am and what I want to be as a musician,” he concludes. “The way I like to approach music is to mix things round and, fortunately, I like to mix it with things that people find a bit more familiar. I love pop music so I mix jazz and pop music. Not because I want to make it accessible but because it’s music that I enjoy. I guess I’ve just got an angle on it that people find a bit more interesting.”