by SashaS

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Nate James: 'Set The Tone' 4 the future
Tonal remedy
Nate James: a soul man from Suffolk

This British newcomer’s maiden single, ‘Set The Tone’, was a slice of a phat-bassed mutha with a catchy melody and funky feel to engage your soul and start your muscles. Although on the mid-tempo side it kicked a solid beat for an instant locating of the sweet spot, its production value on par with the US counterparts.

A really brill R&B that didn’t fall into the trap of sounding too similar to what’s going on the market and yet it pushed the modern buttons. It was a fantastic pop-soul backed by a cool image, visuals and a vocal [including a rap section] to put a spell on your terrorised/demoralized psyches.

Peaked from the album of the same name, this collection of songs sounds like it can easily dispense tonal remedy all over the world. It may not be a perfectly balanced disc but there is enough choice tracks that contain more moments that spell talent rather than the antonymous quality.

The singer’s vocal delivery isn’t imitative but it hasn’t prevented comparisons to legends such as Lenny Kravitz, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Maxwell! The fact is that this young man is more akin to the ‘Minneapolis shorty’ and Terence Trent D’Arby’s approach of fusing diverse elements into another wholesome concoction, than Usher.

Meet Nate James, a new man on the Brit R&B/soulster block, whose ‘Set The Tone’ started the buzz as soon as download-only version went live. The song was championed by tastemaker DJs such as Trevor Nelson on Radio 1, it reached No.1 on the Choice FM’s R&B chart and climbed to the A list on 1Xtra. Backed with a colourful video shot in the States, the introductory ‘Set The Tone’ should have brought Nate the mass attention by providing a flava of what the potential star has to offer.

“Well, the single is not typical of other songs on the album,” James states calmly under his hat. “I’ve tried different things on the album and ventured down different musical avenues. The industry has gone too samey with the sounds that are out at the moment. And, I’d love to be the guy who breaks that mould and incorporate my love of ol’-skool music and kind of create new sound and new vibe that would reach a wide audience.”

This field of music is dominated by Americans who have truly been stifling it…

“Yeah, there is always a producer-of-the-moment and everyone wants to get that Number 1. There is no variety and everything is formulaic and the producers - The Neptunes, Timberland, Teddy Riley - stamp the tunes with own identity. They have the hit formula and everyone wants a hit song, it makes money, it gets airplays, video is doing great… But, it is samey.”

What happened to the long-gone ‘organic’ days of Prince, a major influence on your work, one suspects?

“Hey, that man is another kind of artist! I’m yet to see him live in action and hope it happens soon. I love what he’s done and when people mention his name alongside mine, it is an honour; all the people I’m compared to are the ones that have inspired me. Stevie Wonder, I wish to be like him in a sense of writing great songs that can stand the test of time. He is a fantastic songwriter and his voice… I only wish I could hit the notes he does. Sure, there are very Stevie-sque tracks on my album.”

“I’ve not tried to copy him but you can hear his influence, in the song structure, the lyrics or the way I sing it. All the names mentioned - Prince, Lenny Kravitz, Terence Trent Darby - they’ve all taken the classic soul music and taken it whichever way it interested them.”

Soulful at the core

Nate James is from Woodbridge, little town in Suffolk (not far from Ipswich), who swapped his university education for a band that recorded an album for Warner Brothers.

“It didn’t work out with Notorious because we were signed to the label before all the mergers of London and WB that we got caught up in. It is a shame, the group sounded fantastic, the songs were great, the image was there, the whole package was ready but the politics got in the way and it got very difficult for all concerned. We did an album that didn’t get released and in a way I’m glad…”

“For the simple reason that it wouldn’t have been promoted and it would have sunk without trace… The songs are still out there and they are the big reason why I am doing this now. I left the group about six years ago and continued writing songs. Then, I landed a deal with Universal Publishing, followed by my recording contract.”

Describing yourself as a soul singer, don’t you think that severely limits your [market] appeal?

“I’m a soul singer because I’ve been pigeonholed. I’m a great lover of soul music, of rock and indie, of house, all sorts of… But, in the end of the day - I’m a black guy, I write about love and sing about life experiences… In a nutshell, it is what soul has been perceived as: tales of love-lost and love-found. In that respect I hope people will realise that soul is at the centre of my heart but I love rock, and there is a hell of a rock track on the album; I love my funk and there is a funky track… I like all kinds of music.”

Lure, faculty, plot

“By the end of last year we had sixty tracks and basically took the best - cream off the top - and Universal’s got the rest to pitch to other artists; I’ve got two albums to be released this year.”

Two albums in one year!?

“I’ve worked with a backing band for the past six months and just hearing the band taking the songs from their demo-stage to a live piece of music, I want to re-record the whole album. I want that on the album and it is really exciting… I love the energy of the love gig and I’d love to emulate that on my record.”

“No artist has released two albums in a year for a while and my two records show different sides of me: one is soul-funk and the second album is more mature-soul. The first album is to introduce myself; the second one is more showing what else I can do, my other side.”

You’ve obviously been ‘paying your dues’ and learning the craft. Have you ever considered taking a shortcut, such as ‘Pop Idol’?

“No, never because you can win, get signed to a major, have a single and fade into obscurity within six months. It is a shortcut to oblivion. I’ve always wanted to do it my way and invest time in finding my sound, finding what I’m all about, getting tracks together and getting a couple of albums ready. It was a good way to gage whether the label is on the same page as me, which they really are.”

“I have to admit that I did think about ‘Pop Idol’ but I’m much of a believer that the longer it takes to get somewhere the longer you reap the rewards when you get there!”

Nate James has been travelling a while… Catch him at the earliest stop possible!

Nate James’s album 'Set The Tone' is released 08 August 2005 by OneTwo Records