If you gonna get a message across, make it sound as sweet as possible.
R. Newell spoke to the band who put the groove into the environment.
"Ages ago on a TV music show someone asked me. 'What colour is soul?', something like that. I replied 'Soul has no colour',
then some girl joined in with, 'What do you mean? Of course it does'. But it doesn't. We're born with natural ability to
express feelings whether musically, artistically, any way at all..it shouldn't be colour exclusive."
If you've ever copped an environmentally friendly Jamiroquai groove floating out of radio speakers somewhere on a sunny summer day,
you'll already appreciate the feelgood factor which emanates from the psyche of the London soulsters.
Harking back to that blissful period in the early 70s when bass, in the grooves of Philly soul/funk, was the true and undisputed king,
the J-teams cool suss is anchored via the precocious four string talents of Stuart Zender.
Presently working on his place in the basss scheme of things, young Zender is not entirely happy with the 'if you're this than
you can't do that' school of parochial thinking, as witnessed by his 'colour of soul' response. "One of the neatest things
ever said to me was from a black bass player," Stuart continues. "The guy said 'You play really ba-a-ad bass, man!'".
Sounds reasonable. Why should any type of music be 'colour-coordinated?' Nonsense, surely.
"There a lot of that attitude particularly in the States, though," counters Stuart.
"They're so category conscious, with all the marketing stuff that goes on. But I liked that guy's comment because I left then that I'd crossed that barrier. I wasn't playing black music, I was playing white music, but he could understand what I was doing.
In America, they have this problem in that they do relate colour to a style of music, which is wrong.
I don't thing music has got colour at all; I think it's got rhythm, and you move to that rhythm, and that's it.
When I was in Brazil I enjoyed the Brazilian rhythms, and not because I was South American."
If anyone does, Stuart should know about the Philadelphia vibe... "I was brought up in Philadelphia with exposure to lots of soul and black orientated music there. Believe it, in the school that I went to there were 2000 people and only 245 of them were white."
These sound like facts and figures quoted by someone who's only too aware of the situation...
"Yeah, I used to get beaten up - you talk about racism here, well, I was on the other end of the stick.
But that's my background, and Jamiroquai was the first big music project I ever did. I was in punk bands before,
but I always had that soul side, just waiting for that thing, to make it grow and pop out. And it did - I met Jay (Jason (Jay K) Kay, Jamiroquai frontcat) through Nick Van Gelder, who was our last drummer, a friend of my sister's. They used to be in a band together.
Big sister - I used to look up to her because she was in a band! Later on, when I was about 17,
I started getting back in contact with Nick. He knew that I could play reasonably well but didn't know to what standard...
they were used to a certain standard but I'd been playing with older musicians."
Nick already had the gig with Jamiroquai at that point?
"Yes, Jay really liked his playing because he was quite a solid drummer compared to what he was used to do; I guess he was used to drum machines before Nick. But our ideas moved on and Nick's didn't. He's very talented but he couldn't really communicate with him.
It got to the stage when there was nothing there. It was a breath of fresh air when Derrick (McKenzie) came in.
With Derrick's attitude in the band we've all got a better working relationship with each other, it's all growing. It's not necessarily Nick's fault that it didn't get like that, it's just timing. Three bloody years of not holding on to a speeding bullet," laughs Stuart.
Essentially joining an already-formed band, was he behind all the wacked-out bass grooves on
'Emergency On Planet Earth', the first album?
"No, Andrew Levy, I do believe, plays on When You Gonna Learn?, the first tune done on the Acid Jazz label,
and I wasn't in the band then. The first tune I did was Too Young To Die, around 1992-3."
For someone as naturally suited to the bass vibe as young Zender, Stuart is decidedly uncertain as to when the bass effect actually struck him... "I don't really know. There's this mad bass player in a band called Ozric Tentacles which, funnily enough,
Nick was also in. He's like a white version of Jimi Hendrix, he looks just like him. He's really mad, but he's one of those likeable people who inspired me a lot. He's really good at all instruments - piano, bass, all that, but he lacks lithium in his brain, a chemical imbalance, and he was, like, very intensely speedy all the time, but naturally so! Then I moved on to Weather Report, because Ozric's music is Weather Report-ish. There's an old album of theirs with a tune called Oghabe on it, and it was really like Weather Report,
and I liked it. And then from fusion to funk. I like drums as well - I started on snare drum, believe it or not,
in a high school marching band in Philadelphia, it was good because we had funky cadences!"
Is Jamiroquai an integrated thing, or more Jay's backing band?
"We're very much integrated. That sounds like a safety mechanism to me, really. On the last album, 'The Return Of The Sapce Cowboy'
we each had our say. It's movig on from there, the next album will be a totally different thing, we have all specific things to do.
The first album had to be Jay, because he's the one that signed the deal with Sony; we didn't, we have a deal with him.
It's all very lucrative at the end of the day, but I've got the freedom to work with other artists as well."
"I left a lot of space in the second album for other things to come through and allowed them breathing space."
A sign perhaps, of playing maturity?
"Could be - the further you get on the less you play."
Given that, what's Stuart opinion on re-listening to the first album now?
"I listen back to it and think, 'Bloody hell, is that me?' I can't believe it. When we first did it we all hated it. Every time we'd hear it
would just be, like, cringe, cringe. And then hadn't heard it for ages and ages and I put it on and I was proud to be on it."
A case of beeing too close to the songs and the recording initially?
"Obviously yes. You're hearing it, getting battered by it left, right and centre and end up with a kind of mental block to it,
then it comes back fresh and you can hear it with almost layman's ears."
"Yes, I'm a fingers man, slapping very hard, like that."
Hmm, sounds like it too, on the first album in particular; low action, a lot of fret contact - real bass sounds!
"As for basses, Warwick has been very helpful and given me two really lovely fretless basses, beautiful, one with lights on the fretboard, the works. Otherwise I've been using my fretted Warwick and my '74 Fender Jazz quite a lote. That's great. Oh, and the Alembic."
What was actually used on the first album?
"That was all the Warwick. The second album was the Alembic, the Fender and the Warwick fretted."
Fretless on a couple of tracks, too?
"Yes, Manifest Destiny was originally done on a fretless with a flanger and it sounded great, but we re-did it."
Is the bass intro on that track totally your own?
"Actually, Jay wrote that. Well, he hummed that melody to me, but it wasn't like that. I put the other little part on it, that's mine. He gave me the basic line and I improvised the end of it to lead it back round to that thing. If it was done right, I wanted it to sound like Logan's run. You know the beginning of that, with that keyboard... what is it, a Juno? (pauses) I think our next album is going to be tough, man."
When does the world get to hear the next Jamiroquai album?
"I can't tell you that. It's top secret. Lots of things about that album are top secret."
Are you working on it at the moment?
"We're going to book out a studio and we've bought some equipment that we're going to be putting in the bottom of Jay's flat to get grooves and ideas so we can take them all and whack them altogether. There'll be lots of Spanish guitar on it. There's a tune that's a love song that's light, airy, Spanish. A little bit more Brazilian than your harder, dirtier funk. Tunes specifically catering for the dance floor."
"I did this Archaos circus thing, which was a show called 'Metal Clown'. They're a French circus troupe, no animals, very over-the-top,
and they do lots of stunts like juggling chain saws, all kinds of fire, it's like a freak show, you know, but blown up, enlarged. Basically,
they had a troupe of 80 Brazilian artists with drums, the whole troupe. I left school at 16 and went to do that, my sister as well.
I learned a lot off them, their rhythms, the way they were throwing them out. I'd always be playing during spare time with one of the guys,
and he'd say, 'it's wrong' about the rhythms, but I learned later on it's just 'slop'; not even slop, it doesn't have to be on,
if you know what I mean. Not on all the time, just a natural rhythm. I certainly used that idea in Jamiroquai's music."
"My playing style's getting weirder, that's for sure. It's getting very quirky."
In what way?
"Just weird. It's not standard, it's probably to do with me being stoned playing, it gets weirder like that; but I've done about three or
four tunes by myself and they are b-a-d, really tough tunes. They're not like 'flash bastard' bass playing, they're nice..."
Why is everything about the new album so secretive?
"It's just better to hold it down. Things will leak out, obviously. We could put out an E.P.; we've got tons of songs on tape. Toby and Derrick have done a thing with M-Beat, a jungle tune. There have been little things popping out. It could happen, but I don't know."
Are there likely to be any more personnel changes? Are you still the same five-piece as on the last album?
"We've got myself, Toby, Derrick, Wallis, Jay. We've got five people there who are going to write music together.
We've got a percussionist who joined us on this last leg on tour, and he might be doing quite a lot of work with us, as well.
There'll be people in and out, basically, but bass, drums, keyboards and vocals will stay the same."
Other bass players
"I don't know, man, I'm clueless about bass players out there. There are tons of really good players. Someone saw the Brecker Brothers recently and said their bass player was rocking. I'd like to go and see these people, but Jamiroquai is my main output at the moment. I've put all my energy into that. I do have other projects on the side, but I'll let them grow with me, as I've grown with this band."
Any possibility in the future of a Stuart Zender solo album?
"Could be. I'd like to play music with other people - Brandy, that black R&B singer,
she's only 15 years old but has such a beautiful voice. I'd like to get into the studio with her."
"Dennis Chambers. I saw him at the Nice Jazz Festival. Amazing drummer. I found some up-and-coming drummers, too; a guy I met in
Greece who's from Yugoslavia, and goes to a music school in Vienna, 25 and he plays just like Dennis Chambers, just amazing.
There are so many young talents out there. Give them a chance and they'll really shine through."
The infamous Jamiroquai Didgeridoo
You're in a fairly unique situation, whereby you've got a didgeridoo which is used extensively within the band's sound.
When he's playing, obviously because it's a fairly monotone thing, are there not on the bass that you have to steer clear of?
"Yes, because of the frequencies. The didgeridoo is tuned to different keys, E and D; I can only play in certain keys without it clashing."
Do you ever try to get a particular rhythm together on that particular note? It could actually enhance some of the sounds you can
get together, a direct human element in the bass sound - you're both bass instruments, but it's more vocal...
"Yeah, but it's a story-book as well in the Aboriginal culture, so you can't abuse the instrument by bebop-ing down it."
But there is an element of experimentation, surely, that could be explored? You are in a unique position to try that.
"Yes, but it happens anyway, because he does the basic sound of the didge - I play the didgeridoo as well, and there's a call
that you do; you've got the basic tone and you've got the calls, the dogs and the bats and the wombats and all that.
He does rhythms in between myself, the percussionist and Derrick. When we do the live gigs,
we have a jam that leads into a song, and Wallis plays for about half-an-hour.
I don't know how he can do that. Aboriginals have come up and said, 'How can you do that for half-an-hour?'”
Very physical, isn't it?
"It is extremely physical, really. He's getting head rushes after head rushes. And he basically does all the rhythms up top, but keeping the same frequency. So it's happened already. That jam at the end could actually be used for a tune I think, as well, with the didge."
As for Jamiroquai's inspired success, well any band which features didgeridoo as lead
instrument on the intro of the first track of the first album..would you?