Harold Heath grabs UK deep house don Jamie Odell for a quick natter
Whether as Jimpster, Audiomontage or Franc Spangler, Jamie Odell is a UK house music hero: he's the boss of the Freerange and Delusions Of Grandeur labels, an international DJ of some repute, and a deep house producer extraordinaire. A reliable presence in the scene for perhaps more years than he’d care to remember, Jimpster’s name on a production is a guarantee of quality for DJs and dancers alike.
With this latest gorgeous three-track EP Smile For A While dropping on Freerange on 11 September, we sat down for a chat with the man himself…
How's lockdown been treating you?
"It’s been okay, thanks. I’ve appreciated being at home more and managed to get my head down in the studio, having time to actually experiment a bit rather than always feeling rushed to finish specific projects. It feels like a collective reset button has been hit and we’ve had a chance to pause, take stock of what’s important to us and reassess things. I’m extremely grateful that no-one close to me has suffered too greatly from the virus, although I know it’s still early days and the economic fallout remains to be seen, so it’s certainly not without its stresses and anxiety."
You’ve been doing some live streams from home - how have they been going?
"I started doing my Sofa Session livestream two days before we went into lockdown in the UK on 21 March, and was blown away by the amount of people tuning in! I’d never done a stream before, so it was pretty chaotic with headphones for a microphone, cables everywhere, my kids tripping over the camera and the decks skipping when they walked through the room, but it had a certain lo-fi amateur charm to it and at that point stream fatigue hadn’t kicked in and it helped having a captive audience!
"The weekly sessions kept me focused on buying new music, checking promos and most importantly rediscovering my vinyl collection, so I did a few theme sessions like 90s D&B, Masters At Work or Vocals, as well as playing upfront, unreleased music. It quickly began to feel like a weekly family get-together, with the listeners all connecting with each other – it was the closest we could get to being in the same room listening to music."
Lots of producers have been getting lots of music made during lockdown. Have you?
"Yeah, it’s been a productive time! You don’t realise how much of a toll the travelling and general lifestyle of playing weekends takes on your body, and although I’m itching to get back out playing in clubs to dancefloors again, I can’t deny it’s been good for my health – and for productivity in the studio.
"I’ve found myself listening and making more eclectic sounds, thinking much less about dancefloor impact, and that’s been really refreshing and liberating as I guess that’s my roots anyway. I’ve made good progress on a new LP, made four remixes, got a sample pack finished for Loopmasters, and almost finished a new Franc Spangler EP.
"I also revamped my studio, bought a couple of new synth modules and got some of my older gear serviced. Basically I had a proper good sort-out, which I’ve been meaning to do for years but not had the time."
Moving on to your latest release, talk us through the three tracks on the Smile For A While EP…
"I started the EP right at the start of lockdown,which was obviously a very intense time: suddenly losing most of your work and income, worrying about your family’s health and safety, trying to home-school our kids and then with the racial unrest as well everything felt extremely chaotic.
"So Smile For A While, the lead track, offers a bit of respite, a positive vibe amongst all the craziness and hopefully something that will still stand up away from the dance floor. Echoes In My Head is a slightly more cerebral affair and combines a lot of my early influences in both versions of the track. The artwork for the release came out really nice, too, with bright, vibrant colours and an acid-y smiley face.
You seem able to continually produce distinctive-sounding tracks while sticking to the deep house template. How do you keep your productions so fresh?
"Thanks! I have to have a certain level of detail in a track to satisfy myself. Don’t get me wrong, I love extremely minimal or completely raw and stripped-back tracks with very little going on when it’s done just right, but I have no idea how to do that, so I tend to go in the other direction. I try to make my tracks stand out from the crowd in a musical way.
"That means maybe they won’t be the most obvious choice for a peaktime set in a larger club, but rather something special that might prick up the ears of the heads in an afterhours or intimate dancefloor when dropped at just the right time. It’s a fine line to make something accessible without crossing into over-familiarity and blandness, but I guess that’s what I’m thinking about when working on my tracks and trying to hit that sweet spot."
Freerange has being around for a fair few years now – how have you kept it going so long?
"It’s 25 years next year so yeah, a fair few years indeed! Bottom line is that both Tom [Roberts] and I are still really passionate about discovering and releasing new artists and music, and feel we still have something to offer our followers as well as the artists we release. We’ve nearly been closed down several times with various distributors going bust on us, but we've always managed to hang on in there."
And was there ever a point where you considered packing it in?
"We’ve never had a discussion about packing it in, but we often havie a discussion about packing vinyl in, or rather, how the hell do we keep doing vinyl without it leaving every release in the red?
"It’s a sad fact that for house music labels who do release digitally, the vinyl side of things is extremely difficult to justify the costs and time involved. We’ve managed to find an effective method, using hand-stamped white labels in house bags, so for most releases we can go with this and cover the vinyl costs with the minimal pressing, and then at least there’s some physical product out there, which is still important for us and the artists."
Where do you want to go next, musically?
"Personally, for my own music, I want to work with vocalists and live musicians on more eclectic/downtempo/experimental soul and hip-hop-type music. That’s what I’m working on at the moment with my new Jimpster material, but I'm also thinking to start making music under my own name and push to do more collaborations.
"I got to work with Seal and Trevor Horn a few years back, producing and programming on Seal’s last LP for Warners, and that was an amazing experience which I’d love to do more of. I’ve become so used to working solo that when I do get the opportunity to collaborate live in the studio, it’s a buzz and that is when real magic can happen."
And what kind of plans for the future do you have for Freerange?
"With our 25th anniversary next year, we’re already thinking about trying to build some nice label parties to celebrate but obviously, we’ll have to see if Covid-19 has other plans! We’ve also decided to put together a Jimpster anthology to tie in with the 25 years of the label, which will be a beautifully packaged vinyl and digital comp including some harder-to-find vinyl cuts as well as some well-loved Jimpster favourites from over the years."
Finally, is there anything else going on with you that iDJ should know about?
"Look out for a Jimpster remix of Manabu Nagayama & Soichi Terada’s classic track Low Tension from 1991 – that one's forthcoming on Japanese label Unknown Seasons. I’ve also done remixes of Brazilian band Bainia for Razor n Tape, and another of The Sunburst Band’s He Is for Dave Lee’s Z Records.
"And in other news, I’m really excited to announce we’ve signed the next Crackazat LP for Freerange! He’s one of the most talented house music producers around at the momentm and his next LP is going to blow people away."
Words: Harold Heath
Smile For A While is out on Freerange on 11 September