Saturday 18 November 2017

It's a brand new piece of (David) Kitt

After years of folky singer-songwriter fare, David Kitt has reinvented his sound. Our reporter meets the musician as he prepares to release the debut album from New Jackson, his electronica alter ego

Labour of love: David Kitt first started recording as New Jackson in 2011
Labour of love: David Kitt first started recording as New Jackson in 2011
John Meagher

John Meagher

It's a bit like that hoary old buses cliché - you wait seven years for a new David Kitt album, and then two turn up within a few months of each other.

At the beginning of the year, the Dubliner released Yous - his first album since 2009's The Nightsaver - and now he's about to release an album under the New Jackson moniker. From Night to Night feels very different to his regular David Kitt work, thanks to its heavy focus on electronica and comparative absence of vocals, but the quality is unstinting. And it feels like a labour of love.

"I've always been into house and techno, and many of the songs I was writing didn't feel like David Kitt songs," he says. "I first started recording as New Jackson in 2011 and wanted to record an album a couple of years later, but I was on the road with David Gray at the time, so it had to be put on the long finger."

Kitt was a member of David Gray's touring band for 18 months and prior to that he had joined one of his favourite bands, Tindersticks, and even recorded an album with them. The Nightsaver may have been enthusiastically reviewed but it sold a fraction of what his first album proper, The Big Romance, achieved just eight years previously, so Kitt had to rethink the future.

"I loved those years with Tindersticks and David Gray," he says. "I learned so much and experienced a lot with both, but on a purely practical level, it was nice to have a regular income coming in. It's all well and good to make the music that you want to - and I get to do that - but you also need to be able to pay the bills."

Kitt was never one who sought the limelight, and time away from the release-tour-release treadmill of his own work made him determined to explore new directions. "Maybe, as you get older your ego fades," he says, "but I've less interest in that autobiographical, confessional sort of songwriter stuff now than I had before."

And yet there's little problem turning his hand to it when the mood takes him, as it did in the sessions that produced Yous. Rather than release the album in a conventional way, he made it available online for only seven days at the very start of the year. It will be released properly next year by the Dublin-based label All City Records, who are also bringing out the New Jackson album.

Kitt says he has never had such a strong working relationship with a record company - high praise indeed considering he had been on the roster of such respected labels as Rough Trade and Blanco Y Negro. But, he insists, high-profile names aren't all they're cracked up to be.

"I really feel I have artistic freedom and can do what I want, when I want. [All City boss] Olan [O'Brien] is really supportive of that. It's a trust thing, at the end of the day - he knows I'm going to deliver the best work I can."

From Night to Night is as satisfying as anything he has yet released: there's real beauty in the meditative 'Anya's Piano' and 10-minute closer 'Of a Thousand Leaves' is among the most ambitious tracks he has ever recorded.

He attributes the album's distinct sound to a vintage 1980s sampler, the unwieldy named E-mu Sp-1200. It was an expensive piece of kit and quite primitive in relation to the sort of technology that's available today, and yet it was that very restrictiveness that's proved so rewarding.

"There's so much choice when it comes to making music now and you can end up wasting a lot of time," Kitt says, "so it's good to have limited choice because that helps focus the mind."

Kitt is no nostalgist but he wonders if today's propensity among musicians to overshare is robbing music of some of its magic. "It's so easily to put half-finished songs, or fragments of music, out there now, whereas in the past you'd wait until you were as happy as you could be with it. I would have been as guilty of that as anyone."

He says he's been prolific over the past few years but opted not to release much of that material until the time is right. One song that did see the light of day - and made many sit up and take notice of New Jackson - was 'Electric Blue', a haunting reworking of David Bowie's 1977 song 'Sound and Vision'. "I just love that song, the way he takes in his surrounds and is at peace in his solitude. I can relate to that."

In 2002, a year after the release of The Big Romance, Kitt found himself chosen by Bowie as one of the acts to perform at Meltdown in London, which the iconic figure was curating that year. But he never got to meet him. It turns out he could have done, had he stayed to watch another of Bowie's personal picks - Mercury Rev - but he opted to spend the evening with his then girlfriend.

Kitt, the music man, seems to be happy in his own skin right now. Inspiration has been flowing and he has plans for more albums both under his own name and alter ego, and there's a project involving Ash frontman Tim Wheeler and, possibly, a collaboration with a well-known Irish author in the works, too.

If From Night to Night feels cinematic in sound, that's no surprise to its creator. Kitt has long been drawn to movie music, and he soundtracked a short, Dublin-set film, Wednesday, a couple of years ago.

"It's something I'd love to do more of in the future," he says. "The limitations of it are appealing, creatively, and it's good to have deadlines, too."

He had been earmarked to work on an 1980s-set film project for an Irish director currently making waves, but the project never got off the ground. "It's a real shame," he says ruefully. "I think it could have been very special."

But there are no regrets. "I just feel very fortunate to still be making music - and making the music I want to make. I don't take that for granted."

New Jackson plays Dublin's Button Factory tomorrow night, and From Night to Night is released on May 12

Culture shot

Anderson .PAak

The Academy, Dublin, tomorrow

Those attending Bruno Mars’ sold-out shows at the 3Arena tonight and tomorrow should get there early to see the Grammy-nominated Dr Dre protégé Anderson .Paak, who’s made quite a name for himself over the past few years.

But those especially enamoured by his lively brand of hip-hop and R&B will want to see him in a more intimate setting, and straight after tomorrow’s slot with Mars he will be doing his own thing in the Academy. Expect him to be on stage at about 10pm.

It’s likely to be a good time to see him in concert, too: the Californian, who was among those listed in the BBC’s Sound Of poll this year, has been attracting some glowing reviews for his recent shows, including a barnstorming appearance at London’s Forum.

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