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Interview with Jacknife Lee

Jacknife Lee makes his grand return to Pussyfoot Records with his beautifully cinematic track 'Overview' which is featured on our space compilation 'Space Is The Plaice'. It's been nearly 20 years since his last release with us, Muy Rico, and we are so pleased to have him back in our arms! He had taken a break from being a solo artist and has been working behind the scenes as a producer and writer for the likes of Snow Patrol, The Black Keys, The Killers and U2. Now back in the solo artist saddle, we caught up with our good pal and chatted about his song, his writing methods and what's next for Jacknife Lee.

First off – Welcome back to Pussyfoot Records! How did you get involved with Pussyfoot back in the day?

It’s so nice to be working with Pussyfoot again. I was in a band signed to One Little Indian, Bjork’s label, and we asked Howie to do a remix for us because I loved “Music for Babies”. The mixes were beautiful. Bjork and Howie then asked me to do a remix for one of her songs and through that, I started a friendship with Howie. He guided me through the transition from band member to “solo” artist, it was liberating. He was so open and curious and free. Then he asked me to put a record out on pussyfoot, we did a few, DJ’ed together.

How did you interpret the theme of ‘Space’?

My first thought of space was the dark place, filled with stars that we look up at and into, then I realised that by looking at it, we too are in space. Floating around in a safe bubble of blue in this inhospitable coldness. It’s precarious and delicate and vulnerable, we are vulnerable. I remember watching the end of the movie Gravity and seeing how Earth is a life raft, the only place life can survive, that was the start. Then I looked up speeches from people that had looked at the earth from space and thinking about the isolation of their situation and that the little blue planet in the bleakness was the only place. Stars are interesting but life is more so.

There’s an observational element to your track especially with it being titled: ‘Overview’. Is there a sense of paranoia or is it more innocent than that?

“Overview” is what astronauts call “observing earth from space”. I wouldn’t say it’s innocent, it’s pragmatic. This is all we have, the only place, our only hope. There’s a political point of view (if the preservation of life is a political point of view). Don’t treat your home like it’s a dump.

Jacknife Lee Overview

The track seems to be a mix of urgency and tranquillity, what do you see those two elements representing?

It was a really long piece of music, I think I edited too much out now. The beginning went on for ages and the second part I offered to an artist as a bit of a song but they didn’t go for it. When I listened back to it I thought it had a bit of melancholy and naivety that I liked. I don’t do a lot of thinking when I’m working so the process is “felt” rather than organised. It’s usually a messy birth.

What machines did you in the creation of ‘Overview’?

I have a lot of synths and drum machines and I’m trying not to use any computer software to do anything other than recording the tracks (some of this was recorded on my daughter’s 4 track cassette) so it’s a lot of plugging synths into echo units. For the machine heads, the beat is from my Roland tr08 and the Vermona. The keyboards are a Prophet 06, Oberheim ob8, Wurlitzer and a Minilogue going into an Echoplex and the 4 track.

Are the vocals you use a sample? Was the track built around the vocal or did you find the vocal after creating the track?

The voice I typed into the computer and it read it back to me. I knew I wanted speaking rather than singing, me singing especially. Using the “inhuman” voice sounded more dramatic, almost like a warning, something documented from the past’s idea of the future.

‘Radioactivity’ by Kraftwerk is easily my favourite record and the voice on there feels archaic now but has a vulnerability that is different from a human voice. Using the computer removes the subconscious judgements we make when listening to a human voice, accent or inflection, it kind of removes emotion making it…sadder.

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How does writing your own music compare with writing tracks with artists? Do you feel like you have more room to express yourself or can that space be intimidating?

Writing my own music isn’t something I’ve done for years. I just started again and I’m enjoying it. I’m not intimidated by doing my own work but I have found I don’t want to hear me sing or speaking, I get enough of me all day. So, now I’m working with singers, I love collaborating it’s a constant surprise and thrill. I make noise every day, by myself or with others, the process is the same. Get into a room, see what happens, make noise.

Your genre style is difficult to box in but your music has always had an element of Electronica and a wee bit of humour in it, is there a reason why you have such an affinity with Electronic music?

I wouldn’t call it electronica as I use acoustic instruments too but It’s all gathered electronically and processed electronically. It’s all just organising noise. I personally like disordered music, which is not something I’m able to explore much when producing for other artists, so now when I write my own music I try and do the opposite of what they’d want. I hid behind humour in my earlier records, I wasn’t being honest with myself at the time. One of the advantages of me getting older is that I don’t mind myself anymore.

You’ve taken quite a bit of time off from being an artist, why come back now? And is there more music on the way from you?

There is so much music coming from me that I don’t know what to do with it. Can’t stop it.Floodgates. I’m ridiculously excited about making and listening to music at the moment.I haven’t had time to make music of my own but now my kids are older and doing their own thing, I have some free time and it’s got me busy in the studio.

Watch the video for 'Overview' here. Pre-order the triple vinyl or double CD of 'Space Is The Plaice' here.