INTERVIEW: The Jazz Emu – “it was an excuse to buy lots of nice second-hand clothes and claim them back on tax.”

Jazz with spoons. Credit: Jazz Emu

Is it he a bird? Is he a musical genre? No… he’s… The Jazz Emu. So-called for his excessively Dromaius frame, and exceptionally jazzy demeanour, Archie Henderson, aka Jazz, combines the speed and flamboyance of the world’s second largest flightless bird, with the no-holds-barred freewheeling of early 20th century ragtime. The culmination of these seemingly impossible partners is an electro-funk fusion overlaid with a lyrical wit so cutting it could cut like a hot knife cuts through some kind of soft spread for sandwiches.

I caught up with Jazz to learn a bit more about what makes him tick, how he feels about all kinds of stuff, and what’s next in the Jazz Emu story. And he was an absolute joy to interview! Behold….

David: Hello Jazz Emu, what a pleasure it is to have you join us. How is everything in the post-covid Jazz Emu world?

Jazz: Why hello, it’s a true pleasure to be with you. I have actually just had my first vaccine yesterday, so I’m looking forward to becoming a hyper-immune Übermensch. Last night I had a dream I was fighting off a rabid butler who kept trying to bite me, which I assume is my subconscious’ attempt at a metaphor for the immunisation process. I’d say conceptually it could do with some workshopping. In general, it’s a pleasure to be out and about a bit more, and to have done a couple of gigs in front of real faces.

David: You recently performed at the 2020 Musical Comedy Awards in London: how does it feel to be back in front of a live audience again?

Jazz: It was just beautiful. Gigs are still a little unusual, in that some shows are only at 25% capacity and at that gig in particular the whole audience was wearing masks. So the main thing you have to go off for a sense of their enjoyment is some pretty aggressive smizing. But in general people have seemed really excited to be back in a room to band together and laugh at someone. Actually, when you put it like that, it sounds kind of unethical. 

David: If, for some strange reason, someone had never seen or heard your act before, how would you describe it to them?

Jazz: Indescribable. But I think my mother once labelled it “a bit much for a work night”.

David: Britain has a rich history of musical comedy artists, and indeed comedians who have made music: who of those myriad comedy/music people impress you the most?

Jazz: I’ve always been an avid consumer of the comedo-musicological art in all its forms, British and otherwise. For the comedy side, Bill Bailey, Bo Burnham, Bentham Buggins, Bonsonberry Bugle (I exclusively admire comedians whose names are plosive alliterations). In terms of song-writing, there’s a part of me that thinks Flight of the Conchords completed it to the point where no one else should really bother. Old-school variety artists like Victor Borge and Flanders and Swann have also been a massive influence. But my true love is artists that sit in the uncanny valley between great music and great amusement, like Louis Cole, Rubberbandits, Marc Rebillet.

Jazz Emu dancing with a massive pillar, probably somewhere cool. CREDIT: Jazz Emu

David: In some of your videos you can be seen busting out some killer dance moves: do you have a choreographer or are you just ethnochoreologically gifted?

Jazz: I have certainly been known to bust a move, but I would describe my style as ‘fast and loose’. Footwork is not my forte. The moves for my Allergic video were co-choreographed with the excellent Olivia Le Andersen who stars in the video. I was wearing a thick corduroy and she was in a fluffy synthetic pink number and I think by the end of the shoot we were approaching heatstroke. 

David: You dueted with Value Select on the excellent ‘Awkward Memories’, which feels like a sort of Bowie/Mercury link-up of our age: how did that collaboration come to pass?

Jazz: I’d been pointed towards his stuff after I posted one of my videos on Reddit, and thought he was simply stellar. He got in touch a couple of months ago on Instagram and we had a Zoom meet-up to try and write something. I think it was a pretty new experience for both of us collaborating across time-zones but we quickly realised we have incredibly similar tastes and aligned closely on an interest in ancient mystic cults. He’s the best, and we hope to do a show together at some point. We can all watch and learn from how he writes melodies – the man is a Hook Machine.

David: Many of your videos have a real retro aesthetic: what is it about olden time things that captures your imagination?

Jazz: In this hyper-touched-up world, I don’t think I’m the only one who longs for the warmth of imperfection. Also, more importantly, it was an excuse to buy lots of nice second-hand clothes and claim them back on tax.

David: How did it feel to win a ‘Legend of Lockdown’ Chortle Award?

Jazz: Legendary. Especially as I think I really starting hitting my stride during lockdown, just because I had more time to focus on putting things together. If I’m honest, it feels a little strange to have reaped some benefits from the wilderness of the past year. But there we go. I am very grateful that other people have been finding some escapism in my green-screen heckscapes.

David: You follow only one person on Twitter – Brochman Emu. Can you explain to us who that is? He seems very disappointed…

Jazz: It’s a little difficult for me to talk about here. If you’re reading this, Dad, I’m so, so sorry. Forgiveness is the greatest healer! 

David: Finally, what’s on the horizon for The Jazz Emu? 

Jazz: I’ve just finished writing my third album, which I’m now getting down to mix. It took me a year to write the last two so I wanted to see if I could speed up the process. This one took me but six months, and I think it’s the best yet, musically and lyrically. But I would say that I suppose. After that, I want to level up with something a bit more conceptual and story-driven. It’s going to look like nothing you’ve ever seen before. But I would say that I suppose. 

WATCH: Jazz Emu ‘Funkbot 10,000’

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