Having just finished my undergrad this past summer, I've taken it upon myself to adult more responsibly in all aspects of life. From eating healthier (I once cooked dinner two nights in a row) to living healthier (I once completed a 6 a.m. half-hour run), my life goal has been to adopt a lifestyle more worthy of my status as an alumnus. Central to this new-found maturity is a renewed commitment to punctuality. Be it for work or even just for meeting friends, I now realize that being on time sorta just makes sense – especially for those moments you deemed important enough to actually schedule.
Case in point: music shows.
Over the years, the story of my life has become one of me being stuck at coat check as my favourite of the acts plays the one song that accompanied my pregame revelling. As I patiently wait my turn, I can feel the throbbing bassline reverberate through the floors, across the walls, and into the deepest and darkest pits of my soul. 'Cause that shit straight up hurts, I've now made it my mission to actually arrive to shows on time – as much an exercise in getting my shit together as an opportunity to expand my musical horizons by checking out the openers.
Luckily, this past April, I was treated to a terrific musical discovery presented in the form of an opener whose potential got me shook. Having just interviewed THe LYONZ a few weeks prior, I decided it'd be a good idea to attend one of their shows, and enjoy their expertly crafted hooks and melodies in a live setting. Upon my arrival, I was greeted to the sight of Jaiden Davis-Jones, the first act of the night, setting up for his performance – saxophone in tow.
With the recent resurgence in the use of live horns among artists like Chance the Rapper, Donnie Trumpet, Noname, Saba, D.R.A.M., and Toronto's own BadBadNotGood, I've been on the lookout for other artists who can channel the live verve of jazz and harmonize it with electronic production layered under soothing vocals. So, upon seeing the sax on stage and the controller in the spotlight, I was eager to hear what Jaiden had in store for the audience.
For someone who was performing his material for the first time ever in a live setting, I was truly astounded by the talent he showcased in the quality of both the production and the live arrangement. With a sound reminiscent of River Tiber's atmospheric and soulful take on R&B, Jaiden's approach to music is one that is layered and peppered with a deliberate choice of musical elements that accord as a cohesive whole.
In categorizing this intricate layering of sounds, Jaiden succinctly describes it in two words: Electronic R&B. That said, in articulating his own spin on the genre, he takes inspiration from his early beginnings in Jazz ("a lot of Major 7 chords") as well as the more recent influence of artists like PARTYNEXTDOOR and Bryson Tiller, pioneers of the Trap-Soul genre. With the style's focus on lyricism and atmosphere, the similarities between this new genre and Jaiden's electronic take on R&B are subtle, yet unmistakable – as evidenced in one of his first releases, "Overdramatic."
When it comes to the heavy mood that pervades the track, the dark and foggy atmosphere is conveyed as much through the lyrics as through the painstaking production that took roughly a year to complete. On the topic of the former, he explains, "the lyrical content has made it really hard for me to create an upbeat song for what I am expressing vocally." Jaiden's detailed approach to production, however, can be attributed to his academic background in Electroacoustic Studies. "It's really opened up my mind to all the possibilities of sounds you could just incorporate into music. It doesn't all need to be tonal; [it could be] using lots of white noise, rain sounds, and creating an atmosphere."
Although he's now in the last year of his studies at Concordia University, Jaiden has been involved in music since his first days of band practice at Toronto's Rosedale Heights School of the Arts. From those beginnings spent playing the flute, he moved on to more jazz-inspired experimentations on the piano, which then opened the door for him being in a 10-piece Hip-Hop-meets-Rock ensemble.
When recounting the experience of being in such a large group, he talks about how much work went into the creative endeavour, which was replete with many challenges that ultimately led to surprising self-discoveries. "It was a lot of administrative work and scheduling, so I kind of took a liking to the managerial side of things early on."
Thankfully, the entire troop's efforts paid off, with the band playing a number of packed shows that always ended with the crowd being completely drenched. A couple of music videos and a full album later, the band "fizzled out as we all went our separate ways for university. Through that process, I started making beats and getting into Hip-Hop."
Following this experimentation with Hip-Hop production, yet another switch was made – this time towards more ambient electronic music. L'Ourson, a project that resulted in a 5-track release and that was named after his childhood appreciation for bearcubs, emerged as Jaiden's "first go at making more upbeat, dance-y stuff, moving away from Hip-Hop and Trap beats." In differentiating between this previous project and his current namesake pursuit, he clarifies that L'Ourson was all about the heavy manipulation of his voice. It was "auto-tuned, pitched around, and chopped up" beyond recognition. Now, however, "it's just lyrics and trying to write full songs."
Although vocals may now be a central element of his musical output, this wasn't always the case. On the topic of using his own voice in an unaltered state, he reveals, "I was super self-conscious about it; it took me a while to even start using it." That being said, overcoming this sense of vulnerability has become a new-found source of inspiration for Jaiden, a way to leverage his lack of formal training in singing as an opportunity for experimentation.
"Over the past 4-6 months, I've been writing a lot, but what I've really been focusing on is translating my songs into a live context. I've been working with good friends of mine, Chris Edmondson [on sax] and Nathaniel Glassman [previously on guitar and synth], to really play them out live. That in itself has been so good for me as a vocalist: in being vulnerable, but also getting positive feedback on my voice – and being more confident about it."
Listen to the full interview below:
Jaiden Davis-Jones – Overdramatic
Da-P feat. River TIber – First To Know
Babyfather – Motivation
Total Freedom – CHINO AMOBI AND NATASHA BEDINGFIELD DISCUSS VAGINAL ARCHITECTURE
WYLN – Hangin'
Jessy Lanza – Vivica
James Blake – Points
Frank Ocean – Seigfried
youryoungbody – The Garden
Jaiden Davis-Jones – Skewed
Here are some of my favourite quotes pulled from the interview:
On the creative process:
It definitely changes quite a bit. I would definitely consider myself a producer first; it's definitely my stronger aspect. As I first started making beats, I would definitely start with the instrumentals, chord progressions, and then, once I had a project I felt was worth continuing, I'd start to write lyrics. But that's definitely changing now.
On the task of classifying music in the Internet age:
I find the genres have just become so elaborate, and I kind of try to just remove myself from that, and just make music that I feel like I need to make. [On the controversy surrounding "Alternative R&B" as a classification] It's interesting getting the need to set these genres, and the fact that, by doing that, you end up detaching the genre from its roots.
On his R&B influences:
Because I kind of started producing and making my own music – especially this project – later on, it's hard to draw upon direct correlations with the music that has influenced me. But, I was definitely so into Motown, and artists like Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, who I listened to growing up on Sunday mornings.
On the vulnerability of putting your voice out there:
It's just you. So, especially in handling pretty much every aspect of this music project – from producing, writing the lyrics, singing, mixing and mastering – there's vulnerability at every stage. But, it's been a good experience in letting myself be vulnerable.
On the experience of his first live performance:
It was a really good experience for me just to get more comfortable with my songs, as I was working so hard to translate them into a live situation. And also, to a certain extent, stripping down elements and figuring out what works and what doesn't in a live context was a lot of fun. [For once] I was playing live with humans, and not just sitting in my room.
On bringing back instrumentality in music production:
I think it's really important to incorporate those unquantized live elements because [...] just having all the imperfections that come along with playing something out makes it more human and relatable, in a sense.