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By Katherine Travers
After coming fourth in the BBC ‘Sound of 2011’ poll, the media buzz surrounding Woon is akin to a swarm of killer bees. As the son of folk singer Mae McKenna – who has performed backing vocals for just about every superstar you can name – it seems he was genetically engineered for pop stardom. Then, to make matters worse, he went to performing college. So, despite having the makings of a perfect Fame Academy contestant, how has Jamie Woon managed to play it cool and actually remain a fairly credible artist?
Woon attended the famous BRIT School, the starting point for acts like Amy Winehouse, Imogen Heap and Katy B. “It was good fun. It was only sixth form, and it was good to pretend I was a proper musician. I made good friends there. There’s a reputation for the school having a real jazz hands element. I was never into that. Everyone has their specialist fields. I used to do a lot of open tuning, pop stuff on the guitar.” So don’t hope to find any YouTube footage of him singing ‘New York, New York’ with a top hat and cane.
Although a product of a stage school, don’t get the wrong impression; he’s not making music because he didn’t make it into the cast of Glee. His style stems from a convergence of influences, “Radiohead were the first band I ever went truly mental for – oh, and Stevie Wonder.” Unsurprising, as it is his coupling of smooth, soulful vocals with resonant, artful production that encapsulates his style. Despite his electronic sound, Woon writes like any other singer-songwriter. “The guitar is my home instrument, it’s where I can bash chords out and stuff. I got into using vocal loops because singing is my first instrument. The loop means I can create this many-layered vocal sound live.” It’s these layers of vocals that give his music a haunting depth and texture, like the über-atmospheric single ‘In The Night Air’, with its breathy vox-synth and slide bass.
His connection to the London dubstep scene has led him to be classed, alongside fellow producer and ‘Sound of 2011’ nominee James Blake, as a ‘post-dubstep’ artist. “I hate the term. I know what it means, and it’s a sound I am into – but I have got a singer-songwriter background. I’ve always been interested in dubstep, ever since I discovered it four or five years ago. But I’m no DJ.” He is keen not to be pigeonholed and deservedly so. “I try not to jump on any band wagon. I try and hybridise things and make something honest.”
How easy it will be to avoid media labelling is a dubious question, as the ‘Sound of…’ poll has a history of tipping great artists then subsequently suffocating them under the weight of a media landslide. Woon’s opinions on the poll are mixed. “I think the poll is pretty healthy, there’s some cool music on there that I’m really into. But it can just be like overkill. It’s a great way of getting new stuff and new artists out there, but it’s a lot of exposure. I suppose it’s kind of a symbiotic relationship between the artists and the media. At the moment it’s just helping me get noticed – and that’s great.”
Having a famous folk star as a mother might have led him to lend his talents to traditional songs – such as his 2006 release ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ – but it definitely hasn’t made him more comfortable with the media as his public profile increases. “There are so many more pictures! I’m not a model! I don’t have any training in that! I knew what I was signing up for when I signed a record deal. It’s fun, I guess, though it might not always be that way. The most frustrating thing is having finished an album, but people can’t hear it yet!” Never fear Oxford, you’ll get the chance to hear Woon’s electro-soul opus at the Jericho Tavern on the 19th of February.