'In music, there aren't any rules': Rod Stewart & Jools Holland unveil Swing Fever

'In music, there aren't any rules': Rod Stewart & Jools Holland unveil Swing Fever

Sir Rod Stewart and Jools Holland have spoken to Music Week about their collaborative new album, Swing Fever. 

The legendary duo have teamed up for the 13-track celebration of the songs of the big band years, which includes their takes on classics such as Ain't Misbehavin, Frankie And Johnny, Sentimental Journey and Lullaby Of Broadway. 

The LP, which drops via Warner Music on February 23, 2024, was recorded with Holland's Rhythm And Blues Orchestra at the Later... host's Greenwich studio, with taster track Almost Like Being In Love – a song made famous by Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole – out today (December 5).

In this special Q&A, Rod Stewart and Jools Holland unite once again to discuss combining their talents, AI in music and their mutual love of model railways...

When did making a record together first become a possibility?

Jools Holland:
 "We first talked about it years ago, but I was so excited when Rod rang up maybe three Christmases ago and said, 'Would you be interested in making a record?' I said, 'I've got to think about this very carefully.' And then one second later, I said, 'Yes, that's the best thing I've ever heard. Thanks very much.'"

Rod Stewart: "We talked about model railroads first, then the music. We're both absolutely absorbed. I have been most of my life and I think Jools, you have too?

JH: "Yeah, exactly - and it's like another form of music, because you're going into a different world. I think when I go on stage and when Rod goes on stage, one of the reasons we do it is because you're escaping into a different world, and the model railway is like that x10."

It's the easiest album I've ever made in my life

Rod Stewart

How enjoyable was the album to work on?

 "Oh, off the chart, especially with Jools' band. Every track was recorded live - Jools would rehearse them in the afternoon and then record - so everything is live apart from the vocals, and it sounds that way."

JH: "You can hear the joy in the music. Rod's brought the best out of us and I'm so pleased with it." 

Rod, you'd tried making a swing LP but it wasn't working out how you wanted. What did Jools bring that was missing?

"Edge! He brought an edge. Are you familiar with Louis Prima and Chick Webb? The songs are swing, but close to rock & roll. The first rock & roll record I heard was Bill Haley's Rock Around the Clock, which was swing really, so the two marry up nicely."

JH: "To understand a subject you have to love and study it, and then it's not like hard work. Rod has spent his life studying and listening to that old music, which is what I've done as well and it was great because we were clearly thinking the same thing. It's a slightly different sound to the more easy listening big band records of the time and so it's got an edge. The other thing is, I wouldn't say it's like a punk swing record, but it's a bit like, 'This is it, I hope you like it. If you don't, we couldn't care less because we're having a great time.' It has a great joy about it, but only Rod and his love of the music could bring that out. I've been working forever to get a voice like that on the record because all the big bands depend on the singer - that's what makes it - so it's been an absolute pleasure for me."

RS: "Yeah, me too."

How did you decide on the tracklisting?

 "I would say that on 70% of the tunes, we agreed and it was dead simple. For the other 20-30%, Jools would suggest one, then I would suggest one and it was smooth sailing. It's the easiest album I've ever made in my life. I remember way back, you'd be in the fucking studio a week just getting a bass drum sound and you'd spend a fortune in the studio and the pub wondering where all your royalties had gone. But this was an absolute pleasure. I can't think of any session that lasted more than three hours - for me anyway!"

JH: "No, the record actually was really quick to make. But that's based, of course, on [Stewart's] lifetime of extraordinary experience and the fact that my band play together all the time on tour. You put those two things together and that's why it works."

Do you have a favourite song on the record?

 "My favourite is still the first track, Lullaby Of Broadway, because it's so long and there's so much in it. There are beautiful piano solos and tap dancing. It's very Busby Berkeley."

JH: "I really love that as well. It's an epic, so I said, 'It's quite a thing to take on; what about the choir and the tap dance?' And he said, 'Oh, don't worry about it. I'll sort all that out.' Anyway, he got us a choir, which sounded good, and then he literally got in a big group of tap dancers, so that is somebody who cares about the details. There is no AI tap dancing, that is human foot you're hearing. I can't think of another record that's been made in the last few years with live human foot."

RS: "Live human feet, good quote!"

Rod said at the beginning, 'I don't want any ballads, I want it all swinging'

Jools Holland

There has been so much said and written about AI and technology in music in general of late, was this album a reaction to that in any way?

 "No, I've spent hours and days and months in a studio as I said, and my last three or four albums were made electronically on a computer. I'd do the vocals, send the vocals off, the guitar would go on it and it all works. Most records are made like that now, but to make this type of album with brass... how many brass pieces have you got Jools?"

JH: "Thirteen."

RS: "Thirteen - you can't make that, mate. You can't do it with session musicians, it has to be played live."

JH: "The other thing is - and I think this is important - you talk about AI: in music, there aren't any rules. There really are no rules. Whatever works is great if it works for you. But what you've got to remember - and one of the reasons that I've always loved Rod - is that he's not just one of the greatest singers in the world, but a rock & roll icon. He would have been in hotel rooms when people were chucking their tellies out of the room and putting their Rolls Royces in the swimming pool. AI doesn't do any of that!"

RS: [Laughs].

Is there a possibility of doing some live shows together? 

RS: "We'd love to. I adore him, I adore the band and I've made room for it. I've put a lot of the rock & roll stuff aside. We have to just sit down and talk and work out a plan, because the first thing we want to do is promote this album. We are extremely proud of it." 

JH: "We're very much hoping the Hootenanny will be on [TV this New Year's Eve] and I can't think of anything better than Rod with these songs on the Hootenanny. Almost every taxi driver in London watches the Hootenanny and I have sometimes revealed there's a possibility of Rod being on and they get really excited. I think that tells you who's watching Hootenanny! People don't go out now. It's expensive to go out so they sit at home and have us on."

Rod, your 2019 album You're In My Heart with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra did extremely well (311,465 sales, Official Charts), why do you think it connected so well?

RS: "I really don't know. It got to No.1 and did extremely well, but I really don't know why. I'll have to put it on and listen to it again."

So ultimately, what are your ambitions for this new record?

RS: "Obviously, we want it to sell otherwise we wouldn't have made it. We want to get some of the younger generation involved in it, because I did the Great American Songbook and this is almost a follow on. But it's all swing, it's all uptempo and it's not as... I don't know, what's the word I'm looking for?"

JH: "Slick, maybe? It's more earthy, perhaps."

RS: "Yeah, a lot more earthy."

JH: "In fact, Rod said at the beginning, 'I don't want any ballads, I want it all swinging.' And my hope for the album - what will really make me happy - is if I see people dancing to it. Also, as Rod says, it's good for old people, it's good for young people, you could put it on anywhere. It has a great feel to it and I think people can feel the honesty and the heart - it's very easy to dance with a baby or dance with a 25-year-old person to - and it's also opening the door for people to listen to more of this sort of music."

PHOTO: Jonas Mohr

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