- Sun, 2005-07-10 14:29
After a bidding war in 2004 in which Sony made three separate offers, Suffolk-born Nate James signed to Universal Music Publishing last September. Just a couple of months – and several sessions with top names including Eg White, Peter Vetesse and Colin Emmanuel later – independent label OneTwo (home of The Brand New Heavies) came on board in December.
In the few months since, Nate has gone on to wow the industry and fans alike with live performances at key events including MTV Baselounge, 1Xtra’s R&B Sensations, Radio 2’s Soul Solutions and the Southport Weekender.
His debut single, Set The Tone, an instant soul classic, was released in February. Supported by tastemakers including Radio One’s Trevor Nelson, it reached number one on Choice FM’s R&B chart, as well as enjoying high rotation on MTV Base, 1Xtra, Jazz FM, Choice FM, Galaxy Radio, Channel U & Kiss TV. It also reached #11 on the Independent Sales Chart. Look out for his guest vocal on forthcoming dance smash Poker Pets’ Loving You, released on Positiva in June.
Second single Universal is released July 18 whilst debut album Set The Tone is out August 8, both on OneTwo Records. I Like Music caught up with Nate for a chat about the music industry, playing live and all dat!
“I Like Music because… it makes you feel good.” Nate James
ILM: Your new single, Universal, is out on July 18. Can you give us your own personal description of it?
Nate: It’s about going out and enjoying yourself and not being picky about who with. It came from a conversation with some mates of mine about what we do when we go out. My mates were saying, oh I only like blond girls and I only like brunettes and so on. I said why are you being so picky about it. We are surrounded by beautiful women and girls with different eye, hair and skin colours and I’m like "why limit yourself?" They weren’t having any of it, so I thought I’d write a song about it. It’s about going out and meeting someone and maybe not even the person your expecting to meet or dance with. It’s a song about getting lucky and having a good time.
ILM: Your debut album, the very funky and gorgeous Set The Tone is out in August. Of all the tracks on it which one did you have the most fun recording and why?
Nate: I would say Get This Right. I recorded it with a South African producer called Pete Martin. He is the only guy on the planet who get away with calling me Natey and Doody! When we did it, it just stood out as one of those songs that when you listen back to it as a musician you think "that’s the one, that’s such a tune!" Not that it’s going to be a hit, but just that your are so happy with it, we were both just jumping around the studio like mad men. It’s another very funky track and it’s about relationships, kinda saying "come on you got to get this right, the relationship’s not working any more things don’t feel like they did: we got to work at it." It’s said in a happy way though, not in a depressing way.
ILM: What’s your current favourite song to play live and your favourite live experience seeing someone else play?
Nate: My favourite song to play live is Shake Out, the last track on my album. It’s an old school psychedelic funk track. I love it because my band, backing singers and mates just go buck-wild when we perform it. We just have a great time performing it, because it’s a song about going out and enjoying yourself, not worrying about what people think if you dance funny or whatever, it’s just a good time track.
I saw Isaac Hayes in concert last week and he blew me through the wall! There is no man I can think of in the planet who is cooler, especially so effortlessly. He just sat at the keyboard with a gown and hat and shades and looked like the coolest thing you’ve ever come across… words can’t describe it really. I had one of the best nights of my life. When he did Shaft my brother and I just went mad, started singing, he absolutely blew me away.
ILM: You had a bit of a bidding war for your signature kick off last year, how did you make your decision to go with OneTwo Records rather than a major label?
Nate: Well for me it was a matter of once bitten twice shy. A few years back I was in a band signed to a major label. For a while it was really exciting but we found ourselves sitting on the label waiting to get started. Suddenly there were big staff changes including our A&R man. The new guys came to us and said we want you to make a different record, a pop record not a soul record. We couldn’t and wouldn’t compromise so we walked from the deal. It was a shame but we kept our credibility as artists intact. As far as the UK is concerned, a major label wasn’t quite right for me this time. I’m not saying that all major labels are bad, when they get it right they are amazing, but I wanted to retain as many rights as I could. I’m only signed in the UK, so I’m open to offers in the rest of the world. I wanted to sign to a label who liked what I’d done and didn’t want to change anything. A label that believe in me and I knew would work as hard they could for my future success.
ILM: What advice do you have for other musicians breaking into the industry?
Nate: Don’t give up, keep a level head, enjoy every minute and fight for what you want to do.
ILM: You say “I just write about what I know and what I’ve experienced” - where do you go and what’s the Nate James songwriting/music-making process?
Nate: I write about love, love lost, my friends, people I don’t like, people I do like and love, people who I love but I can’t have. I write about what I know about, I can’t write about marriage or children or the love of my life as I haven’t found them yet. I write lyrics and hum melodies all the time. I take my dictaphone and pad with me everywhere I go and whenever I can, I’ll call my producer and talk to him about my ideas. If he likes them, I’ll write more around it and then head down to the studio and we’ll knock something up in a couple of hours. There’s no set process except that one of us is usually prepared with an idea, although Shake Out was built from scratch in the studio on the day, which is one of the reasons why I love it so much. I participated in every little bit of making that track. It’s different with different producers, which keeps things fresh.
ILM: What do you like and dislike about London?
Nate: I like the bright-lights big-city thing, the fact that the place never sleeps and the nightlife. The majority of the people as well. I don’t like the fact that my friends aren’t around so much. They only live an hour and a half away, but I really miss going out with my mates and I miss my family. My brother lives here which makes things easier and I have made new friends in London, but I just miss my home town crew!
ILM: Describe your ideal Sunday.
Nate: Doing as little as possible. I used to hate Sunday’s but now I love them, I just spend all day really chilling. If I’ve been out, I’ll get up around 1pm, if I haven’t I’ll get up around 11am. Grab my breakfast on the balcony if the weather’s good, if not inside. Watch the telly, T4, Hollyoaks, Friends and then I’ve got into a Sunday habit of going down to Brick Lane. There’s always something going on down there, at 93 Feet East, Vibe Bar, Big Chill Bar, one of those three. Often it’s something live, a band or an open mic session. There’s never any aggro, just nice people hanging out having a good time. I love those Sunday nights out.
ILM: Can you describe your favourite place on earth?
Nate: My favourite place on earth is my parents' house. You always feel safe and loved at home. I’m not scared of anything but you know it’s always good to feel like you are in place where I’m loved and not judged.
ILM: What is in your CD player right now?
NateE: Otis Redding’s Hits Collection. I’m rehearsing his song Hard To Handle to include in my live set. I have an MP3 mix disc in my car system with all sorts on there. Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone, New Edition, Blackstreet and loads of my favourite current stuff.
ILM: Please tell me your favourite tune that makes you instantly smile and one that makes you instantly chilled out?
Nate: Summertime, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince. That’s a killer song every barbeque, summer party, family re-union – I swear that’s the song that everyone enjoys the most. To chill to, Maxwell’s Whenever, wherever, Whatever. It’s just a beautiful ballad from the first guitar chords. That or anything by Zero 7.