Singer-songwriter discusses process behind new album
Jaymes Young may have just released his debut album Feel Something in late June, but it is already a hit. With one Top 20 single already in the books, “We Won’t”, his collaboration with Phoebe Ryan, he doesn’t seem to be willing to wait around to see what might happen.
Young is currently in the midst of a tour that is crisscrossing the United States, and is dealing with the ups and downs of the road. Not one to take any experience for granted, the singer-songwriter is using each experience to sharpen his creative vision.
ARTISTdirect’s Christopher Friedmann caught up with Jaymes Young as he was driving through Eastern Washington to discuss his new album, find out what the artist sees as true success, and learn about his process.
Christopher Friedmann: We are talking because you recently released your debut album Feel Something. Now that the dust has had a little bit of time to settle, how is the mood in camp?
Jaymes Young: I’m feeling pretty good. I’m still sort of having a bit of a shock, just with my environment. I was just kind of indoors working on this for two or three years, and now I’m on the road and it feels weird, just to have that stark contrast that go, go, go, go, go get out the door vibe because that’s how touring always is.
There’s always going to be some anxiety associated with music that’s put out even though it’s had a little bit of time now. But I think we are all pretty excited. We’re just riding a little wave right now. The tour is going good too, so it’s like there are enough other things going on to where I don’t have to think about it too hard.
CF: Feel Something has certainly been a success commercially, notching a Top 20 single in “We Won’t”, but how do you measure success?
JY: Success in this field is just being really happy with the work you’ve done and the end result, and kind of having the fulfillment feeling, which is really difficult to achieve in anything. There are people who are very, very successful in creative fields and financially, and a lot of the ways we measure success, and people would assume they feel very fulfilled, but that’s not always the case. I think that’s a really difficult thing to find and grasp. It’s not always easy.
With that being said, that’s kind of how I like to measure success. How fulfilled do you feel about it and what’s the purpose? Do you feel like there’s a solid purpose and that you are going somewhere and I think a lot of people like to think they’re getting to that point or those points. With all that being said, I’m feeling pretty good. I’m seeing this album as a pretty small piece of a larger puzzle I’m still putting together.
CF: You’ve dropped two EPs previously, but can you tell us about the added pressure that comes from releasing a debut record on a major label?
JY: I guess besides the obvious ones… You feel like people expect a lot more and they expect things to be big and polished and just expect sort of a cleaned up version of everything you’ve done before, and a more defined sound. For me that can be a little bit challenging because I tend to want to go in a lot of different directions at the same time. For me that’s most of the pressure. You could write an album anywhere you want, under any circumstances, so I think just making an album doesn’t come with any pressure, but it kind of does at least for me in my situations. Again, you can make an album anywhere, anytime you want, so I’ve got as many chances as I want to give myself to create what I think I should be creating.
CF: The title track seems to be focused on the themes of wasted youth and disillusionment with love. Those ideas can certainly be correlated, and I know you have written about your own personal experiences in that past. Can you take us through your songwriting process and tell us where you pull from?
JY: I guess it’s just pretty simple. I never have an elegant way of answering similar questions, but I’m a big fan of writing in the moment and not trying to stretch for anything that you are not feeling or haven’t felt. For me, it’s more about what’s going on right now. With the past comes a lot of self reflection. There’s always something to say about the past. There’s not always as much to say about the future because you haven’t really experienced it yet, so to that aspect of speaking about youth and past relationships and stuff like that. When I’m writing I’m kind writing about what I experienced and what it has taught me and telling myself that’s what has got me to where I am now are those experiences. That’s kind of it in a nutshell.
CF: You worked with Phoebe Ryan on “We Won’t”. How did that collaboration come about and how did you decide she would be the perfect additive to the track?
JY: Actually I think I’d come across some of her music online and reached out to my manager and said, “Hey, who is this girl? Would it be an option to work with her?” And it kind of just so happened, as it often happens in an industry where everybody knows everybody, there was a connection there without too many degrees of separation. It happened relatively quickly. I think it was like two weeks later we were in a room writing. It was pretty easy.
The actual process was really one of the better collaborations that I’ve had in quite some time. I don’t always work too great with others. I’m pretty solitary most of the time when it comes to being creative and working on music. Working with other people is something I’m still learning how to do, but that being said, working with Phoebe was really pleasant and very natural.
CF: You’ve travelled and worked with some pretty big acts in the past, from London Grammar to Vance Joy to David Guetta. Have you picked up any advice along the way that you continue to use?
JY: London Grammar and Vance Joy were kind of real artists in their own right. They go into albums. They write and record their own music. They are not necessarily working with a bunch of writers and stuff like that. It’s kind of in house and private and seeing that more is really encouraging to me because I feel like living in L.A. and writing in L.A. is much more conducive to like, “Hey let’s get 500 writers in one room and try to write a smash,” and I kinda just hate that. It kinda sucks, and I’ve been there before and I’ve done that, and I’ve given it a whirl.
To answer your question, even if it’s unspoken advice, what I’ve learned is… do what feels most natural and what feels most close to who you are as an artist. I’m not trying to talk s*** on the way other people do things because if that’s who they are, then that’s fine, that’s great. Working with those specific people and being on those tours has reminded me to, not to be cliche, but to actually try and follow what’s in my heart and not to be distracted by some of the frilly plastic stuff.
CF: You are currently on tour. Now, we know what a good night is from the perspective of the audience, but what makes for a perfect concert for Jaymes Young?
JY: I think getting up on stage and connecting with the crowd and having moments where it feels like the dialogue between the crowd and on stage is there’s no barriers there that’s kind of what makes a great concert for me. Then, of course, feeling happy about your performance and feeling like you gave your best and tried your hardest to perform, and to perform with integrity and conviction. I think as long as you do those things and you get off stage, you can be happy with that. There’s always going to be mistakes and rough nights, I’ve had a few already on this tour, and it’s only a week deep.
CF: Speaking of integrity in some manner, other than your own music, can you describe something in art that you look to as a point of reference that offers an enduring perspective of quality and substance?
JY: Honest art I think is probably the most timeless. It’s funny to me, because I feel that some of the best lyrics and some of the best art in general, it’s pretty simple. There can be a lot of over thought, over complicated stuff. I think when it comes to some iconic artists and not just in music, they have simple clever way of getting to the point. Just being as straightforward and honest about what you are trying to say.
It’s about communication. I think if you are creating art for other people to see or listen to or however they are going to perceive or experience it, and you want them to understand, then you kind of have to think about communication, How am I saying this? Are they going to understand what I’m saying? How direct do I want to be? How non-direct do I want to be? Do I want to be left of field with what I’m saying? Do I want them to read between the lines and is that part of the point? I guess the timeless stuff, I think people were being really honest with themselves when they created it or they found a really great way to communicate what they wanted to communicate.
CF: Over the course of your career, I’m sure you’ve had a number of interesting experiences. Is there a moment that stands out, a grounding moment that brings perspective and reminds you why you do all this?
JY: I guess I could speak on that with more recent experiences. I guess just meeting people and having them tell you what a certain song means to them or what it has done for them. It’s strange sometimes because it could be a song you don’t really thing has enough depth as the person is describing to you, like a song like “We Wont” obviously has emotions, but as a style it’s not super heavy or anything like that, but I’ve had some people come up to me and tell me things that, if I were feeling what they were feeling I’d feel like it would be pretty intense.
That’s kind of reminded me that’s what it’s about. It’s a career and it has to feed you, and you have to love it, and I do, but I think it means more to people than you think sometimes, and that’s awesome, and I’m trying not to take that for granted and remember that those people are honestly affected by it.