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Mirrorwriting: Jamie Woon
Jamie Woon may be a name only recently arriving in the collective consciousness of many music fans, yet the Londoner has been plying his tuneful trade for a good while longer, releasing a string of well received singles over the past four years, and collaborating with the likes of Subeena, Om’ Mas Keith and dÉbruit. Essentially a soul artist with an ear for cutting edge production, Woon has been steadily honing his craft since graduating from the prolific Brit School for Performing Arts a year behind Amy Winehouse; a singer who can’t claim to share Woon’s seamless genre-splicing and unique compositional approach.
2007’s ‘Wayfaring Stranger EP’, picked up and released by Polydor, featured Woon’s first foray into dubstep-type fusion: a remix of the title track by sonic architect Burial. The collaboration led to the enigmatic producer lending a hand on Woon’s forthcoming debut long player, ‘Mirrorwriting’, due for release on April 4th. The album comes at a good time for the singer; having just made the BBC’s Sound of 2011 list, as well as experiencing a wealth
of positive buzz around lead single ‘Night Air’.
Catching up with him towards the start of a short UK tour, Tom Quickfall finds he’s well equipped to deal with the hype.
“It’s been really cool”, explains Jamie Woon, discussing his reaction to the Sound of 2011 poll. “It got so many people to hear my music. Plus, it’s nice that I’m getting positive messages from people who have been following me for quite a long time”. His manner is composed and confident, intelligent and softly-spoken, with a quiet sense of genuine modesty. “In a way, I don’t really buy into the whole concept of it,” he continues, “but I am
obviously benefitting from it, so I can’t exactly shout it down!”
Another artist to feature on the list was one James Blake, also an electronica-based singer-songwriter, and a constant marker for comparison with Woon. “I think there are similar influences,” Woon agrees. “His stuff is kind of low key, and he’s got the soul influences as well. I think we were thinking the same thing, but I don’t call my stuff dubstep”.
As lazy as the comparisons are, there’s no escaping the fact that both Blake and Woon have arrived in a similar place at a similar time, albeit from opposite directions: Blake as a producer-turned singer, Woon as a singer looking to make music with sufficient space for his vocals, and finding that space in downtempo dubstep. “I think it’s also because both of us had quite a lot of hype and not much music to listen to. When my record comes out, I don’t think there will be many comparisons!”
While he may occupy a similar place in the market as Blake, Woon’s style is much more akin to members of the neo-soul movement that began to take hold in the mid ‘90s. A mention of one of the scene’s prominent figures, the troubled genius D’Angelo, causes Woon’s face to light up. “I love [D’Angelo’s influential sophomore album] ‘Voodoo’,” he enthuses. “His stuff is just so liquid; I definitely aspire to doing something like that.” He goes on to explain parallels in the ways the two of them approach their production, referring to ‘Voodoo’s drum sound in a similar way to how he later waxes lyrical about Burial’s – the celebrated south Londoner who earns a production credit on ‘Mirrorwriting’ (under real name William Bevan).
Burial’s involvement with the album has been a source of focus for those chronicling its development so far, yet the role was far more back seat than is assumed. “I wanted to credit him, because he definitely did have a role, but I produced it from beginning to end” Woon clarifies. “But he definitely pointed me to a whole bunch of sounds. The remix he did for ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ opened my mind to that. We spent a bit of time, and he showed me some stuff with the computer.”
Did that change his approach to songwriting? “I had quite a lot of songs lying around that I wanted to get out, but I wanted to try and find a means of making music – and a tone – that would fit the sentiment of them. I got really excited about the space and ambience, bass, and sort of clicky-clacky drums. There’s so much room for the voice in that. Plus reverb on everything!” Woon laughs, admitting his fondness for the bass music effect du jour. “There’s one tune [on Mirrorwriting] called ‘Street’, where I trying to do something garage-y, and it
just came out like the Eurythmics! It might be to do with my voice or my song writing, but, you know, I’ve made my peace with that!”
Annie Lennox imitations aside, Woon has amassed a large pool of influences on which to draw, not least from his housemates: the Mercury Music Prize-nominated Portico Quartet. The working methods of the contemporary jazz four-piece had an impact on the singer. “They’re annoyingly good” he laughs. “They have such an amazing sense of space and rhythm.”
Any chance of a collaboration? “We spoke about it for ages, but it’s that classic thing when you live with someone, all you wanna do is drink tea and cook dinner!” Woon certainly took a lot from the band’s working methods, however, and drummer Duncan Bellamy has even provided artwork for Mirrorwriting.
The album itself has been a labour of love for Woon, beginning life just after the release of Wayfaring Stranger in 2007. “‘Night Air’ took the longest: about two and a half years, on and off” he recalls. “I was working incrementally, really. I didn’t really set myself a deadline to make the album, so I got a laptop and kept going. I got a deal, so I was able to do that”.
Having shifted compositional style from one-man-and-a-guitar acoustic singer to electro-soulman, Woon began to assemble a new live setup that could handle the tracks. This also meant a change in Woon’s performance approach: “It’s a new thing for me; I’m not playing that much guitar. I’m used to being on my own and responsible for all the music, so it’s quite liberating in a lot of ways.”
As he takes the stage at The Brook in Southampton in front of his three-piece line up of drums, various keys, samplers, and guitar, it soon becomes clear what all the fuss is about. His vocal delivery is effortless, soaring above the crisp neo-soul rhythms that his band lock in to. It’s impressive how much sense these compositions make in a live environment: the looped acapella brilliance of ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ is an intimate delight, while addictive single ‘Night Air’ gets an extended funk vamp out.
Leaving the stage after three encores, the singer looks visibly humbled by the appreciative cries of “Wooooooooon” ringing throughout the exultant crowd. He can certainly expect more of the same up and down the country; a pleasing reaction to an artist that has put in the time and undoubtedly has the talent to stick around for a while yet.
‘Mirrorwriting’ is out April 4th on Polydor. Woon and band are currently touring – head to http://www.jamiewoon.com
for more info.