Nine Songs: Joe Lycett
"As well as being just a certified banger it’s got a real history for me in terms of what it’s achieved for me in my silly life."
Having just made his music video directorial debut for pop sensation Litany, Joe Lycett is ready to spill about his other musical obsessions.
The pivotal songs in the comedian's life - who famously once changed his name via deed poll to Hugo Boss and had the Mayor of Birmingham open his kitchen extension - take in a range of themes. Some mark career milestones, others have soundtracked more difficult moments in his life. “I’ve always found great solace in [music],” Lycett tells me, “but I’ve never been someone who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of things.”
Describing the process of whittling down the music he loves for his Nine Songs choices, Lycett says it “was quite easy, but tricky at the same time.” Working through a 500-track starred playlist he explains that the “first couple of hundred are songs I’ve listened to since I was a kid, songs I’ve always listened to” and that the list does continue to grow, albeit slowly.
Despite his penchant for the repeat button and the comfort he feels revisiting songs from his past, Lycett is still keen to find new music which will have him hooked. “I’ve surprised myself with my love of Harry Styles,” Lycett explains, “I was never a huge fan of the previous output of One Direction, but “Watermelon Sugar” is a certified banger.” He's also a fan of Miley Cyrus’ pivot to a more nostalgic sound, “I literally just heard [“Prisoner” with Dua Lipa] on Radio 1 earlier and was like 'love this.'"
His affinity for pop music is what drew him to Litany, who had been soundtracking his lockdown long before the collaboration was even on the cards. “I was blown away that she was up for working with me,” he says.
The finished product – the “Uh Huh” video – is a camp extravaganza featuring some hilarious cameos as Lycett and Litany enlist friends like Billie Marten and Katherine Ryan to get in on the fun. “It was really exciting for me to work with her,” Lycett adds, “she said that she was thrilled to work with me as well, There was lots of loving all round, a super gushy affair.”
"My gateway to a lot of music is my tour manager Harry, he is encyclopedic with his knowledge of music. There’s an Edinburgh show they do every year, unfortunately, they didn’t do it this year, called Famous First Words and they’ll play the start of the track and you’ll have to sing or rap whatever the first words are as they kick in. He won it one year and wins it whenever he plays it because he just fucking knows everything.
"He curates a lot of the playlists we have in the car and it was him that suggested “Bedroom” and we listened to it loads. We only stuck with that one track. We had a playlist with lots of different artists and different tracks, but I hadn’t really explored her stuff. I think I listened to a couple more in that year but didn’t really get as obsessed as I was until the start of lockdown.
"It’s a solitary number for a solitary time, it’s like she’s in there on her own, singing. What I love about her stuff as well is that for me, it conjures a lot of imagery and nostalgia for the time I was growing up. She references things like MSN, which I was a big user of, and video games.
"There are so many video game references in her music and the classic era of video games, which I would consider to be when I was playing them as a youth in those Nintendo 64 days and early Playstation 1 and 2. There’s something comforting about that era being represented in her music for me."
"This track I discovered when I went to Tanzania on a school trip to a place called Babati. It was an exchange trip where we went to help build a school building and meet some of the students there, who we got paired up with. I think I must have been about 15 and there were some older kids on the trip and a lad in the year above had the Air album – the Moon Safari album.
"I’ve always loved chillout, my favourite band when I was at school was Zero 7, but for me they never surpassed “All I Need” by Air for 'the perfect chillout track.' I listen to it at least once a month and I think it’s the epitome of chill. Beautiful vocals, a really simple but smooth melody and an acoustic guitar. It’s just so well produced, so soft and reassuring. That is the song that if I’m on my death bed and I’m panicking, that’s what I need playing, because it’s just heaven.
"Zen is the word. Because yoga has become such a huge thing, I think there’s a lot of zen music out there which is not dissimilar in what it’s trying to achieve. But I still don’t think anyone has beaten Air in creating a track that’s as chill as that, but is also as musically accomplished as well. I’m a fan as you can tell."
"When I was at uni I listened to loads of Kings Of Convenience. They don’t remain my favourite band of all time, but I loved their stuff back then. They collaborated a little with Feist, and I love Feist as well. Particularly around that time, she was really blowing up with that album, which was huge for her.
"This track really resonates. I can’t remember exactly what was going on, but I remember my Nan and step-Grandad lived in Derby and one of them, I think it was my step grandad, was very ill. We went to visit and I think Mum decided she wasn’t going to come back to Birmingham with us, and Dad would drive me and my sister back, and she would stay over to help out at the house for the weekend. I remember finding that very sad and it was my first encounter with the possibility that a family member might be dangerously unwell and need looking after.
"I remember, vividly, my Mum stood at the doorway of that bungalow that they lived in as we drove away, waving at us and finding that really sad, but listening to this track “Homesick” which feels like it has the same sort of sentiment. There’s a lyric “I no longer know where home is” and this idea of Mum being there and us going back to home, but Mum being the face of home, but we’re leaving her…
"If you put it into a film it would have been perfect, but it was real life and I was listening to it as we pulled away. It’s got a sort of guttural punch, it hits me emotionally, but again a very beautiful track. That album, in particular, has a load of really lovely tracks, but I haven’t listened to it in ages. I just remember “Homesick” being the one. It’s not a particularly cheerful story, but it’s an accurate one.
"There’s another one about home, which I didn’t include, which is “I Feel Like Going Home” by Yo La Tengo and that has a similar feeling to it. There’s something about it which conjures a feeling of home and I don’t fully know why. Maybe it’s just because it has the word home in it and I think about home when I hear that.
"It’s funny with my choices, there’s quite a lot of melancholic music in there and I’m not a melancholic person, I’m quite a jolly person. I wonder whether maybe I enjoy that sort of music and that gets it out of my system. A part of me also quite enjoys being melancholy as well, I enjoy a little a bit of nostalgia, but my Nan really enjoyed being grumpy.
"I went through that starred playlist like 'That’s got to go in and that’s got to go in', and didn’t really think about curating a mood, but the mood I’ve created is a sombre one."
"This one’s about someone dying from cancer, isn’t it? Fucking hell, you’re going to need a long walk to get over this one!
"Again, this from a similar era, sort of late teens. I think I was introduced to Sufjan from The OC Soundtrack, which was an introduction to all sorts of different stuff. Basically, I could have had said the soundtrack to the second series was my Nine Songs, because whoever was choosing the music for that show was nailing it.
"Sufjan is just... fucking hell, he’s just so good. I read an interview with him this year about his new stuff. Every other album I like of Sufjan’s and then he’ll do something which what sounds to me is him clattering things in the kitchen. That doesn’t reduce any respect or love that I have for him, because I really admire that creative impulse to do whatever.
"He’d done a performance at the Oscars, I think as he’d done a track for Call Me By Your Name. I could sense in the interview I read with him, he didn’t fit in that environment at all, he didn’t like the exposure of it or the mainstream-ness of it, so he went back to being more experimental.
"Every time he’s got close to becoming this sort of mainstream, quite bland whatever, he immediately does something to throw it off and I really respect that and admit it. I don’t necessarily love the music, but I know some people will and I know he does it for himself and I totally respect that.
"When he nails it, for me I think “Casimir Pulaski Day” is probably his most beautiful track, it’s so beautiful and so accomplished. He does so many different styles, but in this style, this song is really emblematic. It's a lovely beautiful thing. although the one he did for Call Me By Your Name is a really lovely and has a similar tone and feeling. He’s just very good. Very well done!"
"I chose this because when I was writing my second stand-up show, which is almost like the [difficult] second album, it’s really hard to write that second show. I was in this hole of 'how the fuck do I do this? I’ve spent the last five-plus years writing all the stuff that went into show one and now I’ve got a blank slate and only a year to write this show.' I was really panicked.
"I watched - and I can’t remember the name of it - but essentially it’s a documentary about Jerry Seinfeld going through the same process. He was writing a brand new set, going to little clubs and working on it. I remember watching that film a couple of times and watching him do it, one of that masters, and finding that really reassuring.
"He played gigs where he was dying on his arse, even at his level, in order to build up that material and get to the place where he wanted to be to do the big tours. I remember feeling like I needed that at that point.
"The credits for that film have this song over them. It ends with him doing his first night of the big tour and it going really well and you’ve followed him on the journey and it’s all been brilliant, then it ends with that soft, gentle music. That music has always been reassuring for me and it reminds me that the journey is worth it for the outcome.
"You have to go through that process of feeling like you can’t do it and you’re not capable of doing it, that you’ll have no good ideas again and you can’t write. You go through that every time, but there is a reason for it because you end with a show where you share some things you worked hard on and you’re proud of it.
"It’s a reminder of the creative process and how fucking hard it is."
“The Great Beauty [La Grand Belleza] is one of my favourite films of all time and [this] plays an integral part in that film. That film is incredibly beautiful, I mean it’s called The Great Beauty, but it is. The writing, the cinematography, the mood it creates, it’s set in Rome so the architecture is obviously amazing and all of the music is astonishing and that is such a stunning piece of classical music.
"It's so simple and again, so zen, and sort of calming and reassuring. There’s nothing better than on a crisp morning, when the sun’s just rising, to smash that on, there’s nothing else you need, it’s heaven. It’s musical perfection, isn’t it? You’re sort of in awe of it when you’re encountering it because it’s so much more beautiful than you expected anything to be. Great work Vladimir.
"I don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of [classical music] but I love a bit of Chopin and I’ve got a few bits and bobs in that starred playlist which are classical. There’s some more classical music in The Great Beauty, it’s a choral thing, called “The Lamb” by John Tavener and that’s another very beautiful piece.
"When I hear it in films I really love it. There’s another one, but I can’t remember the name of it, they always have these long number-based titles like the 34th chorus or whatever it is."
“I encountered this because I’m a fan of alt-J. I loved their first album. Love everything they do, I just think they’re so cool and really talented. I think “Tesselate” was the first single which really took off for them, but they’ve got a very mainstream audience in lots of ways for what I think is quite experimental and quite out there, some of the stuff they do.
“Bloodflood pt II” is quite filmic I suppose. I think a lot of the music I like is quite filmic; it conjures a mood rather than being particularly lyrically impressive or whatever. I think that it would make an amazing end to something.
"It really builds. It’s got the soft piano at the start and these deep beats kick in and then as it crescendos to the end with this real rousing something going on... I think it just gets me going.
"A dream would be to make some sort of film where that is the finale and that’s the music that plays while some big thing happens at the end because I think that paired with the right images and story could be really wonderful.
"I think it’s wonderful on its own, so I’d probably ruin it with whatever I do. I just love it and I think it’s quite reassuring. It feels like something’s coming, but that whatever’s coming is fine. I find it quite hard to articulate what it does to me, but I just think it’s quite characteristic of a lot of alt-J stuff. You do listen to it and go I don’t know what this is doing, but I like it.”
"I loved this because I think it’s one of the first music videos I really fell in love with. The music video is about a couple of gay lads having a little snog and it doesn’t work out well for them. The cinematography is very bold and it’s filmed as if it’s this old square film, in very slow motion. It's a really beautiful vignette.
"I watched it lots as a lad, as a young boy, and the tragedy of the fact that the two boys at the end… it’s a bit of tragedy, but it’s kind of wonderful as well. They get to publicly reveal their love for one another and it’s not gay or whatever it’s just about love.
"It’s a really moving and brilliant video with lots of lovely bits of imagery in it which are slightly allegorical and you don’t entirely know what they’re trying to tell you; some of it is left open to interpretation. It’s one of the few where the video really enhances the track. The track is wonderful on its own, but without the video, I’m not sure it would have made the selection as there are other Sigur Rós tracks which I think I prefer in and of themselves.
"It got me into my love of music videos."
"I love a remix. I love a big, full-on remix which really throws a bassline in and mashes stuff up. When I went out, when I was younger, I always loved electro rooms. I wasn’t going to dance in the indie room or even the pop room, I wanted electric beats. I loved acid house and all of that stuff.
"This track feels like really gets you going. Freemasons did another remix of “Work” by Kelly Rowland which I loved and they put bhangra over it. So good. So I’ve loved that Beyoncé track for that reason, but it’s also the track I walked out to on Live At The Apollo. The first time I did Live At The Apollo I walked out to the Beyoncé Freemasons remix of “Green Light” and it just got me in the right headspace for that gig, which was kind of a turning point for me in terms of my career.
"Live At The Apollo, when you did it years ago, it was less of a major thing, but if you had good gigs on it, it would definitely help you and I had a really good gig on that. I was in the right headspace and really ready for it and people were really nice about it. I think that track went some way to getting me in that feeling of 'I’m here, I’ve arrived and let’s do this.'
"Probably of all the tracks I’ve listed here, it’s the most recent one and I suppose it’s pushed me into this era of my life which has been all about stand-up, comedy and fun. Not that the previous era wasn’t, but based on these selections I certainly had a slightly moody, arty teenager vibe to me, which was punctured by a bit of Beyoncé.
"As well as being just a certified banger it’s got a real history for me in terms of what it’s achieved for me in my silly life."