‘It comes down to a groove’
Bombay Bicycle Club frontman Jack Steadman has left his indie dayjob and unleashed his inner jazzfiend in the formof Mr Jukes – and he wants everyone to feel the vibes, he tells Jim Carroll
There are many things you could probably associate with Bombay Bicycle Club, but the feelgood album of the summer is probably not one of them. Until now, that is. With the indie band on an indefinite hiatus, frontman Jack Steadman has decided it’s time to introduce the world to his Mr Jukes alter-ego and his fondness for jazz, funk and soul.
Debut album God First is a far cry from the musical stodge associated with Steadman’s other band. Amagnificent slew ofspiritual, funky grooves, God First has Steadman steering a wild swinging crew including such folks as Charles Bradley, BJ the Chicago Kid, De La Soul, Horace Andy, Lianne La Havas, Lalah Hathaway Elli Ingram and Alexandria. This is not a new development, for the quietly spoken Steadman has been a jazz fan for a long time.
“I was very influenced by the music teachers I had and I fell in love with jazz and it never went away. Even after I met the people in the band, jazz was blowing up in London in the scene we were in. One thing lead to another and you go down these paths without ever really thinking too much about them.”
Steadman says there were clues to his jazz and funk fixation even with Bombay Bicycle Club. “Some fans could see what was going on because of what was on my Soundcloud or I’d be putting in tracks with that kind of sound on the mixtapes we’d make as a band. I always continued to buy these records and make this kind of music on the side when we were touring with the band.
“If you watch videos of the band playing things like the Live Loungefor RadioOne, you canreally see that element come through when we’d do an Afrobeat Fela Kuti cover of Disclosure’s F For You full of horns and cowbells. If you dug deep, you could see elements throughout our entire trajectory as a band.”
What Steadman wanted to make as Mr Jukes was “a summery pop record. I wanted it to be quite immediate and I think a lot of the tracks are. I wanted to make a record full of feelgood tracks.”
The songs came before the guest vocalists. “Before if I was writing a song, your imagination would be limited because you’re in a band and [it would be limited] by the architecture of that band.
“Writing this album was so exciting because if you had some crazy idea, you could go all the way with it. I’d start to write something and I’d hear a particular voice and go ‘I wonder could we get him or her’. For each track, I thought about who would be perfect to sing with. The amazing thing was people said yes and actually did it.”
He reckons it was always the song rather than his ties with Bombay Bicycle Club which persuaded people to get involved.
“I don’t think any of them would have heard of the band so it was almost certainly the music. The music was the only thing we had to send people. With Bombay, we were always under the radar about who we were so it would be unlikely that Charles Bradley would go ‘oh my God, it’s Jack Steadman from Bombay Bicycle Club!’ In a nice way in my opinion, it was literally about the songs, which was very flattering.” Jack Ste ad man’ s next plan is to set upa jazzcafélikethe oneshehas frequented in Tokyo.
“You go in and no one talks because you just listen to music. It’s like a library and I fell in love with the concept.I haveneverseen anything like it outside Tokyo, I’vealways wanted to setup one on my own.
“It’s arealshamethat wedon’t havemanyplaces likethatwhere youcangoandsit fora fewhoursand access this library of music. You come out of there having discovered so many great new artists and records. The music needs places where it’ s the focus.
Two of the best tracks on the album, Tears and Somebody New, feature relative newcomers Alexandria and Elli Ingram. How did he find them?
“Alexandria is on this incredible trap label called Awful Records who are based in Atlanta and I’ve been following them for a while. I’ve been listening to a lot of classic girl-group R&B, stuff like SWV, and I was looking for someone who could do a homage to that for this particular track
“I heard it in her voice even though she was doing something a world away from that for Awful Records. We got in touch and started talking about these influences and she really connected with it. I flew over and met her and we got on really well and I saw this other side to her. She was almost Minnie Ripper- ton-like in how she pitched her voice.
“Elli is based in Brighton and I fell in love with her voice. I wanted a voice with a bit of attitude and I think she really pulled it off. The nice thing about working with her was that she came to the studio and said ‘this is how I see it happening’ rather than sticking with the brief. She really made it something she could relate to and would be comfortable singing. Of all the songs, that was a real collaboration rather than me just writing a song for someone to sing.”
Right now, Steadman is focused on this solo record and it’s a state of “definitely wait and see” with Bombay Bicycle Club. He has plenty to keep him occupied for now, like changing people’s opinion about jazz for one.
“I think jazz got a bad reputation without anyone bothering to give it a chance. What people are realising now is that jazz is music which feels good. As someone who plays the bass, it comes down to a groove for me. It’s mixed in with all this other electronic music and R&B and soul and slick production and it’s all coming together to create a kind of music you get a sore neck from listening to, which is what I love.”
God First is out now on Island Records
I think jazz got a bad reputation without anyone bothering to give it a chance. What people are realising now is that jazz is music which feels good
Mr Jukes “I wanted to make a record full of feelgood tracks.” Below: Steadman (left) with his Bombay Bicycle Club bandmates