Jamiroquai: Who’s The Bossonova?

4 November 2002 | 1:00 am | Craig New
Originally Appeared In

Funk’s Not Dead.

More Jamiroquai More Jamiroquai

Jamiroquai play the Brisbane Entertainment Centre on November 21.

Toby Smith is of a rare breed of musician. He writes uplifting, energetic music, he gets into almost every major party going down in his part of town, and yet he is virtually unknown. Few people (relatively speaking) could describe him - in fact, a vast majority of his audience probably don't even know he exists. Jamiroquai is forever etched into people's minds as being embodied heart and soul by the enigmatic Jay Kay, he of the buffalo hats and slick dance moves, and not as the core five piece and live ten piece machine that it actually is.

I've had a very, very hectic week," Toby sighs in mock weariness. "We did a gig in Dublin, and then we went to Belfast, then I had a party, then did a gig in Brixton, They were all five o'clock nights so I'm pretty fucked now!"

It appears that despite Toby's shroud of mystery, he is still able to get himself A-listed.

"That's only cos a friend of mine runs those parties, that's why I go," he shrugs indifferently. "I'm definitely not A list, I'm probably about M because nobody knows who the fuck I am! Jay's A or B, but I like going to those things, he doesn't like it so much."

The most confusing aspect of Toby's personality is that he seems to strive for his anonymity like a drowning man grapples with a piece of flotsam, clinging to the idea as a saving grace from the tumultuous seas of public attention.

"I want it like that! I don't want anyone to know who I am!" he laughs. "I don't want to get recognised or have people stare at me in restaurants and the rest of it. That is a shit look mate, I'm telling you! It's not a good look!"

But then again, turning bad looks into commercial success is something Jamiroquai seem greatly talented at. Anyone else releasing an album so blatantly geared towards disco grooves with a psychedelic cover such as their latest, A Funk Odyssey, would be publicly ridiculed and possible stoned to death, but Jamiroquai manage to not only do it with style, but turn it into something exciting and modern and relevant.

"It's what's the alternative," Toby offers. "It's the alternative in my mind. I don't think we're naff like M People because we stick to our sound. We have created a signature and we kind of stick to it. We weren't so disco before, but the last two albums have been quite disco, it has to be said. But personally, that cringy cheesy disco, it's fair game. It's cringy and it's disco and it's very cheesy. I don't think we're quite as bad as that. They're better songs - they are songs, and they're much more contemporary I think than that. The flipside is we get up on stage with ten musicians, very competent, talented musicians playing, rather than some guy behind some decks. So the live thing has an additional bonus that you can't get from the house disco type stuff as well." He pauses. "But you know what? I don't really care man. It's got me a fat house in the country and I like a lot of the stuff we've done. Some of the stuff I don't like but I'm proud of a lot of the stuff we've done, and we're still here ten years."

The past decade has not been without its battles however, not least of which is the British tabloids' fascination with Jay's revolving door relationship with actress Denise Van Outen.

"It stresses him out man," Toby admits. "We never courted press. Obviously you do interviews and the rest of it, but we didn't court tabloid press to get the big fame. We just did what we had to to sell records, without selling our souls to the tabloids. Then Jay hooked up with Denise and she does do that. It had never been on the agenda before. I think he found it very hard to deal with, and maybe he would have done things slightly differently had he had his time again. It culminated in him having to beat up a Sun reporter. That happened on the back of Denise man. It wasn't her fault, she was a lovely girl, but that's what happened. He's now finished with that girl and strangely enough the tabloid interest has backed off somewhat."

It's not surprising that despite Toby bringing an enthusiastic and almost cheerful tone to Jamiroquai, Jay balances it out with some very dark lyrical imagery.

"Jay is a negative person man, he's a very angry, negative person a lot of the time and it's just the way he is. He writes better songs lyrically that way. I'm quite an upbeat, optimistic kind of person, so the music tends to be quite upbeat and optimistic, so that's the kind of chemistry that goes on there with the compositions. That's why we've had success in writing songs together, because each of us has got something that the other doesn't have."

That songwriting success has seen Jamiroquai break through all tabloid pressures, although as is often the case, has provided the topic of much debate amongst their own fanbase.

"Our biggest criticism is that we haven't changed from the public, that Jamiroquai sounds the same all the time," Toby laments. "And yet the biggest criticism from our own fans is that we've changed too much and we don't sound like we did ten years ago! You can't really win. We have to do it for ourselves now. We always look over our shoulder a bit, because it's the music we love. We love bossonova and Brazilian music, we love funk, but we love rock - good stuff - and we try to be a little forward thinking in terms of what a band can do, as a band of musicians playing and not computer stuff. So we try and push and within ourselves, our sound, we've definitely evolved."

And they will continue evolving, for Jamiroquai are a long way from finished just yet.