Calling the US president by his name just gives him power, Jack L tells Ed Power
WHEN Jack Lukeman visited a new gym for the first time last year he was struck by the fact all the televisions were switched to Sky News. This baffled him deeply: why would anyone wish to exercise while soaking up the bottomless misery that the world is nowadays going through?
“I asked them to change the channel,” says the singer who records as Jack L. “They told me everyone wanted Sky News. I don’t get it? Who needs all that negativity?”
The song he wrote about the experience, ‘Sky News Blues’, is a stand-out on his latest album Magic Days. Though the record isn’t political in a straightforward sense, the musician from Athy, Co Kildare, doesn’t shy away from writing about the big subjects.
“We’re living through turbulent times,” he says. “You have all this fear — the protest votes that led to Brexit and to Mr T.”
The latter is not a reference to the A-Team, he says, but to America’s opinion-splitting new president. “I won’t say his name. It gives him power. Let’s just call him Mr T.”
Lukeman has for the past 20 years steered his own course in Irish music. His readings of Jacques Brel, David Bowie and others won him a cult following through the ’90s. However it also fostered the unwelcome impression that he was a covers’ singer first, songwriter second.
“I’ve probably come across as a singer first and foremost,” he says.
“People want to put me down that avenue. I have always been interested in songwriting too. I’ve never been careerist. I am, however, wary of being put in a pigeonhole. Starting out, I was in my early 20s. I wasn’t really too savvy about the business side of it. I’m an artist — being a show-business person has never been my forte.”
The pinnacle of his early career was a sellout gig at the Point Depot in Dublin. Yet success brought its own stresses and he came under pressure to take his music in a more commercial direction. It was even suggested that he release a Rat Pack record.
This would have done tremendous box office. However, pandering did not sit well with him so he turned down what would surely have been an easy payday.
“I’ve always been the sort of person who, if you tell them to do one thing, I’ll do the precise opposite. That’s how I’ve been since school,” he says.
“I’m very independent. I see myself as a student of music. I adore singing these great songs by other artists. It informs my own writing. I’m lucky that I have been able to do both.”
He doesn’t want to create the impression that the new project is endlessly gloomy and self-serious. Alongside the political laments, he tries to be positive also. Part of his job, after all, is to offer his audience escapism from their day to day woes.
“You need something to counteract the bad news,” he says. “‘The Sunset is Blue on Mars’ was inspired by a picture taken by the Mars Rover. We’re inundated with media all of the time but it isn’t always negative. Sometimes there are positives too. I felt it was important to acknowledge that.”
With fanbases across Europe and north America Lukeman, if he wished could tour through the year. In that respect he is a victim of his own success. He has to consciously carve out time for the studio.
“The studio is different to the stage,” he says. “It’s an entirely separate discipline. I enjoy going in there. Finishing a record is always the hardest part. The problem nowadays is because there are so many options you can easily lose yourself in the studio. It’s important not to lose sight of why you are there and not to allow yourself be distracted.”
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