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'We are wizards!' JA-Jazz
It's probably best not to take either of those statements entirely seriously, but you'd be foolish to do the same with Pepe Deluxe. The last time we met them they were sound-tracking the hugely successful, continent spanning soundtrack of the Levi's Twisted Jeans campaign. But so much has happened since then that, frankly, everything we thought we knew is now wrong'¦ So let's start again.
Beatitude is going to be one your most cherished albums of the year, you just don't know it yet. You'll almost certainly be drawn in by the head-wrecking funk lunacy of Salami Fever, but you'll stay on just to have another listen to the languid sexiness of the very beautiful Lying Peacefully. You'll stick First Goodbye's deep, cinematic blues on a mixtape and possibly even get a shag because of it. You'll hear future single Girl in every high-class, late-night drinking establishment you frequent from here 'til Christmas, but you'll never tire of it. Within days of listening to Beatitude for the first time, you'll imagine DJ Shadow throwing his windows open, realising what a fucking beautiful day it is, and deciding to spend it having a noisy, drunken BBQ with actual human beings rather than picking dust off his sneakers in a record shop basement. Again. It's that type of album.
But how did we get here? Well, in 1997, James Spectrum and JA-Jazz ' along with the now departed DJ Slow ' recorded a tune called 'Woman In Blue' that sampled Tony Hatch (the man responsible for, among other classics, the Neighbours theme) and Nina Simone. Everyone thought it was great, including Levi's. Simone's record company cleared the sample for the album, but not for the advert. This turned out to be a Very Good Thing Indeed as the group obsessively developed their skills at replaying and recreating original sounds and textures where they would have once just used samples.
Consequently, three things happened. Firstly, the process made Pepe Deluxe realise what they were capable of doing themselves. Secondly, this realisation pointed the way forward to their new record and thirdly, it gave the group the financial freedom to give up their day jobs and concentrate fully on their music. Tony Hatch isn't complaining either ' he still made, um, crazy bank.
'It sped things up,' admits James. 'We loved music but we couldn't invest more time in it.'
'It was a job,' reckons JA. 'It just so happened we weren't getting paid.'
Anyhow, the success of the advert also meant that every time the band thought they could get back to the studio they'd be called out for another round of promotional duties, but in Summer 2001, more than three years after the album 'Woman In Blue' had been taken from was released, the phone finally stopped ringing and Pepe Deluxe were ready to make new music.
With Slow off doing his own projects, James and JA faced the huge process of going from three guys using samplers and decks to two guys learning how to record and build a studio that would end up utilising the talents of more than 34 different musicians from around the world. But they did it, and how'¦
'Everything's taken so much time because we didn't know what the hell we were doing. But we do now,' JA
'We built a studio not to get the sounds of today, but to get the sounds of the samples we loved,' says James, a part-time physics student so obsessed his new studio toys he can ' and will ' happily talk for hours about spring reverbs and archaic, long since out of production pedals and FX. 'I'm not after the modern best,' he says, 'just the craziest. The whole concept of the album is trying to be the best of everything.'
'We spend as long as it takes to make everything right,' says JA. 'It's about feel and vibe. I mean, we like the crazy noises, but it's really all about the song.'
'We had ambitions to make better songs with more elements and layers,' says James, a man whose last album was awarded Future Music's Album of the Month five years after it was recorded. 'We get bored of things quickly and we hate doing things twice.'
So, what can you expect? Well, Beatitude draws inspiration from all over the globe, while the last album had precisely no live instruments on it whatsoever, this one has guitars, brass sections, piano, strings, electric violins 'and lots and lots and lots of drums.' Musicians from all over the world would record pieces then the work would be collated at the band's studio in Helsinki. There's a mad video genius from Minnesota, a jazz drummer from Finland, singers from Syria, Cuba and The People's Republic of Brighton, girls with exotic parentage (Finnish & Pakistani, Swedish & Slavic), a string section recorded in Russia, there's even an appearance of Finland's King Of Tango, a form of music that's surprisingly big in northern Europe's (often) frozen wastes.
'Argentinean Tango is fire,' explains JA. 'Finnish Tango is ice.' Which, according to Spinal Tap, would make Pepe Deluxe lukewarm water. 'Tango is all about suffering and loss,' he continues. 'One day we will discover exactly what Pepe Deluxe are all about and on that day we will will it because it's all about discovery and adventure. It's about the journey, not the destination.'
The band plan to play some live dates and are equally terrified and thrilled by the idea but, they add, 'we will do it because the songs deserve it.'
'Pepe Deluxe are about exploring,' reckons James, 'and not just music. It's pictures and movies and design and people. You need ideas and inspiration all the time, it's a seven days a week job, but we're ready for it.'
Pepe Deluxe then. Real songs, real musicians, real instruments. 'And real wah-wah!' Yes Mr Spectrum, and real wah-wah.
The group consists of two key members: James Spectrum the producer and programmer alongside JA-Jazz who provides live instrumentation.
Pepe DeluxÃ© are (in their own flipped out words):
'¢ A son of an inventor and a craftsman who has won many competitions and built, among other things, a 100 foot iron ship with a bar, sauna and hydraulic doors. Thanks to a fanatic big brother James gets an overdose of progressive rock, blues and psychedelic weirdness when still a small kid. Gets interested in computers and their musical possibilities when he gets his first Vic-20.
'¢ Gives up computers and starts playing bass at the age of 15. He has endless jam sessions with a drummer friend and starts listening to classical music.
'¢ Buying his first sampler at the age of 19, James starts making dance music. During the following years he moves gradually back to his roots.
'¢ JA hears his first hip-hop tune at the age of 13 and is instantly hooked. Spending all his money on records he has major problems with other kids: everybody else digs rock and pop.
'¢ Through hip-hop he discovers funk, soul and jazz.
'¢ He has a brief excursion into dance music and DJing when Acid arrives in Finland. '¢ Plays jazz in chill out rooms mainly for himself - at this point everybody else digs techno.
'¢ Decides to give up DJing and starts experimenting with music: first with a Casio keyboard with less than 2 secs of memory, moving on later to an Amiga.
'¢ JA joins Pepe and after a few sessions decides to buy himself a sampler: another lost soul!
'Three Times A Player' (Tiger) [Deleted] - Released sometime in 1998
'Woman In Blue' [Deleted] - Released April 1999
'Super Sound / Everybody Pass Me By EP' - Released September 1999
'Call Me Goldfinger' (3mv) - Released September 2000
'Before You Leave' (Catskills) (featuring mixes buy Ashley Beedle and Mex) - Released May 2001
'Salami Fever' (Catskills) - Released March 2003
'Girl!' (Catskills) ' Released June 7th 2003
'Ask For A Kiss' ' RELEASED 20th October 2003
'Super Sound LP' [Deleted] - Released May 1999
'Super Sound LP' [New Version] (Catskills / INCredible) - Released May 28th 2001
'Beatitude LP' (Catskills) ' July 27th 2003 (UK)
'Burning Down The House' by Tom Jones and The Cardigans [Pepe DeluxÃ© Remix] (Gut) 1999
'Running With Scissors' by Jacknife Lee [Pepe DeluxÃ© Remix] (Palm Pictures) 1999
'Helsinki Rock City' by Giant Robot [Pepe DeluxÃ© Remix] [Featured on Straight Out The Cat Litter: Scoop 3] 2001
'Nothing To Do' - Bad Meets Evil (featuring Eminem and Royce 5'9) [Pepe DeluxÃ© Remix] (Mole UK) - Release November 2001
'Cyclops Dance' - Matti Oiling [Pepe DeluxÃ© Remix] (City Rockers) Released November 2002
'Going Home' - Black Grass [Pepe DeluxÃ© Remix] (Catskills) - Summer 2003