J Lee, (seen here at the front), vocalist with J Lee And The Hoodoo Skulls, chats with Kevin Cooper about cassette tapes, where the name originated from, the release of their EP, and their new single Woman
J Lee And The Hoodoo Skulls were formed in 2016 and are fronted by Jason Lee Barratt with Harun Kotch on lead guitar, Wayne Riches on drums and Luke Sohl Williams on bass. They are an instantly addictive blues rock band.
Between them they have already played every corner of the globe with international chart success and music used for various advertisement campaigns, commercials and websites including tracks from their debut EP which is not even set for release until the end of 2016 currently being used by European motorcycle clothing brand KLM wear.
Writing and recording new material all the time J Lee and The Hoodoo Skulls hope to be taking to a stage near you next year but in the meantime like, favourite, follow and share them as they are a band that truly need to be heard.
Whilst preparing for the release of their single, Woman, J Lee took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Hi J, how are you today?
I’m not too bad Kevin how are you?
I’m very well thank you, and let me firstly thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
No worries it’s my pleasure.
And how is life treating you?
Life at the minute is not bad, not bad at all. We are all very pleased with the single, Woman which is going to be released on Friday 2nd December. So that is all a little bit exciting, in fact the whole project is really, really good. I am really geed up with it all at the minute.
You will have to make sure that you release it before the snow comes otherwise no one will be able to get down to the shops to buy it.
(Hysterical laughter) I don’t think anyone buys anything from the shops nowadays do they (laughter).
Gone are the days of spending all day Saturday in a record shop.
I know, but it was great though wasn’t it.
You would look forward to that all week at school.
Absolutely, and you could actually go up to the guy and ask if you could have a listen to anything he had in the shop. I remember buying a Stevie Ray Vaughan album but I wanted to check him out before I parted with my hard earned pocket money (laughter). The first track on the album was Texas Strut and I think that I managed to get past the first four bars before I said “I’ll have that” (laughter). The first four bars were all that I needed to hear; it sounded fantastic.
I love collecting vinyl and have always felt that it sounded so much warmer than CD.
Yes, you are right about that, definitely. I don’t have a massive record collection but I do have an old Dansette record player and I was talking to a guy the other day who collects them. The thing that gets me is that smell, that kind of vintage vinyl smell; it very much reminds me of that old vinyl shop (laughter).
I think that the description that you are looking for is mouldy cardboard (laughter).
(Hysterical laughter) yes, that’s the one, that lovely smell of mould mmmmm (laughter). What amazes me is just how bloody expensive second-hand vinyl albums are now, they are far more expensive than they were when they first came out (laughter).
You see you have started me off on one of my mini-rants now (laughter). The powers that be claim that you have a choice saying that you can now purchase a new album on MP3, CD or vinyl. The CD in a well-known local supermarket will cost you around £8 whilst the vinyl will set you back upwards of £25. In my opinion there simply is no fair choice.
To be honest with you, I agree that the vinyl is not another choice. Vinyl at the moment is still seen as a novelty by the record companies. The record companies simply want to get the music out there on either MP3 or CD; they still see vinyl as this new weird and wonderful invention which amazes me because it has been around for bloody ever (laughter).
It’s strange that you call vinyl a new invention because I was recently speaking to Grant (Nicholas) from Feeder and he was telling me that they have put their new album out on cassette.
(Hysterical laughter) have they really. That’s amazing because nobody has got a cassette player any more (laughter).
Grant told me that he thought that the cassette has that retro feel about it. He’s not as old as me so he didn’t get the joke when I asked him if it came with a free pencil.
(Laughter) that’s right I remember spending more time winding the bloody things up than I did listening to them (laughter). They were always getting bloody twisted all of the time. I kind of get the fact that a cassette is rather novel and different but I personally don’t know anybody that has got a cassette player anymore. My nan probably has (laughter).
I have to be honest with you and say that I actually do still own a fully functioning cassette player (laughter).
Well I suppose that if you had a hi-fi system back in the day then a cassette player would have been an integral part of that. I don’t even think that you still find cassette players in cars any more, do you?
Well, you say that but I was recently speaking to Rick Wakeman who still has a cassette player in one of his cars and he told me that he had done some research and apparently almost fifty percent of the cars on the roads in the UK today are still fitted with a cassette player.
Really, well I am truly surprised that it is that high. The thing is with cassettes is that it takes you bloody ages to find the song that you are wanting to listen to; you don’t know what side it’s on, you fast forward it then you go backwards, and you finally think “blow that, I don’t think that I want to listen to it that much” (laughter).
You fast forward it and then you find that you have over shot by ten seconds and so you miss the start of it (laughter).
Exactly, in fact when you think about it they were bloody rubbish (laughter). I actually know Mark Richardson who used to be the drummer with Feeder. I will have to see what he has got to say about all of this the next time that I see him.
(Laughter) I suppose that we should really talk about J Lee and the Hoodoo Skulls. Tell me a little about the band?
Well, I put the band together earlier this year because I wanted to record a blues album. I take care of the vocals whilst we have Harun Kotch on lead guitar and Luke Sohl Williams on bass. One day I was playing what I had recorded to a friend of mine, Luke Sohl Williams who is now the bass player in the band. He loved the direction in which the recordings were going and it was because of that he offered me his services as the bass player. This is all complimented by the driving force of Wayne Riches on drums. For those of you who don’t know, Wayne is also the unshakable drummer for Skin (Skunk Anansie).
I have known Wayne for years; we are old mates and we played together in local bands for many, many years. For me, his drumming is brilliant. He is everything that you need in a drummer, he is solid without being over the top and he is just so tasteful with his fills. You can rely upon Wayne to take this project forward. Asking Wayne to join the band was a no brainer for me. The four of us together are a good mix of elements to create the jelly of the Hoodoo Skulls sound.
Who takes care of the writing?
It’s funny you asking that because it transpires that the three of us, Luke, Harun and myself are all writers in our own right. They have done their own solo stuff so for me it is quite nice to have people who I can bounce ideas off, who I believe all know what they are talking about. It is easier to make a decision on whether it should go this way or that way when you have got two people agreeing on one side and one on the other. So it kind of works and it all seems to come fairly easy because it is what we are all in to. However, before we get to the voting stage what usually happens is that I get all of these riffs recorded on my mobile phone, whether that be a verse or chorus.
I then go over to see Harun, get my phone out which is as technical as I get really (laughter). Recording on my phone is all that I can manage or it used to be a cassette but I could never find my ideas because they were all over the place (laughter). Then whenever Harun would hear my ideas he would look at me and say “just what do you want me to do with that” (laughter). It would literally be thirty seconds long but with help from good old Harun, tracks would develop form my ideas.
I have been playing the EP for a few weeks now and I have to say that I was totally blown away. I particularly like Woman.
Thanks Kevin, that’s kind of you to say that. I am really pleased that you like what we are trying to do. To be honest with you I really can’t wait to get it out there to the public on Friday.
Are you all happy with it?
Yes we are, I mean on the subject of Woman once again it was one of those riffs that I recorded on my phone, took it over to Harun’s where he has a small recording studio in his house. What usually happens is that we will record some drums and then perhaps a guitar or two and then I will sing over the top of it. I will just make something up and you would not believe what comes out of my mouth, it is just nonsense (laughter). It is just to get an idea of what the melody would be, but generally the very first thing that I sing will be the melody line of the track. I don’t know why that is, but I guess that if it comes out naturally then maybe that is what it is supposed to be, so I generally run with it.
So we had this element, it’s not complicated its more or less a blues thing; it has that element and feel to it. I felt that Woman needed a bit of an intro because it was coming in with just the riff. So then I thought of the intro which I feel just compliments everything else when it comes in. So in answer to your question yes, we are all very pleased with it. There are some big drums on there together with some edgy riffy guitars, in fact it contains everything that I love really.
What was the rationale behind the EP?
Right where do I start, after doing a couple of solo projects I really wanted to write a blues album so I got in touch with Harun Kotch, who is the guitarist in the band now. In fact he also produced the record so we all now call him Spectre (laughter). I have worked with Harun in the past and he has got a fantastic ear and he can hear it before it is done if you know what I mean, which really does help because it can cut out a lot of the rubbish. After speaking to Harun together with his input it has progressed into a slightly heavier, riffier rock tinged EP. There is still a blues influence in there but it is not your basic twelve bar out and out blues EP. So it really just progressed from there.
You have a release date of May 2017 for the EP. Is it all finished and ready to go?
It’s kind of done; it’s more or less there, although saying that we might just have a few little tweaks which is the reason why we haven’t set a specific date as yet. But I would imagine that we will let the single run, get Christmas out of the way, and then we will kind of get a date in place and hopefully get out there and play a few gigs in and around the release date.
Are you currently working on an album?
Yes we are, we were in the studio a few weeks ago now down in Chichester recording another four tracks. We also have another four tracks in the pipeline ready to go and record. So we have got all of the tracks there for an album, but because we are always coming up with ideas and things like that, it is difficult and you have got to know when to stop. You can keep writing and writing thinking this song is better than that song but generally the next thing that you write you will probably think is better than the one that you have just recorded, simply because it is new and it is fresh. You really do need to cap it at some point. However, I think that what we have got at the moment is a good solid album.
Will you release anything else now before the album?
Yes we will, I think that we will release another EP and then the album after that. I think that it is a quicker turnaround with the EP’s. I think that if you release an album then you will probably get eleven or twelve tracks out there, but to keep pumping out that sort of quantity of songs whilst maintaining everybody’s interest is difficult. I think that currently at the point that we are now we will potentially get far more out of doing a couple of EP’s and then depending upon how they are received then we will release the album. So what I will say is that at this moment in time, that’s the plan.
Will you be putting anything out on vinyl?
I would love to put something out on vinyl. The thought of putting a record on, listening to those crackles, and then me coming out of it that would be awesome (laughter). I have been doing this with other artists all of my life and now I have got an EP which is absolutely fantastic, so yes, I think that we are definitely looking into that as we speak. Perhaps if we did they might just be available to buy at shows, I simply do not know at this stage. However, it would be a good thing to have, that’s for sure.
You have just mentioned shows, are we going to be seeing you touring any time in the future?
We will start touring probably sometime next year. We are currently looking into a few festivals for next year together with quite a few other dates. Nothing has been confirmed as yet. I think that people are booking but most people are at the minute putting their feet up with the heating on (laughter). We will just have to get fat over Christmas and then kick into action again in the New Year. But what I will tell you is that we are definitely going to be out there sometime between the beginning and the middle of next year for sure.
I have to ask you, just where did the name come from?
Well I was born with mine so that bit was easy (laughter). Hoodoo is an old bluesy thing which is obviously a variation of Voodoo but I think that Hoodoo is a little bit tamer, a little bit softer. I don’t think that it is quite as dark as Voodoo and it just means bad luck, you’ve been Hoodooed. However, the skulls thing came from Luke the bass player who just happens to be quite a fan of skulls in some weird dimension (laughter). I have to be honest and tell you that it was supposed to be a working title, and at first I didn’t like it but lived with it, but I love it now. The thing with the name is that it suits the music and what you would think J Lee and the Hoodoo Skulls would look like. I think that the look, the sound, the name all complement each other.
For example The Clash looked and sounded like The Clash should look and sound. They were all encompassing, it was just them. I think that is the same for us as well, I think we kind of complement each element which is there.
I can’t speak to you without mentioning your dad. I had absolutely no idea as to who your dad was until ten minutes before speaking to you. What was it like growing up in the Shakin’ Stevens household?
(Laughter) what can I say, it was interesting. With dad being in the music industry no two days were ever the same.
Well I have been playing his latest album Echoes OF Our Times for a few weeks now and I have to say that I think that it is a great piece of work. I personally feel that there is something on there for everyone.
Isn’t it brilliant, I know that I am a bit biased but I think that it is absolutely fantastic.
I am really looking forward to seeing him playing live next year and photographing the show.
That is fantastic. I hope to see you there sometime.
It is really good to have him back.
It is and it is great that he has come back with such a great sound. I think that because he had such a strong image, it was very difficult to wipe that from your mind and take him now as an older guy. He simply couldn’t still be wearing the denim, good god, even I would think that he looked stupid (laughter). He hasn’t worn the denim for a long time now but people haven’t seen him for such a long time like you used too. Back in the day he was here, there and everywhere. I heard his new single today on Radio 2 and it is just brilliant. He is now sixty-eight years old and I can only hope that if I can sing like that when I am his age, then I will be over the moon. He has such a nice gruff attack to his voice and to his songs. I personally feel that he has found a great sound and I think that a lot of people have been surprised by it.
Well I have been playing friends the album without telling them who it is. Every one of them has said that it is brilliant and then when I tell them that it is Shakin’ Stevens they are totally amazed.
I know (laughter). It is wonderful to hear isn’t it (laughter). It really is such a good body of work.
Listen Kevin, thank you very much and thank you for giving me your time. Keep looking at the website because we will push the tour details out there okay. If you are at one of dads gigs let me know and we will grab a beer together. You take care and bye for now.