Now Things: An Interview with Liam Bailey


LU: There’s YouTube videos of you acoustic, singing while playing guitar. It seems central to your songwriting approach. Talk about your history with playing the guitar.

LB: I only started playing guitar because there’s a band from England called Oasis. When I was 14, in our popular culture, Britpop was just very consuming, and I was caught up in that, so I became an Oasis fan as well. And there’s one song in particular called “Don’t Look Back In Anger.” That made me want to play guitar because it sounded so easy. Somebody once asked me, why didn’t Jimi Hendrix inspire you to play guitar? Why didn’t the old soul records inspire you to play guitar? I know that it’s because it sounded so difficult [laughs]. So I got one and I got taught to play like three chords. And I just basically taught myself over the years by picking it up and putting it down. Eventually, in my early 20s, I was competent enough to play live with it. To be honest, I’m not a great guitarist, I’m just able to play what’s required. To write songs, I’ll play a rhythm or jam with people. I generally have got a guitar in my home.

LU: What are your other musical influences?

LB: My music taste obviously started at home, which was all the different reggae artists, and Otis Redding and the Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder—all the pop, soul legends that were just standard that my mom would have bought. But as I’ve got older, I’ve loved English folk music, like Nick Drake and John Martyn. I really like Tim Buckley. And Jeff Buckley. I’m a big fan of the Black Keys. I love Prince. Obviously when I was at school, it was like Wu-Tang, B.I.G., Big Pun, stuff like that. I started liking Pusha T—you know there’s some yard in Pusha’s music. I think that’s why I like it, cause there’s yardman in there.

Joe Strummer really had a big influence on me with his view on the world. And I loved the way [The Clash] covered “Police In Thieves.” It just shows you how punk and reggae were coming from similar places. And I’m a big fan of Paul Weller. So it goes on, mate. I love good, honest music. Aretha Franklin. The Fugees. Wyclef. With melodies and good lyrics. I was even listening to Aerosmith the other day. What the? [laughs]. Don’t put down there that I’m an Aerosmith fan [laughs]. Another artist that influenced my songwriting is Sid Barrett because of how weird yet how gracefully it made sense, and how innocent his songwriting is. I’ve tried to use some of his influence on this album. In terms of artists right now, I like my label mates Hiatus Kaiyote. I really liked Fleet Foxes when they came out. And Bon Iver. I think my head’s been too far into my own art [laughs out loud]. Busta’s new tracks with Q-Tip was on constantly.

LU: Some folks have compared your vocals on “When Will They Learn” to Gregory Isaacs. What do you think about that?

LB: I don’t sound like him. Don’t get me wrong—I think that’s wicked. It’s great to be “like that guy” that people say that about. But my voice isn’t as sweet as his. Gregory. man, come on.