- Mon, 2006-06-12 14:58
Nate James is an urban soul singer with an incredible talent and a DIY independent ethic who’s achieving great success in Europe. His new single, Pretend is out now and available for download, while single The Message is currently Top 20 on Airplay in Italy and a European tour recently announced takes Nate to Italy, Poland, Germany & Portugal. Nate and his band have already been to Italy for two major TV shows and will return in a fortnight to perform on Italian Top of the Pops, MTV TRL & Festivalbar in Trieste on June 15th.
Having recently performed with Beverley Knight in the UK, and with the likes of Snoop, Pharrell and Damian Marley in Tokyo recently, Nate is enjoying doing what he loves best. Making and performing music.
We caught with Nate before he headed off to Camden market to buy a guitar to talk about collaborations, world domination and pheromones.
“I Like Music because… it makes you feel good. it makes me feel happy and puts me in a good mood for the rest of the day." Nate James
ILM: Your new single is a new version of Pretend produced by Jarod Rogers fresh from his album sessions with Lauryn Hill in the States! And the single also features a brand new track. Can you describe Pretend and its whole vibe?
Nate: It's a song about a lady who I know back home. I had a primary/high school crush on her for about three or four years. I knew she was a couple of years older than me and had a boyfriend. She thought I was always the cute guy who she had a soft spot for but would never go down that road, because she was like 13 and I was 11. That whole scenario carried on into our adult life as well, where I've had various girlfriends and she's had various boyfriends and we never actually got it together, yet we both know there's something there. So it's like "why are we pretending, why is she pretending, why can't we make it happen?" So yeah, I wrote a tune about it. I was working with C Swing on his Emmanual album. And he was like, I've got this wicked beat mate, write a tune for me, so he went and got a coffee, I did it and he was like, yeah that sounds wicked, so we recorded it and that version was for his album, so we thought we'll reproduce it and release it as a single, because there was such a great response to it from Trevor Nelson and the whole urban fan base.
It's quite a summery vibe, it's a nice chillout tune, and I think a lot of peole can relate to that situation where they want something to happen but don't know how its going to and it's not through want of trying. It's a frustrated love story I suppose.
ILM: Does she know?
Nate: I wrote the song about a year and a half ago so I told her. She phoned up and was like, "where are you?" and I said, "I'm in the studio. I'm actually writing a tune about you," and she was like, "really?" and I said "yeah I've got to get it out somehow haven't I."
ILM: What did you learn from Jared?
Nate: It was through my old record label. My A&R man Phil Faversham knew of Jared through various means and through the Lauryn Hill thing. And he said "Nate there's this great producer who's really keen to work with you, what do you think?" And I knew the name Jared, but I didn't really know what he'd done and he was like, "he's done this person and that person" and I was like, "wow, lets do it, get him on board." It's an honour to work with him, he's a really cool quirky little ozzy dude, with a beautiful daughter and beautiful wife, and I just chilled in his house with him and we came up with a new beat, new vocals for the song and here we are.
ILM: Your album, Set The Tone is being re-released with Pretend and the Sway collaboration Still On My Own. How did the Sway collaboration come about and who do you have on your collabs wish list?
Nate: The Sway thing came about through the MOBOs. We were both nominated for best newcomer and before then we'd done a few shows together and we come from similar musical backgrounds in a sense, both trying to do the independent thing and coming up against the same brick walls and doors that get thrown at people in general in urban music in the UK, so we swapped stories about all the crap we'd been through, and how we intended to make it happen for ourselves.
And it just so happened that I was working with a producer called Shucks who's done quite a few tracks on Sway's album, and he said, "do you want to do a track with Sway?" I hadn't collaborated with anyone really in the UK except Carmen Reese on the original album, I hadn't worked with any rappers at all so I thought "yeah, lets hook up with Sway and do something..." They'd written this song called On My Own and I said, "that's a tune, but there was no one really singing the hook on it," and they were like "do you want to do it?" and I was like "yeah!" It sat there for about a year, and then we got a call from Sway's management saying "we really want to use this on the album," and we were like, "funny you should say that, we really want to put it on Nate's re-released album, so let's do it."
It's such a rarity in the UK for two artists to collaborate. It's quite annoying. In America you get Alicia Keys and John Legend, Jay-Z and Beyonce, amazing artists working together, and over here for some reason there's like a slight complacency about working together. And I'm like, "c’mon we're doing the same thing, we all like music, so let's make it happen!"
ILM: Totally, you can put out something that appeals to both fan bases, plus it must be quite fun.
Nate: Yeah. Sway did a big gig at the Carling Academy in Islington and I performed with him there and it went down a storm. It wasn't billed that I was going to be there. He phoned me up and said "Nate d'ya want to come and sing with me tonight" and I was like "yeah course," and everyone was like, "yeah Nate, gwan Sway" and it was really cool. I think the fans really enjoyed it because it was the first time we'd performed it together.
As far as a wish list. I'd love to work with Joss stone. I think that'd be special. There's a new girl called Natalie Williams, we dueted together for a track called converstaion on her album. I'd love to work with Jay K from Jamiroquia, Alicia Keys, I'd love to work with Pink. I'd love to work with Maroon 5 and do a track with them, it'd be quite funky and soulful but quite edgy and rocky as well. So there's a big wish list there, It's just getting the profile and the name to be able to go, "oi you."
ILM: When we last interviewed you, you were only signed in the UK, but now you have deals all over the place. And things are looking good for you in Italy with the Message single, and you’re playing the festivalbar event in Naples in June. Tell us how things are going globally?
Nate: The first deal I did internationally was with Japan, Toshiba EMI. An AR man from EMI was over here on business and he basically was in a hotel room. It was the day of the London bombings, and he had to cancel all of his meetings, and he was sat in his hotel room and watching MTV Bass and my video came on, and he didn't know who I was, what I was about or anything. So he flew back to Japan and emailed my manager to ask if I was signed outside the UK and my manager said "no," and he said he wanted to sign me to Japan.
We've done about 70,000 of the album in Japan now. I was out there for two weeks and did a gig with Erykah Badu and Damian Marley and Pharell and Snoop Dogg, and did some headline gigs in Tokyo. That was amazing, then off that, Italy...we took on a guy who negotiated all of Simply Red's record deals around Europe. This guy Rainer is now working for myself as well so he goes around and gets me signed in all the territories around Europe, with independents or majors, whoever is the best home for that country, y'know.
And with Italy, I flew out there for the day and I met a good few labels, and they said they loved the album, and I went with Adele, my label in Italy. And they said, "Nate, we know you'll do well in Italy, your image, your sound is perfect for Italy. It's a very high fashion, group of people, who enjoy soul music. Craig David and Lemar aren't here, so you could be the big new guy." I thought, "yeah cool," but I don't tend to listen to any of that hype thing. When I see things happening then I get excited, but there's no point talking about it, because you never know, it might not happen.
They sent the single, The Message to a couple of TV and radio. And all of a sudden all hell broke lose, and it was played by the major stations, and I was out there doing TV shows that no unsigned act had done yet this year, because I hadn't been signed then and the album wasn't out. It's just gone bang out there. To be opening festivalbar in Naples it's such an honour to be asked and be considered, given that I haven't released a single or album out there. So the whole European thing… I'm signed in Poland, I've done deals with France, Switzerland, Belgium, we're just sorting out Germany and Sweden and Norway at the moment, so it's just slowly a little Afro Nate James turnover in Europe, so it's good, we like it.
ILM: It must be fulfilling that you've done it and you retain control?
Nate: Absolutely. The whole reason for setting up my label for the UK and doing it myself and with the people I work with and doing my own distribution is purely, I'm not a control freak by any means, but as an artist, I like to know that I have some control over what I'm doing in my life. There's nothing worse than being dictated to. I work my backside to do what I do. I love what I do and to have that extra control and know that I can choose what single's going to be released and I can choose when the album comes out and what songs go on the second album, and all those things, not because I want to be too controlling but because I want to be as involved in my career as I can be. And obviously the financial side is a bonus as well, because you're not signing your life away to another label and getting 10% if it fails, you're getting all of it.
A lot of indie bands have gone that DIY route and have done for a long time, but there are so many great artists I know out there, soul artists and it's like, "you can do the same thing y'know, it's not just the indie people that can do this." You just get yourself a good lawyer, a good artist manager and a good business manager and you're there. So the whole independent and European thing is great, and also there's so much pressure on making it in England. Y'know I'm not by any means in the leagues of Craig or Lemar right now, and I'm not really aspiring to be. We're all very soulful artists and I'm friends with both of them and we get on really well. I'm just doing a different kind of vibe and sound to them and I chose to do it the hard way and I think for me, the rewards will feel a lot more, because I have done it myself and have been knocked down and picked myself back up again several times. Not to say they've had it easy by any means, because I know they've both struggled to get to where they are, and had heartaches and disappointments along the way.
But yeah, it's very fulfilling to know that when I get a disc that says I've sold 100,000 records worldwide, it'll be because of what I've done, rather than what a big moneybags record label has done.
ILM: It's like "I did that."
Nate: Yeah. And when I give that CD to my mum and say "mum, look what I've done," she'll cry. She's very proud, my mum and dad are proud of me, and they'd be more proud of the fact that I've done it myself, and I haven't sat back and let things pass me by, I've grabbed every opportunity and gone for it.
ILM: And I guess they've instilled that ethic in to you?
Nate: Yeah, my parents are my rocks for sure. So yeah, it's very exciting, I'm very much looking forward to this year, and successes here and in Europe as well.
ILM: What was it like at the MOBO Awards? You were nominated and performed.
Nate: It was great, I mean, last year was quite a defining year for me, I think. As an individual and an artist. I'd been working towards making my own album for five years or so, I'd been in groups and done this and that, and it hadn't happened for me and then finally, I walk into HMV and see myself sat on a record shelf at number 30 and I'm like, Wow! And then the Mobos were the icing on the cake to my year. I'd been there before with the group I used to be in and we weren't known, and now I'm turning up on the red carpet in my suit and it's interviews galore and I'm getting my photograph taken.
It was quite overwhelming to be honest, I hadn't had any media training, so it was just me being me chatting my backside off, as I do, so being thrust into that red carpet scenario and coming out the other end. I took Selina, my radio girl as my date for the night, bless her. She was like, "are you alright?" and I was like, "I'm bloody knackered, I've been talking for about an hour and I haven't even got in the building yet, where's the beer, where's the bar?" It was a great night. Mica and Omar are my mentors, I've known them for a good couple of years, and when it first came out that we were going to sing together, I was like, "hell yeah, that's my diva and my buddy right there," and to sing a Luther Vandross track was obviously a great honour. We just rocked the place and enjoyed ourselves, it was a great crowd and it was being televised and stuff, so it was quite nerve wracking, but just enjoyed ourselves.
ILM: You said last year that you enjoyed playing the Jazz Café and Regents Park, but “Shepherds Bush Empire – when it finally comes about – will top them all.” Did it or has anything topped that?
Nate: The show in Tokyo with Pharell and Erykah Badu and everyone, that was about 40,000 people in this massive arena in Tokyo and to meet those artists... all four of them are my favourite artists ever. Snoop and Erykah, they've been going for years and I love what they do. They just captivate you whenever they perform. That topped it so far. I've got my UK tour happening in September/October and I'll be doing three nights Jazz Cafe and various nights all over the country this time, which is nice because I've always been very London based with my music, not through intention just because, reaching the masses and crossing that commercial barrier and whatever hasn't really happened for me yet, and I hope it does. Not because I have to sell records, but because I really feel I can give people a bit more soul in their lives, y'know. And the more people who can get that the better. So I'm just strummin along doing my thing and I'm supporting Simply Red all over Europe in the summer too, and I'm definitely looking forward to that.
ILM: Is your favourite song to play live still Shake Out?
Nate: No, Shake Out has been demoted slightly. I love it still, because the band just go crazy. But my favourite one now, we do Universal and Stevie Wonder, Superstition, blended together and everytime we finish that song, we just stand there on stage, look at each other and are like, "yeah!!!" We do it for most of the live shows and it's become an ongoing thing. I'm not trying to imitate Stevie Wonder, it's just the blend of those two songs and when the Superstition chords come in the crowd just go nuts and are like, yeah, it's my tune! Universal was never written to be a take off of Superstition, it was written as a separate entity as a song, but it just works really well
ILM: You spoke at a Youth Music Workshop at Raw Materials in Brixton which supports and nurtures London's talent. How was that?
Nate: When someone with a known face goes somewhere to talk to people about their experiences and nurture people, the audience or people you're addressing tend to be a little bit sheepish, a bit quiet, y'know, "I don't know what to ask him," kind of thing, but it was cool to go down there to chat to the kids and the industry and what I'd experienced and so on and so forth. So it was just nice for me to share those stories with people and let them know that like me, when you're young and sitting in your bedroom and watching your favourite singer on TV and you're just thinking, "I wish I could do that" and it's a hard slog to do it, but it's not something that's unachievable, y'know. Everyone out there from Aretha Franklin to Marvin Gaye to Joss Stone, they all at some point in their life when they were younger, dreamed of being a star or being on tv or doing what they're doing and they've worked hard to get there. People need to change their mentality a bit. If you're passionate about something, I'm a great believer that it will happen and you can do it.
ILM: You've just got to persevere and stick at things haven't you?.
Nate: It's that experience that will pay off, so that was my message in Brixton and that's why I'm writing with Youth Music, because I think there are so many kids out there, regardless of their background and how difficult their lives may be, music is always an escape for everyone, its a release of emotions and frustrations and whether you want to produce a rock track to release that aggression or record a Luther Vandross cover just to get that stuff off your chest and out of your head, it's a great release. I've been lucky and had a very good childhood, but I know people who've dealt with a lot of crap in their lives and they turn to music to get out of that scenario.
ILM: It's therapeutic then.
Nate: Yeah, it's been scientifically proven, when you sing, pheramones are released in your brain that make you happy. So if that's the case do it, and keep doing it.
ILM: The buzz from those pheramones coupled with playing in front of 40,000 people must be quite a combined buzz!
Nate: Yeah! I go straight to the fridge, crack open a beer and go "YES! Good show!" It's a great feeling when I come off stage. Being on stage is... I'm not going to say I'm born to it because I think that's a bit of an arrogant thing to say. But I think when you feel really comfortable with something and really at home doing something you love, it's a great feeling to come off stage. And to feel proud and happy that you've put on a show for people and they're going to leave the building saying "wow, I really enjoyed that guy's set." And for me in another country where people haven't seen me do anything live, it's great to wow a new audience. The Jazz Cafe crew, I love them to pieces and I know they're a loyal fanbase and they'll always come to see the gigs because they love soul music, and that's what they go to the Jazz Cafe to see. But if a bunch of Australians fill out the Jazz Cafe, they wouldn't know who I was, what I do, so to amaze them and make them feel happy leaving the venue, that's my objective for the night.
ILM: You’re inspired by life experiences – everything from hotel breaks to walking in the street. What do you think are the ingredients of a great song?
Nate: Everyone talks about the hook in a song, that when someone hears the song for the first time, they're going to be humming it. On Pretend I suppose my hook is la, la, laah laah, la la la. The melody and the hook. A friend of mine phoned me up and said "I've seen your video, and I can't stop going la, and it's doing my head in." So ingredients of a great song are, Great lyrics that people can relate to; great melodies that people can sing along to and just a vibe that makes people feel happy when they hear it, if someone's not tapping their foot or... If you sing a ballad and you make someone cry, you've achieved your goal because they've related to that song and they understand what you're feeling and they can get in touch with that part of their emotions.
ILM: They connect with you.
Nate: Yeah, if you're writing a track about going out and having a good time and enjoying yourself, then damn it if they play it in a club, people should be up enjoying themselves.
ILM: What is in your CD player right now?
Nate: I'm listening to the new Omar album, the new Terri Walker album and also to Pink's new album, so they're my three at the moment.
ILM: What are your plans for the summer and 2006 generally?
Nate: Pretend is out now, then probably a new single in the UK and re-release of the album with the new songs, and then I'm back and forth to Europe for most of June through to August, but doing the Simply Red tour and then I come back in September and start rehearsals for my tour which'll be September/October, and also I'll be working on the new album. I've almost finished it and it'll be coming out around November, with a new single around Christmas time as well. so yeah, it's great because I get to travel, see the world, meet a big new group of people and sing my tunes all over the place, what more could I ask for?