Haydain Neale Biography
Not Money Born into Music, Infused Music with Dose of Intellectualism, Topped Canadian Record Charts
Haydain Neale, charismatic lead singer of Canadian super group jacksoul, has made a name for himself with intelligent lyrics served up with a deep side of soul. His songs exalt love, kindness, and joy—decidedly un-cool traits in an urban music market defined by guns, gangstas, and gratuitous sex. Neale is unrepentant. "This is the world that I bought into and this is the world I'm selling," he told the Toronto Sun. "Other people can push whatever images they want and go on about types of shoes and cars. I'm in your face and I'm not going away."
Not Money Born into Music
Haydain Neale was born on September 3, 1970, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and raised in that city's poorest neighborhood. "We had no cash. We were in government housing for years," Neale recalled to the FFWD Weekly Web site. "But the nice thing about having no money in Canada is you never feel like you're being hung out to dry. You have access to what everybody else has access to. You go to the same schools, you do the same things. You end up with a pretty middle-class attitude."
One thing never lacking in the Neale home was music. "My mom brought all the music into the house when I was little. … classical, the best of opera, the best of reggae, the best of calypso," he continued with FFWD Weekly. "She helped me appreciate loving melody for melody's sake." Neale spiced up his mother's musical mix with a steady diet of radio pop, old school R&B, and classical jazz. The jangled soundtrack seeped into Neale's late-night dreams. "I would get these melodies that I would want to remember," he told Maclean's. "I'd find really strange ways to graft them on paper so maybe in the morning I'd remember enough to recapture it."
Despite his nocturnal musical musings, Neale headed off to the University of Guelph with the intention of earning a degree in biology. However, the music inside him would not be denied, and Neale soon started thinking about pursuing a career in the music industry. In 1994 he dropped his studies altogether and formed jacksoul (with a lowercase 'j') with Davide Direnzo, Ron Lopata, Adrian Eccleston, and Dave Murray, four white musicians who have earned the nickname "funk brothers of Canada."
Infused Music with Dose of
Neale's vision of new soul music drove jacksoul. He wrote most of the songs and provided the band with its characteristic vocal sound—part R&B crooner, part funky playboy, but mostly soul slinger. He's been compared to classic wailers like Al Green and Barry White, as well as modern masters like Seal, and even a male version of Macy Gray. Fans are forgiven for thinking that Neale is jacksoul. "There's always been an impetus to just call it 'Haydain' on a pragmatic level," Neale said in a biography on his agent Chris Smith's Web site. "But I've always been most excited by the live presentation of music. That's what got me hooked in the first place."
jacksoul began rehearsing in a refurbished chicken coop in Kitchener, Ontario, and soon had a roster of songs which they performed wherever they could get a gig—from dive bars to small-town jazz festivals. They recorded a demo tape at the live shows and began shopping it around. The demo highlighted Neale's activist approach to song writing. "We should speak but not just from a ghetto mentality," he told Gay Guide Toronto. "I may be black but, you know what? I also know there's terrorism, problems in the Middle East, and Jewish gravestones being vandalized here at home. It's good to sing about the world and throw in a good tune about getting it on."
After a representative from a major U.S. record label told the band that although he loved the music, it was too intellectual for American release, Viking, a Canadian wing of international mega-label BMG picked up the group. In 1996 the label released jacksoul's debut album, ABsolute. A funked-up blend of R&B, soul, and pop with just a hint of rap, ABsolute's 11 tracks shook up Canada's urban music normal offerings of sexual innuendos and x-rated lyrics. "I hope that we transcend any kind of bump'n grind, wanna-get-freaky-with you-tune, and really hit you on a different level that's not even really sexual," Neale told Octopus Media Ink. Songs like the soul-stewed "Eastbound," the unapologetic romance of "Unconditional," and the thudding-funk of "Indigo," helped earn ABsolute a nomination for Best R&B/Soul Recording of the Year at the 1996 Juno Awards, Canada's version of the Grammys.
Topped Canadian Record Charts
Following ABsolute's release, jacksoul toured extensively, amassing a diverse fan base. Neale recalled a performance given on the back of a flatbed truck during Canada Day celebrations in Kitchener. "I remember seeing so many kids running around the stage," he told Octopus Media Ink. "We were playing in front of a couple of hundred people, and I remember watching everyone—from young to old, most who hadn't heard us before—grooving to the beats."
After relocating to Toronto, jacksoul released Sleepless. With the addition of pianist Jon Levine, from the Toronto funk-outfit Philosopher King, the album was another savory mix of old soul and new funk, acid jazz and trip-hop, all against the roiling R&B flow of Neale's vocals. "[Sleepless] allows me to be as much of an artist as I can be," Neale said on Chris Smith's web site. "Not just the frontman or singer or the interview guy with the sound-bytes, but, when all is said and done, what I stand for …strong music, taking everything I think is great about music and adding a little something." He added, "I think what you have here is a perfect example of someone who appreciates music and tried to surround himself with good musicians and learn from those people, putting together something that's totally funky for the new millennium."
"Can't Stop," the first single from the album hit the top ten on Canada's radio charts and clocked in as the most-played pop song on Canadian radio in 2000. The song was driven by a chorus of vocals and a pop beat—a label Neale embraced. "You're a human being and I'm trying to hit you on an emotional level," he told FFWD Weekly. "[Music] is about trying to communicate. That's pop. Pop is the umbrella under which music that just hits you lives, whether it's soul or whatever." That "whatever" helped jacksoul snag the 2001 Juno award for Best R&B/Soul Recording.
Resurrected Soul's Old-School Sound
In 2004 jacksoul released their third album, Resurrected, an homage to soul music. In preparation for recording, Neale spent months listening to and reading about his soul music idols from Marvin Gaye to Motown producer Berry Gordy. "I didn't want to hide my love for that music and pretend it was all ours," Neale said in an article reprinted on the Canoe Web site. "We called the album Resurrected in the first place because we're bringing back great melodies, irresistible grooves and stories that you can really vibe to. It's music that paints pictures in the brain."
To capture the authentic sound of soul classics, jacksoul recorded the album in an old-fashioned, bare-bones rehearsal studio. "Pristine recording environments make for great pop songs, but soul is about a certain amount of dirt …the magic is in the imperfection," Neale said on jacksoul's web site. Featuring a cover photo of Neale locked in a loving embrace with his wife of ten years, Michaela, Resurrected served up love songs, pure and sweet. "I think honesty is sexy and I think love is sexy, and if you're not willing to brag about it then that's too bad for you," he told the Toronto Sun. However, true to his worldly awareness, some of the songs blatantly confronted the mayhem of war, the futility of violence, and the need for spirituality.
Led by the Al Green-inspired single "Still Believe in Love," Resurrected earned immediate critical acclaim. Neale's voice, which Toronto's Globe & Mail called "the album's best part" was repeatedly compared to Green, as well Luther Vandross and Sam Cooke. Resurrected won jacksoul several award nominations and scored Neale the Canadian Urban Music Awards Songwriter of the Year nod. It also caught the attention of soul legend James Brown, who invited jacksoul to open for him during his 2004 Canadian tour. "When we first started we thought it would be wicked to play with James Brown and now we're doing it," Neale gushed to the Coast. "Our goal is to play great music for cool people and I'm pretty sure we'll pick up the James Brown fans. It's like preaching to the choir."
Albums (with jacksoul)
Sleepless, BMG, 2000.
Resurrected, V.I.K., 2004.
Globe & Mail, (Toronto), March 25, 2004.
Maclean's, December 4, 2000.
"Jacksoul," FFWD Weekly, www.ffwdweekly.com/Issues/2000/0622/mus4.htm (April 5, 2005).
"Jacksoul, ABsolute, " Octopus Media Ink, www.octopusmediaink.com/jacksoul.html (April 5, 2005).
"Jacksoul Biography," Chris Smith Management, www.chrissmithmanagement.com/bio_jacksoul_1.html (April 5, 2005).
"Jacksoul, Biography," Vik Recordings: Jacksoul, www.vikrecordings.com/jacksoul/index.html (April 5, 2005).
"Jacksoul: Every Song Tells a Story," North Shore News, www.nsnews.com/issues00/w041700/jacksoul.html (April 5, 2005).
"Neale Taps into R&B to Break Out of Funk," Canoe, http://jam.canoe.ca/Music/Artists/J/Jacksoul/2004/07/15/746246.html (April 5, 2005).
"Shaun Proulx Talks to Haydain Neale," Gay Guide Toronto, www.gayguidetoronto.com/1_shaun/april_2004.html (April 5, 2005).
"Soul Proprietor," Toronto Sun, www.canoe.ca/NewsStand/TorontoSun/Entertainment/2004/03/25/394817.html (April 5, 2005).
"Sure Things: Jacksoul w/James Brown," The Coast www.thecoast.ca/archives/112504/surethings.html (April 5, 2005).