DJ, director and musician Don Letts has announced details of his debut album as a solo artist. Check out the video for its title track ‘Outta Sync’ below, along with our interview with Letts.
Set to be released in spring 2023, Letts’ debut album is a product of lockdown, featuring eleven mostly self-written tracks of varying influences, which were compiled over nine months alongside dub producer Gaudi.
Speaking of the new single ‘Outta Sync’, Letts told NME: “People were telling me that it was a fucking great introduction [to the album]. And I guess with that first verse, I couldn’t really argue.”
The track opens with the lyrics: “Now, because of my duality, raised on pop and bass, didn’t really bother me, ’cause it’s all about the taste / I’m the vinyl generation, and that’s how I got my start, combining clothes and music, and I turned it into art.”
“It’s just me laying my cards on the table and embracing what I am, warts and all,” Letts continued. “I ain’t a 16-year-old male on the dance floor; I’m a 66-year-old man. But I am a 66-year-old man that you ain’t seen before. And that’s because of music.”
Telling his life story against a smooth reggae backdrop, ‘Outta Sync’ also sees Letts reflecting on the changing landscape around him. The accompanying video follows the artist in Jamaica as he gently sails down a river and walks through vibrant neighbourhoods, meeting various people along the way.
“I think the lyrics are so self-explanatory that it would have been stupid to try and be a clever dick about it,” he said of the video. “Basically, I went to a place that lent itself to the song’s reflective quality. The video is really simple and it’s intentionally like that so that people can digest the lyrics.”
While the pandemic was a creatively challenging time for many artists, Letts found it to be the opposite in terms of his own creative output, explaining: “The plus side was it gave you a lot of time to think. [But] the downside was [also that] it gave you a lot of time to think, and I somehow managed to soundtrack that dynamic. It gave me a lot of time to come up with thoughts that are not tied to this week’s newspaper headlines but are more in tune with the ancient order. I’m not really good at doing that disposable stuff.”
He continued: “I have this anal belief if you put something out there, it’s got to justify the space it occupies. Because space is absolutely vital in the 21st century. So if you’re gonna put stuff out there, it needs to be a bit more than ego and make-up. But that’s me, I’m old school. I’m of the vinyl generation, where it was our lifeblood. It was about changing your mind, not changing your sneakers. And I’m stupid enough to think that music can still do that.”
Letts previously worked with Gaudi on a remake of Big Audio Dynamite’s ‘Sightsee MC’ for the dub-inspired post-punk band Megative. Following this, the pair collaborated again on a dub remix of B.A.D’s ‘E=MC2’ for 2021’s ‘Late Night Tales’ compilation ‘Version Excursion’.
“I don’t know if you can tell, but I ain’t the kind of guy to sit still and do fuck all,” Letts said of the inception of the project during lockdown. “So I got together with Gaudi, a multi-instrumental producer, and we musically connected. And then I think he must have mentioned it to [Killing Joke bassist] Youth, producer extraordinaire and bass master general, who said, ‘Don, you should do your own thing’.”
Admitting that he had “no desire, really, to go out and change lanes at my age”, Letts was convinced otherwise. “Youth gave me a bunch of basslines which kind of buzzed me, and I couldn’t help but start working on them. Next thing I know, I’m in a studio with Gaudi and we’re making music. Then the next thing I know, somebody likes it. And the next thing I know, I’m signed to Cooking Vinyl.
“It was just supposed to be fun, man! No, really, it was a creative exercise, not a commercial one, which is kind of cool. So I didn’t have any expectations; I’m not in competition with anybody. I’m in a somewhat peculiar space, being the age I am entering this particular arena. At my age, I’m flattered that anybody gives a shit, really. And it’s not something I take for granted either.”
The album didn’t have a premeditated plan or overall theme, with Letts noting: “I just spoke my truths that seemed to be relevant to the music that was unfolding in front of me. It’s all my cultural influences unashamedly out there in one thing. It’s a product of what I am, which is Black and British. I think it’s inherently that. And it reflects the duality of my existence.”
Aside from his own vocals, ‘Outta Sync’ includes numerous guests who lend their voices to tracks throughout, including Terry Hall of The Specials, The Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, Hollie Cook, Zoe Devlin Love (previously of Alabama 3) and Don’s daughter Honor. For Letts, though, “it wasn’t just about getting names for namesake; I had to be organically connected to people”.
Since 2009, Letts has presented a weekly show on BBC Radio 6 Music and last year released his best-selling autobiography There and Black Again. Earlier this year, Rebel Dread, a feature-length documentary that explores the many lives and myriad adventures of the West Londoner, had its cinema release.
With ‘Outta Sync’, Letts is traversing a new but familiar path and one that provides another insight into his storied life. “I’d just like people to hear it and just give it a shot,” Letts said of his hopes for the album. “It’s funny, between the book and the film, I was trying to work out, what is it, what is all the fuss about me? And I’ve come to the conclusion that my only discernible talent seems to be that I have good taste. But in the 21st century, apparently, that’s some serious fucking currency. So yeah, you can count on the Don.”
Don Letts’ single ‘Outta Sync’ is out now via Cooking Vinyl. The album will follow in spring 2023.