Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Jonathan Jeremiah: All going to plan

Jonathan Jeremiah
Jonathan Jeremiah

With comparisons already being made with the likes of Bill Withers and Terry Callier, 28-year-old London singer/songwriter Jonathan Jeremiah is currently revealing his captivating blend of confessional soul and haunting English folk via his critically-acclaimed debut album ‘A Solitary Man’. Which - recorded in an analogue studio in Dollis Hill - impressively boasts musical contributions from the likes of young classical musicians The Heritage Orchestra; string arranger Jules Buckley; legendary former James Brown horn section The JBs; plus Philadelphia hip hop band The Roots’ drummer Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson.

Indeed, with his deeply resonant, naturally dramatic voice and delicate, finger-picked guitar fronting stunningly-arranged orchestrations of timeless, self-penned songs, Jonathan’s distinctive sound marks the result of a musical journey that began with guitar lessons at the age of six, while taking in family childhood singalongs with his five siblings on summer holidays to his mother’s native Tipperary along the way.

Meanwhile, with artistic influences emanating from his mother’s extensive vinyl collection of Sixties and Seventies albums from the likes of Bill Withers, Scott Walker and Cat Stevens, many of Jeremiah’s lyrics on ‘A Solitary Man’ can be traced back to a road-trip he made to the US at 21. Which found him meeting lost family members - in addition to spending New York evenings singing for his keep, before going on to explore America’s West Coast... Much of which is in turn evidenced in the emotional landscape of songs like the soulful, shuffling beat-ballad (and upcoming single) ‘Lost’, plus other standout tracks like the jazzily-infectious, string-drenched ‘See’ and hauntingly sophisticated ‘Happiness’.

… Cue a warm-mannered, well-spoken Jonathan meeting up with ‘Blues & Soul’ Assistant Editor Pete Lewis for mid-morning breakfast at Universal Music’s buzzing Kensington HQ, to discuss such matters as his aforementioned, self-written-and-produced debut LP, his early musical influences, plus his ongoing love of analogue recording.

PETE: What’s the background behind titling your debut album ‘A Solitary Man’?

JONATHAN: “Well, a few years ago I spent some time in America. And while I was there, I met a few relatives along the way. You know, Mum and Dad would call up and be like ‘Oh, you must meet your Aunty Alice who left Tipperary 50 years ago’… So I remember being on the Greyhound bus travelling from New York through to Colorado and California. And with it being a really productive time for me songwriting-wise, when I met that particular aunt I was actually already writing the song ‘A Solitary Man’ - whose lyrics by chance did seem quite in keeping with what was going on with HER. In that, though she’d moved out there with her family, with her husband having passed away she didn’t really have that much CONTACT with them any more and was now pretty much by herself. So that in itself was very much an inspiration for me coming up with that as the title... Plus - although my record must have over 60 musicians playing on it - the fact I didn’t have an actual producer or an engineer did mean that a lot of the time I was just in the studio recording purely by MYSELF! Which again ties in with it being called ‘A Solitary Man’!”

PETE: So why did you opt for producing the entire album yourself?

JONATHAN: “The main reason I didn’t want to get a producer involved was basically because I knew from the off how the record would SOUND! You know, because I’ve always been a big vinyl collector and I’m very opinionated about what I like, I instantly knew that what I wanted was a very Scott Walker or Bill Withers kind of feel but with a touch of the Englishness of John Martyn or Nick Drake. And so, because I could visualise pretty easily how I wanted it all to be, with me doing all the production myself it all just came together very NATURALLY. Whereas I felt that, if I got a producer involved, it would all go off into another tangent - because his references wouldn’t be the same as MINE! Plus I also thought it would be very difficult nowadays for me to say ‘I want 40-piece orchestration throughout this album’ without the other person saying ‘Yeah, but people don’t really DO that any more!’!.. So yeah, I guess I basically just thought that bringing a producer on board would ultimately water-down what I wanted my album to BE!”

PETE: With the album having been described as “specialising in dramas of the heart and human longings”, what inspired the lyrics?

JONATHAN: “Well, there are various issues on there that stem from many different situations. For example, ‘Happiness’ is about my time in New York and how I was longing to come back to London. Because, though I’d gone out there expecting to meet people that were into the same music as me, to be honest I really did struggle to find like minds! You know, even in LA the whole singer/songwriter thing wasn’t really HAPPENING any more! Which is why you’ll find lyrics on there about me catching a cab to 42nd Street - where Grand Central Station is - and looking forward to my journey home… Then a song like ‘All The Man I’ll Ever Be’ came about after I’d played the album to my girlfriend, and she was a bit upset because there wasn’t a song about HER on it! Which immediately led to me going into the other room and writing ‘All The Man I’ll Ever Be’, recording it that same week, and then dedicating it to her as the last song on the RECORD!... So yeah, while there is stuff on there that stems from a while ago when I was travelling, there’s also stuff that’s a lot more personal and relationship-based.”

PETE: Can you fill me in on your background and early musical influences?

JONATHAN: “Well, I grew up in Wembley (North London). My dad had come to England from India when he was five or six - his mother was Indian and his dad was English - while my mum had come over from Tipperary in Ireland. And they actually met in a lift when they we both working at the Lancaster Hotel!... So yeah, I grew up one of five kids. And the whole reason I first got into the guitar was actually because my sister - who was a year ahead of me - had started playing! You know, because I was so fiercely competitive, I was like ‘I’m gonna learn it TOO!’... And then influence-wise my mum was the one who collected the vinyl and was always playing (prominent Seventies UK singer/songwriter) Cat Stevens, as well as a lot of soul stuff. While my dad, because he worked at Wembley Arena, would always take us to the CONCERTS there when we were kids. Which in turn eventually led to me getting a job there too - first of all in the box office, and then later as a security guard!... So one way or another I was just always around MUSIC! I’d either be listening to my mum’s great record collection, or watching concerts - and later working - at Wembley Arena!”

PETE: You recorded your album in an analogue studio in Dollis Hill, North London. What to you were the main benefits of that style of recording?

JONATHAN: “Well, while to me that way of recording - where you’re working, as I was, on a 16-track or an eight-track machine - may be restricting, I genuinely feel it ultimately limits you in a GOOD way! In that it means you’ve got to put all your ideas across in a very straightforward WAY! You know, you don’t have the luxury of edits - you just have an opportunity to capture a performance. And I actually do think that snapshot of a performance is something that’s been LOST in recording recently. Because, though today everybody’s always trying to find PERFECTION in a song, to me the beauty is in the IMPERFECTION!... And so, while the guys that mixed my record almost had heart attacks when they heard the state of the tracks - like they could hear the drum-beats on the string tracks and whatever - at the end of the day they just had to LIVE with it!... I mean, I recently heard the separates of lot of the old Motown stuff - and there was definitely no perfection THERE! It was just all about the vibe and the feel they got from the performance - which is the thing that I was most concerned about with MY record!”

The album ‘A Solitary Man’ is out now. The single ‘Lost’ will be released May 16, both through Island

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