When you think about artists who cannot be kept in a particular box, so to speak, or who cannot be pinned down to any one sound or genre, JMSN is one of those leading the pack. Taking influences as wide and various as D’Angelo and Sigur Ros, the singer-songwriter, instrumentalist and producer from Detroit is a keen studier of music, and effortlessly merges every sound imaginable to create his own lane.
His most recent album, It is., is a prime example of his musical evolution, and is a heartfelt tale of love, loss and acceptance over soulful R&B that could easily find itself transported back to an earlier age. JMSN has found and crafted a winning formula which has manifested itself in his most recent release, all while remaining authentic.
We sat down with him and chopped it up about his new album, influences and the music industry.
Your new album It is. is out; could you tell me a bit about the creative process behind the album?
It was very similar to every previous album, where I waited for inspiration to hit and run with that inspiration. As far as production goes, I firstly laid down the foundation by writing a song and then getting the players to replay the parts the way I wanted them to, and recording everything organically and letting it happen.
I felt the album was very soulful and a slight departure from your previous albums, was there anything in particular that you were listening to that inspired the album’s sounds?
Nothing that really pushed me to where the album went; I just wanted to explore, and I was listening to so much old stuff like Earth, Wind & Fire, Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway and really digging into old stuff like that. I tried to infuse that stuff with what I was doing and I just went with it, went with the wave.
Were there any particular messages you were trying to convey with It is.?
Yeah, several. I was just kind of talking to myself about getting stuff together and realising that not everything is good around you, and not everybody is looking out for you. I wanted to trim the fat and try to get it down to the people and things that you really need, rather than taking everything because it’s there.
I felt ‘Good Ol’ Case of the Blues’ and ‘Be A Man Pt. 2’ were particularly powerful, were those cases where you were getting something off your chest?
I felt I didn’t have enough words in those songs to describe what I felt so I just kept going and talking about stuff. I got really deep into it, as deep as I could go. Some of the stuff got cut short, because I went on for about 10 minutes and I couldn’t really have just a 10-minute song of me talking, no one’s going to listen to this!
How would you compare It is. to the rest of your bodies of work?
It’s definitely an evolution of me as a musician, as a person, as a singer, as a guitar player. As a writer as well. It’s moving forward in my musical journey and my life journey. I’m excited to see where I go after this. It’s definitely my best so far, if ever my new album isn’t the best I have to offer, then there is a problem. It means I don’t care enough and I should stop doing it at that point!
You talk a lot about love and issues in relationships in your music, how much do events in your life influence this?
They 100% influence my music, that’s all I write about. I’m not really writing about anything else. It all comes from experience.
Would it be fair to say that from your music, you come across as a bit of a tortured soul?
I don’t know what that means. I don’t want to play the victim and shit, but there’s constantly going to be adversity in life and I just happen to write about them. It’s never just going to be rainbows and butterflies all the time. Adversity is what gives you character and what makes you who you are, and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.
I wouldn’t call myself tortured because that’s just life and you accept that. It’s not a torture, we’re all blessed to be here and be living, and I’m just writing about what is going on.
What other artists do you take your greatest inspirations from?
Definitely Prince, Whitney Houston, R. Kelly. Those are artists I grew up listening to for sure.
How do you think you have progressed as an artist since your debut?
I’ve got better at playing guitar, better at singing, better at producing, writing songs, and I want to continue to get better as well. And also just evolving with more freedom and not be chained to a genre or to what is current or anything like that. Just being free and taking risks. Not worrying about what anybody else does.
You could say I take risks just because of the weather and what’s going on right now. But really I’m just making music that I enjoy. I’m not reinventing anything; the only thing that would make it risky is that there isn’t a lot of people doing that currently in music, making that type of music. So when you go against the norm right now, it’s scary and that could be considered a risk, because some people would be like “You should do it in the way it’s being done currently and what everybody else is doing”. That’s the safe bet, and obviously you’re taking a risk if you go against that.
How do you feel about the music industry in general?
It’s a business and as long as the artists gives these labels power they going to have the power to take advantage and do whatever they want. Not to say that all of them do, but I have yet to experience one that doesn’t. They gotta be out there. But it is what it is; if you want to be part of that then you go and be part of that world but it’s a world about different things than music, I believe.
Could labels eventually cease to exist? Maybe. You never know. They could just stop signing new artists and become catalogue labels like Motown. It’s very possible.
Have you had any doubts in your career so far about decisions you may have had or didn’t make?
At the time probably, but in hindsight I look back and think that was ultimately the right decision/ Because they have brought me to where I am now.
Where do you see yourself in the next two to three years?
I have no idea, I don’t really look that far ahead, I’m just thinking about today. It’s hard enough to see what’s happening today let alone tomorrow and the next day. Man, I’d go crazy if I was constantly thinking about what I would be doing three years from now
What happened to the joint album with Ab-Soul?
Nothing really. It’s still on my computer, we talk about putting it out every once in a while. We just haven’t really felt like it.
Is there a possibility you guys may revisit it in the future?
We might, you never know. We’ve talked about putting it out way in the future, on some Lost Tapes type shit. No promises!
How would you change the world if you were given the chance?
I don’t think I would. Why change it and be responsible for changing it? It is what it is and I just go with the flow.
Finally, if you were trapped on a desert island and had only five albums with you, what would they be?
That is a hard one. I would say Radiohead’s In Rainbows, Sigur Ros’ Untitled, Lauryn Hill’s Miseducation….damn….I know I have more but I just can’t think of any right now. Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black for sure. One more would be….I gotta think of a good one here….I’m gonna put John Mayer’s Continuum in there. Those are definitely five albums that shaped me, but there are also a lot more than five that shaped me!
Interview by Yemi Abiade.