HAVING just played alongside the Mercury Prize-nominated…
Michael Kiwanuka: Michael Jablonka has just unveiled the sensational single, Mantra. The song is slick and awash with Hendrix-influenced harmonics. Mantra depicts a relationship’s dying flickers and sees a desperate, yet resigned, lover accept his fate. Little bits of Jeff Buckley and Bob Dylan can be heard in the narrative; there are elements of Blues masters and a huge dollop of a twenty-six-year-old with an immense amount of confidence. Jablonka has been gigging since he was fourteen and is a go-to musician-for-hire for artists as lofty as Charlie Brown and Stooshe. As he embarks upon his much-anticipated solo career: I got to talk to Jablonka about the legends he has played with; his hopes for the next few months and how he came to bond with (and conquer) the guitar.
Hey Michael. How has your week been? What have you been getting up to?
The past week has been fun and chilled. Been catching up with friends: went to the cinema as it’s been a while and saw the new Tim Burton Movie (weird and wonderful as always) and had a fair few gigs with either my band or other people. Generally keeping happy!
For those new to your music, can you introduce yourself, please?
I’m Michael Jablonka: twenty-six and I’m a musician trying to succeed in this business in London.
You were born and bred in London. What is it about the capital that fascinates you and keeps you there as a musician?
London is home for me. I’m very fortunate to live in a place where so much culture and activity exists, and as a musician, it’s constantly influencing me.
Your guitar skills are hugely impressive. Were you self-taught and which guitars (brand) do you favour?
Pretty much self-taught. I had a couple lessons at school but told I was better off left to my own devices.
I’m a Strat. man personally but I do like a good Gibson every now and again too.
Having gigged since the age of fourteen (being twenty-six): when was the moment you decided music was your calling? Did you balance music and studies or was it a challenge doing that?
I suppose the first couple of gigs I ever played in front of a crowd sort of confirmed that for me: the freedom of performing music gives you a feeling that is indescribable. I wasn’t a very academic kid, so when sixth form came around, I could put all my energy into making music and art which was perfect.
Charlie Brown, Stooshe and Delta Maid are just a list of names you have worked with; either as a collaborator or guitar-for-hire. Who has been the most memorable to play with and what did you learn from your time playing with them?
That’s a tough one. I’ve loved my time spent with every artist I’ve been involved with.
Playing alongside Delta Maid will always remain a particularly memorable one though as that was my first true introduction to big crowds, festivals (the lot).
We’d be a two, maybe three-piece act, so it could be pretty nerve racking at times – but watching Delta absolutely own it on stage definitely helped me to disconnect from what was out in the crowd to being within the music.
At the moment, or very recently, you have toured with Michael Kiwanuka. What is Michael like away from music and do you think he should have won the Mercury Prize?
He’s awesome; Mike and the boys. He’s very calm and collected. It’s great fun to be part of the pack. It would have been amazing to see Michael win but to be honest, we were all just loving our time on stage wearing suits.
Now, you are stepping out as a bandleader and making your own music. What compelled that decision?
The last few of years were proving to be pretty difficult as a band and I feel now that there’s not so much pressure now. If the boys are unavailable there’s nothing stopping me from going out and playing an acoustic show.
Can we expect an E.P. or album in the coming year and can you tell us a bit about some of the musicians you are working with?
I’d like a lot of things to happen within the year, but for now, I do have songs to share and a new single I’ll be putting out very soon that I am itching to reveal.
I’m very fortunate to have my band. Chris Webb (bass) is an incredibly accomplished player and we’ve been playing together for about seven years now. Ed Broad (drums) joined us about a year ago and we share a lot in common musically – so it makes expressing ideas very easy.
Mantra is your debut track and one that looks at the dying embers of a relationship. Is it a song based or personal experience or a collection of observations over the years?
It’s a bit of both really. I’ve gone through it myself and observed friends go through that too.
The chorus is raw and huge; powerful and catchy. Was the chorus the first thing you wrote (for the song) or did it just naturally flow with the rest of the song?
I had the chorus melody in my head but with very different chords. It sounded too depressing and instead I wanted the song to represent something brighter. Usually, when a chorus comes everything is dictated by that.
I imagine Jimi Hendrix is an idol of yours. Which other guitarists did you idolise growing up and do you think we have the same calibre of guitar heroes in modern music?
Hendrix is God. John Frusciante was a huge influence in the early years and still continues to be. I was really into showman guitarists like Marc Bolan, B.B. King; Buddy Guy, Kurt Cobain – there’s so many…
Today, the guys I feel that are making a real impression are guys like Derek Trucks, Charlie Hunter; Doyle Bramhall II to name a few. They all have a voice that is truly theirs.
What does the rest of this year hold for you? Any plans for more tour dates or music?
I’m constantly trying to write so I hope to be (releasing even more) music and keep growing as an artist. Next couple of months are gonna be on the road with other guitarin’ duties – but I have a couple of gigs in the pipeline when I’m back and getting ready for an exciting year ahead.
Having already achieved so much already: what do you hope to achieve in your career? What dreams and ambitions do you hold?
It’s early days for my career at the moment but I’d really love to be travelling with my band: making more of a living with my own music.
Having the time to experiment and create with different artists and genres… A Mercury Award would be pretty sweet too!
If you had to choose five albums to take away on a desert island – getting a bit Desert Island Discs! – which would you bring and why?
Kind of Blue by Miles Davis – simply because it is probably the greatest moment caught in modern day music.
Since I Left You by The Avalanches – I discover something completely new every time I listen to this record. They are geniuses!
Blood Sugar Sex Magik by Red Hot Chili Peppers – this was my grail when first starting out
Nirvana’s best of – I love Nevermind too, but all the hits on this record reminds me of school with the very small group of people into Nirvana and feeling like we were the only ones in the world that knew about them.
A HENDRIX RECORD – I literally can’t decide because this opened up my whole world to discovering every Blues hero known to man. There probably should be a lot more Blues in my choices but I can hear all of my heroes in Hendrix
For musicians and other artists wanting to follow in your footsteps: what advice would you offer them?
I’d say just stay true to what you really love and do what feels right for yourself. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can select any song (other than one of yours as I’ll put that in) and I’ll play it here…
Jeff Buckley – So Real
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