When I posted on San Francisco via Minnetonka, Minnesota indie-pop artist Jhameel about a week ago, the post was popular among our readers and received lots of feedback. It’s easy to hear why. Many of the songs on the 21-year old’s sophomore LP The Human Condition are instantly catchy, and the 10 tracks cover a wide range of musical styles. And not only has he been generous enough to give away the album, but he was nice enough to answer several questions from The Wounded Jukebox via a recent email interview.
The questions, along with his responses, are below.
The Wounded Jukebox: Who do you make your music for?
Jhameel: I make music in large part for myself. I use it to express who I am, figure things out, cement ideas, let my emotions out, discover new emotions, organize my thoughts. But I also make music for anyone who is open to learning from and enjoying what I create. I have a lot to say, and I like to think that what I say helps people in their mindsets and decisions, and overall just has a positive effect on them.
TWJ: Your biography states that you’re fluent in four languages besides English. Did you immerse yourself in those cultures (Arabic, Russian, Korean and Spanish) as well, and how does that influence your music?
Jhameel: I’ve immersed myself in Arabic, Korean, and Spanish culture, but I’ve yet to do so with Russian. I try to keep up with these languages every day, and am still growing in my knowledge of them. I study them because I love languages, and I find that they are so similar to music.
They’re so similar that principles I learn from one can be applied to the other. For example, in learning languages, I think my brain works mainly through recognizing patterns and using them to learn about pieces within the pattern. This has helped me realize that most principles you learn from one instrument can be applied to almost all instruments. For example, just as there are verb conjugations, tenses, noun declensions etc. in many languages, there are scales, chords, time signatures etc. that you can express through almost all instruments just from learning the basic technique for a few types of instruments.
TWJ: You’re originally from Minnetonka, MN, right? What’s one way you’d say your hometown has influenced your music?
Jhameel: My major emotional growth as a child happened in Minnetonka. That town taught me about the joy of finding beauty in the world and in the few loved ones around you. When I moved away from it, it taught me the pain of separation, but also the growth that comes from pain. I’ll always consider my heart to be in Minnetonka, but I’ve grown to love the Bay Area so much as well.
TWJ: There’s a verse in your song “Cafe Du Monde” that goes “for there is life after fire and there is birth after death / there is good in us all for there is evil so let us /delight in the balance let us rest / in the beauty of our being.” A lot of the songs on The Human Condition seem to deal with that balance you mention in those lines. Is that the human condition you’re getting at — the struggle to find that equilibrium? Or how would you define it?
Jhameel: Yes that’s definitely one of the main messages of the album. It’s the idea that if your goal in life as a human being is to attain happiness, you need to learn to be happy with both the light and the dark. It’s an old idea, but I want to put it in modern context. Really life is just flat without contrast. You need to have highs and lows, and recognize that the highs only exist because the lows do.
TWJ: You blend a lot of different instruments and various musical styles on The Human Condition. What’s your songwriting process like?
Jhameel: It’s pretty different for every song, but usually I come up with the instrumentals before the vocals, and then adjust them accordingly. I’ll give you an example.
I came back from a friend’s house one day, and the oldies station was playing “Kiss” by Prince, so I was feeling some funk music. I went in the shower at my apartment, and I just started singing random notes. It’s notable to mention that I had smoked a bit of pot.
Eventually I came up with the guitar riff melody for “The Human Condition,” after which I immediately ran out of the shower and started recording the riff on electric guitar. After that, the song kind of just wrote itself.
As far as blending lots of instruments goes, I only play instruments that songs “call for” in the sense that I’ll be listening to a track, and if I hear violin in my head, that’s what I’ll add to the song. It feels very natural, and once I have basic foundations set up, songs build on themselves
TWJ: What made you choose “White Winter Hymnal” and “Heartbeats” as songs to cover? Could you see yourself wearing a beard and flannel? Or banging out synthpop in Sweden?
Jhameel: I chose “White Winter Hymnal” because I was experimenting with loop stations a lot at the time. When I heard it, I immediately recognized that it was compatible with a loop machine, and recorded it on video.
I chose “Heartbeats” recently because I relate to that song a lot at this moment in time. I just got out of my first relationship, my first time being in love, and am moving on from being bitter to being nostalgic about all the powerful emotions that happened in that state.
Even if I could see myself with a beard and flannel, I can’t grow a beard anyways. I know very few Asians that can grow beards. It’s both a blessing and a curse.
I’d like to play some shows in Sweden, but not synthpop. I love electronic music, but I personally am too fond of live instruments.
TWJ: You’re very early in your career, but is there a big-picture goal you’d like to accomplish musically?
Jhameel: Yes I have some fairly ambitious goals. One is that I’d like to make a music video out of a full album. Basically it’s a feature film, with no dialogue, that goes to an album from beginning to end.
TWJ: Is “THC” only about smoking pot?
Jhameel: Hard to say. It is mainly about pot, but it’s also about recognizing some of the lessons that pot teaches you. Sometimes, being high just really puts things into perspective, and that’s more what the song is about.