Read Part 2 of this interview
Second time around, there is a directness about Ben Hudson. He’s shorn of his ‘Library’ agenda, he’s worked with Kanye West and sung with Jay-Z.
So as we sit in his label’s offices to discuss his new album, it’s not a massive surprise to find that he’s come out of his shell considerably since when we last met him, back in 2007.
He looks different too, dressed in a sharp black suit and wearing sunglasses. The latter are easily explained.
“I’m just feeling a bit tender after the GQ Awards last night,” he says ruefully. “It was good fun, but I’m still in unsigned musician mode where you can’t refuse free booze! Every time a glass of champagne comes past you take it, as it’s still a bit of a novelty!”
His new album Straight No Chaser shares its name with a hugely influential jazz composition. But the coincidence is little to do with jazz, as Hudson quickly asserts. “I suppose with the album title I was letting people know I’m not beating around the bush; it’s ‘kick ‘em in the nuts time’. There’s no froth on the record, no unnecessary gilding of the lily, not a lot of intros or outros – it’s straight to the meat. It’s a lean, hopefully quality pop record.”
Was that a conscious move? “Yeah, it was. I wasn’t really thinking about A Tale Of Two Cities (the previous album with the ‘Library’). I thought ‘It’s 2009,’ and having spent a lot of time in America and working with American artists I suppose I realised that the world is big – bigger than my postcode – and I wanted unashamedly to punch through all of that noise on a global scale.”
He delivers an uppercut to an imaginary face. “I wanted to make a knockout sound. You get that on Supernova, it comes straight in with the chorus, and that’s what I wanted to do. You can’t really call an album ‘Kick ‘Em In The Nuts’ though, that’s more Sex Pistols territory.”
It’s a move made possible by the open-ended debut, using several styles of music. “If I’d made a reggae album or a rap album you wouldn’t have been surprised. If I’d done just me and a Spanish guitar you wouldn’t have been surprised. I’m glad you said that, I hadn’t thought of it like that, and who knows what might happen on the next album? Even with Straight No Chaser, despite the approach, it’s still got a track with a banjo and a reggae bass line on it. I’m never going to leave my record collection behind, as all those influences are still there, but hopefully what we managed to do was kick in the door and do some interior decoration.” He laughs. “It’s a nonsense analogy, but that’s what happens when you’re hung over…”
The safest assumption to make here is that working with Kanye West and Jay-Z opened a lot of doors for Hudson. He nods vigorously. “Musically and socially! When I’m in America I’m Mr Hudson – I’m that guy, on those records, and it’s a bigger deal. I was in New York when The Blueprint 3 (Jay-Z’s new album) leaked, and really Jay-Z is the biggest guy in hip hop, so it would be like the Stone Roses putting out an album in Manchester and having it leaked. People kept calling me up and it was like a reverence, and I was like ‘I haven’t even put a record out here yet!’”
So he had to get cracking. “I’m always reluctant to acknowledge I have any laurels, let alone rest on them,” says Ben Hudson, “and the fact that Supernova went in at Number 2 and stayed in the Top 10 here for six weeks, I had to acknowledge that ‘Ben, you actually have achieved something now’.”
Is he getting used to fame? “It’s weird to have my photograph taken, going in and out of the GQ Awards. Am I that guy now? One of those guys? I don’t know. It feels weird.”
Read Part 2 of this interview