In Conversation with J Lee – exploring Beggars Soul

In Conversation with J Lee - exploring Beggars Soul the making of the album and capturing the contemporary spirit of Rock n' Roll

J Lee and the Hoodoo Skulls from Surrey UK with the follow-up to the acclaimed album Black Moon Beggars Soul’ which is due for release on 25th June via CD and all platforms
J Lee and The Hoodoo Skulls were formed when lead singer J Lee Barratt had a yearning to make a traditional rock n’ roll/blues album. J Lee has been around roots music all his life and it’s this foundation that led to his love of roots and blues music.

In Conversation with J Lee - exploring Beggars Soul

Fronted by J Lee, with Harun Kotch (Lead Guitarist and co-writer/producer with the band), Wayne Riches (Drums – formerly with Skin of Skunk Anansie) and Mike Hartnett (Bass), create a sound so punchy you’ll have to pinch yourself to remember that they come from the UK. Gutsy, edgy, raw are just some of the words that have been used to describe their sound.

Let’s start off with the singles from the new album –  The three singles have a similar vibe but the accompanying video’s take a very different approach. Was that through choice, circumstances, or a mixture of both?
The first track actually released from the album was the title track, Beggars Soul. When we recorded the sessions at the old Chapel in Chichester, we got a guy in to film the making of and the recording of and we chose Beggars Soul as the first single. It just seemed to fit seemed to be a good kind of opener for the album and it was the song that kinda crossed over the whole album. We thought it was a good knock on the door and say right here we are, and this is the kind of stuff that’s gonna be on it.  It has that really good riff to it with a deep south feel to it, other people have mentioned it is a late 60s feel, hints of Hendrix & Cream. So that was why we went for that one as it was just kind of one that was standing out at the time, it is funny three weeks later they might be in a different song which stood out the time when you think when we go with that one first. But it just seemed to tie in with what we were recording and filming in the studio at the time, so we went for that one.


The second single was Baby Blue was actually the first track brought to the table recorded and wrote the songs with Harun Koch who is the lead guitarist and producer for the album.  When it was time to go in a record the second album after ‘Black Moon’ it was the one I walk through the door with. That one is kinda little more Rock n’ Roll, it is not out and out 50’s Rock n’ Roll, but it has got that vibe. Rock n’ Roll is energy and it’s definitely got that kind of drive behind it. Obviously in the first video for Beggars Soul there was no lockdown, by the second video nobody’s in it at all because you could have got anybody in there, and so we had to come up with like you know, a million other bands had to put videos to their songs, and you know I don’t think there have been so many lyric videos out in one go. But there were no other options you had to put some visuals with it. I think it works. It is kind of like that deep red and black has almost that film kind of Tarantino-esque feel about the video. As simple as it is I think it really ties in with the artwork and the track and yeah, it’s got a good contemporary rock and roll feel to it.


Then after that, there was the third single, Let Your Hair Down. Still in lockdown but decided to open up the doors for the video to anybody that wants to be in it really. We just sent everybody a snippet of the track and told them to do whatever they want to it and you know bearing in mind that is going on YouTube or whatever else. The response was great it was really good I mean it was so nice to have so many people want to be involved, wanted to be a part of it and you know it was just it just felt good that we were doing stuff that people want to be a part of and you got a really nice, really good, loyal followers out there. It is always nice when you do something it gets appreciated, you do it because you want to do it and otherwise, you wouldn’t do anything at all. But it’s always nice to get that thumbs up from people that you’re trying to do it for after yourself.  Let Your Hair Down is another kind of riffy foot tapper.
The first three singles were pretty up-tempo and, in your face, and it would be easy to assume that the rest of the album is that. But it does have different tones, different flavours, different tempos on their, that gives the album its variety.  It is not a monoculture of sound?  No, I don’t think so. You have songs on there like, Highway, which is an acoustic, deep south dusty road kind of feel. Need You So Bad a slow brassy ballad, and then Ain’t No Way is another southern feel, about a gunslinger, reflecting on his life and then at the end goes into New Orleans sleazy kind of riff on the brass, you almost have two songs in one there.  It just gives the album a bit more flavour as opposed to just having up-tempo rockers.  Tom who reviewed the album said, “… no complaints here as they do it so well and the slide solo is genius as it was unexpected but perfectly executed…too short!”  Yes, there is slide guitar on some tracks, brass in others, heavy distortion – a bit of T-Rex I love T-Rex – I don’t mean it was a clone of T-Rex but you can hear that Marc Bolan type of energy I love the fact you said that I am a huge fan of Marc Bolan and have been since I heard him on the radio.   

As we are discussing singles – they seem to have made a resurgence, not as an affordable 45rpm that influences the charts – What is the power of the single in 2021 and is the video essential accompaniment?
I think the power of the single is because everything is so throw away, at the moment, you know with anything I mean you post something it is up there for three seconds, then it’s gone. It might have taken you 5 days to make that little clip or whatever it might be or not but once it’s up – it’s gone – it’s finished. If you spend a long time making an album that you want to promote or even an EP then as soon as you put it out it’s gone. So, you have to kind of prolong the process by releasing singles, like you say you know people don’t buy singles to get up the chart anymore because you can just download them for nothing, or you can you spend seventy-odd pence or you wait for the album to come out and you get it for nothing anyway. Even the bigger artists used to have to shift thousands of thousands and thousands and thousands of singles to get to Number 1. I think you only have to shift twenty/thirty thousand used to be like hundred/two-hundred thousand and up. But I think the reason why people do singles is to prolong the promotion and to have something to post and something to promote. Whereas if just put the album out there without anything, it also is it it’s a good way of people, you know you put all this time and effort into an album, you want people to hear the songs off it. They might not like the first single and go definitely not buying that album, but they might like the second one and then you think maybe there is a chance, or you know they might like the third and will cement the purchase. The music industry is completely different to what it used to be and it is almost unrecognisable because everybody can make music in their bedroom on a laptop or whatever it is everybody can release music. You can put it on, you can get a distributor, you can put it on all the platforms and so any Tom, Dick or Harry can release music out there. Somebody said to me, the other day that there is something like 100,000 clips put on YouTube every minute or something. You have to try and get your stuff heard above all of it. Then try and make it stick which is why you have to keep putting things out you know keeping remembering and reminding them that you are there. I think that is why people release the single to keep the promotion building. Also, a lot of people only stream their music now so they never actually listen to the full album.  For me, putting an album is still something special Yeah, absolutely. We got a different car it hasn’t even got a CD player. Yes, it is all Bluetooth/streaming now of your ‘phone. Yes, technology can be baffling.

How did you go about curating the ten tracks, with the range of styles that have made the final cut on Beggars Soul? You had more I assume more than the 10 ten tracks that made the final cut when you started the process of making the album?
I’m supposed to say we had Fifty songs and we chose these Ten. The truth of the matter is we just wrote these Ten. It was written pretty quickly but we really liked all the songs you know we’re at the stage where we were hooking up every week to do a new song and saying that was good. There was a couple that we did that I don’t think made the cut but we’ve never been a band that writes Thirty-odd songs and then pick the best ten. We just write the 10 and then we do a demo of them and then if it floats your boat then it stays and if it doesn’t float there will swap it out for another one but these ten, they stuck. I put lots of running orders together for the album because you want to kind of make it interesting and if you got some slower ones you need to put them all together because you know it’s nice to have a contrast and ups and downs with the album. I think putting the Ten tracks together yeah this is like the 4th or 5th running order. I think it’s probably different to what is on the CD to the copy you probably received. When it comes out that will be that, it’s just one tweak, It was one of those things where it just didn’t quite flow so I just kind of changed one track round and then it all seemed to kind of sit nicely, it seemed to work. You know when it works because you subconsciously can hear the next song coming in after the end of the one you just played, that’s kind of how I put it together. Certain keys don’t mix well one after another and sometimes a really up-tempo song after a slow one really works because then it’s like now, we’re up again now so there’s lots to kind of think about. It is important to get the right running order because otherwise, it can make a good album so not quite as good as it is supposed to because when they’re not in the order they deserve to be. I think we got it right in the end.

Without the songs, there would be no album. You co-wrote with Hauran Kotch who is lead guitarist and producer. Was it a conscious decision to keep them all short/tight at under four minutes, there is not for example a long ballady number?
I guess that’s kind of the quite old school thing only 3 minutes for a song and only 10 tracks and which is that exactly what we did on the first album. I like it, I think the longest song we did was like 4 minutes and that was just one of the 20 that has been released. It was becoming a bit – how long is that song now? 3 minutes 40 – of we want to shave a few seconds off to get to three/ three and half minutes. Obviously, we would not have done that if it detracted from the song, it’s just the way the songs have seemed to have gone and we’ve always wanted to do just 10 tracks and you know I think 3 three and a half touching 4 minutes is plenty long enough. You could have doubled up the solo, you could have extended the intro, you could have added another chorus or added another five times at the end if you wanted to. We can do all that live, and I think that is what the songs needed and we haven’t detracted or added for the sake of it and I think that’s why I and I think the rest of the band are happy with the outcome because they are what they’re supposed to be.

You recorded the album at The Old Chapel in Chichester, why was recording in a Church the right place for your latest album?
It was definitely the right place for it. We’ve been there before with the first album and it’s such a great environment to be in and such a great vibe and such a good sound. It is primarily for live sessions because it’s got such good acoustics and it’s has got such high ceilings and you know it’s all you know wooden floors at this it’s just a really cool place to be. Certain places you go to you know that you’re going to be productive and you know that you’re going to get something out of this room whereas other places you go to is dead and you just think you just wasted 4 hours in this room. flogging a dead horse because it’s just nothing sadly no spark, there’s no energy, there’s no nothing. The first time we went there to record the first album it was a novelty and I think we just we were just lucky to be able to get in there. The second time around we purposely went in there, we knew the room better the second time and there is a huge array of drums and instruments that you can pick up and play and the grand piano and stuff like that, which you can use and utilise which we did. It helps you stay over a few drinks afterwards, day two not as productive as day one but still enjoyable and it was just a really good place to be and that’s where the Beggars Soul single was recorded, and a lot of the photos were taken there that’s on the back of the album. We will definitely be going there again for number Three.

Do you have a favourite track on the album and if so why?
I do. It is the track I Need You so Bad which is the kind of slow brassy number, that I wrote my wife and something I wanted to do a long time, but I hadn’t come up with a tune or the melody that got what I wanted across and then I had this little riff and these few lines come to mind. I knew immediately when I cut them and hummed it into my phone that this was potentially going to be the one, I love it. I love the track it is the first time that we’ve ever had a track with brass all the way through it it’s still got that kind of old school kind of Otis Redding feel to it. I think apart from loving the track it’s a sentimental track to me. Obviously, the other boys in the band will have their own favourites. I really love this album I love all the tracks on it and they all offer something different to me in the styles and the tempos and everything else so yeah I’m very proud of the album and very proud of everybody who has written and played on it. I’m very fortunate to be surrounded by such great musicians and we get on very well and we all facing the same way. We know what we’re looking for and what we are trying to get out of it and it’s pretty easy when it comes to writing and recording. Harun will do the bulk of the production and work and things like that and then he will send it over to me.  I will then make my tweaks you know – a bit less of this, bit more of this, could you bring that level down, and something at the end can we change that, and they will do those tweaks and then we will live with it for a bit and then that’ll be that. We work well together, and I am very pleased with what we come up with.

Your bands name J. Lee (your first two names) then Hoodoo Skulls. How did you come up with what is quite a long name for a band?  
Yeah, it’s a very long band name.  Luckily my first two are short, I like the old school names I always have, like Gene Vincent the Blue Caps, Nick Cave and the Black Seeds or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers,  I just love that kind of sound, that kind of image and I was flicking through some CDs and some albums and stuff like that and I just saw, I forgot the guy’s name, his album is called something Hoodoo. I’ve never heard of Hoodoo, Voodoo, yes, but I’ve never heard of Hoodoo and it just stuck with me, I really like that kind of sound hoodoo. Later I found out it meant bad luck, so maybe not the best thing to have chosen. Luke Williams, who used to play Bass in the band, liked his skulls image and things with skulls. So we were J Lee and The Hoodoo – and we needed something else anyway he said skulls and I said OK. We will have skulls now until we think of something better but we will not fill a gap for now. Then it wasn’t long that he left the band after that and they were still stuck with the bloody skulls, so had J Lee and The Hoodoo Skulls.

Are you planning to tour with the album once live music is back?
Yes, I would like to. People are starting to go out and go to gigs. But everything has been so uncertain as to whether you can or if you can’t. Festivals have said yes and they are cancelling and the people that were supposed to play the last festival were going to be carried over to this festival, this festival cancelled so now carried over to ’22. l I have heard people go to gigs asked them what do you think and they were like standing there wearing a mask getting really hot and not enjoying it as much as I thought. But to start to go to open the door to gigs at some point otherwise, it will always stay firmly shut. We don’t have anything firmly booked, we were basically just concentrating on promoting the singles and the album. Once we can get it together will probably do a live stream of the album in its entirety and then people can watch it as and when they want. I would like to do it properly I’d like to just you know I just want to go I wouldn’t want to go to the rehearsal room, and you know plugin and then go for it I’d like to go to make it at the proper thing. Then it means you know organising and it hasn’t been that long since we have been allowed to have six people in one room. So it could be quite difficult to have done it any other time. You just don’t know where you are so people have organised tours then rescheduled tours. Festival should we really be having 50,000 people standing next to each other in a field. We hope to and look forward to when we can tour with the album.

There is no avoiding you are the son of Shakin’ Stevens. Has he influenced your music style and is the connection at times a hindrance?
Yeah, obviously he has to influence me in my style only in the fact that apart from growing up and dipping into his incredible album collection and liking the same music and artists. I mean I’ve always even when I was younger I was listening to people in the ‘50s and the ‘60s as opposed to what was done on the radio at the time. I’ve always loved roots music, rock and roll, blues, gospel and all that kind of stuff. The fact that my dad was also doing roots music was a bonus really. I mean if he was doing something like thrash metal, for instance, I don’t like thrash metal particularly but it just so happens the music that I do like and I do enjoy he’s also the foundation of what he enjoys and so many other artists. Also, he has been very encouraging with it as well, always happy to give advice and always happy to guide things like that. I’m very fortunate to have somebody that’s done what he’s done and achieved what he’s achieved to be able to give that sort of advice. I’d be a bit bloody fool if I didn’t listen to it or take it on board ‘coz this you know he’s the one that said over 40 hit not me.

In Conversation with J Lee - exploring Beggars Soul

Thank you J Lee for your time and insights into the making of your latest album Beggars Soul out on the 25th June 2021 – available on all platforms and on J Lee and the Hoodoo Skulls.

Read the Full Bluesdoodles review from Tom Dixon HERE

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