Outerattik, the UK's Jamie Smith, released his acid jazz Attic EP recently and it's a great downtempo tribute to the nostalgic early days of jazz that he discovered pouring through vinyl records in his parents' attic. As he progressed as a jazz musician, Jamie began to experiment with more acid improvisational techniques and electronic sequencing, creating a "jazztronica" sound that pays homage to his classical training and gives a nod to his interest in other genres like electronica and funk. Read my interview with Outerattik, listen to Attic EP and download his track Electro Funk #50 for free:
Downbeatscape: What does "downtempo" mean to you and how does your style fit into this genre?
Outerattik (Jamie Smith): Downtempo to me means groovy, laid back and atmospheric. Chillout music with some bite. Genres are so blurred that I find myself going in circles trying to define the music I produce. In essence, I produce downtempo with harmony and rhythms from jazz, funk and soul.
DBS: How did your interest in jazz develop and how has it evolved through the years?
Jamie: Early on I’d been playing and improvising over stuff that had some overlap with jazz: mainly American songbook material. My uncle introduced me to it, and how to play chords and improvise. A few years later I bought some jazz CDs and books and began learning how jazz worked. I plucked up the courage to go to a few jam sessions around town and eventually joined some jazz combos. It was a difficult transition from previously playing mostly classical music. Jazz is quite different and I spent six or seven years not being able to play well enough to record - really frustrating.
I’d also experimented with sequencers and computer music in my teens, and after playing jazz proper I wanted to combine the two. It was after playing in fusion bands and learning to play funk that I felt confident and versed enough to embark into acid jazz and form Outerattik.
DBS: How did you first get your start as a musician?
Jamie: Music was always in my family. My Dad still plays in a brass band (which I played in for a few years) and my Mum performs in musicals. I started piano lessons when I was six and began composing a few years later, first with pencil and paper then with a sequencer my parents got me for Christmas.
DBS: How do you like composing in the studio compared to performing live? How does the art of improvisation, so important in jazz, come into play in a studio vs. live setting?
Jamie: I enjoy both. Going from one to the other keeps things interesting. Playing live is exciting but often the sound on stage, especially if playing in a noisy bar, is a bit rubbish. Being in the studio allows you to concentrate fully on the sound and play with more nuance.
The stage tends to be where you can really stretch improvisationally. I find the studio experience to be quite tense because I know bad notes will be recorded! But on stage, you’re jamming in real time and can be spontaneous - I find that really exciting.
DBS: What gigs do you have coming up?
Jamie: I’m looking to take Outerattik live soon. I put some feelers out to other musicians to collaborate and I’m pleased with the enthusiastic response. Until then I’ve gotta write more tunes!
DBS: Where do you find influence for your songs?
Jamie: Sometimes I write tunes to reflect a particular experience I’ve had or mood that I'm in. Other times it’ll come from something I’ve improvised. This EP, particularly Attic Faery, has quite a nostalgic feel to it. The main inspiration was discovering music through my parents’ vinyl collection in the attic. It was quite eclectic.
DBS: Where do you see the future of downtempo music and of acid jazz in particular?
Jamie: Downtempo will always find an audience. It’s such an adaptable form. You can fuse it with other genres, like folk and jazz, and it works really well. Who knows what the next twist on it will be. I thought glo-fi a few years back was pretty good, bringing back that 80s pop sound but in a new way.
As far as acid jazz goes, I have a vested interested in a revival! They say these things go in 20-year cycles, don’t they? Musicians like BADBADNOTGOOD and Robert Glasper are having a lot of success at the moment with their jazz and hip hop sound, and a more mainstream audience is responding. So it’s an exciting time to be playing acid jazz.
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