“I control the skies above us, close my eyes to make the night fall, the comfort of the world revolving, I can hear the earth in orbit.”
It took me almost five years to ever cross paths again with Jamie Woon, but some times, good things take time.
If you have no idea who Jamie Woon is, (ayy don’t judge, it happens man) then I kindly suggest you to read my very first feature about Jamie Woon which I wrote almost five years ago and gives a very intricate introduction on the man. Time flies doesn’t it? Back then, Jamie was slightly skinnier, more boyish and I was into beige and camo colors, rocked leopard stockings and had a blond surfer fade in my curls, more girlish. Back then, Jamie was just about to embark on his musical journey, touring for the very first time with his debut album ‘MirrorWriting’ which put him on a global map, paving the way for the likes of The Weeknd and UK colleagues like Sampha, James Blake and Jessie Ware to name a few, who all surfed that early electronic, dark r’n’b wave. Back then, I was about a year deep into doing APS, still figuring out what the heck I put myself into and no clue where I was heading towards. Back then….
This summer in August, five years will have passed by, but somehow it feels like a decade more. So many things changed. This blog changed. I changed. Music changed. The world really changed. In only five years time. What is five years in the big scheme of it all? Nothing! And still… so much changed. While working on this feature, I was forced to read back my first story on Jamie. I never read back my stories, I release them and don’t look back. Simply a momentum shared. An everlasting memory I wrote down, made official and archived with a Polaroid shot of that specific moment. While re-reading it, I feel how young and naive I still approached doing A Polaroid Story. I was basically starting out, trying to find myself in this idea I happened to execute and had no clue how to do it in the first place, in a business, scene and industry I was absolutely not familiar with. I was just a music fan, figuring it out along the way, with only my love for music and back then, my partner in crime Jules to accompany me on my journey. I bet that for Jamie, who released ‘MirrorWriting’ from his bedroom and all of a sudden was catapulted on a global platform, things felt a bit the same back then. He just… started out.
And now we are here, 2016. Only three weeks ago I received a little mail from Universal, asking me if I wouldn’t be interested in doing an interview with Jamie Woon in honor of the release of his sophomore album ‘Making Time’ and accompanied with that, his second sold out show in only a few months time in Belgium. First Brussels, this time Ghent. I immediately accepted the label’s invite, mainly because I wanted to have a better option on taking a good Polaroid shot of Jamie. Back then, I hustled my way into backstages but then was too afraid and not ballsy enough to harass artists for Polaroids, so I never dared to ask more than one or two shots. Plus, I was using a batch of expired Polaroid film, which came out all droopy and blurry and I remember I was disappointed about that. My first lessons about accepting the beauty of how things develop as they are. So besides the prospect of taking some fresh Polaroid shots, I genuinely was looking forward to having a legit conversation with Jamie and talk music and…time. Because man…five freaking years. I met up with Jamie Woon at the Vooruit Bar and immediately noticed the boy in him was gone and there was much more of a man in front of me. We went immediately backstage looking for a chill spot and talked about….Making Time.
A POLAROID STORY x JAMIE WOON
Jamie! It’s been quite a while, 2001 to be exact. Where have you been?!
Yeah that’s the classic question (Laughs).
I can imagine.
I’ve just been working on music, really the whole time. And sometimes not working on music.
Living life, I did a few things. I went to China for a bit…That was really cool. I was on the British council and I did like a residency programme and then did a tour in Northern China.
You have roots there, no? Or am I mistaken?
Yeah, I’m interested in Chinese culture because my father is Malaysian/Chinese. But I grew up in England. Basically, in suburban London. I can speak a tiny bit Chinese, but yeah, it was interesting to see what music is like out there and this opportunity came up so that was really cool because I was right at the end of ‘MirrorWriting’; the album, touring and all that….so it put a kind of full stop on that. I also did a few festivals here and there and then I did some songwriting with a few different people. I knew I wanted to do this kind of live sounding record. So I was jamming a lot, trying to find my bandmembers and collaborators and eventually narrowed it down to Dan See on drums, Dan Gulino on bass and Lexxx who produced the record with me. When I met Lexxx, we just hit it off straight away. He was mixing SOHN’s record at a studio which was around the corner from my house so I went around to visit and have a cup of tea. We started working right away, it was great, because we both wanted the make the same type of record.
When ‘MirrorWriting’ came out, it felt like a breath of fresh air to me. A very electronical, somewhat understated, low key approach to R’n’b. How do you look back towards that album?
Yeah, it’s pretty interesting to listen to it again…I don’t listen to it that much, but I’m still very proud of where I came from and what I expressed. I mean.. listening to it as a songwriter, I’m like: wow, that’s what these songs are about! I just look back at it…like wow: things have really changed… but I feel proud of that record, definitely.
Where ‘MirrorWriting’ felt ‘electronically contemporary’ your new album ‘Making Time’ comes across a little bit more traditional production wise. I personally feel the guitar harder. What’s the core difference between ‘MirrorWriting’ and ‘Making Time’ for you personally and in what aspect did you evolve as an artist? What is – for you – the core difference between those two albums?
The main thing was that it was more collaborative, more social than my first record. Whereas, on my first record I was kind of carrying it around with my laptop and I was invested in every tiny little sound and every little detail you know… very…micro things. There is a lot of subtlety in the record. It still is on this record but with Lexxx… he kind of filled the technical role. You know..I didn’t train as a mix engineer or as a recording engineer… I know a bit how to do it and sometimes that can give a record its charm… when you don’t know what you are doing and you are just learning on the fly of something. What a lot of people like about ‘MirrorWriting’ and what I like is…. me kind of learning what I’m doing, while I’m doing it! But on this record… I suppose… this is a record I always wanted to make, since I started out just loving people like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye,…
You do reference those artists every time when you talk ‘Making Time’
Totally, because it’s that dry seventies kind of sound, a more timeless sound in a way. And yeah… it’s got a place for the acoustic guitar like you said, you can feel the guitar more, that’s still the place where I write most of my songs. I just wanted to simplify things a little bit because was thinking about playing it live and working with the drummer and the bass player – I’ve known them for years – we always wanted to do some more funk stuff and it felt like we had unfinished business and I just knew if I heard these guys on every track…I’m going to be very happy. Thàt took care of a lot of the style decisions and it was like: Okay we are going to have a drum and bass player on every track and I don’t need to program any beats. I don’t need to write all the baselines. I suppose it let… .working with these people who I really love and admire that gave me …you know… let thém bring something to the project, but also let mè concentrate on the whole vibe, the song writing, just developing thàt. I wanted to have a wider range of emotions I suppose and express them. I think ‘MirrorWriting’ has a more melancholic kind of vibe to it. My music, is always going to reflect the time that I’m in and a certain mood I want to reflect.
What is behind the album title ‘Making Time’? Cliché Question, I know, but I genuinely want to know.
No it’s ok. I suppose….I got my reputation of taking a long time, everyone is like : “Where’s your album man?!” But I think the whole record, really the inspiration comes from rhythm. So the title is a play on words of the idea that rhythm is division of time and the groove…you know the groove is just…. the difference between chopping something up equally, mechanically, or if you move things around a little bit, you got a bit personality into it. So yeah, I wanted to express my signature, the kind of grooves that are inside me. That’s what I’m always trying to do I suppose.
You’re going to perform later on. What is your favourite song to perform live at the moment? Of course they are all your babies, but maybe there is like one jam that you are like: “Oh yeah we are here, we are at this point.”
Yeah! I love playing ‘Dedication’.
I love the chords in it, yeah… they still do it for me. I wrote that with my band as well and maybe they get more excited when they play it too because they are like: “Ow yeah we wrote this one!” (Laughs). No it’s always a good vibe that one. It’s got some weird musical ideas and I really like that.
As mentioned before you referenced D’Angelo, Marvin Gay as an inspiration for ‘Making Time’. Can you elaborate a little bit? What is it about those artists that you really love?
Oh man, all sorts of different things but I suppose a commitment to music.
That’s nicely said!
Yeah, the way their careers have gone and the way they put music first in an industry where it’s kind of hard especially when you’re a singer – certain people can smell if you have a good voice and try to push you in different directions – But also the fact that they are musicians. They are not just singers, they are composers, songwriters, activists…. just really inspiring men. So yeah, I get inspiration from their careers and obviously also for their musical ideas and the way that they grow, you see them grow through their work. That’s what I want to do with my life.
‘Sharpness’ is an extremely smooth song. It almost has some kind of ‘Sade’ vibe to it. Kaytranada remixed it and even Pharrell expressed his love for the song. Why do you think this is a stand out song? Why does it appeal to so many different people?
It’s just one of those kind of songs… it’s like a jam.
But it’s soo smooth and classy tho…
Maybe it’s that thing you know like, those classics that I talked about, like Stevie and Marvin…I would do anything to have a song like those guys since I was seriously inspired by those artists… You are not trying to rip anyone off, you’re just trying to let yourself speak through the idea. If I got a great rhythm section… and you keep it funky… It’s a performance, so it’s not like chopped up or tidied up…It’s réal players and I think it’s a nice arrangement and I don’t know…Maybe it’s kind of vague what it’s about and that lets people kind of … People enjoy singing it to me which is really cool! I started using In-Ears to hear on stage recently so I can’t really hear what’s going on in the crowd and then one day I realised: oh shit everyone is singing along and I took ‘em out and it was réally loud, people get pretty loud…(Laughs) but yeah I don’t know why people like it to be honest.
Will there ever be a video for ‘Sharpness’?
Do you know what, I don’t know… I’m not a big fan of video’s to be honest with you…
Well, I kinda thought so, I’ve been figuring that out during my research. I thought: well this man really doesn’t like video.
(Laughs) I definitely thought about it and you know what? It seems like these days it doesn’t really matter when you release your videos and that’s really cool… I don’t mind doing a video for a song I released 10 years ago. I think it comes down to having an idea and having an artist. I’m not the most visual thinker but you have to … trust in someone. I suppose it’s about finding someone, having an idea and bouncing it of and then let them do their thing. That is definitely an area I can do a lot more…and grow a lot more in.
As in the visual identity for your music?
Yeah! I think it gives people like something to latch on to, it will help them. It’s a way for the artist to show more of their vibe. I have spoken about it with a few directors about it, but nothing has happened yet…
In 5 years many things can change and what definitely went through some changes is the music business you’re in and how people consume music. Also the way how artists produce and share their music has changed significantly. Did you feel that change? And what do you think of it?
Yeah totally. I’m a music fan so the way I listen to music has changed as well.
Do you think it’s a positive tendency or does it worry you?
I never worry about music, because music is music … it’s just eternal. I do think its harder and harder for artists to make a living from recording. If you try to do the things the old way, you have to roll with the punches a little bit… and try figuring it out as you go…
Evolve and adapt?
Yeah, I think the streaming… you don’t really know what is going to happen with streaming really… its definitely not going to pay the bills. I mean, I’ve got a major record label and I’m still right on the edge. It’s a challenge for artists to get themselves heard with how much music there is out, but maybe that’s the way it should be… I don’t think as a musician you have divine right to just get paid really well. Maybe it was too far the other way back in the 90’s, when you know… we were spending 20 pounds on a CD. You had bands who did one good record and then they where millionaires…Like….?! (Laughs) I don’t know… I think, the music industry is huge, there are a lot of ways to play it…. If you only want to just exist of recording music I think that’s … You can’t really do that anymore. I think you’ve got to have a live show going on or something else like DJing or…
What would your advice be to young kids? What would you advice to yourself 5 years ago? Considering all that you know now and how the business is now?
If I was starting out now I would say: make music because you love it first and foremost. And then you know… probably play live a lot, learn your craft and listen to as wide a range of music as possible.
Have you changed a lot when you look back at when you first performed? Looking back to when you started out with ‘Mirror Writing’ and then getting a huge platform.
Yeah sure, I’m more comfortable playing with a band now. Because before ‘MirrorWriting’, I was playing on my own for years and I was really, really confident in that. Then I got a band and I was playing quite a detailed, low-key kind of record with a band and that had its own sort of challenges… with this record I had the time to integrate it… it was all part of the writing… the record was addressing all of that. We have been thinking about playing these shows for years now. When I did my first record, all I was thinking about was making a record and then it was like… ok next week we got a show … we are going to put together a band and were gonna play! There was no thinking into that… you know performing is not as simple as maybe people think it is… there is a lot of thinking put in to that and there is so many considerations. A lot of variables…
I meet many artists and I have to say, you are always very normal, chill and low-key. What is the hardest aspect for you about being an artist in this day and age? What do you really love and what do you really hate?
(laughs) I mean, I feel like so much gratitude to be able to do it and to be able to have a vehicle to like express myself and for the people around me who are helping me do it. I’m more and more grateful all the time for that now… and also for the people who come to the shows. I’m really feeling like the people who come to the show are like MY crowd and really care about my records. That’s amazing. So yeah, I’m loving that. So as far as hate…I dunno…(thinks)
Hmm ‘hate’ is maybe not the bést word to use, but you know what I mean, like something you take that comes with being an artist.
(laughs). Ok, when people are taking pictures with me but they don’t know how their cameras works and then I’m just standing there like…They try to take a selfie but then it doesn’t work and they pass their camera to someone else who doesn’t know how their cameras works and you are just standing there… So I would say: people learn your own camera technologies! (laughs)
What are you currently listening to? Old and new?
I’m listening to a lot of ‘Earth, Wind & Fire’ who’s repertoire I didn’t really know apart from a few main songs untill Maurice White died recently and I looked more closely. It’s just mind-blowing how tight they are. The technology they had when they made the records proves how good their players had to be. And the new stuff…a lot of Anderson .Paak and Kendrick Lamar and all the people he is kind of involved with; like Bilal, Thundercat. The way Kendrick pulls it all together…yeah I get a lot of inspiration from them.
What can we expect from Jamie Woon in the future?
Just like… keep moving man! I mean, I need to or I can’t eat! (laughs). But really, I feel like things are kind of really nice and I have a great studio in a great place and great people around me. I’m feeling comfortable and confident in my work. And yeah, just keep releasing music, keep touring … not especially thinking about an album but just keep releasing tunes and getting them out and keep touring.
Have you been able to meet your idols or even work with them in a way ? I mean… if Pharrell talks about you…?
(smiles) We spoke about it actually…If we can find some time yeah.. We spoke about trying to find some time…
I really wish that to happen for you
My final question! When I say Belgium, what three words pop in your head?
It doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong; just 3 words.
(laughs) Waffles, Vibes and… Chimay.
After the interview, Jamie was down to take some new Polaroids and we went outside the Ghent Vooruit Venue to take a few shots.
I was a bit nervous while taking the shots, because I know Jamie is very timid and then I always feel a bit uncomfortable pushing the more shy artists into taking Polaroids, but I tried to get over my nerves and took a few Polaroids. I wish I took just a few more, because I wanted to play with some double exposures, put I didn’t want to push him to much neither, so I let go. Maybe next time.
Doing A Polaroid Story allowed me to ask all the questions I really want to ask an artist. It allowed me to explore myself as a writer, a photographer, a storyteller and eventually a director. Five years ago I could only dream of getting ‘one on one’ time with an artist. Five years ago I could barely pronounce a phrase to an artist, mainly because my love for music was so deep, it had a huge admiring level to it, which made the fan in me appear harder than the normal me. Now, five years later, I learned to fan out. I learned artists are humans just like you and me. They eat, they shit and they are sometimes assholes, just like you and me. The minute I figured that out, I got really good in doing A Polaroid Story.
Five fucking years man. Things change, people change. Jamie changed. I changed. And I believe that if we are truly dedicated to what we genuinely want to do, than over time; we evolve, we adapt, and eventually we grow. Time is a bitch. Sometimes it goes too slow, most of the times it goes too fast. Other times you just want to hold it and make it stand still. Capture the moment, like a Polaroid picture. Five years ago absolutely nobody took me or A Polaroid Story serious and every Polaroid I took, was one I made happen with blood, sweat and sometimes some (very naive) tears. Five years ago, Jamie Woon debuted as an artist and took his first hesitant steps into becoming a legit artist. And look how far we have come. And we are only halfway there.
Time is everything. Timing is everything. Making Time is everything.
Special thanks to Jamie Woon for being so nice and open and shoutout to Universal Belgium for making this happen.
All additional ASP exhibit shots by @lukaorluca