Jamie xx has juts released his debut solo album, In Colour. AUGUSTUS WELBY reports.
The recent announcement of In Colour, the debut solo LP from Jamie xx, stirred anxiety in the hearts of diehard fans of The xx.
Were the relationships between the band members in a state of decline? Did this mean that the producer/ percussionist (also known as Jamie Smith) was exiting the trio? Thankfully, these worries were soon alleviated, first by In Colour’s lead single, Loud Places, which features the unmistakable vocals of The xx’s Romy Madley-Croft, and then the full album tracklist, which finds xx co-vocalist Oliver Sim taking the lead on Stranger In A Room.
While Smith confirms the band members are still the closest of friends, his solo debut was bound to eventuate sooner or later. “Pretty much since making the first xx album, I’ve been working on this music,” he says. “The way that I ended up joining The xx is because I was making the backing beats on CD for them to play along to in bars and pubs – I wasn’t going to be onstage – but I was making my own stuff on the side at the same time.”
Smith’s production and drum programming has been an integral feature of The xx’s two incredibly well received LPs, 2009’s xx and 2012’s Coexist. However, while the band’s recorded work leans towards an organic indie pop aesthetic, In Colour is indebted to classic UK electronic music. In this respect, Loud Places and Stranger In A Room are something of a revelation, exhibiting a complementary unity between Smith’s electronic production and his bandmates’ vocals.
“At the same time I was making my album, we were making the third xx record,” he says. “What my album has allowed us to do is work a little differently to the way we worked on the last two albums, and be a bit more open to the process in which we work and the sounds that might come out in the end. This next xx album has the potential to be a hybrid of my album and an xx album.”
In Colour features heavy use of samples, masterful programming and instrumental tidbits, plus Young Thug and Popcaan show up to add rhymes and melodies to the late-album party rejuvenator I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times). Throughout, Smith steers clear of obvious hooks and song structures, and instead employs a minimalist touch that allows major impact to stem from small textural embellishments. It’s plain to see that In Colour is the result of countless hours of studio labour.
“I’d been working on this music without the intention of it becoming an album,” Smith says. “I needed to tell myself in the end that it was going to be an album, because that was the only way I was going to finish with this music and stop fiddling.”
While a lot of In Colour was produced in isolation, Smith wasn’t fiercely independent when it came to getting the record finished. “I still needed the help that Romy and Oliver can give,” he says. “Because we know each other so well, I needed them just to listen to it. Even just to sit next to somebody who you trust and listen to the album in its entirety, you don’t even need them to say anything because you can pick out all the parts that you are cringing at.”
The prospect of a Jamie xx solo LP has loomed ever since the release of We’re New Here in 2011. We’re New Here – a remix album of Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here – not only drew attention to Smith’s underground electronic panache, but it grabbed him a fan base in his own right. The record’s positive impact, though, also had certain side effects.
“I ended up DJing a lot, doing the circuit every Thursday till Sunday, being exhausted, and that actually hindered my creativity. I was really happy it was well received, but I was almost not even aware of it because I was just working really hard and not doing what I love, not actually making music.
“Maybe after it was all over, then the fact that it was well received helped me. But I think it was more just growing up and getting the confidence. Like any other person going from 17 to 26, I’ve just become more confident in myself.”
Hefty workload aside, Smith’s extensive DJing commitments weren’t totally counterproductive. In fact, In Colour is structured to reflect the nature of his DJ sets.
“My favourite set to see is when somebody can surprise you and take something in a completely different direction,” he says. “Because the album is quite varied, I needed to find a way to do that, but for it to still sound like a coherent body of work.”
The remainder of 2015 will involve plenty of touring behind the record, as well as finalising the third xx album. Oh, and Smith’s also scoring a ballet adaptation of the Jonathan Safran Foer novel, Tree Of Codes, to be presented at the Manchester International Festival in July. It’s a pretty impressive outlook, and it far exceeds what Smith anticipated while making the first xx album.
“I didn’t even think about the prospect of it actually being on a record, in a record store,” he says. “I just thought about putting all of this music that we had into a computer or something. I never thought that far ahead.”