By his own admission, Jason Kay and his band Jamiroquai have been away for a long time. But four years after the "High Times" greatest-hits collection completed his contractual obligations to Sony Music, which signed him in 1992, he's finally ready for his comeback.
" 'High Times' was a great line in the sand," Kay says. "I thought, 'I'm going to have my own time to do a few things' -- like the flying stuff."
The "flying stuff" refers to how Kay spent much of his hiatus: completing the arduous training required to qualify as a helicopter pilot. It's the latest obsession for the self-confessed adrenaline junkie, along with his highly valuable collection of top-marque automobiles at his 80-acre Buckinghamshire estate, located west of London.
But it hasn't all been thrill-seeking during the break. Kay applied the same rigor and passion to the recording of Jamiroquai's new album. "Rock Dust Light Star," produced by Brad Spencer and Charlie Russell, will be released worldwide outside of North America on Nov. 1 on Mercury/Universal. Canada follows Nov. 9, with a U.S. release date that's to be determined for 2011.
Recorded largely in his home studio, it's something of a back-to-basics affair.
"The first words I said to the producers," he says with a grin, "were, 'Guys -- lo-fi.' "
"Lo-fi" is a relative concept, clearly: "Rock Dust Light Star" opens with the fat '70s funk of "All Good in the Hood," while the title track is a blissful groove, underpinned by strings, guitar riffs and a fleet of backing vocals. In all, Kay spent almost two years and "half a million quid [$794,000]" making the album.
"It is a bloody merry-go-round," he says with a laugh. "There was one point six months ago. I was getting to a nice finishing stage and suddenly this track wasn't going right, so I dropped it, then another ...Suddenly, we were getting in trouble."
But Kay pulled the album back from the brink, staying true to his original aim "to make eight singles." Indeed, two different singles will offer fans a preview of the album. Internationally, the fast-paced "White Knuckle Ride" -- featuring Kay showing off his piloting skills in the video -- started rolling out Aug. 23, hitting No. 1 in Italy and also charting in the Netherlands and Switzerland. "White Knuckle Ride" has been picking up specialist airplay in the United Kingdom, but the official single there is sun-kissed ballad "Blue Skies," released Nov. 1. "Blue Skies" was AC-formatted BBC Radio 2's record of the week for the week beginning Oct. 4 and debuted at No. 36 on the Oct. 10 Nielsen U.K. radio airplay chart.
While Kay declares that he's "a great believer in not being overexposed," he is heading out on a full-bore promo campaign.
In the United Kingdom, the band performed on BBC 2's "Later...With Jools Holland" Sept. 28 and played live at London's Forum Oct. 20 as part of the concert programming around monthly music magazine Q's annual awards show. Jamiroquai hit the European festival circuit during the summer and appeared at Colombia's Nem Catacoa festival Oct. 9 and Brazil's About Us Festival Oct. 16, before returning for European TV and radio promo (including a slot on the Italian version of "The X Factor" Nov. 2) and then on to Japan and Australia.
Jamiroquai has career album sales of 2.6 million in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and 4.4 million in the United Kingdom, according to the Official Charts Co. Kay's global profile -- secured with international hit singles like "Cosmic Girl" and the Grammy Award-winning "Virtual Insanity" -- was a key factor in Universal signing the band, according to London-based Mercury Music Group U.K. president Jason Iley.
"Jay is an amazing visionary who has consistently pushed the boundaries musically and creatively over an 18-year period," Iley says. "During that time he sold over 25 million albums [worldwide] and had over 20 hit singles -- so that was not a complicated deal to do." Iley says negotiations for which U.S. Universal label will put out the album are ongoing. Kay declares himself "excited to get back [to America] and intrigued to see what Universal will propose."
Once dubbed "the cat in the hat" -- he still wears a variety of elaborate headgear onstage -- Kay is also full of jittery enthusiasm about resuming touring, although he says things will be more "laid-back" than the hyperactive performances of old.
"At 40 years old you don't want to be doing stuff that you did when you were 19," he says. "You've got to grow with the music. Even I forget 'Cosmic Girl' was 13 years ago. A lot changes in that time."