Famous People

Singer Liam Bailey On His Debut LP and Working With Amy Winehouse

by Justin Moran
British singer-songwriter Liam Bailey has been listening to vintage vinyl since he first discovered his mom's record collection as a young boy in Nottingham, England. He obsessed over the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and the Beatles, opting for LPs rather than teachers to show him how to sing and play guitar. Bailey's raw talent eventually caught the eye of the late Amy Winehouse, who signed him to her Lioness records imprint and helped record his first two EPs.

His debut album Definitely Now, out August 19th, blends Bailey's musical interests, marrying R&B, garage rock and blues. His track "Villain" explodes with blazing Hendrix-style guitar riffs, while "Battle Hymn of Central London" softly channels the earnest melodies of John Lennon. "Summer Rain," the album's standout, showcases Bailey at his best with bright acoustic guitars, swinging strings and beautifully optimistic lyrics. For a musician who grew up listening to all the greats, it's no surprise that Definitely Now sounds like such a classic. We chat with Bailey about his debut record, his childhood love for Oasis and his memories of working with Amy Winehouse.

Tell me about growing up in Nottingham, England.

I think if I hadn't moved out of Nottingham, I might have ended up being a bit of a wrongin' because the kids I hung around with were naughty kids, real bad kids. They'd swear at their mums, but if I did that, it'd be murder. We moved to the Shires in a village called Selston, which was difficult -- I'd never seen a cow before, I'd never been in a field, I'd only been in a city park. I had to get used to being the only kid that wasn't white, but once I got used to that, it was good. Maybe that white environment helped me start liking Oasis -- no one was listening to Wu-Tang Clan there.

You were into Oasis?

The whole Brit-Pop movement in England was insanely massive and Oasis was spearheading that in a way. This was before I listened to soul, reggae and a lot of my mum's vinyl -- I just loved their attitude. When you're a school kid and you've got somebody singing about self-confidence like Oasis -- I really buzzed off that. Once I got into them, I was able to listen to the Jimi Hendrix record in my mum's record collection that I never understood before. Before, it went over my head, but all of the sudden, it made sense. Some of the Beatles songs I thought were weird started to make sense like "I Am the Walrus." Before, I mainly loved the Paul McCartney songs.

How do you think being an untrained vocalist has helped your music?

With old records, some of the imperfections make them magical. I don't want to compare myself to magic, but imperfections are what make us human. I used to really try and copy Michael Jackson or old soul records from Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley, but as I got older and started listening to more rock 'n' roll, I noticed I was getting bored of the gymnastics that a lot of R&B singers use. I used to love Jodeci and Mariah Carey blew me away when she sang "Without You," but I realized it was more of their tone that I loved so I stopped bothering with all that gymnastics. And when somebody said I should try singing lessons, I remember thinking it would ruin me.

How does Definitely Now compare to your previous work?

My record collection is in this album -- soul, blues, rock 'n' roll, reggae and folk, it's all on there. I love Pink Floyd, and there are elements of that on the album. Before, I wasn't exercising my full creative force. Fifty percent was me holding myself back and fifty percent was others holding me back, but I broke free from that. This is an album with all my tastes. It's been a long time coming.
What is your song "On My Mind" about?

When I wrote it, strange, confused energies were around me and I was also a confused person. I found that people were burdening me and they were fucking with my mojo. "You wasted all my time, you didn't mean it; stolen what was mine, I didn't need it."

Tell me about your memories working with Amy Winehouse.

Amy was a friend so I don't want to choose a favorite memory because it doesn't help to understand why or what happened. She was fucking funny -- one of the wittiest people I've met. She could give you a run for your money, and I loved that about her. But some of the really stupid shit she did, I loved that about her, as well. It's difficult -- we were so similar that we did really identical things. We basically did the same thing the week she died, but one of us is alive at the end of the week and one of us isn't. She's a lot smaller than me -- her body had given up. She liked to talk about my music, but she didn't like to talk about her music. If you paid Amy a compliment, she'd thank you, but neither of us were really the kind of people to accept compliments.

You can pre-order Definitely Now HERE.

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