It kinda felt like a lesson of love and life rather than an interview. In the end it wasn’t so much about Jesse Boykins III’s ’world soul’ music, the collaborations and his mentor Bilal. Above all, it was about the values he believes in, the authenticity and cultures, the energy and vibrations and about the romance these days. It just wasn’t a conversation with a musician, it was with a true artist.
By saying that, Jesse Boykins III’s edgy new soul sound breathes in its own sphere; created by a unique mixture of all these genres out there. I’m not brave enough to name any here, because my chances to fail by describing his sound only with words are definitely to high. The Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter released Dopamine and Way of a Wayfarer, both EP’s, over the last four years and worked on an endless list of collaborations with Bilal, Theophilus London or Melo-X. He’s now about to treat our ears with his third album Love Apparatus.
We met Jesse in his hotel room, a night B4 his gig at London’s Jazz-café with a new purchased Prince vinyl next to him.
Oh, and talking about spheres...the best thing about the online world is that you don’t even have to care about word counting as an writer and you can give your subject as much freedom as it needs, which is in Jesse’s case indispensable.
You got all your band staying with you in London?
Jesse: No, it’s just me. My flight is the next day at 10. So I don’t have any time here. I’m kind of bitter about it now. I had the days mixed up.
Have you been touring a lot recently?
Jesse: No, not so much, well...not yet. I’ve been to Tokyo for a week in April. I wish I could stay at places for a month. I actually shot a music video while I was out there. The Perfect Blues a song on my next album called Zulu Guru which comes out in July with Melo-X and Dr Woo. So he came with me to Tokyo. We went to this small city called Kamakura, which is right outside of Tokyo. There are all these buddhist temples; I’m really interested in that spiritual way lately.
Especially with big cities like Tokyo, which are economically so successful, I always think how fascinating it is that they have these strong believes at the same time, where they truly hold on to...
Jesse:Yes, it’s that balance which is necessary. I mean it’s all connected, you know; it crosses over as far as the life goes...as far as the balance goes. Appreciating the little things and making cool things to make you feel good.
Did you write over there?
Jesse: Yes, I actually did. Oh man, I wrote this song that I haven’t recorded yet. Zodiac, he produced Weeknd’s House of Balloons he recently send me a track for his record and I wrote the lyrics in Tokyo. I just need to record it.
When you’re working on your own songs, is it easier for you to write first?
Jesse: Of course. I write poems or ’life entries’ and then I find these bits which I like to convert into a song that I feel a lot of people would connect with, which usually happens because everybody goes through the same shit, just at different times. I sometimes put the topic or the title I wanna write about first, to kind of challenge myself and then I write about it. That’s what ’Love Apparatus’ is about...A lot of the titles are things that I’ve touched on before but never directly. A lot of writers from the past, like from the Sixties for example, wrote about all these things which were going on in America. They wrote about the culture, the politics; just about what’s really going on.
It’s not so much nostalgic, you know. It’s writing in the present tense and I feel like that’s been lost because a lot of people who write present tense nowadays is fantasies, not reality. It’s not real. I try to blend both together.
Do you think people are less romantic these days?
Jesse: Again, it’s all about the balance to me these days...Personally, I find myself to be romantic. There’s a lot of things that went on in the past, artistically, culturewise and in society that I admire and hold on high regard. I feel that people don’t value history or research as much as they used to. It used to be harder to find and harder to get but now it’s so accessible that everyone looks over it and walks by. For instance music is a perfect example. When I was younger I got the Boyz II Men Evolution CD with my own money. I went to Wal Mart and bought it. Nobody was going to tell me that this CD wasn’t hot. I don’t care who you were, like nobody wasn’t telling me that. I should know all the words of every song, nobody was gonna tell me that, you know what I mean. But now, it’s like: going on the internet, listening to 30 songs and download 30 songs for free...
...and forget about it the next day.
Jesse: ...and forget about it the next day. People telling me that I’m taking so long to create the new album and I just wanna say ’yeah, because it takes long, not because you are impatient. You are maybe impatient but that doesn’t mean that you can tell me when I put out the music and what quality I’m putting out there’, that’s my decision as an artist. And what sucks is that artists buy into that and rushing their projects and lowering the quality of music and then they lower the quality of the listener’s ear.
Your sound is quite new for soul anyway. Especially your album Way of a Wayfarer compared to Dopamine shows that new direction...
Jesse: I always wanted to put my music out like that and record music like that, but I guess I was never brave enough to do it this way. I guess I cared too much. Now I still care as much about the music as I used to but I don’t care what certain people think about it. The world is so big that someone’s gonna connect to it and appreciate it and someone’s gonna value it, you know. So that’s the approach I’m going to when I create things. The knowing that when I frist drop something, maybe nobody is going to listen to it – but it’s timeless. So you might not like it now, but you might experience a whole bunch of crazy shit in your life and go back to that same song at some point and realize that you now like it. It’s all about the time in a way...
How aware are you of making some money with your work but still doing what you wanna do without compromising too much?
Jesse: I’ll continue saying balance, whatever you going to ask me. (laughs) You have to have the wisdom on the market and the wisdom of your demographics and the message you wanna put across. The Romantic Movement and all my friends, we all talk about it and how it can be better. But then again we all have to stay true to ourselves aswell, we are all individuals at the end of the day, right? The only way we connect is if we share something that’s in common. If I never say to you I like popcorn and you like popcorn, then we never going to connect.
Can we talk a bit more about The Romantic Movement and the crew behind it?
Jesse: It’s Melo-X, Chris Turner...Chris Turner is probably one of the best singers I’ve ever heard, besides Bilal. We ended up both studying under Bilal. He’s a mentor to us both, as far as artistically and spiritually. He teached us in his own way, it was always honest. It’s sometimes really hard to realize that if you experiencing something it might not come out the way you expected it but there’s something else in that experience that is going to change you for the better. But you gonna have to acknowledge that. And back to the The Romantic Movement: We are always sharing, our thoughts, experiences, the music we make. Schwaza, you know.
Jesse: Schwaza is a word I came up with. It stands for acknowledging a dope moment. ’Better in progression’. Schwarza: in progress, that’s all what it means.
Is The Romantic Movement directly refering to the same-named Literture Movement?
Jesse: Yes, it’s definately refering to these times. We call us the reawakening of the Romantic Movement. I definitely think it happened a few more times than only in the 1800’s. There are all these different movements where a crew of artists brought up their society, educated it with things they were naive of...and I think we do that as far as people who follow us, the demographic we have and the kind of people that are attracted to the sounds we make. In the end, they all respond and connect with us. We mainly push Individualism and realism. That’s all the things that I feel are lost and should be brought back. Of course there are some artists today who are like that but as far as our generation, there aren’t a lot..
You just mentioned Melo-X. How is the process like working with Melo? You guys already worked on a lot of things together.
Jesse: Melo and me work different. We talk a lot. We were talking about how we wanna have the album the other day. There’s a song called Black Orphius, which was shot in the 1960s and it was like the first colour film in South America. The film is about a difficult relationship between a man and a woman. I wrote the hook and thought like ’yeah this is it’....
So I called Melo, emailed him the hook but he didn’t got back to me. So I asked him if he watched the movie and he said no. I went on youtube, played the first two clips of the movie and he was like ’this is dope’ and then he goes: ’played your heart like a film but rhythm means this: how many melodies can we create with our lips. Every single eye blink is sort of like near hits’ ...He just wrote it, like that, in his head. Melo turns a whole song around with his verses and flips it, you know. My hook was like: ’I played your heart strings, her songs now I sing, I took back the ring and found a new queen.’ Melo’s saying: ’yeah I had a girl, but she was distracting me from my artwork and wasn’t helping me progress in my art so I had to leave her and commit myself to my art.’ This is what I like about Melo. He’s a very good story teller and I listen to Melo like a fan. I can quote what he says.
Are you gonna tour together?
Jesse: We actually gonna tour in Australia and South Africa together at the end of the year which is cool. An yea I think we found a label that will actually put the record out too. And The Romantic Movement is contribting aswell.
What’s this ’documentrary about women’ that you are doing for your new album all about?
Jesse: Oh...Basically while I was listening to the demos for Love Apparatus I started realizing a lot of things about my music that I didn’t like and like. And loads of it had to do with a relationship between me and somebody else and I started thinking:’ The hardest thing in this world but the thing we need the most is the same thing: each other’.
As far as the man and woman thing goes, it’s like negative and positive and then again, polar opposites attract. But at the same time they are also like: Don’t stay together for too long, if it’s not in the right circumstances and all that. I found a lot of flaws in myself and how I am with a woman and being in a relationship.
There are so many levels to love. Somebody can say that they hate you, but they love you. It’s true, you know. And most of the time the people who hate you are the ones that love you the most. So I came over with all these questions that I felt like I’ve never ask a woman before.
I like to have conversations. I like to talk and I definitely to a woman because the way women think is completely different than the way men think about things. Women teach us. They inspire me. When I meet a woman that only speaks french, I’m like: ’I really need to learn some french now, so that I can speak to her’.
Do you speak French?
Jesse: No, not yet...(laughs) So yeah, I just started interviewing women. Women that I know, women that I didn’t know, friends of friends, women from age 18 to 68. I learned so much – it’s like a lesson. It thaught me how to look at life. You can take all the good or all the bad. I used to be down on myself a lot and I used to have all these expectations of something. So I keep telling me: ’You do what you love, everything is ok’. Just because this moment didn’t pay enough the way you wanted to doesn’t mean that every other moment before that is wreck and every other moment after that is gonna be shit too. A lot of people just fuck with that depression.
I think I interviewed 198 women now and I wanna stop at 200. Basically the album Love Apparatus became the soundtrack to the documentrary. That’s what it is, really.