Us3 interview

16 September 2004


Us3 interview

Us3 interview

1. Cantaloop is out now, can you tell me a bit about the single?
Well it’s been about 10 years since the original came out and I just thought it would be interesting to update. The idea was to melt it down a bit and give it an urban slant. Obviously this version’s sample free – it’s a reinterpretation and that’s why I wanted to do it.
I chose that one to reinterpret basically because that was the biggest one to do. I did think about doing some of the others but I didn’t want to get in to the situation of redoing the whole of the first album and Cantaloop was just the obvious one to redo.

2. The videos brilliant – whose idea was that and are you pleased with the way it’s turned out?
I’m putting this out myself so I haven’t got a big marketing budget and never really intended having a video at all. It actually came about because I was searching the internet with my two year old daughter and we were looking on the Tellytubbies website and we both got a bit bored with that so I just typed in and followed a few links and found a website for Naoki, the guy who did the video.

He’d done some music videos before and his CV was on the site. It said he was an investment banker in Tokyo and was now living in LA doing some painting and animated videos. I thought that he must have heard Cantaloop when it first came out because LA and Tokyo were two of the biggest cities that it kicked off in ten years ago. I emailed him on the off chance and he emailed me straight back saying he was a big fan and he’d bought the first album. He said it had really made his day and he’d really love to do it.

It took him eight weeks to do and he did me a favour and did it really cheap which was really nice of him. I think it’s fantastic he’s done a great job.

Us3 interview
Us3 interview
Us3 interview

3. And your new album ‘questions’ is out on Sept 27th, are you excited about it?
Yeah definitely. The album actually came out in Japan last year but it’s good to get something released here. This is my fourth album in 11 years which isn’t a high turnover of albums. This is because I’ve had a lot of grief with record companies in the past so it’s really nice to go out and do it on my own. It’s a bit scary but I’m enjoying organising it at the moment and I’m definitely going to do another album next year.

4. So the sampling is out and the new album’s got more of a Latin feel, is ‘questions’ a big leap away from previous releases?
I don’t think so. Obviously the first album had a lot of samples on, the second one was less reliant on samples and by the third one I’d left Bluenote so there were no Bluenote samples on there and only about a third of the tracks had samples on. So I think it’s been a logical progression really.
The majors have made it very difficult to clear samples now and what they actually charge is phenomenal compared with ten years ago so that’s another reason not to do it. Also, I didn’t have a band when I started and demand to see Us3 live meant that a band kind of grew out of what was a studio based project really so all of a sudden I had all of these brilliant live musicians and it seemed a shame to be working with samples. People are kind of coming through the band first now and then I’m pulling them into the studio.

5. How fun was it working with Reggi Wyns and Mpho Skeef? Did it make the recording process more enjoyable for you?
Yeah definitely. It’s quite weird when you’ve got a whole bunch of backing tracks and you don’t know what’s going to go on top of it. I never force people into being on a track they don’t want to be on, it’s a question of playing them a track and seeing what sparks them off really. Reggi’s actually a phenomenal freestyler so it’s quite difficult to get him to stop sometimes. In the studio quite often I’d put something on and he’d just be off straight away but he doesn’t stop, it’s quite a funny way of working. He doesn’t really write things down, he just raps straight off the top of his head so quite often we had to just record him rapping and then sit down afterwards and really write it out. He’s a real character.

6. The album launch nights will be held at the Jazz Caf on September 29th and 30th, what have you got planned for those?
There’s actually going to be a nine piece band. I’ve had pretty much the same personnel in the band for about 3 or 4 years now. I’ve got the A team - a lot of the guys who played on the album: Ed Jones on Saxophone, the trumpet player Chris Store, the keyboard player Mike Gorman, all of whom played a lot on the album and they’re in the band… and Paulie as well, DJ First Rate he’s called, he used to be in a group called the Scratch Perverts who won the DMC best DJ thing a few years ago, he’s a phenomenal DJ. So it should be a good night. We haven’t played at the Jazz Caf since ‘97, the last time we played in London was at the Forum so it’s going to be quite interesting to play there. Plus the fact that I used to work there before all this started so it’ll be really like going home or something!

7. Us3’s been around for a massive 12 years now, what’s been the highlight of that time for you?
I sort of really subscribe to that theory that life’s a journey not a destination kind of thing and the whole thing has been interesting. It’s had ups and downs but I really like the travelling and going to different places. We’ve been all around the world several times now. I like Japan especially; it’s just culturally very different. We’ve been there eight times now and we’re just negotiating to go back in January, fingers crossed.

8. Is it hard to keep things fresh?
Not really. The thing that’s been difficult for me has been getting things released because of all the politics in the major labels that I’ve been signed to so now I’ve got a massive backlog of tracks.

9. Jazz is becoming more and more mainstream at the moment with the success of the likes of Jamie Cullum, what are your thoughts on this?
I don’t know if a lot of jazz musicians would describe what Jamie Cullum and Katie Mellua do as jazz really. There’ll always be a commercial end of the market and there’ll always be the opposite end as well. But I think anything that’s a success, that helps get jazz over the image of being an old mans music or something, I mean that’s something that we were very much fighting against to start with but that’s been raised to an extent now…I think jazz has regained it’s cool now really, can form a point of entry for people. If people use Jamie Cullum or Katie Mellua as a point of entry into jazz then find other vocalists and other musicians and spread out their knowledge then that can only be a good thing. There’s room for everything and everybody.

10. You’ve had your fair share of problems with the business side of the industry; did you ever feel like giving up? What made you keep going?
It has done several times in the past yeah but now this feels like I’m finally taking control of my own destiny so it’s very much a fresh start for me I think, doing it this way. I’m really excited and it’s nice that I’m in control of every move that I make at the moment, no one’s making any decisions for me which is exciting and scary at the same time.

11. What would you say has been the secret of your success?
I’ve no idea! I’ve had ups and downs in my career, I don’t think anyone has constant success and that’s something I try not to analyse. If I knew how to have a big massive hit single I’d do it every time but I don’t think anyone knows. You’ve really got to be in the right place at the right time and try to capture the mood of what people are into. There’s a lot of different factors that go into something being successful but I think that that’s the beauty of the industry, that you never really now whether or not something’s going to catch fire.

12. How do you see the future for Us3?
Hopefully a European tour next year, Japan and another Japanese tour early next year. The second single is going to be ‘Believe in Yourself’ which is on the album so we’ll get some remixes done for that and then the new album, I’m not going to wait another three years this time!


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