In Conversation: JMSN

Exploring his new album 'Soft Spot'...

One of modern music’s most innovative artists, JMSN rebels against the confinement of definition by shapeshifting through every iteration his truth takes form of, birthing anew with ‘Soft Spot’.

The Detroit-bred artist is no stranger to the industry, having consistently written, directed, produced, and performed since the early 2010s. His eccentric sound and incomparability has earned him praise from fans and peers alike, with an awe-stricken audience begging for a hint of what’s next.

JMSN’s Aquarian nature of moulding fluid is the foundation of ‘Soft Spot’, an eclectic project that goes everywhere all at once. From the euro dance title track to the gospel-reminiscent ‘Love Me’, JMSN explores all of his edges and strips himself bare.

Embarking on a North American fall tour and pending European dates to follow, we patiently await yet another unforgettable live performance from the multidisciplinary. In the meantime, we sat down with the artist to explore everything from weed’s role in his creative process, to the significance of Whitney Houston in his artistic journey.

What’s so unique about you is that every era you embark on really introduces us to a brand new iteration of JSMN. As ‘Soft Spot’ arrives, who are you in this next era?

I just try to stay true to who I am every time I make something, in the name of exploration and curiosity. I don’t want to do the safe thing because that’s boring. I want to push it for myself. Within music culture, the artists that I always gravitated towards were the ones that tried to push it outside the box. We can’t keep listening to the same thing over again, so I want to be someone who is at the forefront of that, for myself and the music community. I know that it’s inspiring to see other people doing it, so I hope that I’m inspiring other people when I do it.

I think that’s what marks a true artist, what guarantees them longevity. Artists that honor their evolution. Being that you’re so devoted to innovation, when you look back at projects from the past, do you feel disconnected from those versions of you?

I guess you could say that. If it’s far enough away I’ll feel like I’m listening to somebody else. I separate myself from it, which you wish you could do during the process, especially during production. But you can’t separate yourself until you have hindsight and you’re away from it long enough. I’ll smoke weed and call it a ‘high guy’, which is where I get high and do some mixing. It’s the only thing that will take me outside of myself. It’s also the only time I can smoke weed, because any other time I’m like “Okay, I’m scared as shit.” One time I got so paranoid I hid in a closet because I was scared of the people I was with. I was like “They’ll leave eventually.”

What happens in the beats in between projects, what about life informs the work you end up making?

Well right now it’s a lot of administrative work. We’re finishing merch designs, working on an action figure, waiting on some vinyls and exporting for the videos. Checking out billboards to make sure they’re in the right areas. All of that stuff.

And is that jarring for you at all, to put on your marketing and administrative hat as such a creative?

Of course I would love to just focus on the creativity. That’s the dream. But also, I get joy out of being efficient. Efficiency helps any kind of artist. If you’re hands on and paying attention, you’ll really get the most out of everything you’re doing rather than when you have a big team or label and a lot of stuff slips through the cracks. Efficiency can help you get the most out of your budget and marketing rollout.

That’s incredibly empowering for artists, and people seem to gravitate towards your work because it truly feels like an extension of you, which I attribute to the fact that you have your hands in every aspect of it. How much of a role do you play in conceptualizing your videos?

Oh yeah, I’m incredibly involved in merch designs, album designs, even light designs for the show. I edit and direct my videos. It’s not that I want to be the boss, it’s more of an efficiency thing. I have such a specific vision that if I let someone else do it, I’ll waste more time correcting. My notes would be ten pages long. I’ll just get on YouTube if there’s something I don’t know how to do myself and watch a tutorial. I just know what I want and I want it to be done. 

Do you see what you want a song to be visually as you’re creating it sonically?

All the videos are after the fact. You might start out with one idea and then something happens and you go with another idea. The video we just put out, it was only that one party scene and then I got into the edit and said “This needs something more.” Then I was watching a movie where they had this above shot they kept static and I was like “That would be nice if we did that.” So I went into the second day of shooting like “I want to do this shot” and then when we tried other things and were like “Oh those shadows on the ground look cool, too!” And then you play. 

Speaking to being inspired by a film, is there a movie that if you could score you would have?

I just want to score a movie in general, it doesn’t even matter. That will present itself eventually I think. The longer it takes the more right it’s going to be. 

Oh totally, I could see you scoring Interstellar or something.

Oh my god, yeah. If they gave that kind of a budget for a 100-piece orchestra I would kill it!

I love what you said about creation being informed by play. How do you think your inner child feels about your life right now?

They’re probably psyched. I still feel like I’m a little kid. I haven’t had a job my whole life. This isn’t a job. Of course there’s commitments and little things I have to do in order to keep doing it, but this isn’t like clocking in. This is stuff I want to do. My inner child is excited. When I was 14 years old I was making the artwork for my CDs on Paint, I feel like I’m still doing that. 

You seem so inherently creative and youthful, yet poised and rooted. If you could give your soul an age, what would it be? 

I don’t even know, I don’t even think about age. I don’t celebrate birthdays. The only thing I ever want on my birthday is for everyone to leave me alone, haha. Prince said one time “I have one birthday and it’s when I was born.” That’s how I feel.

Speaking of Prince, who were the earliest influences that awakened your love for music and gave you permission to be authentic?

The earliest was Beethoven and all those classical greats. Pop music wise, the first I remember that really got me was Whitney Houston. I remember my  mom would listen to her and I was like “Oh my god, who is this?” I’d listen to her religiously. 

We develop such a special relationship with the songs we hear from the backseat of our parents cars I think.

Totally. I think a lot about that, where you hear songs for the first time. There are times when I’ll hear something at the grocery store and I’m like “What’s that?!”

Are you a Shazaamer?

Oh for sure.

You’ve been in the game for a minute and it feels like you’ve innovated along with the genre. What’s your perspective on the state of R&B?

I don’t think about genres like that. As long as you’re feeling what you’re feeling, genre doesn’t matter. If Kanye wanted to make a country album, I’d listen to that. If Adele wanted to make a rap album, I’d listen to that shit.

I think people enjoy how you rebel against confinement, which we’re really feeling with ‘Soft Spot’. Talk to me about this project.

I’m excited about every aspect of this project. The videos, how focused and streamlined the ideas have been. They’re different but they have that through line. I like that because the collection of songs are unfocused, this is my album that’s the most all over the place. I don’t think any two of these songs are even close to the same world, but somehow it all works together. 

That’s a testament to you being honest to your art rather than playing it safe. Do you appreciate being this niche, if you know you know, your favorite artists’ favorite artist musician or is every musician always tempted to play the game and go mainstream?

I never want to do that. We all want to be accepted by everybody, but what’s more important to me is that I’m accepted by my peers and the people I respect. I’ll sacrifice major popularity for that any day. That’s more fulfilling and if I have to sacrifice being majorly popular for it, that’s fine. For me, it’s about pushing music forward and inspiring my peers to do something different, as they’ve inspired me to do the same. It’s the bigger purpose. I’m sure at some point it’ll hit its exponential growth, as everything does, but I just have to keep going. I’m not making stuff different just to be different, I still want to be good. The goal is to make good music without being confined to the box of what that’s supposed to mean.

That’s how you win it all, making true music is how you inevitably blow up. People are seeing through stale artistry built on a desperation to go viral. And now you’re taking your art on the road! What does life look like for you on tour, how do you stay grounded?

I intermittently fast, we’ll be driving in the morning to the next city tweaking on nothing but coffee like “Man, I’m PUMPED for the next show.” Or hyper-fixating on what went wrong the show before. Besides that, before and after the show I try to keep it as calm as possible. I don’t want a lot of people backstage, I need minimal energy and stress. I want to save all my energy for the performance. I can’t get off stage and then perform for a packed backstage.

How excited are you to bring this project to life? I see you’re working on lights back there.

We’ve never had our own light program before so it’s a step up and I’m so excited about it. It really adds to the show and I can’t wait to play these songs. 

Now that it’s out in the world and no longer in your hands, is there anything you want to say about ‘Soft Spot’?

That’s exactly it, when you release the music you’re giving it away. I’ve gotten everything I can out of it, the joy for me comes from making it. After that, it’s all you guys. I can’t control that. It’s great seeing people’s reactions listening to it, but my high comes from making it. Now it belongs to the world. It’s out forever, written in history. Maybe in ten years someone will hear it for the first time and it’ll be new again.

It’s funny you say that because I was listening to some older work of yours and experienced it so differently than the first time I heard it. As the actual artist, do your songs take new shape when you listen to them again later on?

Absolutely. Right now I have to listen to some ‘Velvet’ because we’re re-pressing CDs and I have to make sure everything is right, so I’m sure I’m going to have some thoughts and feelings when I listen to them back. You have songs where you re-listen and you’re like “Oh, this wasn’t that bad. I actually like this one more than this other one that did better”. Hindsight never fails.

You’re championing a sound that’s so yours. It’s going to land right now but age even better. I can’t wait to see what hindsight says about ‘Soft Spot’, it’s getting a lot of Daniel Bedingfield’s ‘Gotta Get Thru This’ comparisons, which is a time-defying classic.

That’s such a compliment. What an incredible song that was. His voice, oh my god. Damn.

‘Soft Spot’ is out now.

Words: Jazmin Kylene

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