Jamie Smith, better known as Jamie xx, has had a meteoric rise in the music world. He’s accomplished so much already – first with The xx, whose debut album, xx, won them a Mercury Prize, and grabbed top position in a host of end of year lists. Their second album, Coexist, was released to major acclaim, and The xx were in demand. Shows like the limited run series in New York City at the Park Avenue Armory attracted a range of high-profile fans from the art and film world. And Jamie xx has created remixes of artists as diverse as Adele and Radiohead, and worked as a producer with Drake and Alicia Keys. After releasing a number of singles, his first highly anticipated solo album, In Colour, is finally going to be released in June. As he said, “I’ve gone from being a fan of electronic music, admiring great artists and producers, to feeling like I’m a part of their world.” There’s no question that this release will only confirm his status. Northern Transmissions was able to connect with him as he arrived here to prepare big summer of festivals, both here and in Europe and the UK. Alice Severin talked with Jamie xx about the brilliant new album. Soft spoken, he gave the impression of an individual with an encyclopedic knowledge of musical artists and a deep connection to what he does.
Northern Transmissions: How are you? You’re over here, in Toronto at the moment.
Jamie xx: Good, thanks. Yeah.
NT: You once said that playing in America could be a bit of a challenge because of using records and certain sound issues. A festival like Coachella must pose a particular challenge.
Jamie xx: Well, yeah, it’s a bit different at festivals. I like to play at clubs because it means that people don’t have to focus on the DJ. You know, they can just dance. Whereas at festivals, it’s hard because people want to focus on the stage. So it’s kind of a different event altogether.
NT: What have you decided to put together for the show?
Jamie xx: I’ve got a new stage show, I’m going to play more of my own stuff than I would normally.
NT: In Colour is a fantastic album. It’s interesting because it feels both like it’s personal and also that it will be massive with big crowds as well. Do you feel it’s got that atmosphere?
Jamie xx: Thank you. I don’t know. It’s been so long. It’s been in between so many other things, and now I’ve just been focusing on the tiny little details, towards the end. So I’m looking forward to listening to it again after having not listened to it, sort of hearing it for the first time again.
NT: Do you get a different impression of your songs when you play them live?
Jamie xx: I guess when I first play them, I really don’t know how well…basically if they will make people dance or not. I never expected things like “Girl” to work so well live, because it’s not like, it’s not even the same tempo as anything else I’ve played. But it does work. It’s nice, it probably takes people by surprise in a way, it’s a bit different, yeah.
NT: I think you’d played at Notting Hill Arts Club, and they’d asked you to stop, because you’d played things in a different tempo? You’d slowed it down.
Jamie xx: Yeah.
NT: Is that something you think about doing, not always trying to meet people’s expectations, instead thinking about a different approach to a song or a track?
Jamie xx: Well, I always think that it’s still the DJ’s job to make people dance. That’s why they’ve come to see you, it’s not about you, it’s about the people in the club. When I did that, I was basically doing something that I thought would work. I really enjoyed it, and it actually ended up being the inspiration for making my Adele remix, which did work.
NT: Are there people that you’d like to work with in the future? A lot of people must want to work with you now.
Jamie xx: Yeah, my manager sort of stops a lot of the requests, only because I’ve already got so much to do. I eventually will start doing some more remixes and stuff like that. But I’m looking forward to when I finish the xx record, I’m looking forward to not making music for a little while, and sort of regaining some, or getting some new inspiration, I guess.
NT: You’ve been incredibly active creatively, for the past six years at least, performing, meeting different artists, winning awards. I was thinking that each song is like a different place, each with a different feel. Did you see the solo album as a way to think about places you’ve been?
Jamie xx: Well, in some ways. But also when I make music, I sort of escape anywhere with the album anyway. A lot of those times I’m going interesting places, well not interesting places, but just somewhere other than home, it was me trying to escape that, I guess. Being nowhere, I guess.
NT: Apparently you do a lot of writing when you’re flying.
Jamie xx: Yeah, I like being cut off from anything for a such a long period of time.
NT: Is there something about being in a plane that you find inspiring? Being separated from the world.
Jamie xx: Sometimes. I mean, I definitely take inspiration from where I am just like in terms of, even just going record shopping in a new town, something like that, but often I am just thinking of home.
NT: London is such a brilliantly multi-cultural place, with so much going on. Do you think that makes it easier in a way, to have that as a base when you’re creating music that’s got a worldwide appeal?
Jamie xx: Yeah. Well, especially in London, you’re influenced by a lot of imports, I guess. A lot of different immigrants migrated to the city. And all those influences seep in. And now I actually get to go and visit these places.
NT: You started off very young, at 17, playing at the Boiler Room, getting heard on the internet. What was that like?
Jamie xx: It was great. I mean, I loved being a part of that, so early on. It felt like, at that time, there was something very exciting happening in London with electronic music. And I was a part of it. Whereas now in London – it may just be because I’m more established and I’m older, so these things are slightly less exciting, but it does feel like the lines have blurred a little bit. I can’t see anything that looks that exciting to me happening as it did when I was 17.
NT: London has changed a lot too.
Jamie xx: Yeah, definitely.
NT: Do you think not finding things that are exciting has got something to do with the changes, that it’s harder for people to create music there in the same way?
Jamie xx: I think it goes in waves. Because there is such a backlash about the changing of London at the moment especially. I’m hoping that something will come out of that and give people in London, who love it so much, they’ll create something new, maybe further out, in the suburbs. Something’s going to happen, I’m sure.
NT: One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Hold Tight.” How did that one come about?
Jamie xx: Well, I made that around the same time that I made “All Under One Roof Raving” the single last year. It was just one of those things I was making, especially when I was missing home. I wanted to use that sample, it reminded me of an era which I wasn’t quite able to be a part of, because I was too young. But I sort of romanticized, and I wanted to do something which reflected my feelings about it.
NT: It seems as though the idea of a complete album is coming back, where people are thinking about the entire thing, rather than just individual tracks. Did you consider that when you were putting this together?
Jamie xx: I mean, the reason why I wanted to make an album was because I had all this music I’d been making for the past six years, or whatever. And I couldn’t finish it because I didn’t have a structure or a vehicle to finish it. I just wanted to create new ideas. I decided to make an album so I could finish it all, like sort of make something that was a coherent body of work, as well as separate tracks. And that’s how I can see music.
NT: You’re going to be touring. What else will you be doing? You talked about the new xx album. Are you working on that now, or is that something that will happen in the fall?
Jamie xx: Yeah, that’s what I’m working on at the moment. I’ve been working on it for a year, and it’s nice to be able to take our time and do it. We feel a lot more free to do that. I think partly because I’m putting out my record, and partly because we just have a lot more experience, feel more confident in what we want to do next.
NT: Do you think your approach to the way the three of you create music is changing?
Jamie xx: Well, we worked on my record, we did that just one on one, rather than all three of us. And so that opened up new ways for us to work. And we just, we listen to a broader range of music now, so.
NT: You play a lot of instruments. Are there any instruments that you play on the album?
Jamie xx: Yeah, there’s lots. But apart from the guitar, all the other instruments are programming.
NT: Do you have a favorite that you start creating ideas on?
Jamie xx: The piano was my first instrument that I learned, and I think I can come up with things that make me feel something quicker than on anything else.
NT: What do you think the future of electronic music is? Where do you see it all going?
Jamie xx: Well, I mean there’s obviously a big explosion of EDM. People are learning about electronic music through that. And then learning about better electronic music. I think there will be, there’s going to be a massive scene for it here. Something very exciting will happen, in North America. Because it’s always been a little behind, compared to Europe, but I’m not sure that’s going to stay the same.
NT: Do you have favorite albums that you go back to, that inspire you?
Jamie xx: Yeah, I’ve got quite a lot, I guess. I mean, a lot of it’s not electronic music, it’s like soul records and that sort of thing. I guess Double Figure by Plaid was one of the first records that was like purely electronic that I listened to a lot. I still listen to that. The Avalanches – Since I Left You – is a nice collage record basically of early samples. A very impressive record technically, but it’s also got a lot of soul in it.
NT: It seems like there’s a bit of an R n’ B, soul feeling running through this album.
Jamie xx: Soul music was the first music I ever listened to, via my parents. That’s how I fell in love with music. I’ve always wanted to reference it and sample it. I don’t think that will ever change.
Interview by Alice Severin