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Jamie Cullum on music, inspiration and fatherhood

By NATALIA HAWK

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to interview British singer/songwriter Jamie Cullum.

What was meant to be a quick phoner on a Tuesday night turned into a lovely chat with a genuinely nice guy. And not only nice, but ridiculously talented. Jamie plays piano, guitar, bass and drums, along with a myriad of other instruments he was too modest to elaborate on.

A bit of history about Jamie for you: he recorded his very first album in a village hall in 1999, with only 48 pounds to produce it. He’s since released four more albums, and is about to release a fifth, Momentum, which was recorded with everything from iPhone apps to cassette recorders – whatever was handy at the time.

He’s married to Sophie Dahl, model and granddaughter of the famous author Roald Dahl. Together, the two of them have two daughters – two-year-old Lyra, and Margot, who was born in March this year.

When I interviewed Jamie, he was actually looking after two-month-old Margot – and in between cuddling her, he answered every question I had about music to parenthood to creativity in general.

Here’s what this incredibly talented musician had to say about it all:

On getting into music:

My parents weren’t musicians, but I had a very musical family, in the sense that the radio was always on and the record player was always on, there was a piano in the house, there was a toy drum kit and there was a guitar. I did a bit of playing when I was younger but I kind of gave that up for a while and was more interested in football and stuff. I think at 12 or 13 music really became my identity – I started record collecting, started getting into different styles of music, like hip hop and stuff, and electronic music and was interested in where all the sounds were coming from.

On musical inspirations:

Ben Folds made me want to play the piano. Herbie Hancock made me want to play jazz piano. A Tribe Called Quest made me fall in love with jazz. Songwriting-wise, lots of people really – Tom Waits, Sufjan Stevens, Cole Porter, Jimi Hendrix – a really wide variety of people. I’m also inspired by quite a lot of DJs.

On his new album:

This new one feels like a favourite. The sound is made up almost entirely of my songs. My other albums have been a mix of covers and originals. I feel great that I’ve had the guts to really put together an album with original songs.

On improvising his gigs (he never works to a set list):

I feel that not having a script to work to makes everything more live and exciting. A lot of musicians these days work to a backing track, they have to follow a certain script. I like things to move around and jump about, and feel like they’ve got some life to it.

On creativity:

I think I kind of believe in the romance of it all, where you would have to sit there in the middle of the night by a piano, with moonlight streaming through the window and inspiration would come. I think as you get older and more experienced you really realise that inspiration can hit any time, and the important thing is to show up for the office. Show up behind your instruments, or show up waiting for ideas to come, and they will come. You can also get an idea in the shower, or on the train, or walking the dog in the garden. Being creative – there’s no pattern to it.

On becoming a father:

Having children makes you see everything a lot more intently, you see a lot more of the best of yourself and a lot more of the worst of yourself and all that kind of stuff. It makes you see the world for what it is, and that doesn’t necessarily mean only the good things, it’s the bad things as well. You’re able to make judgements and comments on the world a lot easier.

How life has changed:

I also think the main part is that you don’t think as much.

When I was making music before I had children you just go into the studio and kind of wait, however long you can go, whatever time you can spend. You have to structure your time as a parent, and that’s good, knowing you’ve got a couple of hours to do some work – that spurs your creative brain on even quicker. Sometimes I think thinking is the enemy of creativity.

On becoming a musician:

Just do it. Don’t care about anything else, don’t think too much, don’t wait till you feel you’re ready, just go and do it. Because the best experience you can have is by just doing music. You can faff around, and say ‘Oh I’m not ready to do it’ but just go and do it, because that’s the only way you’ll learn.

Jamie Cullum’s brand new album ‘Momentum’ is out now, available in stores and online. Read our review here  and enter our Jamie Cullum competition to win a special prize pack & personal message from Jamie himself.

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