Using unconventional bar structures and a live studio band to breathe life into the differing voices inside its protagonist’s head
Jonathan Jeremiah recently returned with his fifth studio album, Horsepower For The Streets. Sweeping and cinematic with the sepia hue of the late 60s/early 70s, the London-based songwriter is swathed in layers of orchestration throughout. With such striking arrangements, Serge Gainsbourg and Scott Walker are appropriate reference points, though this is far more than a reimagining of past glories.
Take Youngblood, for example. A startlingly original composition with demonic backing vocals leaping out of the fire, it was written by Jeremiah at a friend’s country house in Saint Pierre De Côle, just outside of Bordeaux whilst touring across France prior to lockdown. One of many highlights from the album, here he talks us through, ‘A song of hope and optimism in unstable and chaotic times.’
The whole new record tells of one guy’s spiral down into addiction and of his efforts to get himself out of it. When writing a record as one eleven-chaptered story, I felt it was screaming out for a moment of real conflict, almost like a fight scene halfway through where all the demons in his head fight each other.
Music has always been very much a visual process to me; I paint the picture in my head and try to express that in words. When I’m on tour, I love to visit galleries and paintings in particular. I had just discovered the work of [German artist] Neo Rauch, images of almost Victorian costumed characters in amongst surreal chaos. It took me back to the Brixton riots of ten years ago and me being on a bus riding through it. Throw all those worlds together and you get some inspiration, all set silhouetted by a blood-red sky.
I’ve been getting into the idea of having multiple people piping up in songs. All the voices in this guy’s head having something to say. His demons causing trouble, and others living their existence in one’s head. Conflict again, writing from a place of different views when perhaps some songs’ messages come from a place of one singular view, with characters in the story shouting out during the piece.
I liked the idea of exploring the use of a less conventional bar structure. Writing a melody more oblivious to perhaps a more expected four-beat structure. So a kind of odd four-bar and two-bar pattern.
Using this meant I wanted to hear a heavy backbeat, almost northern soul, to help our ears hear beyond that oddity. So heavy tambourine, and a piano hook that runs off in its own direction.
IN THE STUDIO
I’ve always been keen on a live studio band analogue recording, so we recorded Youngblood at London’s Konk Studios. Northern soul drum beat, live tambourine hovering beside the ride for maximum spill, electric pick bass for that David Reynolds/Serge & Scott feel, 330 Gibson with flatwounds to thicken the tambourine. Backing vocals and vibraphone to paint a wash through and beyond it.
So to me, it’s a dance song for the clubs I used to go to in London, like HeavyLoad and BlowUp back in the day. All-night northern soul nights too, Lordy Lord. Good nights. Sweaty dancefloors,