Who is Mr. Hudson? He is an erudite British crooner signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. record label. Two years ago he released an album called A Tale of Two Cities as Mr. Hudson & The Library, which not that many people heard. Fortunately for Mr. Hudson (also known as Ben McIldowie), mega-superstar producer/rapper/puppetmaster Kanye West was among those few early listeners. He invited Mr. Hudson in to co-produce and guest vocal on his 808s & Heartbreak album and when he’s not hyping himself, he’s big-upping the platinum blonde singer as the next big thing you almost didn’t see coming.
Mr. Hudson will release an album on Oct. 5 called Straight, No Chaser and as the name implies, it’s a pop record that is aiming for mainstream jugular. He’s also quite the looker, so of course we immediately bent over when an interview opportunity arose. Read the Q&A after the jump.
The music video for Mr. Hudson’s new single “Supernova”, featuring Kanye West.
Kanye has been hyping you up as the next big crossover superstar by comparing your new music to the kind of pop made by people like Sting and Michael Jackson. How would you describe that style of pop music?
I think for a start it’s pop music but that comes from another scene. You’ve got The Police coming out of punk, reggae but making a kind of pop music and Michael Jackson coming out of soul and R&B and disco ⎯ those are all scenes but none of the artists were defined by those scenes. Kanye comes from hip-hop but he’s not a hip-hop artist anymore, he’s Kanye West. I come from the singer-songwriter scene of the UK but if I’m gonna get anywhere near that sort of target that Kanye’s set for me, it’ll be by me just being me and not being defined by a genre I suppose.
You’ve said much of the album was inspired by a break-up. Why did you want to make a break-up record?
I didn’t intend for it to be a break up album. I’ve written lots of other songs about other things and something about the rawness of those and there must be some kind of fire to them made them un-ignorable and those were the songs that just had to be on the record. Although it’s all about me, it’s actually a very collaborative process and I talk to the band, my management, the label and Kanye ⎯ people whose ears I trust. People would say look, this song has to go on the album and I would say OK cool because I really like it as well. And it just gradually became evident that those were the songs that were really fighting for the front.
When you break up with someone, it’s funny how you slowly realize that every single song you hear is about heartache.
It’s also those old cheesy songs that are just like wallpaper and they just jump out at you, like fresh. It’s the classics as well, like “Tracks of My Tears”. You just think that’s a corny old song that gets used in film and no actually, that’s an amazing lyric. Think about it, the actual lyric ‘people say I’m the life of the party share a joke or two’, what a great line and when you’re blissfully happy and everything’s cool, you don’t lock on to those lines. “My Mistake”, Marvin Gaye “my mistake was to love you girl”. The silver lining to the cloud of being miserable is that music means more.
You grew up in Birmingham. How long were you making music there?
Yeah I was in brother’s heavy metal band. Then when Britpop and grunge came along ⎯ I liked lemonheads and stuff like that, more melodic side of things. We were in those kinds of bands, it was like a garage band playing other people’s songs it wasn’t until I was 16 or 17 that I started writing my own shit.
What was the metal band like?
We were incredible, obviously. I was 11 playing the drums. I think I looked like a little angelic duckling behind this double bass drum kit and I spent all my pocket money on sticks and cymbals. We were playing like Sepultura covers and Helmut and you know, probably like Panthera. It was presumably genius, there are a couple of recordings lying around and they’re not that bad.
What was the band called?
Universal Justice! But isn’t that good clean fun when you’re 11? You’re just becoming a little man and you think and you want to show the world how rough and tuff you are. That’s a good way to do it isn’t it? Hitting a drum kit. My parents should get some kind of international award for putting up with that. Me and my brother, we were like The White Stripes just rocking out in the living room.
You were the Meg.
I was Meg. I really liked Stewart Coupland. I seem to remember the drummer from Helmut being pretty tight. And Dave Grohl obviously.
Did you feel like you had something to prove when you were 11?
I was rubbish at sports and I lusted after drums. You know the way 10, 11 year old girls get into horses and seals and whales and have posters of nature on their bedroom walls? I lusted after a drum kit from the age of eight. I was really into Eric B. and Rahkim so I’d beat box along really badly. I remember the day where I figured out how to hum and beat box at the same time that was like a proper eureka moment. Anyway, if there was anything drum related on the telly, I would just run down stairs and be glued to the set.
Did you listen to a lot of hip-hop growing up?
Well no because there wasn’t a lot about, really. This is Birmingham in late ’80s, early ’90s. People were into guitar music and didn’t really have anyone my school ⎯ I think even in my year ⎯ that was into hip-hop so I could only scratch the surface.
What about hip-hop do you relate to?
I got bored of the whole shoegazing, rock n’roll thing of like hey I’m not going to try and I’m just going to smoke cigarettes and goof around. I could relate more to the Quincy Jones, Dr. Dre work ethic of let’s make some really tight music that’s going to entertain people, make them dance. Make them bob their heads.
Jay-Z just put out a song called “Death of AutoTune”. Where do you come down on AutoTune? Is it alive and well?
People have been using it for years but now it’s a topic. If it’s used discreetly as it has been for 15 years that people don’t know it’s being used.
Why is it such a lighting rod for discussion in the music industry?
The spark that started the fire for the conversation is the fact that you’ve got people who aren’t ostensibly singers using it to do things melodically that they couldn’t do if they weren’t using the effect. If Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera is discreetly as in we don’t know that they’re using AutoTune, we’re not even going to talk about it. When Lil’ Wayne, Kanye slap it on stuff ⎯ obviously T-Pain ⎯ it’s more remarkable and everyone’s using it now. Jay-Z’s underlying point would be don’t use it brainlessly. I don’t think he’s saying that any use of AutoTune is wrong, I think he’s just saying to people like what are you doing it just sticking it on every track.
I’m really proud of my use of AutoTune on the record, it’s less than half the album and I think I use it creatively. I use it when it’s going to bring more emotion out of the song or just a part of the song. I try to use it intelligently and creatively and with sensitivity to the song. It’s like telling Kurt Cobain don’t use your distortion pedal. If you used full distortion all the way through it would be too much but he’s like let me hit it in on the chorus and it will add to the music. Or let me use my distortion pedal just on the solo.
Though this photos is black and white, we know that Mr. Hudson has a thing for brightly-colored Bentleys.
What’s your approach to creating visuals for the album?
The first album’s got a neatness to it, a politeness and this is a bit more fantastic in that it feels like it’s in the near future rather than the present tense. It feels like it’s in some exotic city on another continent at 4 in the morning driving at 300 miles an hour in a lime green Lamborghini.
It’s ike you’re in a Jennifer Lopez video.
Correct ⎯ at least some of the time. [laughs] No, a Ja Rule video, come on! I did actually accidentally rent a lime green Bentley the other day and drive around but I couldn’t actually find my Ashanti CD so the scene was incomplete. That was amazing ⎯ a V12, six-liter engine. Beautiful car.
Why a lime green Bentley?
Why not? I wanted to rent something else but he brakes went so I went back to the garage with no brakes, which I was impressed with and when I got there and they were like we’ve got one car left it’s a lime green Bentley continental. I drove from London down to Brighton and back. Only took about five minutes. [motor sound]
Where were we? The visuals… to be honest with you I don’t really think visually. I won’t come up with visual idea. What I would do is I’d say OK bring me some ideas and I’ll tell you which ones I hate and then develop the ones I like and then let’s sort of figure out on the job. I’m not someone who’ll just sit up drawing and come up with ideas. I’m sort of dull visually. I’m not like Kanye. I think my only sort of skill is taste. If people show me something I’ll be like I hate it or I love it.
Is that why people like Jay-Z bring you into the studio? Can you be blunt in your opinions with them?
I think you have to be otherwise you’re just wasting everyone’s time. But it’s about picking your moments. It’s not what you say it’s when you say it.
Have you ever had any bust-ups?
I think you’ve failed if you actually get to fisticuffs but a good arm wrestle now and then doesn’t do a record any harm. If you’re high-fiving all the time it can’t be as good as you think it is.