The Mr Jukes name is taken from Joseph Conrad’s ‘Typhoon’ that you read while travelling. You did a photo journal for The Guardian but did you consider writing about the experience?
I kept a diary just for personal use so that I could read it and look back. I’m sure it would be incredibly dull for anyone else to read so I won’t be publishing it.
How long were you away for?
I was away for two months and went on the Trans-Siberian which took me to China, then I took a ship from there to Canada and flew back.
You’re just back from playing some shows in Japan, how was that?
It was great, there is definitely a link to Japan with the new record because of the trips I took out there buying records. The sample I used for the song ‘Grant Green’ which I guess is the biggest song from the record, I found in a jazz bar in Tokyo. A guy was playing this record and I rushed over and said “What is this? I need this”.
You’re obviously well-travelled. What’s your favourite destination and what draws you there?
I think probably Tokyo as it’s somewhere I keep going back to and I try to go there at least once a year. I love the food, I love the culture plus it’s a very welcoming city to go to just by yourself, which not all cities are. I like travelling alone, I like a bit of solitary time once in a while, for my sanity.
Solitude seems to be important to you – is that still easily achievable given your latest success?
Yes, it is if you work at it. I certainly don’t get recognised much, especially since I shaved my hair off. The Bombay fans don’t recognise me anymore.
You had great success with Bombay Bicycle Club. Was it a joint decision to take a break or were you ready for a new direction away from the band?
It was my decision because I wanted to make this record and to take some time off but there certainly wasn’t any shock or arguments about it. Everyone felt pretty similar given the fact that we’d been touring for a hell of a long time, since we were very young and it was time for us all, not just me, to see what else was out there. If it’s all you’ve known since leaving school then that’s kind of crazy. We’re adults now and there’s a lot more out there so it was a healthy thing to do. Some have gone back to study, others are painting and have gone back to hobbies they didn’t have time for.
Do you still see the other members very often?
Yeah, I see them quite regularly, we live quite close to each other and we’re all still really good friends. I think we made the decision to stop the band, or at least to go on a break to preserve the friendships. It can be a difficult atmosphere sometimes when you’re spending your entire life in a very small, enclosed space with four people, in tour buses and dressing rooms and you don’t want that to get in the way of your friendship as that’s the most important thing.
So it’s definitely a hiatus and not a permanent break?
Yeah 100%. We still talk about plans for the future and I’m still thinking about the kind of music I want to write next. It’s all out in the open.
How did you come from leading a well-respected, successful indie band to being in a studio recording a jazz/funk/soul album with the likes of De La Soul, Charles Bradley etc? Was it a natural progression?
I wouldn’t say it was incredibly natural but, to be honest, the music that I was making when I was a teenager was much more similar to this than it was to Bombay Bicycle Club. I’ve still got all these old tracks I used to make on my computer that I’m saving with a lot of sampling, hip-hop and jazz but then the indie scene sort of blew up in the UK and we’d started the band in school and it took off without me even thinking about it so this has been a nice moment for me to go back to the music that I grew up making.
What was the writing and recording process for ‘Leap Of Faith’ (with De La Soul and Horace Andy)? Did it start from a jam or was it written before you recorded it?
It had a vague structure and De La Soul kind of extended it a bit and did their thing. It was very simple with them, they just asked me what was going through my head when I wrote the track and asked me about the themes of the record and that was that really.
Did you ask anyone to appear on the album who wasn’t able to?
I had a very long correspondence with a female MC from Chicago called Noname. She used to be called Noname Gypsy but she had to drop the ‘Gypsy’. She’s incredible and has done a lot of music with Chance The Rapper and her record came out a couple of summers ago, when I was in the process of writing this and I just fell in love with it. So we just said it’s not going to work now but hopefully in the future.
Charles Bradley sadly died shortly after the album was released. How was he to work with and why did you want to work with him?
I just chose him because I had a particular idea of what the performance should be like for the vocal and there was really only one guy still around who could do that and that was Charles Bradley. They just don’t really make voices like that any more. It’s not even the aesthetic of the voice, it’s the passion and the soul behind it and the life that he’d led. It was amazing to work with him.
Obviously he was a Daptone recording artist. Is there anyone else from that label you would like to work with?
Well I’ve just got back from the States and I did two shows there with lots of guys from the Daptone house band, which was amazing and a nice link to the Charles Bradley stuff. It’s quite an extended family and there’s a whole lot of musicians in that circle and it was great to play with a bunch of them.
Did you consider approaching Grant Green Jr for the track?
To be honest I haven’t heard much of his stuff. I’m still exploring Grant Green’s records so I think I’ll exhaust that first.
I presume you are an avid vinyl collector? What are you into at the moment?
I’ve started collecting a lot of classical music. In Tokyo they have these amazing bars with sound systems that mostly play jazz but I’ve found a few that are solely devoted to playing classical music on these beautiful sound systems. They have these fake concerts where instead of an orchestra people listen to a record and then claps at the end, which I thought was wonderful. I’d love to do something similar over here so I’m just building a collection. There are these two labels from the late 50s and early 60s, Mercury Living and RCA Victor that both have this striking cover art and it’s that nerdy thing where you just want to complete a collection, so I’m working through those at the moment. It’s quite a wide range of modern classical but it goes right back to Baroque and Romantic styles.
What can we expect from your Love Supreme set? Will there be any guest appearances or collaborations from on-site performers?
We’ve been talking to Lalah Hathaway and all I can say is: fingers crossed. It’s looking very likely but I wouldn’t want to say for sure. It would be amazing though.
Will you get a chance to check out any of the other performers?
I’m definitely going to hang around for Dave Holland and Zakir Hussein as I’ve been trying to catch them for a very long time and am very happy that they are on the same bill. I’d like to see Steve Winwood as I’ve never seen him before and Pharoah Sanders, who I saw last year and was great.
How was the recent Love Supreme show at The Roundhouse?
It was lovely. I had a great day and it was an honour to be asked to headline as I feel like we’re still an up and coming group. It was a beautiful sunny day and I got to walk around and catch lots of music and the crowd were great.
Do you prefer to play clubs, gigs or festivals and do you tailor your sets to the venue or vibe?
I like to change the set as you don’t have the comfort blanket of playing to your own fans at festivals. You have to play less of the more obscure album tracks that are a bit slower and just have a bit of fun. So it’s quite different. I like playing festivals as you can’t be a snob about it you just have to approach it as this is going to be a lot of fun and have a great time.
Have you started work on the follow up to ‘God First’ yet and will you be working with the same core group of musicians?
Yes, slowly but surely. I always just make my records on my own and the band was assembled much later on. I’m still figuring out what sort of record it’s going to be like and I’m still thinking about Bombay Bicycle Club stuff so there’s nothing remotely definite at this point.
Will the next album similarly feature guest vocalists/musicians?
I think that I’m ready to start singing again. I loved making a record where I was just in the producer’s chair but I think I’m up for making something a bit more personal.
Mr Jukes is playing Love Supreme Festival on Saturday 30th June.