Trapped in the whirlwind of the January ‘Best New Artist’ parade it is easy to forget that Jamie Woon didn’t just appear out of thin air when the BBC came looking for the fourth placed Sound of 2011.
Woon first unleashed his soul influenced persona in February 2007, lavishing an instantly recognisable layered vocal style over a cover of the traditional folk standard Wayfaring Stranger. A deal with Polydor Records soon followed for the BRIT School graduate but it wasn’t until recording sessions with dubstep pioneer Burial that the London singer truly found a home for his lingering croon.
The resulting single ‘Night Air’ went down a storm with critics and posed Woon as a credible harbinger of minimalist bass music to the mainstream. With an ethereal debut album, ‘Mirrorwriting’, now in the bag, Woon spoke to Gigwise about those beginning of year lists, his songwriting inspiration and the SXSW culinary experience.
When did you first decide to become a musician?
“I took up guitar when I was about 15, then just after that mum made an album in Nashville and I went along with her while she did it. The idea of making a body of work, having an idea and not knowing where it is going to go was inspiring.”
It’s been a while since you first single ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ was released in 2007. When did ‘Mirrorwriting’ begin to come together as an album?
“About halfway through making ‘Night Air’ a year and a half ago, it hit a point when I added the bassline to it. It fitted together, there was a definite tone and a kick to it. I wasn’t in the dark so much any more.”
‘Night Air’ was co-produced by Burial. He seems to have had quite an effect on your songwriting?
“Burial did some additional production on fragments of some other sessions which we’ve credited to his real name. I was very taken aback by his approach to music and the rigour he applies. It was pretty inspiring and I wanted to work that way.”
Where in your music do you exact the most rigour. What is the starting point?
“I do take a long time over the vocals but I had no doubt the album as whole was going to take a long time. Vocals were the only parts I recorded myself so I just went away and did hundreds of takes trying to perfect my voice. Finding out what I could do and what I couldn’t.”
Your voice tends to hold the tracks together. You’ve got a pretty crooning style, where did you pick that up?
“I think that was my mum really. That style seemed quite open, there was nothing fictitious about it.”
‘Mirrorwriting’ is a very solitary record. Is it strange putting it out knowing that thousands of people are going to listen to it?
“In a way that’s why I decided to call it ‘Mirrorwriting’ to see people’s different reactions to it. I did put a lot of myself into it, picking out fragments of moments.”
Jamie Woon - 'Night Air'
Do you know when you’re experiencing moments like that whether you will write about them in the future?
“Most of them are kind of general, like I’m trying to paint a portrait or a tone poem. So I can make it personal but there’s enough for people to get into it. So ‘Street’ is about a day in the city, it could be any city but it feels like you could be anything you want. It can be overwhelming but there’s a melancholy and beauty to that.”
The record keeps to that tone throughout. Is that the same sort of feel that you will be aiming to continue on your next LP?
“There are certain things like layered vocals that have been a part of my sound for a while but I’m really into funk at the moment so I’m definitely up for moving into different areas.”
A lot of the songs on the album are concerned with the nocturnal. What draws you to that time of day?
“I stay up quite late in general. I make music then because, it is when I’m most awake really. I wouldn’t say I fetishise the night but there is something about it.”
You said a while ago that you’d be up for collaborating with something big and bombastic like the Philharmonic orchestra. That seems a bit alien to your work now?
“I’m really up for collaborating with all different kinds of musician. I’ve been very protective of this first record but on the next one, I’d like to work over a shorter period of time with a different set of songs.”
You went to SXSW this year. Was it as much of a bear pit as it seems from the outside?
“As a band it’s probably a lot more fun than it is for a journalist. It great for our band playing three gigs in four days; by the end of it we were kicking. It just was a really great a vibe, I got to eat some ribs and chicken wings.”
You were scored favourably on the beginning of year lists in the context of other people. It must be nice to talk about yourself for a while?
“Yeah definitely. It’s been great exposure, bringing more people to the tour and getting more people to listen to the record. It gives a lot of people something to write about at the beginning of the year so you’ve just got to find your way around it.”
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
“We’re doing the festivals, European and UK tour but the main thing I’m excited about id the gigs. It’s made such a difference having a tune out, ‘Night Air’ and ‘Lady Luck’ go down really well now.”