What do you do when your top-selling, festival-storming, indie band decide to take a few years off? Do you take up painting, sink into a cycle of endless partying or become an extreme yoga practitioner? Some gardening perhaps?
For Bombay Bicycle Club frontman Jack Steadman, the time was best spent reinventing himself as a jazz/funk enigma and doing some Phineas Fogg-style travelling. The time, particularly that aboard a container ship laboriously making its way across the Pacific, was filled with writing and recording his new solo album. Apparently, it’s not uncommon set of circumstances for artistic types. “The crew weren’t at all surprised,” he tells me. “They were like: ‘Oh yeah. There’s another weird creative person coming on the ship.’” The fruit of this labour is Mr Jukes’ delightful God First.
He insists the time wasn’t always spent making music. Sometimes I was just staring out of a window. If you do that in a cottage for too long, you’ll go a bit mad – because nothing ever changes. That’s why I prefer to do it on a train or a ship. You’re constantly stimulated.” There’s a free admission that he, like many musicians, has trouble switching off in his down-time. “I can’t complain because it’s a great life. But you don’t have someone saying: ‘OK. It’s 5 o’clock. It’s time to go home and relax’” So, his method of avoiding distractions was roving slowly around the world on trains and cargo ships.
What emerged after the voyage was a transformed Steadman. As an album, God First perfectly showcases his long-held love of funk, soul and jazz.
As Mr Jukes, he’s also drifted away from singing duties, calling in artists like De La Soul, Elli Ingram, Charles Bradley, Lalah Hathaway, Lianne La Havas, and Horace Andy to take lead duties. Before the studio vocal sessions, most of these artists didn’t appreciate who he was. Instead they took the tracks on their own merits. “When you go into the studio you know they are there for the right reason, not because someone told them there was this really cool thing.” It’s instantly apparent, from the broad scope of his sampling, just how extensive his record collection and music knowledge is.
The project has seen a MOBO nomination and sell-out live shows. In a way, Mr Jukes has opened him to a new circle of artists, as well as a new audience. “Not just an audience, but other musicians. That’s what I’m most happy about. I’ve always been looking in from the outside, in terms of the jazz scene. I grew up playing jazz. It’s great to feel like I’m part of it now.”
The travelling isn’t other either. After spending so much time touring with Bombay Bicycle Club, he’s now taking Mr Jukes out on the road. “At the start of the recording I was saying: ‘I’m never touring again. Say goodbye to touring.’ But it’s like all things, if you don’t do it for two years you start thinking: ‘Oh, that was quite fun.’ You just need to take regular breaks from everything.” He’s assembled a live band of nine people, relishing in the challenge of recreating a work so dependent on computers. Unlike previous Bombay Bicycle Club shows, it won’t be simply a faithful rendering of recorded work. “I didn’t want any laptops or backing tracks. What’s happened is there’s this really nice vibrant, very improvised, and exciting live set. For a record made with a lot of electronic sounds, samples and drum machines that’s great, and I think that’s quite rare.” The shows also feature an appearance at the hugely-acclaimed Love Supreme jazz festival, when it lands near Lewes this month. “People probably think you always say this when asked about a festival, but I HAVE always wanted to go. I’ve been looking at the lineup and seen Dave Holland and Zakir Hussain are playing– I’m a huge fan of both of them, so I’m going to be front row for that…”