In Conversation With: Jay Lewn
Pop is Jay Lewn's sonic playground. Whether he is performing or producing (or both), the multi-hyphenate artist has a penchant for creating sounds that don't quite sit at the centre. The noticeable R&B influences, often infused in non-traditional ways, make for a much more textured musical experience. And with an exciting presentation to match, engaging with the singer/songwriter's art is nothing short of fun. With the recently released Topdown, Jay invites us to watch closely as he gears up to release his 2nd project, Loverboy.
The Floor: What makes your upcoming EP Loverboy, different from the last one?
Jay Lewn: Well this one I made pretty much on my own. I started working on it in April last year, and the nature of the year made collaborating hard. I also really feel like I’m exploring different sounds. I always want to sit slightly to the left of everything. It's still very much in that R&B-Pop world, but I want to see how I can present it differently.
What's songwriting like for you?
Most of the time I'll sit down at my piano, which I always have right here in front of me and start with chords. And then I'll turn on the microphone and start improvising with a different melody that doesn't have any lyrics and sometimes it won’t have any lyrics for like weeks. I'm quite free with it really, and because it starts from a place of improvising, I end up with some quite cool melodies. I try to leave myself open to not being conventional all the time and that's kind of what I like.
Are you precious with songwriting? Do you co-write on your projects?
I used to be very precious and I think lyrically I still am, because they’re the way we can attach explicit emotion to the music. So with lyrics I do spend a lot of time and I bang my head against the wall a little with them. But I definitely have been collaborating more with writing, especially on Loverboy, and it's cool because it's opening me up to the world. Production wise though I’m big on collaboration. We are so blessed in London to have a pool of young talented musicians, I'd be stupid not to work with them.
Have you always been drawn to non-conventionality? Or did you grow into it?
I'd like to think I've always been this way but part of me also thinks that in the past six months I’ve kind of embraced it more.
I think it's just confidence in yourself and what you are doing. Just saying, actually, why not? If it’s one thing last year taught us it’s that 'fuck it, do what makes you feel good.' I think visually I've always wanted to present something that's out there. I think of people like FKA Twigs, like Bowie, like Outkast, and Prince. They exist in such an amazing space and I also want to exist in a similar space. Or my version of that. And people might not get what I want to do and it might not even be what they want, but it's always gonna make them think 'oh that's kind of cool though.
How do you reconcile wanting to be independent and unconventional and the more business side of music that might push you towards the mainstream?
I’m a believer of that it's going to catch up with you if you are always trying to chase what people want. Ultimately you're never really going to be satisfied with your creativity because you've only ever created for an audience that's ever changing anywhere. Also at heart my music is Pop, I don't think I'm writing anything that's too wild. But I feel like the world I want to create within can be a bit more different because it hopefully makes the music stand out. Business-wise, there isn't a right or wrong way to go about it. But, first and foremost I want great quality music, and then it's like how am I gonna put this out. And then it's just a matter of time really.
Speaking of it's just a matter of time, what would 'making it' feel like for you? Or have you felt that way already?
Looking back I can see that I had moments where I felt that way, and I think that’s the same for every human condition- when you're there you don't realise how far you've come. I want to be on billboards on Times Square I can’t lie, and I want to be working with loads of different amazing artists and to actually have a real impact on the musical landscape. Beyond my own stuff I'd love to establish a legacy, kind of how Kanye worked with Travis and then Travis has now made a huge impact. The people that I look to for inspiration are the Frank Ocean's or the Bowie's. They have a huge fandom and that’s what I aspire to have. If I want to stand shoulder to shoulder with these people and be in that same conversation with these people that's what I need to do.
On creating a world that your music exists within, what other forms of art do you draw inspiration from to help with that?
I really love putting anime on and muting it whilst I'm making music. In the studio I'll put on Ghost In The Shell, the 1995 animated version on mute, and I’m making music that I imagine would be playing along with the images in that time. Anime is so fantastical and the animation styles can be otherworldly and I find that quite inspiring.
That’s really cool. I want to get into a specific bit of your musical journey. How did you get into sound engineering?
I didn't have a big musical network when I started out, and I thought that I should be able to do it myself. So I saved up all the money I needed and went to do a year long course and I learnt the basics like how to mix and record. The main reason was that I realised I have to learn to do this if I’m going to make it.
Your sound has a lot of heavy R&B elements.
When I was in my mid-late teens I got into D'Angelo and I remember when Black Messiah came out I was like ‘nah this record is fucking amazing,’ but of course all his records are amazing. I just knew I wanted to harmonize like him, because he is the best at that, like he literally harmonizes ad libs. Pink Love is one of the first tracks where I tried it, and from that I learnt how to vocal produce and how to treat all the ad libs and harmonies a lot more freely. And you start listening to how the voice interacts with the music instead of just bonking it on top. I mean even people like Lucky Daye, and Mac Ayres, Ari Lennox, all the new school R&B folk. There's plenty of R&B references always floating around in my head.
Are you bound to Pop as a genre?
What else is important to you apart from music?
Definitely my family. I’m one of 5, there's so many siblings and they're all very close to me. I'm quite happy to be on my own as well. I really appreciate down time and as lonely and weird as this past year has been in terms of like mental health within the panoramic, it’s been quite nice to think about who am I, and what do I want beyond music as well. Music is the biggest thing in my life for sure but what does next year look like for me aside from music?