You may be miffed that The xx’s third album is seemingly taking forever to arrive, but put things in perspective: the band’s beatmaker, producer and drummer Jamie Smith’s debut solo album – released next month – features tracks he’s been tinkering with for seven long years. Crafted between high-profile production and remix gigs for Drake, Radiohead and the late Gil Scott Heron, as well as two acclaimed LPs with The xx in 2009 and 2012, ‘In Colour’ is a bold, beautiful homage to London nightlife. It’s also Smith’s vibrant response to assumptions that he and bandmates Oliver Sim and Romy Madley Croft are a gang of grumpy goths. “Everyone thinks we’re dark and gloomy – and we’re not really,” Smith explains. “We used to be; we used to be moody teenagers.” That said, we’re talking to the east London-based musician at the Coachella Festival in the Californian sunshine and it’s not like he’s dressed as his album title would suggest – in colour. “Oh, I’m still more comfortable in black,” he concedes with a chuckle.
Smith mentions unfinished projects he’s been working on with a who’s who of indie dance – from John Talabot and Jon Hopkins to FKA Twigs – but they don’t feature on ‘In Colour’. Instead, the album’s main guests come from very close to home, with Madley Croft featuring on the anthemic ‘Loud Places’ and jittery ‘Seesaw’, while Sim sings on the sultry ‘Stranger In A Room’. “They’re the people who I work best with,” Smith says. “The album feels like the next part of what we’re all doing rather than just me branching off.”
Should the uplifting feel of ‘In Colour’ give us an idea of what to expect from The xx’s eventual third release? “It has definitely informed what we’re doing for the next record.” ‘In Colour’’s most outright smash is dancehall track ‘I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)’, which features a sample from New York a capella soul group The Persuasions’ 1972 album ‘Street Corner Symphony’, found on a crate-digging mission in Detroit, as well as vocals from Atlanta rapper Young Thug and reggae artist Popcaan. Smith has yet to hang out with either of them in person, though, having contacted both of them online. But, he says, “I’m going to meet Young Thug tomorrow for the first time!”
A dense array of samples have been woven into the 11-track record’s complex patchwork, including recordings made by Smith while loitering outside London clubs such as Fabric and the recently closed Plastic People. “I bring a field recorder with me whenever I go out – all the transitions on the record came from the chatter of people standing outside clubs,” he says, like rave’s very own Alan Lomax, the great 20th-century folk archivist. And for glitchy album opener ‘Gosh’, Smith’s label Young Turks/XL had to put in some serious detective work to clear a rare sample from a never-aired Radio 1 pilot about jungle. “We had to find these MCs who are now, like, taxi drivers or something,” Smith says.
After missing four self-imposed deadlines, Smith – a perfectionist – has just about accepted he’s finally had to draw a line under the record. “I still feel like I could do stuff to it, but I would just be driving myself insane,” he says. “I need to not listen to it for a while and come back to it, and then I’ll be happy.”