An inspirational set of Detroit techno by Conor Lynam at a warehouse party in Galway in 2011 is where the New Jackson story begins. On the very day he returned home to Dublin, with his decade-long love of club music reignited, David Kitt put together Shoot Out The Lights, the first track of a new project which would appear on 2011 New Jackson EP The Night Mail.
Having begun with a failed attempt at anonymity – which was never going to work in Dublin – and continued with a series of 12 inches on labels like John Talabot’s Hivern Discs (2013’s Sat Around Here Waiting), Munich-based Permanent Vacation (Having A Coke With You and Made It Mine both in 2014), a couple of limited releases with local concern Major Problems Records, and most recently a split EP with Elliott Lion on Fort Romeau’s Cin Cin label, May finally sees the first full-length from under the New Jackson name, with the release of From Night To Night on All City Records.
“All City was my first choice record label to put it out on,” says Kitt. “I actually sent Olan [O’Brien, co-owner of All City Records] a mail and wrote him a big essay about why I wanted to put it out on All City and we just went from there. It’s been probably about a year between me sending him that mail and the record getting finished, it actually wasn’t that long.”
Having previewed the next David Kitt album, Yous, for a week on New Year’s Day (which will now be released at the start of next year, also via All City), Kittser is now at the the unusual point of having completed two album cycles almost simultaneously. Given that, I ask if 2016 had been a particularly prolific time in his musical career.
“It’s been steady productivity to be totally honest. I was actually just looking for B-sides for the David Kitt single, I was gonna record some new stuff, and I was like, ‘What are you doing, there’s, like, 50 tunes here!’ So, literally, going back over the last six years of work, everything has a kind of unified quality. To answer the question, no. There’s probably about five albums worth of stuff since The Nightsaver, it’s been pretty steady. There’s another two albums worth of David Kitt stuff and another album worth of New Jackson stuff. Like, it hasn’t been a particularly productive year, it’s just been a steady six or seven years.”
The dearth of album releases in the recent period of Kitt’s career came about instead in large part due to his time working as a sideman both with Tindersticks and most significantly as part of David Gray’s touring band.
“I was doing a lot of work for other people. When New Jackson started getting a bit of momentum around 2013, after the Hivern release – that was just such a buzzy label then, and everything that John Talabot’s involved in these days gets this kind of a degree of hype around it – there were a lot of people knocking on the door around that time, you know, agents and festivals. I could’ve made an album, I was working on an album, provisionally for Permanent Vacation, but then I got caught up in working, touring with David Gray mainly in his band for a year and a half. It was a really big, difficult decision, but I was in a lot of debt at the time and I was just, like, I have to take this job. It kind of helped me sort my life out and it was a great couple of years playing music. In an ideal world I probably would’ve stuck at the New Jackson stuff and I probably would’ve been a bit further down the line, but it’s ended up working out for the best I think.”
Another critical factor in the development of From Night To Night came with the purchase of an E-mu Sp-1200, a late 1980s sampler with a distinctive and sought-after sound that comes from its somewhat lo-fi 12-bit sampling quality.
“That was a real turning point. That’s all over the record. It defines the sound of the record. It’s like, Pete Rock, DJ Premier, like Daft Punk, Moodymann, Theo Parrish, all those guys. It’s got this beautiful sound, it’s kind of low bit-rate, but with these amazing analog filters so you get a crunchy thing from the down-sampled digital samples but with this lovely, fat, analog filter over it. And it’s a way of working as well because it only has ten seconds of sampling time, so you’re really restricted in terms of what you can use it for. There was a lot of faffing about before getting that machine, where I would spend ten days looking for the right kick drum sound. All the creativity and the buzz would be gone. Something like Sp2 on the record was made probably the week after I got the sampler and it was done in eight hours. It has that feel of something that was just recorded, mixed, printed, move on. All the excitement of that is there. That machine had a big influence on it.”
The other signature sound of New Jackson is the vocoder, which surprisingly doesn’t appear until side B of the album. Instead, Kitt’s own voice, unadorned, is front and centre on both the James Brown-inspired title track and the markedly downtempo Put The Love In It.
“I’m kind of swinging back now a little bit, I’m thinking maybe I shouldn’t sing on this stuff, maybe it should just be completely electronic, because I’m doing so much singing on the other stuff. There’s about 20 or 30 David Kitt songs that are going to come out in the next 18 months, two years. There was a lot of mates chiming in ‘You shouldn’t be singing on it!’ But I think it works for this record. It’s only two songs [with untreated vocals].
Another dramatic factor in the sound of From Night To Night is the presence of extended instrumental passages to compliment New Jackson’s distinctive ghostly house sound. Of A Thousand Leaves, the record’s closer (and also the only track to have previously seen release, on a Major Problems 12 inch) features Margie Jean Lewis contributing Jean-Luc Ponty-esque violin lines, the atmospheric On Solid Air channels World Of Echo-era Arthur Russell with extemporisations on double-bass from Sun Collective’s Caimin Gilmore, while Put The Love In It features a stunning woodwind arrangement courtesy of British jazz musician Ben Castle.
“Ben Castle’s arrangement was fucking amazing on Put The Love In It, it really, really made the song for me. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith was actually the main reference point, her last record, EARS, the way the woodwinds and the synths mesh together and you don’t know which is which. And he’d never heard her, so he was buzzing off the Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith stuff I’d sent him, along with couple of modal, Éthiopique type things, Mulatu Astatke ones. When I got that back, I was like, ‘Holy shit!’ That was a real magic moment in the record.”
Perhaps the climactic point of From Night To Night is the hypnotic After Midnight In A Perfect World, which manages to be simultaneously comforting and unsettling. Kitt himself remarks that it is his favourite on the record.
“It was the last track on the record, in the sense that I thought the record was done and then I kind of made that track thinking, ‘Ah, thank god it’s done, I can make a track without thinking about the record!’ That track kind of sums up the record for me in a way. It’s the most unselfconscious one.”
“Without maybe going into the personal side of the song – because there are some personal emotions driving the song, which you do need a lot of the time to make it special, and to give you those melodies and that atmosphere – the main keyboard line was knocking around in my head for a while and it loosely reminded me of Midnight In A Perfect World by DJ Shadow. That was the starting point and then I thought it would be a cool name for a tune.”
“There’s so many things in that tune, more than any of the others on the record, and you don’t want to get too waffley about it… but it’s really about escapism, ultimately, because it’s clearly not a perfect world. You’re always weighing up that thing of how is it possible to even enjoy the present moment against the backdrop of everything that’s happening in the world at the moment. I think music has always been my main means of escape. And I suppose it relates to those collective moments of escape that happen in club, a shared experience of dance music. But there’s stuff driving the song that I don’t want to go into that’s a bit more personal and there’re loads of things in the song also. Basically the idea is that we have so much information now, so many things are there to interrupt these perfect moments, and all that is at play in the atmosphere of that song. While the title might suggest a certain euphoria there’s some counterforce in the atmosphere of the song for me, I suppose.”
In terms of live performance – including the launch gig at the end of month in Button Factory – the New Jackson experience will continue to strive for those aforementioned shared moments of ecstatic communion rather than including the more expansive elements of the record.
“What I’ve been trying to build with New Jackson as a live act is a club show. Like, I’ll be playing Panorama Bar at four in the morning on a Saturday night, so you’re not going to be doing [that kind of thing]. I think in three or four years time, maybe, I’d love to do a New Jackson live show that was modular synths and a woodwind quartet or something, but at the moment it’s very much a solo dance club show. I had thought about it even for the launch in the Button Factory, but I think that’s going to be a dance party. It’s kind of impossible to do at the moment, much as I’d love to. In terms of the amount of the shows, and paying people, and the amount of rehearsal involved. Hopefully somewhere down the line I’ll be able to do it. But it’s definitely the Homework stage of the journey in terms of Daft Punk – an MPC, the Sp-1200, a few synths and doing it all live but less of the delicate elements.”
Words: Ian Lamont
Images: Dorje De Burgh, Kev Freeney