Amelia Sparks is on death row. She might live to have her eyes stung by sunshine, have her lungs fill with city air and taste adventure once again. She might not. Her quest might end with her slumped in the executioner’s chair, twitching. We don’t know how this story finishes. If it finishes. But we do know how it begins. It begins with a lonely woman feeling angry with life, lusting for some kind of purpose and quitting her job. She’s also hearing voices. Drinking with her woes in a bar, she instinctively follows a young couple out of the door and witnesses a murder in a car park. It’s the event that ignites her own bloodthirsty revenge mission, which parachutes her into a disturbing web of cryptic messages, savagery and revenge. It’s dark and gripping, dripping with violence and depravity. In our mind, if the story were on screen, it’d be somewhere between Leon and From Dusk Til Dawn illustrated by Allan Moore’s inner demon and directed by Christopher Nolan.
So, let us explain. The Bullitts are not a band. The journey of Amelia Sparks is the story they tell. They’re more than one artist but all conducted by one man: Londoner, Jeymes Samuel. There’s a lot to take in, and in his own words: “The Bullitts are a 5D movie.”
“Amelia Sparks is the story of a woman who felt like she was in chains and she wanted to be free of the constraints of your mundane, everyday adult experience,” says Samuel. “The older we get, the more boring and less daring we get. Amelia Sparks was a person who was in search of adventure. She’s searching for something else. She’s trying to find the reason for her existence. She falls deeper and deeper into this underworld of murder, terror and mayhem as she uncovers this conspiracy.”
You may only have been alerted to The Bullitts’ existence by the two officially released pieces of music so far, ‘Close Your Eyes’ (featuring Hollywood actress Lucy Liu and Jay-Z’s latest signing Jay Electronica) and ‘Landspeeder’. But that’s merely the tip of the pen. Forget the music for a second. You can enter The Bullitts’ house through many different doors. There’s the day-to-day storyboard diary of Amelia’s murderous investigation unravelling on Twitter (which includes Twitpics and film scenes made on an iPhone). There are ‘Flicks Tapes’ – scenes from classics like The Prisoner re-edited with a fresh soundtrack – on The Bullitts website featuring the likes of Wretch 32, Paloma Faith and Roisin Murphy. There’s the live aspect due to hit the stage this summer – less of a gig, it’ll be more of a cinematic, theatrical death-obsessed musical with scenes from Amelia’s story acted out between tracks. Far from conventional, the whole picture around this project continues to emerge as you read this.
However, right at the nucleus of it all is the forthcoming debut album entitled ‘They Die By Dawn & Other Short Stories’ – a quite stunning piece of visionary hip-hop-wired pop.
Tonight, we are sat in the wood-panelled surroundings of a rented studio in Elephant and Castle. Around us, a late night picnic is scattered (grapes, humus, sandwiches, kettle chips) and drinks (ginger ale and cranberry juice – “the drink of champions”). Jeymes Samuels links his laptop to a pair of speakers taller than he is and plays us half of the album. In front of us the air ripples as tracks like ‘They Die By Dawn’, ‘Wait Until Tomorrow’, ‘Murder Death Kill’, ‘Strange Days’ and ‘Supercool’ snake from the sound-system. The music, in truth, is astonishing. It’s a sound that melds the best of Outkast, TV On The Radio and Prince. Samuel and his manager air-play every instrument as we listen, from the Spanish spaghetti-western riffs to the punky stabs of Clash-esque guitars, to the warm soft brass and the meandering folk.
As the dust settles, we sit for a chat. “It’s the cloak under which I make music and explore every last corner of my imagination,” begins Samuel, attempting to explain The Bullitts on its base level.
As a child growing up on Harrow Road in north west London he got tagged with the nickname of ‘Bullitt’ or ‘The Bullitts’ because of his obsession with Steve McQueen’s 1968 film of the same name. Having found his way into music (he’s also related to soul singer Seal) and balanced his intense passion for film and sound, he’s since then worked with Gorillaz and produced albums for the likes of KT Tunstall and Emilíana Torrini. Much more than a sonic sniffer dog for other artists, though, he’s a multi-skilled musician, filmmaker, screenwriter, author and, most importantly, a total dreamer. Eventually his rich imagination demanded that he now goes it alone and stands centre-stage.
“There are too many song subject matters and presentational ideas to give to someone else,” he booms, “that I can’t align with another artist. In my head music and film are exactly the same. I just geek-out on both of them.”
Indeed, once he had the ‘idea’ of The Bullitts – Amelia’s story and his plan of communicating it through all the different mediums – he wanted to assemble a cast around him to fulfil his panoramic ambition. Enter Lucy Lui (yes, the machete-wielding femme fatale who starred in Kill Bill and Charlie’s Angels), Jay Electronica (heralded by many as the most exciting new talent in hip-hop), Idris Alba (the brooding English actor-turned-megastar thanks to The Wire and American Gangster), Tori Amos (the 90s warped-pop banshee who does not do collaborations), Roisin Murphy (from post Brit Pop nu disco types Moloko) and Mos Def (we all know Mos Def). There’s even speculative murmurs of Jay-Z singing, yes singing(!), on the album.
Something different is happening here, though. These artists are not ringers in the same way a Mark Ronson or Dangermouse might round up an album of cold-call collaborations. These are fully paid-up, active members of The Bullitts ‘concept’. Jeymes Samuels’ Fantastic Seven.
Let’s take Lucy first – since an email arrives in Jeymes’ inbox from the Hollywood actress as we speak. Liu plays Amelia Sparks and narrates the story throughout the album. As on the introduction to first single ‘Close Your Eyes’ she breathlessly punctuates each moment in the tale with menacing detail. Investigate the Twitter diary and you’ll soon discover the character Liu plays isn’t some doe-eyed heroine by any means. After witnessing a killing, it doesn’t frighten her, but sets her off on her own killing spree. Her character is dark, disturbing and funny. Sample quote: “That was the first time I have genuinely laughed since my high school principal died.” See, twisted puppy.
“I can never explain how exciting it is to record a new song and play it to Lucy for the first time and watch her reaction,” smiles Samuel. “Lucy is just a really like-minded creative individual. I think she’s a genius. She’s an actress, painter, drawer, sculptor… she is an amazing individual and a joy to be around.”
Someone else Samuel has spent a lot of time around is Jay Electronica (he’s also producing the rapper’s forthcoming debut album ‘Act Two: Patients Of Nobility’ due out on Jay-Z’s label later this year).
“Jay Electronica and The Bullitts is like Scorsese and De Niro,” he says snapping a carrot between his teeth. “I don’t know who is who – me and Jay always argue. I’d rather be De Niro than Scorsese. Scorsese has made some classics, but every one of his classics has DeNiro in. Not everyone of De Niro’s have Scorsese.
“With me and Jay it’s the idea that every great person has a counterpart. To every Sapphire there’s a Steel; to every Starsky there’s a Hutch. Sherlock Holmes has Moriarty. Jay-Z… Nas… Biggie Smalls… Tupac. There’s always a counterpart. Our creative relationship was forged through The Bullitts.”
Hearing about Samuel’s multi-dimensional approach, Mos Def (“a genius”) and Idris Alba (“a behemoth of entertainment”) soon came on board too. Alba plays detective Saul Emmanuel (Jeymes plays his driver) who closely tracks the headstrong Amelia as she flirts with danger. The only artist not immediately spellbound by the producer’s charms was Tori Amos – one of Samuel’s all-time favourites – and a notoriously private, introverted character.
“Tori Amos was hard,” says Samuel, nodding slowly. “At first she was like, ‘No, I’m not doing any collaborations.’” Instead of retreating defeated, he wrote her a letter. He told her about how, when he was a young boy running around with the other “runts” on his housing estate, he was the only one of his friends into her music. “They’d look at me as a weirdo for being into Tori Amos,” he says, shrugging. “I explained that to Tori and asked her to let me be that bridge between her world and the Harrow Road. She totally understood it. Obviously it was music contingent as well but she understood where I was coming from.”
After all we’ve heard it’s no wonder then that Samuel refers to the project he’s given birth to as “action/adventure”. It would be remiss to see it as just another collaborative pop album. “There are six and a half billion people on the planet and there are six different types of music,” he froths. “If you average that it’s like one genre per billion. When I go into a studio and make music I hear something more than just the genres that are given to me. I hear action/adventure. So now we have seven.”
This summer Samuel will get this ‘action/adventure’ on stage for the first time. An appearance at The Big Chill festival is confirmed, with others set to confirm soon.
“For the live aspect I’m bringing out every gun in the arsenal,” he says, “even if I have to handcuff them myself. Tori Amos, Mos Def, Jay Electronica, Lucy Liu, Idris Alba – I’m bringing out everyone, but I’m going to take it further. I’m also bringing scenes to the streets. There will be little codes where I’ll say, ‘Amelia Sparks is going to be meeting Mos Def at this particular place’. I’m going to bring that live aspect to life so that people experience The Bullitts.”
That means the final scenes of the story – timed to coincide with the release of the album – may take place on the streets of London and New York (where it’s set).
The only hint into the future of all this is that we know by the time ‘They Die By Dawn & Other Short Stories’ arrives this autumn, Amelia Sparks will be on death row. So, does The Bullitts project end with her meeting her own gruesome destiny?
“Lucy and I are in debate at the moment as to whether Amelia Sparks lives,” says Samuel. “Lucy votes kill her. I vote keep her alive.”
We leave him with a look as if to say, ‘don’t leave us with a cliff hanger…’
“I have a trilogy to make,” he says, losing a battle to fight off a broad smile. “I see a trilogy so I don’t know how it ends. It’s whoever wins that debate.”