“I tried to put my own stamp and add my own emotion to these songs” - hmv.com talks to Lemar
For his new album The Letter (you can preview and purchase it on the right-hand side of the page) multi-million selling singer Lemar has put own spin on classics from Al Green, Sam Cooke and Van Morrison as well as recording a handful of new songs. To find out all about making the album we sat down with him…
When did you start work on The Letter?
“The concept’s been in my head for a while. Fans have been asking me to do a full-on soul record since my very first album and I’ve always wanted to, but I didn’t feel like the time was right until early last year. I started putting my list of songs together last summer and then I got in touch with Larry Klein, who produced it, then I went over to Los Angeles in the autumn and we got to work.”
How did you did decide which tracks to include on the album?
“There were loads and it was a lot harder than I thought! I wanted it to work as a piece and not just the songs I’ve always wanted to sing. I worked down from 204 songs to about 40 and then got in touch with Larry. He’s worked with so many great people, great singers like Herbie Hancock and Tracy Chapman, I sent him the list and he got it down to about 20 and then he added a few curveballs. It was a long process, but I think we’ve got the right balance between the originals and the classics.”
Were there any tracks you were gutted to leave off?
“There were some. Lots of Marvin Gaye, I had to be careful what I choose. I thought to myself ‘Do I really want to do my own version of ‘Sexual Healing’? Probably not’ and there were a few like that, but I’m really happy with the ones we’ve got.”
When it came to re-recording these classics did you try and read up on how the song came about?
“It’s always interesting when I meet fans and they tell me what my songs mean to them, how they make them personal to them. It’s the same for me, I tried to put my own stamp and add my own emotion to these songs.”
What was the most difficult song to record?
“I didn’t find any of them difficult, but the most challenging was Al Green’s ‘Love And Happiness’, it’s a great song and I enjoyed putting my flavour on it, but it’s not a typical soul song and you have to find your way into the groove. It’s come out great though.”
There are a few originals on there too, you must have been careful to make sure they sit okay alongside the covers?
“Absolutely. This is my sixth album so I don’t think it’s odd to be revisiting the people who inspired me, but I really feel like the originals sit well alongside them, they’ve got that same raw soul power. Recording with a live band meant ideas were always flowing and I had a lot of people making sure nothing sounded too close to the classics.”
Is this the most fun you’ve had making a record?
“It was amazing. Everyone in the same room vibing off each other. I had so much fun recording, it was fast and very, very rewarding.”
Why did you decide to call the album The Letter?
“I recorded the single and a week or so after I came back Joe Cocker passed away. ‘The Letter’ was originally done by The Box Tops and that’s the version I’d based mine on. I sent it to Larry and he asked me if I’d heard the Joe Cocker version, so I listened to it and it was amazing. We went back and did the track again, a version that was more like the Joe Cocker version. After we did that and he passed away I felt like that might be a bit of an omen. I love the song and I thought we’d run with it. R.I.P Joe Cocker.”
What are your plans to take the album out live?
“This type of album is made to be done live. The songs are from an era when live music was key and I cannot wait to take the album out to people. I’ll bring a few of the old tunes out and we’ll have a great party.”
Lemar's new album The Letter is out now