"I wanted an album that was like a mixtape or radio show": James Lavelle on Unkle's new record The Road: Part II

Today (March 29), sees the ever-changing, genre-bending musical collective Unkle – led by legendary Mo’Wax founder James Lavelle – release their sixth album The Road: Part II/Lost Highway via Songs For The Def.

A follow-up to 2017’s The Road: Part I, which marked Lavelle’s first album in seven years, it features an array of musical collaborators, including The Clash’s Mick Jones, Dhani Harrison, Editors’ frontman Tom Smith, Mark Lanegan, Queens Of The S tone Age’s Jon Theodore and Troy Van Leeuwen, among many more, plus spoken-word contributions from Brian Cox and Stanley Kubrick’s widow Christiana.

In a recent issue of Music Week, Labelle looked back at his career in music – from helping bring trip hop and DJ Shadow to the masses with Mo’Wax to seeing his life put up on screen in the 2018 film The Man From Mo’Wax.

Here, in an unread extract from his Music Week interview, James Lavelle takes us further inside the world of Unkle… 



What was the original concept behind the The Road: Part II?

“There were a lot of different records that didn’t necessarily have one particular sound: one might be more electronic or more acoustic or rocky, so it needed to connect and be cohesive in my head. I started thinking about a metaphor of the road – this album is like a road trip and you’re just driving and playing records you love. When you do that with your friends there should be a weird cohesiveness to it because you tend to be into a certain style or emotion, depending on the musical palette. Or take the radio. When you listen to radio, there’s something great about hearing things that jump out but that also sit together because of the presenter. Look at great people like John Peele: it worked because there was an emotional filter that goes on. I wanted to create something that was more like a mixtape or a radio show; a road trip in the context of the music I had. That’s how I started being able to put it together.”

As ever, you have a lot of collaborators on this album – how do you actually go about recruiting them all?
“It’s not just who’s available. It’s a bit like having a football team sometimes and there are a lot of injuries and then there are kids who want to get through – so what game do you put them in? As an analogy, that’s how you fit it all together.”

So how does Brian Cox come to be a part of it?
“It’s quite funny with Brian – he was my landlord for years and he’s brilliant. We just became mates. I got him involved in the Stanley Kubrick show that I did at Somerset House. It’s all these weird and wonderful ways that you meet people – the strange life of James Lavelle…”



You’ve said Part II will be part of a trilogy. Where are you at with the next instalment?
“I have a lot of ideas about what I really want to do and certain experiments on this record alludes to where I want to go with Part III. A part of this album was, ‘I want to move on’ – sometimes you need to move on from things. In a certain way, The Road: Part II is a way to put a full stop on a certain recording process in order to engage with some new stuff. For The Road: Part III, I held about five tracks back that I really loved. They needed more attention than I could give at the time. You don’t always get the vocalist that you might want at the time…”

Which artists are still on your bucketlist to collaborate with?
“It’s sort of endless. It goes a lot from the past to contemporary. I recently just worked with Michael Kiwanuka, who is somebody I’ve really been hoping to work with. There are a lot of artists in hip-hop that I’d love to work with. In a complete bucket list, I’d go from Q-Tip to Dr.Dre to A$AP Rocky. It’s just endless, and I’m also constantly discovering music which is brilliant, both old and new.”


Subscribers can read the James Lavelle aftershow in full here.

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