INTERVIEW: JAMES WESSON
Originally published in OUTTALINE Magazine Issue 01
James Wesson is carefully crafting his sound. Co-produced with universes, Adonis is steadily evolving into the proper introduction to Wesson’s musical style.
What is your name, what do you do, and where are you from?
My name is James Wesson. I’m a musician, artist, producer, I rap. I don’t claim Toronto but we’re based out of Toronto.
How do you feel about Toronto music?
There is definitely something bubbling in Toronto. I feel like there is more of an evolving sound in Toronto that isn’t portrayed to the mainstream. I see all the low-key underground stuff in Toronto, and I have a lot of faith that Toronto is fully going to be able to dominate and establish itself. I think a lot of what people know about Toronto externally isn’t necessarily reflective of what’s bubbling, but I feel what’s bubbling is really sick.
The decision to pursue music full time, how has that changed the way you look at music?
You definitely listen to music differently. When you’re just a consumer you’re more of a passive listener. I’m stuck in a place where I feel like sometimes I can’t just enjoy a song. I am always looking at how the snare is hitting, how the snare is mixed, or how is [the] chord progression arranged, what’s the overall arrangement and structure, when do they bring in the 808s, when do they drop the 808s, when does the kick hit. You start to micro-analyze a lot of shit. Different rappers and their voices, different vocal inflections. Every little element of even the simplest song, you start to scrutinize in your mind.
How do you go about making a track?
Some things have almost naturally come about, like I’ll stumble on a sample and the name of the sample will correspond with the title of the project Adonis, or be related to something godly. Naturally I’ll try to draw on it and make it work, then it just works. I’m not trying to force it; some songs just work. When they’re all tied to the same symbols, I almost don’t think it’s a coincidence, I feel like there is a reason why all those things get tied together.
Do you prefer producing or rapping?
It goes back and forth. I think before I said rapping but I feel like now its producing, it honestly alters. It depends on what stage I’m at, in terms of building something. Sometimes I have a beat that’s just ready and I know what I want to do on it, so I’m super amped to rap on it. Other times I have a sample or a chord progression that I’m really feeling, then I’m super amped to produce. It really alters based on my mood and what I’m trying to do, sometimes it’s rapping and sometimes its producing.
Describe your sound.
I think it’s a sick meld of two worlds. I’m from a super classically trained and jazz trained background so I feel like a lot of my chord progressions are mad elaborate and deliberate. Everything that I do in terms of keys is deliberate, I never stumble on something, I always have the intention. I know what I want to play, and how I want it to sound.
Then with universes’ production, his drums are really hard hitting and not super conventional. It’s a meld of [a] really conventional and traditional idea of chord structure and music theory, combining with really unconventional drums in terms of how they hit, the tone of them, and how they sound. It creates a really cool sound.
What’s your writing process like?
I don’t tend to write without a beat. I feel like I gravitate more towards the beat, and I want my lyrics to complement the beat more so. It’s not like I have this profound shit I want to say and get off my chest, and I gotta find the beat for it. It’s more like I hear this beat and I like it, this beat resonates with me and I wanna say something that accents the beat. My writing is heavily influenced by the song I’m listening to, and not so much the reverse. I won’t write something and then look for the beat, but I think that’s something that will change over time.
Talk about how playing the piano has influenced how you make music.
It’s definitely a big boost and positive, but then on the margin it’s almost like it hinders me. Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in a paradigm of thinking about music, and I think about it in a really structured way. I’ll play a chord, and I’ll know instantly where I can go from there and how I can arrange the progression. But sometimes I’ll feel like I’m not pushing my boundaries and challenging myself.
I want to do some more atonal and weird shit, but I think it’s one of those things where you can stumble on it, and I like to do all my stuff with intent. I have to practice to the point where I can consciously be atonal, but I know I’m doing it and I’m trying to do it. Stumbling on some shit is cool, but I always want to have a deeper level of ‘I’m trying to do this.’ The biggest thing is having an idea of something and being able to execute it, I feel like that will separate you from other people.
What inspires you to make music?
There’s two different reasons and I feel like sometimes they conflict. I have two different moods. A lot of times it’s the way certain artists inspired me and have moved me into this path, inadvertently encouraged me to pursue this line of work, and take this seriously. I want to be able to have that type of impact on somebody younger than me. That’s a really rewarding thing. I didn’t know I had that power, but I see it subtly with the piano covers. A lot of people reach out and tell me they got a piano because of me, or take music more seriously because of me, and I was posting just to post it, not with any intent. I see that and its fucking sick, I’m encouraging someone to do something.
On the negative cynical side, I feel like I have people in my life that I have to prove wrong, on some adversarial shit. I have enemies that think about me in a certain way, and I have to let them know that I’m really on this shit and I’m good at what I’m doing. I have to prove them wrong. I have a real complex that any adversarial opponent, if you’re betting against me, you’re going to lose.
What can people expect in 2018 from James Wesson?
A project, another EP. After said EP, I’m going to transition to dropping more single material. I want to do more [piano] covers but I need to really fuck with the project. I can do covers of whatever, but I need to really like the project and have it resonate with me. When I do a whole bunch of songs off a project it’s because I really like the project. But definitely more music, more shows, more content.
Follow James @jameswesson_.
Photos by @_kevinfall. Interview by @conordunner.
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