L.A. based alternative r&b singer JMSN (yes, pronounced “Jameson”) makes music for music’s sake. A cross between jazz, electronic music, sweeping strings and cutting-edge beats, JMSN’s organic sound goes against the grain of overcooked pop music. His sophomore effort The Blue Album, out now on his own White Room label, takes you on an emotional musical journey across genres that will give you feelings. We caught up with JMSN and talked about relationships, the music industry, and how you motivate yourself as an artist instead of staying in bed watching Netflix all day.
So obviously I have to ask if you like to drink Jameson.
Hell yeah! I forgot who I was with but they were like, “You need a name!” and I had a big bottle of Jameson in front of me. So then I was like okay, well I’ll just be called “Jameson” and I took out the vowels because I didn’t want to get sued by the liquor company.
Also you’ve got some pretty cool tattoos. When did you get your first one?
That’s a good question! When I was 19, I think? Yeah, I believe it was 19.
People always say tattoos are an addiction.
It was for a minute, but I got over it when I ran out of money [laughs].
[laughs] That’ll do it. You’re originally from Detroit but now you’re based in L.A. How long have you been living there?
I’ve been here like 8 years now. I thought I could get more opportunity out here because this was always thought to be the mecca for music.
Detroit’s a pretty musical city too, though, isn’t it?
It is, it is. Yeah, definitely. But there’s no business over there. There’s a bigger market here. The best people come here and I wanted to compete with the best and be challenged.
The Blue Album is on your own label. How did you decide to release your own music as an independent artist instead of going through the studio system?
It’s just realizing that there’s nothing really different about the music industry that sets them apart from you. They’re just people who are putting music out and you can do it too. You don’t need them to do it. It’s not about record deals, I think that’s the thing I realized from moving out here. A record deal doesn’t really mean anything other than to say you have a record deal. That’s it. You still have to go out and do the work. The thing that I learned was that it’s always going to be on you to go out and do it, whether you have a record deal or not.
When I first put The Blue Album on the first thing I wanted to know was what you listened to growing up to create the kinds of multiple genre sounds you’ve got going now.
R. Kelly, Whitney Houston, Phil Collins. As I got older I got into Radiohead and stuff like that. All music influences what I make because I’m kind of a regurgitation of my influences. There’s a little bit of all that in there because it’s in me, it’s what I gravitated towards.
The smoothness of your voice with the live instrumentals with all of the interesting beat work means that there are so many corners to unfold and discover as you go through the album. It allows things to linger.
I don’t want to be confined to anything. Nobody should ever be censored or edited in what they do. Not staying in a box with anything. I would just call it free, you know? Free to be whatever it needs to be. There’s no limit.
It’s interesting how we’re in this moment where music is increasingly made by machines – auto tune, drum machines, whatever – but there are so many moments on The Blue Album where I got the physical sense of being in the studio. You could feel the human element in the mix. Is that important for you?
Oh yeah, 100%, 100%. That’s one of the main things in every song that I try to put in there and just be true to. It’s the most important part. And that is why I put things like talking in the studio and stuff like that where you can really be in the studio with us when we’re making it and feel the liveness and the human element of it.
There’s one moment in “Bout It” where you say “People change if you give them time. Everyone grows” and it struck me because usually when you’re fresh out of a relationship people are bitter and are like “people never change.”
It’s weird because that’s not such a black and white statement. I feel like that’s the beautiful thing about it because it’s not so black and white. In general I feel like people change superficially but you never really change who you are. And we definitely all grow and we start to realize that the bullshit that we’ve been listening to is not us and we start to become ourselves. That’s kind of what I was saying. We’re getting back to the basics of who we really are, and that’s who we’ve been all along with out the outside influences. If you give people time they do change.
I can think about past relationships I’ve been in and mistakes that I’ve made and I’m like, “Damn. I will never do that again.”
Yeah and you learn, right?
Okay can we talk about your dance moves? I am in love with your “Boogie Basics” video.
[laughs] Awesome, thank you. I had a large coffee and I went in, I was tweaking my ass off.
But you’ve never done any street dancing or anything like that? Boy, you got some moves!
No, I just made the moves up!
Before JMSN you had another project called Christian TV. What was that like?
It was just some dance stuff, it just wasn’t me. It was me listening to a lot of other opinions than my own. It took me a while to come a while to come into myself and I finally did it with JMSN and I’m finally doing what I want to do. I’ve had a long journey to get to where I am now.
Did you have any roadblocks along the way where you thought that maybe it wasn’t going to work out as an independent artist? As in, those days when it’s easier to just sit in bed and watch Netflix.
Every day! Every day it’s easier to do that. That’s the easy shit to do. Every day I’m battling that thought of is this going to work, when it is all going to end. That’s a constant battle. But that’s part of what drives me, too, is knowing that this could all run out at any moment. I gotta get my shit together and keep going and make better stuff and I’m just hoping it all works out. I guess that’s a fucked up way of looking at it.
Not really. It keeps you on your toes.
Yeah, it keeps the fire going. The hard shit is the stuff that’s worth it. I could live without doing music but I don’t want to.