The final result, My Occupation - The Music Of Chaz Jankel is a revelation of sorts. Jankel’s biggest works; ‘Ai No Corrida’, ‘Glad to Know You’ and ‘You're My Occupation’ sound like the funk disco classics they’ve become. ‘Get Myself Together’, the new track Jankel penned for the compilation, slots easily next to his ‘80s material—as though it was simply a long lost B-side.
The weird thing about all this hype, is that Jankel is as surprised as anyone. Born in 1952, he hasn’t followed the disco re-edit scene and was oblivious to the emergence of cosmic disco. He’s an old-school singer-songwriter, a craftsman that works to excel across all genres.
The first time I ran into your music was ‘Number One’ in the movie Real Genius rather than the more obvious Blockheads route. How does it feel to be rediscovered by a whole new generation of fans?
It’s wonderful. Every time I get an email from someone saying something like: “I always wondered who recorded ‘Glad to Know You’,” it amazes me. I never realized how excited people got about those songs. When you’re writing, you’re obviously doing it with an optimistic spirit, but you don’t know who is actually buying the records. Most of my stuff was written before email existed, so I never found out who my real fans were.
The funny thing about Real Genius, is that I’ve never actually seen the film. [laughs] I keep meaning to rent it. At the time, though, ‘Number One’ did well. It went to #1 in the clubs in France, and I went out and did some PA’s over there. This was ’84.
It’s definitely one that’s stuck with me.
I always thought it was a strong track. Michael H. Brauer, who worked with the band Change, mixed it in New York City and gave it a real Big Apple vibe. I take my hat off to him—it was a brilliant mix. He inserted some beats in the middle that weren’t there originally. What he did was seriously inventive and way beyond the call of duty.
It didn’t do so well in the UK but Americans really picked up on it. A lot of my stuff back then had a very US feel, actually. ‘Glad to Know You’, for instance, was a massive hit with Larry Levan. He used to play it at the Paradise Garage.
Tell me about growing up in England in the ‘60s. I’m sure you were you listening to the Beatles, but what first turned you onto funk? I heard it was a Lee Dorsey song.
Yeah! The B-side to ‘Working in the Coal Mine’, ‘Get Out of My Life, Woman’. My cousin had it on a 45. We were on a holiday in Spain and I remember thinking, “Wow, this is really groovy”. And I noticed there was a whole lot of emphasis on the backbeat and the snare. That was what really opened my mind to Afro-American music. After that, I started searching it out and it didn’t take long before I came across Sly and the Family Stone. They really changed my life. If there was ever one band that were simply awe-inspiring, they were it. From there I got into Eddie Kendricks, Mandrill and War. I also discovered a lot of Brazilian music, people like Caetano Veloso and Gal Costa. It’s really beautiful and melancholic.
I always have one ear on the radio, as well. I have a 14 year-old son that plays me all the latest sounds. He’s really into dubstep, American hip-hop and even bands like Radiohead. He’s got a very broad range of taste, which is great, because I’m also like that. You know the question you asked me: when did I get into funk? Well, it was when I was about 14. It’s a hugely important time in your life.
Does your son give you stuff to listen to?
Yeah. Once every few weeks we sit down and listen to music together. We watch YouTube for several hours and then I come out feeling a bit topped up!
Is there anyone in particular you’ve become a fan of?
I like some aspects of Wiley. Benga is really great, and this guy T-Pain, who’s an American producer.
That’s great, I’m surprised that you’re into grime.
You didn’t expect that to come out of my mouth, did you? [laughs]
So tell me about how My Occupation came to be. How did Tirk get in contact with you?
It started about five years back. I was approached by Strut Records’ Toni Rossano, who originally wanted to put together an album of Blockheads dance tracks including; ‘Reason to Be Cheerful’, ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ and possibly some of my stuff. The problem was there weren’t enough tracks to make an album.
Toni and I became good friends though and we started discussing doing a project with my solo work, which was actually on 24-track, 2-inch tape. I had a lot of unreleased material which hadn’t been on my four A&M albums. So we went through the tapes in my garage and decided which songs we should try to put out.
But then Strut went under.
Yeah, sadly, they were out of business for a bit. Toni was friends with Sav Remzi of Tirk and he was keen on picking up the threads and running with it.
‘Get Myself Together’ was a new track, though. Have you done other stuff like that recently, or was that a one-off for the compilation?
No, I haven’t. But oddly enough, I’ve decided that I’m going to make a dance album, based upon the fact that there seems to be so much interest in the style of music I used to make.
Wow, that’s exciting to hear!
Really? Did you like the track?
Yeah, I did. I was most amazed, though, at how well it sat next to the older stuff.
To be honest I did the whole thing in the room that I’m standing in right now—a converted attic in my house. In the old days, I recorded in a proper 24-track studio, so I’m amazed it actually stands up to that stuff! When I recorded ‘3,000,000 Synths’ it had quite a lot of effects and a whole lot of dubbing going on. I did that one with Philip Bagenal, who was responsible for all of the production. What I’d like to do on my next record, is to combine modern production techniques with some of those dub-style effects.
It was just one of those things, you know? Someone says, “What should we call it? We’ve got to put a name on the box”. It was the first thing that I thought of, mainly because there were loads of synths on it. I suggested it thinking I’d give it a proper title later. But later never came!
That seems like the classic pop story. People name something and then they never bother to change it.
Yes, absolutely. ‘Get Myself Together’ actually was originally called ‘Arrow’ on my computer. I always think if you give a track a positive title like that, it’s going to make it. I’m one of those people that sit in traffic imagining that if I focus hard enough the cars in front of me will disappear. [laughs] I’ll never know if it’s true or not, but once they move, I always think, “There, told you so!” I suppose that was my intention with the arrow thing, that “boy, this one is gonna fly”. That was of course before I had the lyric in my head...
Another song I wanted to ask about was ‘Ai No Corrida’. The backstory to the title is particularly interesting.
It’s the Japanese title to a film that is known in England as In the Realm of the Senses. It’s based on the true story of a hotel maid who was having an affair with the owner. They were into this asphyxiation thing that killed INXS’ lead singer—Michael Hutchence. Like Hutchence, the hotel owner died during sex. The maid ended up cutting off his manhood, putting it in her pocket and wandering the streets, completely out of her head, until the police picked her up. While she was in jail, she became a feminist martyr figure.
In the late ‘70s I had this melody in my head and my friend Pete Van-Hooke introduced me to Ken Young, who took it. He then calls me from this music conference MIDEM that’s held in France each year, all excited. “Chaz, I’ve got a great idea for that melody! Ai No Corrida!” I had no idea what he was talking about and stupidly said: “I know who?”
He explained the story and, to be honest, I felt a bit uncomfortable about using it. I just wanted him to write about a girl missing a bloke or vice versa. To distance myself from it my version has a hum at the beginning of the track, which is the sound I used to hear when I was a kid drifting off to sleep in the suburbs of London—the buzz of the motorway. The idea is that I’m dreaming about the story, not identifying with it. [laughs]
I always knew that track was going to be massive. When I got the call from Quincy Jones’ secretary, asking if he could record it I still fell off my seat but I always had a feeling someone was going to take it off my hands.
I’m surprised that these tracks were available for release, what with some of them being such big hits. Did they have to be licensed?
For years, I tried to find out what my contractual status was with A&M. I’d lost my contract, and, bottom line, they’d lost it too. So, I didn’t know what to do really. But, to be honest, they never put my stuff on CD, it was only available on vinyl, so I thought, “sod it”. It’s not like I’m stealing someone else’s material. So, yeah, we went under the radar basically. I haven’t really told them about it, but I think they have bigger fish to fry.
Hercules & Love Affair and Todd Terje recently did remixes of your work. Were you familiar with them beforehand and do you listen to current dance music?
I do listen to dance music, but not that much. I wasn’t familiar with Hercules, but had heard of Todd Terje. I am interested, though, as I’m getting ready to start my own album soon. I think it’s important I know the context of what I’m making. I don’t go to as many clubs as I used to—I hardly go out at all.
You were in a club performing recently, right?
Yeah, I did a PA a few days ago.
Do you feel like playing out is helping you get the context a bit more?
I should probably get out more, to be honest. But, you know, I’ve never been interested in following anyone specifically anyway. It always worries me if I do something “in the style of” someone else. I prefer to do something that comes from a place I don’t really know. That way I never feel like I’ve plagiarized anybody.