////MR. HUDSON////APRIL 2009////
Oxford University Graduate, Mr. Ben Hudson, has enjoyed a pretty nutty couple of years, which have involved globetrotting with some of Hip Hop’s uber-elite and performing in stadiums boasting crowd capacities of up to forty thousand, with the likes of The Police & Amy Winehouse in tow. Life shifted up a few gears for Mr. Hudson & The Library in 2007 when their debut album ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ was released and received critical acclaim, which created heaps of expectation for their future releases. At the time, their innovative and unique brand of songsmanship never really broke them into the mainstream market. So after a few chance meetings, Mr. Hudson soon found himself on a plane to Hawaii at the special request of Jay-Z & Kanye West. This journey continued and culminated with rumoured collaborations on Jay-Z’s next album, a support slot on Kanye West’s tour, production credits for ‘808s & Heartbreak’, writing and vocal credits on the same album and a record deal which has seen him land Mr. West as the Executive Producer of his next album which is due out soon. As you can imagine, Outline was more than just a little eager to track him down before his appearance at NAC in March…
Hey Ben, how are you?
I’m good man, just plugging things in and trying to make boxes work in the studio. I just want to finish my album, well our album, before we get off on tour. It’s becoming a bit of a Frodo to Mordor epic mission (laughs).
You say ‘our album’…but I wanted to ask about your band ‘The Library’, I’ve noticed little mention of them in recent associated press?
It’s an interesting one that…because the first record was more ‘Mr. Hudson & the Library’ than this one. In the past I’ve always been an entity to myself, with the production and stuff. I put the band together to help finish and play the album live. With this one I’ve been back in the studio on my own and hanging around with Kanye. I think this record is more my record. But The Library is still very much in existence and is still very much a touring band, we’re as thick as thieves still. But for this album, I thought I wanted to try and put the emphasis back on me. But who knows what will happen with the next record. It’ll probably be The Library featuring Mr. Hudson (laughs). I think it’s good when things shift. My heros are people like Bowie and Neil Young and Dylan, who one minute would be playing with a band like the Spiders from Mars or Crazy Horse, then the next minute they’d maybe do a solo record and then after that they’d want to be a band member again. I think it’s one of those luxuries that I’m lucky enough that I can indulge…
Regarding this new record – is it in a similar vein to ‘A Tale of Two Cities’?
I hope with this album people are going to find that it’s a real progression and something different, bigger and wider sounding. I think you’ll hear a difference in the song writing between a bunch of kids that were holding down part time jobs in London doing music in their living rooms to (for me as an artist) those who have now literally been around the world and played on some big stages with some big artists. I’ve learned just how big sound can get. From touring with Kanye, I can see us filling…maybe not stadiums, and maybe not with people but certainly with sounds. I guess that comes from going on tour with him and with The Police, and doing some big rooms with Amy Winehouse. The sound changes…I think that before, through poverty really, we all lived pretty simple routines back in the day. Now you’re rocketing around Europe on a tour bus pouring bottles of Brandy over your head…its just going to change your view. Em, not that we are superstars, but we’ve had a small taste of that life, and you just kinda look at things differently. We were touring with Mika as well and that was to some big crowds, like in Milan we played in a room to four thousand people, who had never seen or heard of us before and yet they still all got their arms in the air, looking like they are having a brilliant time and you start thinking ‘I just want to entertain these people’. We played with The Police to 40,000 people which was just amazing…you can’t even get your head around that amount of people.
Do you suffer with the jitter before these bigger shows?
Do you know what? I’d be more nervous playing to you and your missus in your front room if I was playing a new song. Obliviously you are nervous, but it’s just too big to think about. Because you can’t quantify it, you just have to go and do it. It’s kinda like being on the telly. You have to say to yourself that this is too important an opportunity to let yourself get nervous
I really have to ask, how did the Kanye thing come about?
He just heard the first album. I think he was just a fan really to start with. When he was over here promoting ‘Graduation’ – his third album – I was invited to go to a listening session. I met him there and then went to see him play his show in Manchester. It was almost like chatting up a bird (laughs). Neither of us wanted to go in too thick and heavy, so we just kinda sniffed each other out (laughs)…and then around six months later I got a call from my record company saying Kanye wants to produce your next album. I was like ‘cool’, let me think about that for a nano-second. The head of our label had called, he hadn’t told anyone, ‘cause he wanted to run it by me first. He said that I didn’t have to do it. He asked me if I was comfortable with it, but I’m a big fan of his production. I mean I wasn’t a fan of him as an icon, I don’t have posters of him on my wall – I’m a grown man, but I was a big fan of his music, so I thought yeah, this is going to be crazy. Then I didn’t hear anything from him for ages. I just tried to keep my cool. Then a couple of months passed and I’d started to think it was just chat. Then I went into a meeting with the record company, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to do for the second album. They said, ‘before you start telling us, have a look at this contract’. Kanye not only wants to produce the album, but he also wants to co-sign you to his new record company ‘Good Music’. I just thought, ‘this is great’. I mean our first album was critically well received – apart from in a couple of places – but we basically never blew up in the mainstream, so this is exactly what we needed. For Kanye to come out and say these guys are really good, worked as the shot of adrenaline that we really needed, to get stuck into the second album. I didn’t hear anything from him again for months, he was really treating me mean and keeping me keen. Then I heard this track he’d done with Jay-Z and thought, I’m just going to have to be cheeky here and chance my arm a bit, so I just e-mailed him saying, ‘I really like the new stuff you are doing with Jay-Z, do you want a hand on his album?’ within an hour or two I got an e-mail back asking when was the next plane I could catch to Hawaii…
Yeah, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ shit…so I spent a month in Hawaii, then a couple of weeks in LA and New York. Then we came back and I toured with him around the UK and Europe and now here we are doing my second album together.
He appears a very big personality and super confident guy, I wondered if you had early concerns he might start to take your music in a direction you were uncomfortable with?
That’s the funny thing, ‘cause he really let me still captain the ship. We work in very different ways and we come from very different backgrounds musically. He really didn’t want to obstruct what I do. He really just gave me some slight adjustments, he didn’t do anything to strip it back to start it again. I think he really just wants to help. And that was great, ‘cause for someone as big as him, they could just come in and really do a Dr. Frankenstein on your work. But I think he just wanted to give me a boost and concentrate on how I’m presented to the world. He’s really into fashion and he’s into his website and his blog. He’s so into the look and feel of something and how the fans are involved. The first time we talked about the album, he was like ‘here’s the plan, you concentrate on the music and I’ll make you famous’. Then he moved onto something else…probably talking about him (laughs). It was a funny day really. He was designing the set for the ‘Glow in the Dark’ tour in his hotel room while people were everywhere around him throwing ideas around. Wherever he goes, it’s like a little factory all around him. It’s crazy busy, he never really stops. So I walked in and kicked someone’s drink over straight away (laughs). I mean he’s such a busy guy, I’m just really glad to have his involvement…
On the flip side of that, how intimidating was it walking into his studio to work on the ‘808’ record?
Luckily, I’d probably met him three or four times before we actually did any work together. It’s a long flight from London to Hawaii, so by the time I got there, I’d gotten my head into gear. It’s such a huge compliment to be flown across the world and put up in a 5 star hotel and then to help on his record, so I kinda thought, ‘well, if they think I should be here, then maybe I should be here’. You’ve just got to go with it. I just tried to listen and not just to be a noise in the corner. If I’d have ten ideas, then I’d only put the best one forward…in fact maybe that way you end up feeling maybe wiser than you are. The only time I spoke really was when I had something useful to add. So maybe if there was a line he was stuck on there’d be people throwing forward ideas, but I would just try to wait until I’d got something I was really sure of and then just quietly say it. There was one particular moment, when Kayne looked round, and he looked at me almost like he was furious with me and then he started shaking his finger at me. I was sure he was going to start telling me off…I mean he could send you back home with the click of a finger…he just said ‘Hudson, you are a fucking genius’. It’s funny to me, that someone would fly you around the world for the tiniest little bits. For me it has really been a life saving thing. I mean I could talk about it for days. The fact I’ve been to Hawaii three times in the last year, to work on his record and to sing on Jay-Z’s record too…it’s just…I mean…its just ‘Charlie & the Chocolate Factory’ stuff.
You are such a quintessentially British sounding guy, that i’m guessing you must have had a plan to inflict some of our culture on him and his crew?
I tried to get him into Cricket, but that didn’t last very long…(laughs)
Your website is very strong on the social networking side of things…ie Facebook, Myspace, Bebo & Twitter – how important was the internet in getting you established?
It wasn’t really. I was always a bit of a trogladite or a bit of a cave dweller. I was always a bit reluctant but I started to feel, well this is the future so I’m going to have to learn to embrace it really. I mean times are getting tough in the music business, so if you can promote your tour without having to print up any posters and just by word of mouth, then you are laughing, and if you can help other artists…for me that’s the great thing. You end up with this network of artists who are helping to promote each other as well. Someone can go onto the Mr. Hudson site, and see what I’m into…
Yeah I noticed the blog with your top ten current influences, which I thought was a cool idea…
Really? I’m really glad because if some fifteen year old or sixth former is on their lunch break and their checking on an i-phone or a computer and they listen to some of those tracks it’s a great thing…I had a track from a Dennis Potter thing, so maybe someone might read one of his books, or go to the Theatre to see one of his works…I think its about helping to improve each other’s lives. I didn’t have that when I was at school, it was just the NME, Q and Jools Holland and that was about it…
So the interactivity is a big thing for you?
I’ve realised I’m allowed to ask them questions. And with Twitter and Facebook they are replying within ten seconds. At the moment I’m trying to think about the album sleeve ‘cause I’m trying to get my head around it. There could be some kid, currently sitting in his art lesson with his phone under his desk, replying to my Twitter saying ‘I’ve just seen this artists work, you should check it out, or why don’t you contact them?’ It allows you to be interactive…that kid who I have a little exchange with, I mean I can’t pretend we are best friends or that he lives next door, but because of this exchange, he’s going to be at the next show, right down the front and swinging his fists in the air like a mad man, ‘cause it’s going to mean more to him. Imagine when I was at school and Brit-Pop was massive, if you could just text Damon Albarn and he came back to me asking what can I do with my next sleeve. I mean I’m not saying I’m Damon Albarn…but you know what I’m saying
There is a rumour circulating that we might hear an appearance from you on Jay-Z’s next ‘Blueprint 3’ album, and you did mention something about it earlier, so I have to ask?
Yeah, I actually sang on two tracks. I doubt both of them will make it on to his next album…but who knows, I’ll just have to wait and see (and keep trying to get involved). I think that’s a good lesson that I taught myself with that cheeky little e-mail. I mean ‘do you want a hand with Jay-Z’s album’ was such a ridiculous thing to say, but they said yes and then they flew me out to Hawaii. I also learnt from being over in the States that no man is an Island, you’ve got to collaborate, so I’m bringing so many more people into help on this record, than I ever used too. I used to be very protective, because my hero’s seemed so self-sufficient, like Bowie and even The Beatles, who did absolutely everything themselves. But I realised they probably had a lot of help and weren’t able to do everything by themselves. I learnt that from Kanye. He’s big enough to be humble enough to bring in loads of people. The word ‘help’ brings me on to the second point, which is go and help other people with their shit, just because you want to help, not ‘cause you want to get paid, or have your name in lights, just because you want to help make a record as good as it can possibly be. So I don’t think people get offended, even if you are being cheeky, if you are offering to help.
Finally, you’ve played here in Norwich before…so before you come back, I wondered what you’ve remembered about us?
The last time I played in Norwich would have been a long time ago. It would have been as a youth in the back of a transit van. I seem to remember having a really, really long chat with a bouncer about bodybuilding, because I decided that I needed to put on some weight…(laughs)