Eighteen years since the dancing cat-in-the-hat first emerged, and five years since their last studio album, Jay Kay is reemerging from the backwaters with his trusty band of merry men, a.k.a. Jamiroquai, and a new lease on life. The spotlight on Jay Kay the personality is no longer on the frontline, instead the band is the focus, and their new album Rock Dust Light Star is musical evidence of this new way forward. There are no flashy fancy-footed videos; this time around, Jay’s mission was to focus on the music and create a live-sounding album that brings the spirit of the band’s live performances to the forefront.
After years of a negative and draining situation with his previous record company Sony Music, Jay parted ways with the label, and spent the last few years decompressing and reconnecting with his love of soul music. He’s no longer the petulant and frustrated record-label slave, ranting and raving about how he’s been wronged; these days he’s much more chilled, now that he’s taken control of his career. After submitting five songs to Universal Music to hear – see, even a 25-million album-selling artist has to make a case for himself these days – he’s now aligned himself with a new label deal which he’s much happier with. As a result, Jamiroquai’s new album is much less aggressive than recent album releases, instead returning to the loose, funky and soulful spirit of the group’s early days.
“Yeah, I think that’s about right,” Jay agrees, as we sit chatting on the grounds of his tree-lined estate, an hour outside London. “I think it’s a lot more live than it was over the last few albums – not that it wasn’t live before, it was just chopped up into many, many pieces. For me the influences this time around were more Rod Stewart, Roxy Music, Pink Floyd and the Rolling Stones in the seventies, in their more rock/disco phase. I thought that was where I wanted to be at 40 years of age.”
Time off, and turning 40 seems to have tamed the wildchild thrill-seeker – these days, it’s his passion for helicopters that have superseded his love of fast cars – who is now ready to move on with the next stage of the band’s career. “The thing is, you have to make music that suits all of us at this stage of our lives – at 40 years old. Trying to do something really poppy and groovy, and pretending that you’re 21 years old, is just not the right way to do it. And also we had to get out of that box of being the disco jazz-funkers – that wasn’t the box we wanted to be in, so we had to break out. I think we did that quite well with this record.
“At one stage we were getting out there doing our thing, and I was just wondering if people really cared about the music we were making anymore. I was wondering if we were just old news and yesterday’s big thing, but I really couldn’t accept that. I just thought I must push harder, I must try harder.
“When you’ve had time to chill back off it, relax, and do other things – helicopter flying or whatever it is – it gives you a fresh perspective and a new energy towards the creative process. Also – and I have to say this – when you’re writing music when you’re off drugs is completely different to writing music on drugs. Even when I did the last album, although I had stopped drugs, the reality was that it was difficult to find a real focus.” Since Jamiroquai’s last studio album Dynamite in 2005, and the following year’s High Times – Greatest Hits campaign and touring commitments, Jay tried his best to take time out to reconnect with normal life and love. The latter of which he found… albeit of the furry kind.
“Ya know, the original plan was… stop touring, go around the world, find woman, have baby… the kind of dumb idea that comes up in your mind, but of course which you have no control over. Was it a mid-life crisis? Yes, I guess it fucking was, in a way. The whole danger for me as a human being was just continuing to go around the world and touring away and not meeting anyone – I mean, my friends are limited to the band and a few other people; I don’t really know anybody else because I’m not exposed to ordinary fuckin’ life.”
“I just needed to be normal, so I was just kinda going around doing that kind of thing, flying helicopters, doing bits and bobs in the house… oh, and also I got a new puppy, so he required me to be around for seven/eight months. I guess I am a parent in that sense – I have hairy German kids.”
Rock Dust Light Star, the band’s seventh studio album, certainly revives the warm association that audiences have had with Jamiroquai in the past. There are no electrobeat diversions or other trendy explorations; this is pure Jamiroquai, the band of funk-soul brothers. Where the album is most notable in it’s creation is the impressively instant – and classic – ‘70s type rock melodies that line the album on tracks like the sexy funk groove Hurtin’, which Jay says simultaneously borrows from Led Zeppelin and Donny Hathaway influences, and Lifeline, which brings to mind the classic ‘70s vamp of Elton John. “It’s funny you should say that really because that sense of songwriting from like, Elton’s Yellow Brick Road, has a real sense of warmth from it still to this day, and that’s the kind of songs I wanted to create.
“This new album has blues on it, funk on it, some rock, and there’s a bit of disco on board too. We’re focused on the fuckin’ good stuff – no messing about.”
JAMIROQUAI’s brand new album Rock Dust Light Star is out now through Universal.