A lot of people will listen to Jack Steadman’s first solo album, God First, and have questions. “That’s not pop!” they will say, their eyes narrowing with incredulity. “Since when did he play bass and how did he get De La Soul on his album?”
As the Bombay Bicycle Club trundled along, frontman Jack had grown closer and closer to the piano. You could forgive fans for expecting some Radio 6 style pop music: Alexis Taylor-style stuff. Given God First’s genre-jump to jazz-sampling beat-making, I thought Jack would be looking forward to causing some puzzled faces.
“I always thought we [Bombay Bicycle Club] had very open minded fans,” he explains. “Even in the band we were going down many different paths on each record and people always seemed to be open to it.”
It’s true. From guitar-thrashing indie debut, to folky acoustic follow-up album, and right on through to Bombay’s final album in 2014, the four-piece from North London came up with something radically new every step of the way.
“There’s always melody there and something catchy, so it’s not that much of a change,” he says of his new output Mr Jukes. “It’s feel good music. Every songwriter has melodic style no matter how they dress it up…and I do have a melodic style.”
I’m speaking to Jack a few hours before a listen-through of his record for a small audience, followed by a live performance as a jazz trio with drummer, keys and – what’s this? – Jack playing a Fender Jazz bass. It’s a special event that he has been planning for some time. “I’m excited for nights like these where people get to hear the records behind the record. It opens them up to some new stuff and hopefully they like it.”
Jack explains tonight is inspired by a cultural phenomenon in japan called jazz kissaten, which means jazz cafe. “They started in the 50s and 60s when it was very expensive to import American jazz records, but people were hearing them because there were American troops in Japan. You could go buy a cup of coffee and listen to the latest release.”
“They have survived and become part of the culture [there]. I don’t know anywhere else it exists and I fell in love with it. I first went eight years ago and have been back every year since just to hang out at these places. Tonight is doing my best to bring that here. It’s tricky without your own space. In Japan it’s all about the owner. It’s like someone’s personality embodied in a room, which I really love.”
Away from three other bandmates, a solo album is Jack’s chance to embody his own personality in a record – but Mr Jukes sees other artists taking pride of place: both on the record and on stage.
“It’s risky doing a solo record…I didn’t want to call myself the captain.”
The project boasts some fabulous, surprising talent, with De La Soul, Horace Andy and BJ The Chicago Kid all featuring. Live, Mr Jukes is a nine-piece band of brass, vocalists, keys and drums. Note the absence of a guitar; Jack himself takes something of a backseat on the bass guitar, while his handpicked Jukes band steals the limelight with big vocals and brass solos aplenty.
“The name Mr Jukes comes from Typhoon. It’s a Joseph Conrad book. Jukes is the second in command as this ship goes blazing into a typhoon. I like that he was second in command because I thought it would bring me down to earth a little bit.”
But Jack – your fans want to see you in command. It’s OK to being the main man on your first solo album, surely? “It’s risky doing a solo record,” he explains. “You need as much levelling as you can. I didn’t want to call myself the captain.”
Although playing First Mate on stage, Jack is more of a captain in the studio, orchestrating beats made from his very personal library of samples and letting his guests do a lot of the ear-catching. The samples plus beats plus vocalists strategy has produced a feel-good album of summer bangers.
One sample for lead single ‘Angels/Your Love’, however, landed him in a spot of bother. “With that song, I fucked up. I went and recorded with BJ The Chicago Kid and spent loads of money flying over there and I hadn’t even cleared the sample.”
It ended up taking a large feat of persuasion to get it signed off, nearly throwing the launch schedule into disarray. “I will not repeat that mistake,” he laughs – the laugh of a man who got away with it, but holds no grudges.
“If someone doesn’t want you to use their sample, then there’s no hard feelings. You can try hard to convince them, but at the end of the day if they just aren’t happy with it then I 100% respect that and move on.
It’s not like “fuck what a dick!”. I would to the same thing if I didn’t like something. Luckily most of the people on the record liked it.”