Right Between Your Eyes: The Bullits

"My ideas don’t terrify me; they excite me..."

In an era where artists are rapidly losing social relevance and connection (despite a heavy Twitter habit), a new breed of mavericks are seizing the unclaimed territory through bold, elegant and original moves. None more so than Jeymes Samuel a.k.a The Bullitts a.k.a the tramp who accosts Rosario Dawson in that youtube a.k.a. someone who defies any sort of categorisation as he launches blockbuster idea after blockbuster idea sooner than you can ask: ‘So is this film or music?’

But West Londoner Jeymes is no overnight success. Despite being a film-maker from the age of eight, he’s been honing his songwriting and production skills since he was seventeen. Now, with an intimidating catalogue of production credits sufficient to convince anyone else they could now comfortably retire, he instead begins work on his debut album, ‘They Die By Dawn and Other Short Stories’ featuring artists which read like the World’s Cool List: Jay Electronica, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Lucy Liu, Idris Elba and Mos Def to name but a few. In an age where music has been rendered sterile by technology and cover versions, his work elicits an immediate deep emotional response – ranging from one extreme to another as his voice and vision constantly race to keep up with an explosive imagination and capacity to put belief into action.

As he bounces across the Atlantic (‘I travel so much, I have no body clock. Four hours’ sleep and that’s me.’), I attempt to catch up with this real- life zebedee before he starts shooting his first forty five minute Western featuring all black cowboys this month on the Deadwood set in Los Angeles.

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What gun fired the first ‘bullitt’? What was your original inspiration or ambition?
I suppose I always had to be in a place where I could conceive an idea and execute it – music or anything visual. But I was born into this generation and so now, with technology, you can merge the arts musically. Any idea I can execute right now. But I guess my original inspiration was when I was about seven. I was obsessed with Greek mythology and Roald Dahl. It all started from there – that and my fascination with Alfred Hitchcock and film noir from six, seven years old. Now the album I’m making is entitled ‘They Die By Dawn and Other Stories’ which is a nod to Roald Dahl and Farley Granger’s ‘They Live By Night’. I tap into every stream of consciousness I have, every influence from Billy Wilder to Jay Z

Why the name The Bullitts? You’re most definitely not gangster rap.
The Bullitts is from two things. One, it’s a nod to a favourite film ‘Bullitt’ with Steve McQueen because it’s got the best opening sequence. And then two, as a kid, everytime I had to make a song or film, I would call it a bullitt. And people would be like ‘Give me another bullitt, Jeymes!’ So it became my nickname. I suppose that’s how it started.

Describe a piece of music or art which transformed you in some way or changed the way you saw something.
Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’. Hitchcock is a funny one. Everyone hails ‘Psycho’ as a seminal Alfred Hitchcock film. But as a Hitchcock enthusiast, I don’t even like ‘Psycho’. He just made it to get people to the show on time as he wouldn’t allow anyone in after the first half hour. If Nina and Jeymes were to go to the movies together, we wouldn’t get in if we were late. All the patrons would be on time. But as a Hitchcock film, it doesn’t compare to his best work. His best work is ‘Rear Window’ as it all takes place in one location. Alfred Hitchcock is looking out at this apartment block from one room, one rear window. He starts building stories in his own head and then he witnesses a murder. It just changed the way I saw art. Then there’s the juxtaposition of music and art. Seeing ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ – another favourite film of mine. Audrey Hepburn singing ‘Moon River’ in her own voice on the fire escape simultaneously acting in the film. I’ve just done a track with Jay Electronica and Charlotte Gainsbourg ‘Dinner at Tiffany’s’. It’s all based on my very real obsession with that film.

Will you do more short films like ‘Supercool’? How did that come about?
I guess my film-making started at the age of eleven when I was kicked out of school. It wasn’t for anything really bad – just misguided energy. So I had no schooling from April – September when I’d be joining another House. All my brothers and sisters were at school. Mum was a total film enthusiast. She taught me all about old school black and white films and Alfred Hitchcock. When I was twelve, back at school, I remember having a big debate with my mum over who was the better actor: Lawrence Olivier vs. Charles Laughton. I thought Charles Laughton was real, wicked – the genuine actor as he was totally the character. So mum would teach me everything she knew and I got given a 16mm Bolex camera for my birthday. After that, I was always shooting and then I’d put music behind it. That’s how I got into music. Playing Descartes. People would ask me to write a film for them or a song. Emiliana Torrini, an Icelandic artist off ‘The Lord of the Rings’ soundtrack, asked me to write a song for her album. So I wrote an eighteenth century lullaby called ‘Serenade’ – a very visual song. I’ve written and produced Mr. Hudson’s album with Kanye West, written and produced for Estelle, Tori Amos and lots of different artists.

But I had too many subject matters and ideas to give to other artists so knew it was time to make my own album. A song like ‘Close Your Eyes’ – I wouldn’t be able to give that to Estelle or Mr. Hudson so I got Lucy Liu to go wild and then Jay Electronica – both really multi-faceted artists. Your average artist like Usher could not sing the line starting ‘Monogram Hologram…’

As for my technique, I don’t hear music – I see it. I see music and visuals as one. I’ll be strumming a guitar and be visual at the same time. If you see me in a recording booth, I’m very physical in my singing, moving about. The visuals and music happen at exactly the same time. I can’t separate or stop them.

For ‘Supercool’, I’m feeling the tune at the same time as I see a tramp and a trolley. A tramp and a trolley. I see the tramp. I can easily jump into that character as he’s real, in my head. It came about after I was in the studio next to Rosario Dawson. What people don’t know is that Rosario Dawson is ‘swagged out’. I mean she’s just really, really musical. We would have dance-offs in the studio or a youtube battle from 8pm-11am. That particular night, we had a youtube battle from 8.30pm. Rosario wrote down every single clip we did. From that day, we were playing ‘Supercool’. The person the tramp meets is Rosario Dawson. I explained it to her and she straight agreed. Rosario is such a down-to-earth person. She gets an Oyster card and travels by train all the time. The film was totally unrehearsed and we did it all in one take. CBS News and worldstarhiphop.com were all over it: ‘Scavenger arrests Rosario Dawson.’ They really believed it. For me, film and music can be a portal into a train of thought.

How did the idea for working with Lucy Liu, Idris Elba and Jay Electronica come about?
When you’re doing something unique, everyone wants to be a part of it. I create from the hip. When I get a thought, I execute it. When I knew I needed Idris Elba, he elft ‘Call of Duty’ in L.A., Lucy Liu jumped on a plane and flew over. Jay Electronica came out, on stage, jumping into the audience. They became the voice people embrace. I love all that. My only fear is becoming an egotistical idiot. If that ever happens, you can throw a stale sandwich at me in the street – but not at the groupie I’ll be with. I’m a civilian, a regular guy. I’m the guy who works in the Post Office with great ideas and goes home to tell his wife but he never gets to do them. Well, this time the guy gets a shot. I’ve got the dopest ideas and I mean to make them happen.

How do you feel about genres and the marketing of music in the 21st century?
I think there are more people who should be doing what I’m doing. It’s bad that it’s just me. There are some great artists like Chris Cunningham – doing projects with visual arts and music. I really defy genres. If anyone asks me my genre, I say action adventure. There are 7 billion people on the planet and 7 genres of music. That makes no sense. R n B, hip hop, country and western, rock, classical…is that all you hear? We have such a vast range of emotions – we need to hear it.

Saddam Hussein was hanged on YouTube. Ghadaffi was hunted on YouTube. Yet the way we utilise our media resources is so limited. How come music is so mundane? We’re living in a time when there are more wars going on than at any other time in history. Music is at an all time low. Mindless pop. I’m no Sean Penn – I’m not all righteous about film but I just think what we’ve got is too narrow and limited. It’s all about how we express ourselves and swag out – ‘Go forth and conquer!’ Or like in ‘the Gladiator’ –‘At my command, unleash hell!’ Go forth and claim new ground. I want to be true to myself and forge new territory, to actually create what’s in my head.

What role do you think art should have in society?
Art should have the most important role. Language is a hindrance. A Russian dog can communicate with a French dog but a Russian man is hindered from communicating with a French man. It’s all about our imaginations and how we apply them. Art is the only way we can unite. If you can play the guitar like Jimi Hendrix, you’re not going to be a gangbanger or stabbing a granny. Playing swagged out guitar is what’s going to make Lorraine in class 2 fancy you. Art is the one true thing that binds us all. We need art, music, film. Art is just expression of the human soul and of the utmost importance.

How long have you been working on the debut album?
Felix Tod taught me how to write a chorus. I was a teenager signed to Sony and had songs on four-track but was really just making films with a series of strange songs. It was Felix who taught me how to structure my songs. Before, they were just long rambles. Felix gave me a whole new chapter. He’d be like, ‘Here’s your hook.’ I was seventeen, just doing short films in an editing suite in the studio complex he was working in Ladbroke Grove off Kensal Road. He’d got his own recording studio, took me in and helped me. The most swagged out musician and the first professionally to guide me. As a kid, I was a bit wild. All the skill sets that helped me write those songs for Tori Amos and Estelle were taught me by Felix Tod.

I guess it’s taken me two years to make it. Well, one and a half to record it. It’s now finished and I’ve just been creating the visuals simultaneously. Jay Electronica and I are all over each other’s albums.

You only get one chance to create a first impression. Why does George Lucas bring out all these different ‘Star Wars’ films? I don’t want no Director’s Cut. Make the film you wanted to make in the first place. So they understand as much of who you are and what you do. I don’t have a B side, just an A side. This summer is going to be the summer of the Bullitts. Even if I only sell five copies, I’ll still have a field day because the people who buy those five copies will tell the world. It’s all about imagination.

What enables you to be fearless in your creativity? Don’t your ideas sometimes terrify you?
My ideas don’t terrify me; they excite me. If you have an idea, you’re meant to do it. What excites me most is the journey towards it. When I was doing a film/music track, I had an idea – ‘I need a femme fatale. Get Lucy Liu.’ Now I’m shooting a Western ‘They Die By Dawn’ at the Melody Ranch Studios in L.A. where they shot Deadwood. It’s set in 1890 with every single black actor in Hollywood swagged out cowboy style – Langston, Oklahoma. I am super, super excited. When I was excited as a kid and told people my ideas, they would say, ‘Well, I’m just playing the devil’s advocate…’ So. I’m not bothered what the devil or his advocate thinks. Or ‘Alright, Jeymes, but what if everything goes pear-shaped?’ I’d just say, ‘Hang on. Whoever said the pear shape was bad? I actually like pears. I prefer them to apples.’

People say, ‘You must be under a lot of pressure – having to make films and music.’
Pressure? I come from Harrow Road. Pressure is learning John Taylor’s after you. Knowing you can make a black western movie – that is not pressure; that is my dream. Let’s swag the fuck out!

Who do you admire as a creative?
Sergio Leone who directed ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ and his college room-mate buddy music scorer, Ennio Morriconi, who gave us those awesome sounds and Western soundtracks. Iconic. I love them. They couldn’t afford massive orchestras so they used speech and sonics as instruments. That, in the end, was far more powerful and effective and distinguished those films and stories. Hence in ‘Supercool’ there’s no verse, just a chorus. And it’s my nod to Ennio Morriconi.

Who do you admire for a specific talent?
Truth with regards to uninhibitedness. Be carefree about your surroundings. Storyboard P is an amazing dancer and in my alternative youtube for the song ‘Close Your Eyes’. He’s from Brooklyn, from the streets. He’s so effeminate in his moves yet so deadly in a battle: hip hop, ballet, classical, jazz – he just becomes this crazy unique dancer. No inhibitions and therefore truth. As soon as you limit yourself, you limit the outcome and the art; you’re expressing a falsehood or a fabrication. Be true to yourself. That’s what I look for in an artist. Someone who can dance to their own drum.

Words by Nina Bhadreshwar

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