Paul Hardcastle’s Jazzmasters Journey
By Cheryl Boone
July 23, 2010
From humble beginnings selling stereos, to being one of smooth jazz’s more consistent chart toppers, Smooth Jazz Magazine catches up with The U.K.’s own native son, Paul Hardcastle. We talked about the past and came to the present with his new release, “Jazzmasters VI”.
SJM: Paul how did you first find your musical voice?
Paul: I think it went back to 1980 when I had a motorbike accident. You see I always wanted to be a motorbike racer. Wow, I was in the hospital for 3 ½ months and I thought there has to be an easier way than this. So I had a video camera at my house and I traded it for a small synthesizer and I just started playing along. The first record I played along with was “It Seems To Hang On” by Ashford & Simpson. And I picked up the notes and things like that in this song and then I basically progressed and I bought myself a new synthesizer that I could play cords on and I started learning some cords and bits and pieces. And then I had the idea to join a band. I had only been doing this for about 2 or 3 months but I wangled my way into this band. The band liked my ideas though I wasn’t a very capable artist at that time. They were like you have some really great ideas and they let me into the band. The band was called Direct Drive. We actually cut a record about 5 months after I first switched the synthesizer and there I was playing. We had some minor success in the clubs and things and we did 2 records. I wanted to so some other things and I left and I formed a band called First Light. I did really well and about a year after that I was listening to the things coming out of New York like the Soul Sonic Force and all the body popping stuff and I heard Planet Rock and that gave me the inspiration to do a track called “Rainforest”. And it basically happened pretty quickly for me. After “Rainforest” I got on my way quite well.
SJM: And that was the stepping stone to becoming a household name?
Paul: Yes I was lucky because “Rainforest” did very well in America and I received a phone call from Profile Records and they said congratulations. I said what? And they said you just knocked Madonna off the top of the 12 inch Sales Chart. And I went oh my God! It was great and it was hard to describe the feeling I had. It was very strange.
SJM: Speaking of Profile Records, you’ve had a label journey that was somewhat diverse?
Paul: Yes, Profile Records is where Run DMC was and I remember seeing DMC in the studio and they were recording their first album at the time and I remember thinking, this is good stuff and I like what they are doing. But I’m always sticking my neck out. I’m one of these people who will push the envelope and I thought it was great. Then I went to Chrysalis Records just as I was doing a track called “19”, which became a massive hit for me. I understand that I sold 9 million records worldwide because my ex-manager but one of my best friends named Simon Fuller who has basically taken America by storm with the Pop Idol series told me this. Simon was working for Chrysalis Records and he said if I leave Chrysalis, can I become your manager and see how it goes? And 3 weeks later we had an unborn hit worldwide in 13 different countries, and that’s where he named 19 Entertainment after my record. So when you see America’s Got Talent and all these programs, American Idol, that’s him.
SJM: And you even had a little stay at Motown for a while right?
Paul: I did, and that was a buzz for me to actually sign with Motown Records. That was great! Unfortunately, we signed right when Boyz II Men were hitting their peak so they didn’t give me much of a look. But it was nice to say we did an album. It was myself and a girl name Jaki Graham and it was a band called Kiss the Sky, and the album did pretty well, but the attention was on them. I mean if you have a huge band that’s where you obviously put all your attention. The funny thing was right after that is when I started doing Jazzmasters. I got a call from Motown saying why didn’t you give us that album? And I said to be honest with you, you didn’t really do too much with the first one. But when they saw that Jazzmasters was doing so well, especially for a debut album, they were surprised. We sold 400 thousand records and it was the biggest independently distributed album of that year.
SJM: And now you’re with Trippin’ and Rhythm?
Paul: Yes, but it’s basically my label, Hardcastle Records, and it’s distributed through Trippin’ and Rhythm. I’m not actually signed as an artist, but it’s one of my old friends from London in the 70’s, and it’s easy there. I just give them the record and they put it out there and market it. They do a really good job.
SJM: How do you feel with each label move that your sound evolved and changed?
Paul: It really hasn’t changed that much. It’s basically what I want to do whether it’s a Hardcastle or Jazzmasters album.
SJM: And how did you come up with the concept of alternating your CD names from Hardcastle to Jazzmasters?
Paul: Well Jazzmasters sort of sets the tone that is pretty smooth where as on Hardcastle I try and branch out a little bit. Unfortunately with radio, they don’t like if you stray too far away, which is a shame. But that’s the way it is.
SJM: Paul growing up, who were some of the people you listened to and who influenced you?
Paul: I would say Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd, Lonnie Liston Smith and Earth, Wind & Fire and the Isley Brothers. That’s as diverse as anything. You’ve got The Isley Brothers easy listening stuff, then you have Pink Floyd with the Rock. Oh and Barry White was a big influence on me and I think I kind of sound like a bit of Barry’s stuff. With my music, I don’t stray too far from the groove, and when I listened to Barry he used to keep his stuff very simple and it used to captivate me. Once you’re in the sort of rhythm that he had, it’s kind of hard to get out and I always thought that was a great idea. And that’s why you don’t hear millions of cord changes from a Hardcastle record. I like to keep it simple.
SJM: Is that why your sound is somewhat unique?
Paul: I think so. To be honest with you, there are lots of people in America that are doing really fast stuff or loads of cord changes here and there and making it very complicated. But for me, I’ve listened to my fans and they have given me my direction I guess in a way. They say we love what you’re doing Paul; keep it how you’re doing it, so I think I tend to do that. Everyone else makes it complicated and I kind of stay away from doing it. I really do make music for my fans and listeners. If I wanted to be self indulgent I would never put an album out; I just sit and listen to it myself. You know I hardly ever listen back to anything I’ve done. So if you asked me what tracks where on Hardcastle 4, I couldn’t tell you without looking it up somewhere. I make music for my listeners and that makes it all worthwhile to me.
SJM: You mentioned “19” earlier, which I think was back in 1985?
Paul: Yes I hit number 1 with that on the British charts. You know I found out a couple of weeks ago, which is really gutted; do you understand what gutted is?
SJM: Aw, no….
Paul: When someone says they were really gutted, it means sick, upset. You know the feeling you get when your favorite football team has just lost? That’s what we call gutted; like your stomach has cringed up. So basically what I found out was that when “19” was out in America, if it had only been counted on sales I would have had the number 1 record cut in America. So during the 3 weeks when “19” was out, I sold more singles than anyone else, but the problem I had was that some of the radio stations weren’t playing it, and in America it’s made up of both (sales and airplay). In England it only goes by record sales and that’s it. If you sell more than the next person, you’re above them. So I was gutted. “19” was number 1 in thirteen different countries. Only America and a couple of other places I wasn’t. I think America felt like I was having a go at them, but I was only mentioning how young the kids were that were fighting in Vietnam and I was just bringing that to people’s attention. You know they used “19” when they marched through Washington, and I have thousands of letters saying thank you very much for bringing this up. It was strange that some British kid done it instead of someone from here. I was watching a show one day called Vietnam Requiem and I just said wow, I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to make a record for that and the record people looked at me like I had just broken out the mental asylum. But “19” included real footage and even had Walter Cronkite in it. The fact that it was authentic was what really made the record. They said no one wanted to hear a song about Vietnam and 3 weeks later it’s the most played record in England for 6 weeks. I’m really proud of it and the record company really did get that one wrong, lol.
SJM: And you even did a 25th Anniversary remake?
Paul: Yes we did; yeah it’s basically out right now. It was 25 years later and they said you have to redo it and I put some relevance to Afghanistan in there as well.
SJM: Do you consider yourself a cross over artist since “19” was considered an electro-pop tune?
Paul: Well actually no. “Rainforest” was really an electro record but with a jazzy melody on the top, so I fused two things together and it worked. I always try not to sound like anyone else. You know I think that with Smooth Jazz, everyone plays on different records and sometimes it hard to tell whose album it is and the radio stations kind of felt the same way. So I just kind of stuck to my guns and just tried not to sound like anyone else out there.
SJM: Okay Paul, lets kind of fast forward to more current times. Your kids, Paul Jr. and Maxine are showing a greater presence in your projects, correct?
Paul: Yes, Paul is pretty decent on the sax and he played on “The Circle” and he’s actually on the track “Touch and Go”, which is the current single from Jazzmasters VI. Maxine has been doing some background vocals on this album as well. She actually did some lead vocals on Hardcastle 4 just don’t ask me the names of which songs, lol
SJM: She sung on “Smooth Jazz is Bumpin”…
SJM: I remember that one, and this is a true story, and that the reason I started doing interviews is because of you. Hardcastle 4 had just been released and I was talking to an online friend about the album and I was asked what I liked about it. I had no idea at the time that he was a magazine publisher. He hadn’t heard Hardcastle 4 and when I told him why I liked it and why he had to check it out, he asked me if I could put that on paper as a review. I did and the rest is history.
Paul: Wait did you sent me that review?
SJM: Lol, yes I did send that to you.
Paul: I got back to you and I said thank you very much for that nice review. Do you remember? (said with a lot of excitement)
SJM: Yes I do remember, lol
Paul: Now I know exactly who I’m speaking to, lol. You sent that through Facebook in the early days.
SJM: I can’t believe you remember that.
Paul: I remember good things, and that was a very nice review.
SJM: Thank you Paul. Now let’s talk more about Jazzmasters VI, which will be released on July 20th. When I listened to the CD, from the very first track of “Awakening Thoughts” I got a sense of peace, relaxation and a calming effect. Was that what you were going for with this CD?
Paul: Yes because back in April I had just finished having all the “19” stuff around me with the heavy mixes; and there is a track called “Welcome to Hell” and that is really tough sounding track. I blasted my head for 2 to3 months. And it was really nice to come back to Jazzmasters and make that a real chilled out album. I think it’s a great way of enjoying your next album when you’ve done something totally different. Sometimes I can get so engrossed in doing some strange things, but then I’d come back and do a Hardcastle album. And it would be like I’m back to doing normal music. And the difference when you go away from doing a smooth jazz album you appreciate it a lot more than if you just did one then another one. So for me it’s a great experience to do something really totally different and then come back and I suppose that’s why this album is so mellow. I thought it was time to mellow out on this one properly, you know!
SJM: How is the first single, “Touch and Go”, going so far and what’s your favorite song on Hardcastle VI?
Paul: It’s going very well. I think it’s number 12 this week. It’s only been out for 4 or 5 weeks and the other tracks it’s completing against have been out for around 15 weeks. It’s very slow in that chart. As far as favorite songs, on the Hardcastle 5 album I wrote what I think is my favorite track ever in “Return of the Rainman”. And I’m thinking it’s taken me all this time to actually write my favorite instrumental song. And apart from maybe one other, “You May Be Gone”, from the Hardcastle 1 album, which was a very passionate song. You know I wrote that for my mom, and now the track “One Chance” is I think my favorite I done song with a vocalist, because of the message.
SJM: The big stand out on The Jazzmasters VI is “One Chance”. Can you tell me about the uniqueness of the conception of this number?
Paul: It was from an interview that I did. I remember saying to someone “here today, gone tomorrow”, and afterwards I listened back to the interview and I thought we could make a song about this. So that’s what you’re listening to; actual things that were said on the interview. And when Becky came over we sat down and I think I said at the end of it, “this life is no rehearsal, it’s the real thing.” And that’s how it starts, “This life is no rehearsal, one change to live our dream”. So listen to what I say at the end, because it’s the actual original interview part right at the very end of the on the bonus track. Basically all the things I’m saying there we turned into the lyrics. And I think it’s my favorite on the entire album.
SJM: Paul the songs on this CD all have a mystical sound to the names (Solar Sky, Dimension of Light, and Cloud Watching). Is there significance there with the titling?
Paul: You’re going to love this Cheryl. You’re absolutely going to love this. Most of the tracks on my album were named by Facebook fans. I put out some portions of tracks and they named them. Some of them I switched around, because I thought they fit another one better, but basically they named the songs.
SJM: Oh wow, how did I miss that, lol
Paul: I don’t know, lol. You’ll have to catch it one Hardcastle VI, lol. Once again that’s me. I just love to be different. And I have to say, if I’m honest with you, I really do appreciate my fans. It’s not about the radio; it’s not about the record company. This is really about your fans. And I try to keep in touch with my fans in a daily sort of way; you know communicate with them. I love the chat talk. If you go to the record label or radio station, they say people won’t like to hear that, and you have to go with what they say. But here I’ve a direct access to the people that are really important. And I think that things like Facebook are absolutely brilliant. I love it; I really do.
SJM: And I have to ask you about the Shakuhatchi that is played on “Dimension of Light” and how it added a little something magical to this song?
Paul: Shakuhatchi, (correcting my pronunciation of the instrument, lol) is a Japanese bamboo flute. Yes it does make it a little mystical and different like you mentioned before. I like bringing different instruments into my music. I don’t think you’ll hear the bagpipes, lol, but it does make it sound different.
SJM: Has there or are you ever planning on doing a Hardcastle or Jazzmasters Live CD?
Paul: We were going to do it at one stage but then the label that I was with they basically stopped it. At the moment I don’t think it’s a show I want to put on right now because of the economy and all. To do what I would want to do would be just impossible. I would only do a live show if people could walk away and say oh bloody hell, I’ve never seen anything like that before. That’s what it would really have to be for me. To give a show less than that you’d might as well just listen to the record really. It would have to be out of this world for me to do it.
SJM: Have you ever been to or have plans to come to the states to perform, or is that also something not possible now because of the economic state also?
Paul: Well I’ve been to America quite a lot. I mean my Dad was American. And I have quite a strange attachment to America. He was from Philadelphia and maybe that’s why I fit in so well in America. The last time I was there I did a radio tour and stuff like that.
SJM: Okay, is there anything else that you want to say about Jazzmasters VI that we haven’t touched upon already?
Paul: Just to say thank you very much for the continued, 100 % support. I think people realize that I never make an album with any filler tracks on it. I always say that I will make at least 12 tracks on an album, and they will be the very best that I can do. I know a lot of people take 4 really good tracks, and the rest are quite filly, and I think that’s cheating the fans. I’ve done signing sessions in America and the fans show up for every album I’ve ever made, and they say the know it’s going to be good. And that’s quite a compliment. And so hopefully they will feel the same way about Jazzmasters VI.
SJM: Paul thank you so much for spending some time with me this afternoon.
Paul: Thank you too Cheryl, I enjoyed it.