Mr Jukes – Interview 2017

Mr JukesOne of the most unlikely musical mutations of recent years has to be Jack Steadman’s successfully transformation from frontman of indie-pop band Bombay Bicycle Club to mastermind of Mr Jukes. A project that completely caters for his love of funk, soul and jazz, with a range of guest singers including De La Soul, Elli Ingram, Charles Bradley, Lalah Hathaway, Lianne La Havas, and Horace Andy. It was a high risk endeavour which seems to be paying dividends as his up-coming sold out tour of the UK testifies.

How’s it going?
I’m good. Doing lots of interviews

Must be your favourite part of the job?
It is. Always has been.

You just did your first ever show as Mr. Jukes. How was it?
We had our first show a couple of days ago, at the Village Underground. It was a lot of fun. I had a huge grin on my face the whole time. I had a nine-piece band. This huge, incredible band. We were playing all these songs that had been stuck on my computer for so long, and hearing them come alive was great.

A lot of rehearsal go into that?
Surprisingly little. We left a lot of it to chance. They’re all from a jazz background. They probably prefer not to rehearse.

What is the live set up?
We’ve got three horn players – two saxes, and a trumpet – three vocalists – because there are so many collaborators on the record – a drummer, keys, and then I’m playing the bass, which I’m absolutely loving. I’m only doing a little bit of vocals, but not too much. I’m just too busy embarrassing myself, rocking out.

So, you’ve got the live bug again?
It just made me want to go on the road, which is funny, because as soon as Bombay finished their last tour, I was like ‘You know what? That’s it! I’m not going on tour ever again’. But, you play that first show, and you come off that stage, and I’m like ‘Just book everything’!

What the situation with Bombay Bicycle Club?
Bombay is taking a break. We haven’t set anything into stone. I don’t like it when bands have intense break-ups and then come back three months later. LCD Soundsystem did it. They made a whole documentary, and the guy (James Murphy) was shedding tears. He was crying! And six months later, I see they are headlining a festival. I think that’s ridiculous.

Did you have any idea what you were going to do when you called a halt on Bombay?
I knew it was going to be something like this. A lot more soul, funk and jazz. What I didn’t know was how many people were going to be on the record. That wasn’t planned at all. But, I managed to get so many incredible singers on it. That came as a real surprise. Once you get a few you realise you don’t need to do all the singing. If a song sounds like it would suit someone else, then just go and find that perfect voice. And that’s what I did.

Did you know any of these singers?
Most of them I had never met.

What about the Horace Andy/De La Soul collaboration?
Horace Andy happened to be in Paris, where I was, and was just hanging out. He got sent the track, and he loved it. He set aside an afternoon, and I came over. It was really casual, and relaxed. De La Soul was just a phone call, probably the most surreal phone call of my life. I’m sitting in my kitchen, explaining to De La Soul what the song is about, and what I think they should be writing about. That was an incredible memory for me now.

Did any of these people know about you?
A lot of people hadn’t. Which in a way I quite liked. It was just the MP3 that arrived in their inbox was all that they needed to hear, which I thought was quite comforting.

And the music. What is the process there?
It’s a lot of sample hunting, and finding little bits and pieces of records that catch my ear. Whereas a lot of people who use samples will turn it into a ten second loop and then someone will rap over it, I try and make it into a coherent song, and then I write a melody to it, and that’s when I got in touch with someone who could sing on it.

So, you’ve gone back to what you love, music-wise?
I’ve kinda gone full circle with this record. I started out as a bass player. The first song I learnt was ‘Lovely Day’ by Bill Withers, which could quite happily be at home on this record. From that I was delving into funk and soul and jazz. Somehow I ended up in an indie-pop band for ten years.

Where did the name Mr. Jukes come from?
That’s a character in a book called Typhoon, by Joseph Conrad. I was reading him on this freight ship I sailed on, and where I set up a studio to try and start this process of writing this record. Mr. Jukes is second-in-command of the ship in the book, which I thought was perfect. When you do a solo record there’s a big risk of your ego over-inflating.

Why did you decide to spend time on a freight ship?
It was just what I needed, after almost ten years of touring with a band. I just wanted to have some alone time. And that is probably the most quality alone time you can get, two weeks in the North Pacific. It cleared my head and I started writing some music, and met some really nice people aboard. I ended up being the in-house producer, because I had this studio on board. Everyone would be knocking on my door, saying, ‘I’ve got this song I want to record and send home to my wife’. It was a surreal but very memorable experience. It was a crew of about 20 people. I was the only passenger. Filipinos, Germans, Poles, a big mix of people, and all very friendly and welcoming.

Was this easy to set up, this time on a ship?
It’s definitely not easy to arrange. There was a lot of red tape. And it was delayed two weeks, which put a lot of flight delays I had experienced into perspective.

How are your sea legs?
They’ve recovered. I didn’t get sea sick which was a huge relief. There probably wouldn’t have been a record made if that had happened.

Jeff Hemmings