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Four Jamie xx collaborators on crafting a classic

Romy Madley-Croft, Popcaan and more give their take on why In Colour shines so brightly

Jamie Smith has always cut a bit of a loner figure, whether it was his shadowy presence behind his bandmates in The xx or as the shy solo producer who would drop instant-classic remixes without fanfare or social media noise. It’s unsurprising, then, that his solo efforts have often been imbued with that introspective quality. In a recent interview for Dazed, Smith admitted “I find it quite useful to be alone when I’m making music, but also in general, in life. If I’m trying to do something I like, it usually gets clouded by other things”.

As any shy, introspective person knows, if you’re someone who likes to work alone, finding the right person to collaborate with is a big deal; but as a result, the music that comes of such an intense collaboration tends to be pretty special. On the making of his debut solo album, Smith admits “I needed (The xx´s) help towards the end of making In Colour. Romy came into the studio to help me, I was getting lost”. To shed more light on some of those intense sessions and crucial turning points in the album’s fiercely guarded, inward-facing process, we spoke to xx bandmate Romy, dancehall star Popcaan, Young Turks’ boss Caius Pawson and video director Erik Wernquist to hear about what they contributed, and what they learned about Smith and about their craft along the way.

ROMY MADLEY-CROFT (“SEESAW”/”LOUD PLACES”)

“'SeeSaw' was originally a demo that I had done on my own on GarageBand in about 2008/2009, it’s a cover of an old disco song by Mary Buffett. I sent it to Oliver and Jamie and at the time I never got a response. Then – flash forward to the beginning of last year – Jamie plays me this song with a very familiar vocal sample... it was the 'SeeSaw' demo. Without me knowing, Jamie had sent it to Four Tet and they had worked on the song together. I was pretty surprised, in a good way.

With 'Loud Places', it was another very long journey of a song, for me at least. I had the first verse lyrics: 'I go to loud places to search for someone to be quiet with, who will take me home / You go to loud places to find someone who will take you higher than I took you'. Since before we made our second album Coexist, I kept trying to work them into different songs and it never worked, so I stored them away in my head. Last year I went to LA and did some sessions with songwriters and producers. Whilst I was out there, I did a session with Rick Nowels; he asked if I had any songs I wanted to work on, and so I sung him the few 'Loud Places' lyrics I had, then he kept playing the piano and I just sang melodies over and over again. This is where I came up with the pre chorus: 'Didn’t I take you to higher places you can’t reach without me'. I came back to London and played Jamie what I’d done in LA and he really liked it, so we began working on it together. The first few versions we made definitely didn’t sound like the finished version that’s out now, one was really slow, one was really fast... then a few weeks went by and he played me another version. This time he had completely changed all of the production, it was so simple but beautiful and exciting and out of no where came the amazing sample. It was something I would have never thought to incorporate myself, it was very Jamie, it was the missing piece.

“It’s fun to see him take songs in a direction that we might not have chosen” – Romy Madley-Croft

I think Jamie’s taste in music has broadened so much since I’ve known him, but he has always very open-minded and curious when it comes to any style of music. I remember buying him Peaches’ album Fatherfucker on vinyl for his birthday when we were about 16 and he loved it – in retrospect that’s a pretty wild album and I love that he was into it!

Before Jamie was in The xx, he was teaching himself how to DJ and how to produce and I would go over to his house and sing and play the guitar a bit and we would make music together, it was always more electronic. At the time, I wrote everything on the guitar so it was fun and different for me. Working with Jamie on his music feels quite freeing; I know it must seem strange to people from the outside, but there is a difference between the music that we make as a band and the music Jamie makes on his own, and it's a different process. With The xx, the lyrics, vocals, melodies usually have come first and then we’ve created a musical backdrop to the words. With Jamie, he will usually have approached Oliver or I with an instrumental and we work off that. We trust Jamie so much. It’s fun to be honest, to see him take the songs in a direction that we might not have chosen.”

POPCAAN (“(I KNOW THERE’S GONNA BE) GOOD TIMES”)

“'Good Times' was sent to me and I had it for a while, I was traveling a lot and busy with my own album. I recorded remotely in Jamaica. I love the track and the sample, it gave me a nice vibe and a relaxed medz. I took about half an hour to record, I just said what came to mind. That’s the way I like to record, no pen and paper, just the music.

I have not met Jamie but his work is good. I recorded a lot more, it seemed he liked the hook. Listen out for another collab with my full version, dancehall style. 'Good Times' mean family and friends, having loved ones around, just holding a meditation, positive vibes, chilling. 'Good Times' is when you free up from the regular everyday stress; when everything is nice.”

ERIK WERNQUIST (DIRECTOR OF “GOSH” VIDEO)

“A while ago I made a short film called Wanderers which describes humanity’s future colonisation of the solar system. When I was contacted by Young Turks, they originally asked if they could use parts of this short film as the music video for 'Gosh'. I wasn’t too happy about this, but really loved the song and thought it was exiting that they wanted a space theme for it visually, so I said I would try to come up with another idea.

Instead of showing scenes from the entire solar system (like in my short film), I suggested we only show scenes from Mars. My idea was to use the images to suggestively tell the story of humans exploring, settling and eventually terraforming Mars, all from a far-off, orbital perspective. As many have noted, sort of like a fast-forward through the few hundred years of Kim Stanley Robinsons’ Mars trilogy, seen from a far distance.

I never had any contact directly with Jamie, but I understand he was approving the ideas and concept before we started. I'm quite impressed with the confidence he and the label gave me. Not many clients dare to trust you with this kind of creative freedom. The mood of 'Gosh' is very happy, positive and enthusiastic, and I thought this would make an interesting combination played over images of space colonisation – a concept that for some strange reason mostly is associated with dark and doomy themes in popular culture.”

CAIUS PAWSON (YOUNG TURKS’ BOSS)

“I first met Jamie when I went to The xx’s live rehearsal and they decided to bring a friend along, to try out as a drummer…who was Jamie. This was in 2007, Jamie would’ve been 17.

So after that, they were looking for a producer to make their record, and after trying out several people Jamie responded to the challenge and said 'I’m going to do it!' Ever since then he’s been producing an xx record, remixing someone’s song. Then about three years ago, we were finally like 'let’s start talking about Jamie xx album'. And then he sort of went away and started working on it.

For me, the record is an incredibly emotional one; you’ve got a very introverted character who tries to process his emotions. I think Jamie goes into the studio in a sort of neutral state, lets the music take him somewhere and then works out how he’s feeling. When I was hearing the record, I was like, the artwork is very Jamie. The original logo was his idea. When he was 18, it was about being part of something but also an individual.

It’s funny because Jamie spent the last five years putting out brilliant remixes, producing two great xx records, doing genre-defying radio shows, and mixes, and vastly improving as a DJ and creating his own sort of mould. But sometimes you need an album to sort of capture a moment in time, and I think the album perfectly sums up all of those radio shows, internet mixes, all of the DJing, all of the production. And I think that allows him to start again. He’s done it. Now he can progress from there.”