Jay James Picton had no desire to be a musician up until five years ago when a sports injury saw him discover the guitar and then his voice.
He is now about to release his debut record Play It By Heart and he has picked up some rather famous admirers,
I caught up with him to discuss the new record, the recording process and the exciting things that lie ahead.
- You are about to release your debut record Play It By Heart so what can we expect from it?
Well hopefully just an honest record really as I have been in preparation and making it for the last three/three and a half years - ever since I started. I have just tried to make a really honest record with some really good music and hopefully that is what people will get from it.
- How would describe the sound of your music and the album for anyone who hasn't heard a track yet?
It’s definitely a soul record, there is a combination of blues and bit of R&B but it is a soul record I believe.
There are certain elements of pop in there as well as I have tried to make a commercial record but I just tried to keep elements that are really just about keeping the music as honest and true to the lyrical content as possible.
- As you say it is a very soul sounding record so is this the type of music that you listened to while you were growing up?
It’s a very strange situation really as I didn’t really listen to music when I was growing up, I wasn’t really into music at all, up until five and a half six years ago - I didn’t sing or anything up until that point. It wasn’t until I messed my knee up that I started learning how to play the guitar and that is when I really started listening to music.
Actually through co-writing with other people they introduced me to soul genre. I know it sounds awful but I don’t feel that I am influenced by anything it’s more about what I kind of feel I should write and the way I sing… if you gave me a country song I would still sing the way that I sing. It’s a bit of a weird one to be honest (laughs) I don’t try to be a soul singer I just try to sing what I sing.
- A handful of years ago you hadn't sung nor playing an instrument so how did you come to discover that you had a voice?
I bought a guitar as part of a new year’s resolution, I was drunk on New Year’s Eve and out with the lads and it was just a bit of a joke that I said I was going to buy a guitar and they were all like ’yeah Jay like you will’. It was only because of that that I went out and bought it and I didn’t touch it for about three months.
I messed my knee up playing rugby and I found myself on sick leave, I had played sport everyday of my life so it was a massive thing; to not be able to work out or play sport I was a bit lost and needed something to focus on so I decided to learn to play the guitar.
Through me purely just focusing on that I started humming along and then singing along as I was just trying to keep the rhythm. So it all happened really quickly and out of the blue to be honest, so that is how I started singing.
Writing came just a little bit later as I have not been every good at expressing myself. Generally I don’t read books and am not very good at English so writing is not something that I have ever done to be honest with you.
It was probably through the things that were going on in my life with not being able to express myself with sport and not really knowing what was going to happen as well as what is going on in my personal life I had to write something down.
It just so happened that at that point I was really finding myself with music and so it was really organic and it just felt write to put what I was writing down and feeling to music.
- You have penned many of the tracks on Play It By Heart so how have you found the song-writing process and writing with other people? Is it something that has come easily to you?
All of the tracks on the album I have written with other people so it is a reflection of what I have said. I enjoy working with other people and I am not that experienced in music and it’s down to other people who have introduced me to new elements of music.
So I feel like a kid in a sweet shop at the moment as people are still telling me everyday ’oh you need to check out so and so’ so I am still learning a lot. But I almost feel quite strongly that music is just about feeling so it doesn’t matter if you don’t know anything or everything about music as long as you feel right about what you are listening to or how you sing then that is what is important.
- John Legend and Booker T Jones are just two of the artists that feature on the record so how did those collaborations come about?
When I was out in New York recording the album my publisher at the time John Rudolph came over and we were talking about a couple of collaborations that I was supposed to be doing while I was out there but didn’t end up happening. John actually mentioned that he knew Booker and he said that he was going to send him a couple of tracks.
Literally a week later I had a phone call and then I found myself on a flight out to LA to go and work with Booker. Again it was all pretty nuts that it happened in a small period. Whilst I was working with Booker I was working with this other guy called Marlay, he is producing Frank Ocean’s album right now, he is a fantastic producer and a really great guy.
Booker, Marlay and I all worked together and it was through Marlay, he went away talking to John and a few other people, that the John thing came about.
It’s all been quite organic as I have found both in New York and LA and working with the people I was fortunate to work with they just went away talking about stuff and others got involved in the project. It was a really great thing.
- How did you find working with them?
It was amazing, it was absolutely amazing. Booker in particular he was just an amazing process. He is like seventy years old now and to know that he was musical director and producer of tracks back in the day for the like of Donny Hathaway it was really quite an amazing process.
I know I say this a lot but it was really organic and it was all about the music with Booker and that was amazing, Often within this while process of writing you sometimes forget about what you are doing, especially if there is involvement from other people saying ‘you should do this’ or ‘you should do that’ and in the pop industry it’s all about getting to the chorus in under a minute or doing this that and the other.
And when you are writing intensely every single day it’s hard to not be effected by that. But when you work with Booker you realise that all that is a load of shit and it’s all about the music. It was the right time that I worked with Booker as it reminded me that that is what it is all about - that had a reminding influence on how I wanted to make the record.
So it was a really great process. And a lot of the other people that I have worked with, famous or not, it has all been an amazing experience.
- You recorded in New York and LA as you have mentioned so how was that experience?
I have been song writing and recording stuff for the last three and a half to four years so I am quite sure of how I want stuff. And being quite strong minded and even though I am not very experienced I have always known what I have wanted to hear so I have always taken a proactive role in directing the music and co-producing what I want to hear.
So going into the studio in New York was a real experience because all of a sudden I had all these musicians around me from all these different eras. They were these massive musicians such as Clifford Carter and Jef Lee Johnson, who have worked with Prince. It was amazing to have that respect really, even though they brought a massive thing themselves, it was really great that they really respected and really got involved with my vision and how I wanted things to happen.
It sounds a bit corny but it was a bit like being back in the navy I was just with all these lads just making music and there was lots of banter and the spirits were high every single day - it was just a really great experience.
And the same goes for LA as it was purely just me working with Booker and Marlay and a few other people, it was just a real positive experience. There is an element of making of a record where you spend a lot of time expressing yourself and writing but then when you come to create the record or how you want it to sound then that becomes a really exciting process as you go back to the moment where you wrote the song and you re-connect again.
So it was a really great experience and to do it with really great people again was really cool.
- Mike Peden and Malay are just two of the producers on the album so what does their experience bring to the tracks?
I would say Mike’s experience was fantastic in a way that he motivated me to really be able to express what I wanted and also guide the music in a way. He’s hands on in the way that he encouraged me and also the sound of the record in a way where he just let it happen naturally - other producers are like ‘this is my sound’ or ‘this is what I want you to do’ and that is not really the way that I work as I don’t really like people who are that direct with me.
But that is why I really connected with Mike and Marlay as they were both like that. It was a natural process and they both really wanted to collaborate and work with me on how to create the sound that I thought I had. They really brought that element of freedom that I needed to express myself fully.
- You also had a hands on the producing of Play It By Heart so how much is the producing side a part of recording an album that you enjoy?
It’s something that I hugely enjoy. Again I would say that it was a collaboration with Mike and Marlay as I have not real experience in producing. It was more of a director role really as I knew the sound that I wanted and those boys really helped me create that. It was great yeah and I can’t wait for the next record really (laughs).
- The likes of Roger Daltrey, Hal David and John Legend are amongst your admirers so how do you feel when you hear those guys are fans?
It is all pretty strange to be honest. This is all a bit of a surreal process for me as I almost feel like I have had three lives; me growing up, me joining the navy and then all of a sudden me doing music and doing stuff that I have never really done before.
Of course it’s amazing for those types of people to be saying such lovely things. I am just on tour at the moment and I am playing some really great shows and to have the comments and the feedback from the public that has been really great and really overwhelming.
It’s all really positive whether it be John or Hal David or the guy next door it’s all really great and I am glad that people are really connecting with what I wanted to do and what I wanted to create.
- Finally what's next for you?
The single is released on 30th April. I have got four more dates with the Rebecca Ferguson tour and then I am playing the Guardian festival and then I am playing my own show on the 12th April at the Boarderline. There are planning meetings and all sorts for the release of the album at the end of May or early June - so the plan is still being put together.
But hopefully a lot more music and I am in talks with Marlay at the moment as he is creating an album with Frank Ocean, John Legend and a few other people that I can’t really talk about, it’s called a collaborations album called Ten.
He has asked me to be involved with that so no doubt I will be back in LA working with Marlay and the rest of the crew sometime this year. Other than that I am really working on getting my album out there and really sharing it with a lot of other people.
FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw