You and 3 lucky mates can win the chance to be the WHOLE live audience for a filmed session with Mr Hudson this month. Filmed at London’s Air Studios October 5th, Mr Hudson will play this session exclusively for Nokia’s Music We Like channel and you can witness the action first hand! Online music channel Music We Like is where the hottest artists reveal what tunes make them tick. Don’t miss out on your opportunity to see Mr Hudson play live and up close. Click below to enter! http://www.nokiamusic.co.uk
“Mr Hudson has the potential to be one of the most important artists of his generation” – Kanye West
On July 27th, critically acclaimed English singer-songwriter Ben Hudson is set to release a revelatory breakthrough album, ‘Straight No Chaser’ (via G.O.O.D. Music & Mercury Records) executive produced by global superstar Kanye West. It is a take-no-prisoners collection of monster pop hooks, shiny plastic synths, vocoder vocals, and piercingly lyrical songs of love and disaster, heartache and hope.
Fans of Mr Hudson & The Library’s artful 2007 debut, ‘A Tale Of Two Cities’, may be surprised by the boldness of his latest incarnation, but they will recognise the lyrical insight, plush musical chords and direct emotional current of his perfectly crafted songwriting. The album title provides a clue to Mr Hudson’s intent. “I wanted to make a mainstream record, not structured or ornate,” he explains. “The first album feels like an Escher drawing, all these layers and you don’t know where you’re going at any point. The way the songs are written and produced on this one is much more direct. It’s not trying to reinvent the wheel. It’s straight, no chaser.
The unlikely alliance of the quirky English singer-songwriter and pioneering hip hop superstar came about through mutual admiration. “The first record started the fire, cause it pricked up his ears,” explains Mr Hudson. “It was made for people like me and him, who don’t want to be bored and get fenced into one genre.” Mr Hudson’s blend of classic songwriting and hip hop beats became a fixture on Kanye’s personal playlist. The two artists met at an album playback, and so began what Mr Hudson describes as “a long courtship”, with occasional encounters backstage at gigs, “being really geeky and bonding over snare drum samples.”
In 2008, Mr Hudson began preparing to follow up his critically acclaimed but small selling debut. “The first album was written in a living room and recorded at home in North London and that’s what it sounds like: sparse, eclectic, navel gazing, kichen sink. I was like a farmers market and realised I needed to vacuum pack what I did, put a barcode on it, put it in a supermarket and let people decide whether they wanted to buy it or not. It was still going to be organic sausages but it wasn’t going to be on straw, on a wheelbarrow in a backstreet.” He was compiling lists of producers “who could knock out big, mainstream, credible records” when he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse. “I got called in to be told Kanye wants to executive producer your album. Happy? Sign here.”
Mr Hudson has been immensely impressed with his collaborator. “Kanye is superhuman. The amount he will get done in a day and the application to whatever he is doing is incredible. If we’re playing basketball, he’s imaging he’s in the NBA finals, every ball is vital. If he’s playing a computer game he’s got to beat your highest score. If he’s going to do something he has to do it as well as possible, which is alien to some people. He helped me realise its good to be passionate about what you do.”
And thus commenced an incredible global culture clash adventure, in which a young white man from north London became an occasional member of an A-list hip hop production team. From New York to LA to Hawaii to Paris, he collaborated with Kanye on his ’808s & Heartbreak’ album (he is featured on ‘Paranoid’, co-produced ‘Street Lights’, contributed vocals to ‘Say You Will’ and ‘Amazing’ “and threw ideas on many others”) and is a featured guest on Jay Z’s forthcoming ‘Blueprint 3′ and Detroit rapper Big Sean’s debut. “I would be hanging out at home, my lifestyle not having much changed from being on the dole really, and I would get a call: ‘Can you be in Hawaii for the weekend?’ So I would race over to Hawaii to work on Jay Z’s album.”
Mr Hudson rarely had his Executive Producer’s undivided attention (“how many friends do you think he’s got who are rappers who want beats? Everybody wants something from him, all the time”), so he would find “a broom cupboard” in the studio complex, corall whatever equipment wasn’t being used, build his own little laptop studio and drive the project forward himself, with Kanye stopping by “to drop golden nuggets. I started to get an idea about the sound, just soaking up what they were doing, how they were working. Kanye was starting to use autotune and I got brainwashed by the vocoder. I went home and got really ill. I was in bed for a week, hot sweats and hallucinations, but I got so bored I dragged myself to the computer and started vocalling a beat. My voice was shredded, I couldn’t hold a note, so I loaded up the autotune and it sounded really ghostly, it brought so much emotion out. That became ‘There Will Be Tears’ which was basically the first track I did for this album”
In New York, Mr Hudson stayed at The Hudson hotel (“it’s nice to stay in a place with your name above the door”), bought a cheap Spanish guitar and wrote songs of heartache and dislocation. “It was like a dress rehearsal for breaking up. I found you can deal with a lot in a five star hotel.” All this globetrotting was taking its toll on his long term relationship with a London schoolteacher. “She couldn’t just drop everything and follow me around the world. It’s not the touring or the work that kills the relationship but it does uproot you, it takes you away from normality and unstitches your real life.” The couple seperated at the end of 2008, which was the catalyst for the completion of Mr Hudson’s album. “I don’t know if the songs I was writing were a self fulfilling prophecy. When things finally came to a head, I had this furious week of letting all this pent up emotion out. It was a miserable Christmas and I was doing a track a day, writing, recording, mixing. I was in a room above a pub that I rented just to store stuff. I borrowed a sleeping bag and just moved in. I had my guitars and computer and I made the second half of the record living on nuts and coffee and not bothering to brush my teeth.”
In some respects, ‘Straight, No Chaser’ sounds like a poppier, more upbeat companion piece to Kanye’s ’808s & Heartbreak’. “It doesn’t surprise me that there is a resonance between them,” says Mr Hudson. “There should be, it’s part of the story. It’s like we’ve been in a band together, I helped him with his album and he helped me with mine. They are both sad records about losing women, but they are also very different. His is more desolate. Kanye was breaking up with his fiance and grieving for his mother and dealing with being a superstar. I was breaking up with my girlfriend, but also embracing this strange and outrageous new world I had stumbled into.”
Mr Hudson and Kanye swap verses on megablasting lead single ‘Supernova’, a desperate love song about grasping the opportunity to escape. “Supernova is a co-write between me and Kanye. Its proudly bombastic. Touring with Kanye, I started to realise I’m on a big stage, why not make a big sound? Stop being so apologetic.”
The two cross lyrical swords again on a devastating tale of all consuming jealousy, ‘Anyone But Him’, in which Mr Hudson soulfully laments his ex-lovers choice in men (“Look past the leather and the dash and the rims / And you’ll see his whole hustle wears thin”), while a rapping Kanye informs him, ‘Now once she gone black / She ain’t never coming back / I’m sorry Mr H, I thought you already knew that.’
“I wrote that track for myself, not to do any job for anyone. When I played it to Kanye, he said, ‘I am going to pay you the biggest compliment I can: this is like something I would have written!’ And then he rapped on it.
This is not, it should be stressed, a Mr Hudson & The Library album. “I am not the Library,” Mr Hudson explains. “The band is still there, they are brilliant characters who all have their own little side projects. People can still follow that and it will interweave with what I’m doing. But this is a Mr Hudson album, I played it and produced it with Kanye, it’s all about me, its incredibly selfish, as art sometimes should be.”
‘Straight No Chaser’ is chock full of punchy, singalong pop songs that could be singles, such as glam slamming ‘White Lies’, electro anthem ‘Knew We Were Trouble’, lyrically twisting relationship drama ‘Stiff Upper Lip’, bar room gospel hymn ‘Lift Your Head’ and consoling ballad ‘Time’. “I think it’s a great time in pop music,” says Mr Hudson. “Cos no one gives a shit about the supposed divisions between hip hop and guitar music anymore, they want to hear everything all in one go, the best of all these worlds, and they want it in two minutes, which suits me. This is a pop album. It’s my greatest hits. Its about blowing up and busting out. Its me saying goodbye to normality. My bags are in the hall. I’ve got my laptop and my passport and I’m gone.”