Of all the worldly places Jarryd James found himself while writing his new album – and there are a few, including LA, Auckland, New York, and Brisbane – the one that sticks out is the Nicaraguan jungle. Most of us simply can’t pretend to know what an environment like that is like, but Jarryd’s pretty good at explaining. “Just getting there in the first place was a bit of a mission,” he says, detailing the trip from LA to Miami and then on a tiny plane down to the Central American nation, arriving at an airport which was “more like a club house for a golf course.”
A man turned up in a flatbed truck and everyone piled in with their gear, and then… into the tropical forest. “It was like Jurassic Park, when the [doors open]… The humidity hits you straight away. There were a lot of monkeys that we’d hear, but you couldn’t see. They sound really terrifying. They sound ferocious, like dinosaurs. They kick off when the sun goes down – and it gets really dark out there.”
How fitting then that James’ album is titled P.M., as it was during nightfall hours that most of its material was penned. “I definitely feel a lot more creative and at peace in my head when it’s night time,” he says. “There are less distractions – no street noise – but also, just within my own consciousness, I think I’ve kind of trained myself over the years. I’ve had jobs in the past where I did night shifts a lot. You prepare yourself throughout the day, and when the sun goes down it’s like, ‘Okay, cool, let’s do it.’”
P.M. was produced by Clams Casino, Malay Ho, Francesgotheat, and Joel Little – the New Zealand wunderkind whose career exploded with his co-writing/producing/mixing partnership with Lorde, and continued with Taylor Swift, Sam Smith, Khalid and many more – with whom Jarryd is “pretty tight”. (It was Little who organised the Nicaraguan writing trip.)
The record is a smooth duckdive down into the alt-R’n’B-soul for which James has become renowned, complete with eerily astute lyrics, such as the line “We’re running out of problems” – alluding to the way the privileged may invent a problem, for want of actually experiencing a real one – on single Problems. James describes the day he created the song, along with a field recording he captured as he was commuting to the Lower East Side studio. “I recorded that string instrument you hear, with my phone, in the subway,” he says. “It was this dude playing a Chinese instrument. It only has one string on it – you don’t see them a lot. It was really beautiful.”
The track’s breakbeat-inspired drums – full of grace notes and crushed snare details – were played by James himself that day. He chuckles when we draw a comparison to the way fellow indie-soul artist Matt Corby plays the instrument. “I’m at [Matt’s] house right now,” he reveals. “I’m teed up to this little wi-fi dongle thing, otherwise you wouldn’t get hold of me!”
One of the most fascinating figures involved in P.M. is Andrew Wyatt, AKA Miike Snow, who co-created the delicious bassline-led Don’t Forget. Wyatt’s Instagram is littered with studio hang-out snaps of Miley Cyrus, Killer Mike and Liam Gallagher. “He’s part of this kind of elite music group in LA and New York, ‘cos he’s old school,” James explains. “Everything’s done on computers these days, but if you’re going to work with anyone that’s going to do things the realest way possible, it’s going to be that dude. It was really quite cool working with him. I’ll never forget the moment he came in. He [appeared] in one of those big dusters – I think it was even a Driza-Bone, you know, that cattle dudes wear? He came swooping in in one of those. You feel like you’re hanging out with John Lennon or something – he’s old school, he’s a cool guy.”
P.M. itself doesn’t revolve around old school nostalgia, even in the way James chose to warp his voice with vocoder. His natural tone is beautiful, but James says he’s learned not to keep his musical identity tied so tightly to its sound. “You know what? Especially in the last two years, I’ve become pretty open to experimenting with [my voice] and not being precious about whether or not it’s been manipulated. I like the idea of using autotune on my vocal now. And it really can be used, as you said, as an instrument.
“People can say what they want about using autotune, but when you’re in the studio and you’re using it as a tool to get a certain specific sound for the record, there’s nothing else like it. It’s quite magical. I remember seeing Bon Iver play at Coachella, and he uses that stuff live. It’s sort of hard these days to find new things with music, fresh sounds. But, I guess, a product of that is trying to create something people’s ears will pick up on. It’s all experimentation, and I love it.”
P.M. by Jarryd James is out now via Universal.
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