The voice of British soul shares the tracks that inspired his first new album in eight years, Page In My Heart
If music be the food of love, Lemar must be stuffed. 20 years since he first wooed the British Soul scene with his debut, Dedicated, Lemar is back with his seventh album. From breaking hearts on Fame Academy with a cover of Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’, to breaking records with his own early R&B classics like ‘Dance (With U)’, ‘50/50’ and ‘If There’s Any Justice’, Lemar has been resetting the nation’s heartbeat for two decades, with new album Page In My Heart now arriving as his most personal record to date.
“It definitely feels like 20 years in my back!” laughs Lemar, chatting from his London home. “But it also feels like I’ve blinked and just got here. I guess time flies when you’re having fun!”
Remembering a backstage conversation when he was just starting out, Lemar once told his agent that he didn’t want fame and fortune – he just wanted 20 years. Now looking back over those two decades ahead of two anniversary shows in London and Manchester (as well as major summer slots at The Cambridge Club Festival and Boogietown), Lemar his hit his own milestone at a run.
“What do I want next?”, he considers. “Right now I’m just enjoying the creativity without the pressure. Page In My Heart is an independent release, so it doesn’t feel as loaded. And I think because of that it’s been a very joyful, pleasant, relaxed state of affairs. So I’d like more of the same, with no inhibitions. That, and another 20 years…”
With Page Of My Heart tapping into all the joy, pain, awkwardness and truth of romance, we asked Lemar to pick the love songs that inspired him.
Gotye – ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’
“I remember this coming out, and in a landscape where there’s loads of music going on, and everyone’s promoting, it’s hard to stumble across music that stops you in your tracks. Or even something that just sounds drastically different, especially when records are getting pushed by companies who are spending a lot of money for everything to sound similar.
“It’s the jankiness I love here, and the realness of the lyrics. It’s something that I’ve tried to do a little bit on the on my album too, where it hopefully feels like very real emotions. It’s painful, but I wanted to write about those feelings in a way that felt truthful. This song is almost shouted instead of sung, and it’s brilliant, because it’s still basically a conventional pop song.
“I’ve been in a very long relationship. Loads of my friends have too, and some of them have gotten divorced now. When you’re growing up, you’re taught the whole ‘knight in shining armour’ story, but the reality is that love is more of a promise than a feeling.”
Beyoncé – ‘Cuff It’
“It’s just the feeling of it. There’s another track on Renaissance called ‘The Weekend’, and together with ‘Cuff It’, they just capture that feeling of owning the night. I don’t care what else is going on. The weekend belongs to me, you know? It’s proud.
“I’ve been on tour with Beyoncé. We’ve toured in Europe with her. She was a very nice lady. Very professional. Very talented, as the as the whole world knows. Renaissance was a slight departure for her, and it’s important to step out of your comfort zone every so often.”
Bruno Mars – ‘Treasure’
“I wrote for Bruno before he was Bruno. We were writing for my fourth album, and at the time he was this aspiring, struggling writer. I remember him talking about not being able to get back home, because he didn’t have enough money. He was talking about how people only saw him as a writer, and how he wanted to sing one day. The next year I was sitting at home and I heard ‘Billionaire’, and I was blown away by his voice. Since then, of course, he’s just completely taken off.
“I think what he does well is balance the soul and the pop. And that’s very hard to do. I think Bruno Mars always hits the nail on the head, but ‘Treasure’ is the song that perfects it. It has that soulful feeling, but it’s modernised.
“I know Bruno loves playing that track live too, and I was going for something similar on ‘Future Love’. It’s got horns. It’s got a musical break. The beats are straight out of the 80s. I tried to be a bit Chaka Khan with the baseline. All I was thinking on that track was how it might sound live.”
Libianca – ‘People’
“I’ve got a track on the album called ‘I Been’, and it’s not the same as ‘People’ in feel, but topically it’s maybe quite close. I love the way Libianca gets you dancing along here but it’s such a deep track when you actually listen to what she’s saying. She’s saying, ‘I’ve been going through a hard time, you’re supposed to be my mate, but have you actually noticed?’ ‘Did you check on me?’ It’s a conversation that’s obviously related to mental health, and a lot of times I think we can overlook things from the outside.
“Everyone’s going through something. ‘I Been’ was written at one of my lower points, and it’s a song in which I’m asking questions. I’m just being very honest in my experiences over the years and what I felt. I haven’t always been comfortable communicating that, but I think that’s the beauty of music. Writing is a therapeutic thing. I think what’s been unique on this album for me is that I’ve written most of it alone. So I think it’s much more introspective. But I think harder than actually writing it is sometimes being honest about it afterwards. It’s easy to say, ‘yeah, it’s just a song’. But when you try and touch on those moments, and speak about it, it can be even more even more daunting.”
Lewis Capaldi – ‘Forget Me’
“I love the way Lewis Capaldi sings about the dysfunctionality of a real loving relationship. In most relationships, one person probably feels like they should leave at some point, but the beauty of a long relationship is finding a way around it. You stick it out. In this case, the person has moved on, but I just love the honesty here.
“Lewis has the best stage presence too. Over the years, I’ve become more comfortable with being on stage. Once I’m there, once I’m on, I love it – playing live reminds me of everything I love about music – but I still get nervous before I get out there. It kicks in once the tickets start selling. London’s nearly sold out…?! Now I’ve got to deliver!”
PJ Morton ft JoJo – ‘Say So’
“With PJ Morton, I love the directness of the language. It’s kind of Stevie Wonder-esque in general, and I love the melody that he puts forward. Lionel Richie once said to me, ‘sometimes you can be too poetic because you’re trying too hard to find some clever way of talking about love. Sometimes you just have to say I love you’. And that’s this song. It’s just a very honest, direct lyric. And getting advice from Lionel Richie stayed with me forever… The guy’s a world treasure.
“JoJo actually got her break on a TV talent show, which is something I get asked about a lot. You know, if we did proper research and looked into it, I think we’d find that most artists that we know have done their graft on some kind of talent show. It’s just that some are televised, so you get more people watching. Usher did it. Destiny’s Child did it. Loads of singers back in the day came up that way. If you’re on the road, trying to learn your craft, you’ve done it all. I remember doing performances put on by the local police force!”
Yemi Alade – ‘Get Down’
“My missus put me on to Yemi if I’m honest! I listened to all of her music, loved it, and then I reached out to ask if she was interested in a collaboration. We first worked together on a different song, and then she sent over this one, which I just love. It’s not on my album, but it’s on hers, and I can’t wait for the video to come out.
“My early influences were American, mainly because that was what was on MTV. That’s what I had access to. But Nigerian music was always in my life. I grew up in a Nigerian household so I heard it at all the functions with aunts and uncles playing and dancing, and I was very aware of the staple songs. And some church music, obviously, as both my parents were pastors. But I like the way that, in recent years, a lot of Afrobeat and Nigerian artists in general have come to the forefront. None more so than Yemi.”
Jasmine Jethwa – ‘Have I Ever Been’
“I’m sometimes hard on the algorithm, but I was served up Jasmine Jethwa while I was working recently and I had no idea who she was. It sounded a bit Carole King-esque, but modern, and I ended up listening to the whole thing and discovering this amazing artist. She’s talking here about someone liking you, but you not liking them, and about how you tell them. I feel that little twist on a love song is pretty cool, and I’m sure many people have been in that scenario before. But when you listen to the song, the melody is so soft, and her voice is so nice, that juxtaposition is just perfect. I tried to do that on my song, ‘Dust’ – sort of saying, ‘if I were you I would have gone… but I’m happy that you didn’t’. I love the awkwardness of love sometimes.”