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Electronic musician Jamison, better known as Teen Daze, has been gearing up for the release of his fifth full-length record, Themes For Dying Earth, this week. The LP will be the follow up to 2015’s Morning World, which was met with critical praise. The Vancouver-based artist wrote and recorded the album following a long tour in support of the previous release; he cites nature and his love of the environment as an inspiration for this current project. Last month fans got a taste of the record when he released singles “Cycle” and “First Rain.” Jamison took the time to outline the process of making Themes for Dying Earth, the various influences that affected its sound and why he’s okay with fans thinking of his work as “mellow music to listen to as I cook dinner.”
mxdwn: What was your inspiration for Themes For Dying Earth?
Jamison: I started making the record in November of 2015 and a lot of the first tracks were started in the time I had gotten off of a really long tour. I was on tour from September until November, and then before that I did a bunch of traveling with my wife and so I was just away from home for most of 2015. Obviously, being gone for so long, I didn’t have access to a studio or any instruments with me or anything like that, so when I was finally home and didn’t have any plans to do any sort of traveling I just naturally tend to start recording and process everything I had just gone through in most of that year. The tour was a really long one and I came home quite tired and exhausted, processed a lot of what I was feeling and going through in those first recordings and then, as the year progressed, I ended up writing maybe 30 or 40 songs specifically for this record. Everything that I made referenced those initial tracks and those initial sessions of recording that happened right after that tour. Lyrically and musically I’m certainly not… it’s not a reaction like I was tired of playing the music from the last record or anything like that. I hear that a lot of bands often get tired of playing the same songs over and over and that wasn’t necessarily my problem. This record isn’t a reaction to the last one by any means. It was more just me being really tired and wanting to find a way that I could have my music help me process through that sort of stuff.
mxdwn: So writing is part of your de-stressing process?
J: I think so. It’s just something I really naturally tend to do. I really like home recording and setting up a studio at an office. I’ve had to change spaces, like most people do in their twenties, a multitude of times. Whenever I change spaces and set something up in a new space there’s always this burst of inspiration that happens. Yeah, if I’m just left to my own devices that’s what I tend to do is record.
mxdwn: In a previous interview you mentioned appreciating patterns and repetition in your life. Is that something you try to incorporate in your music as well?
J: Yeah I think that also happens very naturally. That’s why I was drawn to electronic and dance music specifically for my first run of records because I really do appreciate repetition in music to a certain degree. I feel like in the music I like that’s what leads into it. Whether that’s ambient music with loops happening for long extended periods of time or like minimal techno music where it’s just a couple of phrases or a couple of patterns repeated with a kick drum underneath it. I love those types of music and anything that can draw out emotion by just the act of repeating something I think is really impressive. It’s a type of music that I really admire.
And, of course, on the other side of that repetition can become monotonous and can become less exciting for a listener to listen to so you have to find a balance with that sort of stuff. I think the music I’ve been listening to more lately finds a way to balance that. They’ll have one thing happening throughout the whole song, but then have other things happening around the field of music so whether it’s a guitar part happening during a song but then there’s field patterns and different environments happening in an improvised sort of way. I am really drawn to that sort of stuff where, yeah, you do hear repetition but at the same time it’s moving all the time. One of my favorite finds over the last couple of years has been this new-age-y rock artist who performs as Ashra. His name is Manuel Gottsching and that’s what he always said: if you’re gonna loop something it has to grow, it has to move and change. And this is a guy who’s making 10 minute songs where the same patterns are going over and over. I was really inspired by that so trying to work in my love of repetitions and loops but also having them have their own life and not just be these clinical, sterile, almost computer-based repetition.
mxdwn: The first single you shared from the new album is “First Rain.” Why this and not another track?
J: Oh man, that was actually the very first song that I worked on for the record. So, in my mind, it does a really good job of summing up what the record is about and, yeah, there’s something about that song that I’m really happy with. If only just for the fact that Sean Carey (aka S. Carey of Bon Iver) is involved with it too. He’s one of my favorite musicians and has been for years now so getting to have him involved in the track is really special to me. I wanted to kind of celebrate that and honor his work on it.
mxdwn: Going off of that would you say then that “First Rain” is the track you’re most excited for listeners to hear or is there another one you can’t wait to share?
J: I actually just sent the record to a friend of mine and he asked the same thing, like what song are you most stoked on? Yeah, I think when it comes to what I want the listener to hear, I think that (“First Rain”) is probably the one; it’s the best gateway to the whole album. And because when I made this record and most of my records in the past, they are meant to be listened to as a whole. So I think that’s a good gateway because I understand so many people will experience music just as singles whether they’re hearing it on a Spotify playlist or an Apple Music playlist – even just a single Youtube video. I hope it inspires them to be like “Oh I wonder what the rest of this record sounds like” and then think “Oh yeah that fits well with the context of the whole thing.” Personally, for myself, there’s a song called “Dream City” on the album which is the second track. It’s just a really, really mellow, ambient song. It’s just an instrumental track that, for whatever reason, in the performances that I’ve done where I’ve played new music, that’s the one I feel like I always have the most emotion out of me when I perform – which I hope is a good sign. I hope when people listen they feel that too.
mxdwn: In your short documentary you mentioned talking about the issues, specifically climate change. Have you noticed any fans (either in person or via social media) expressing that your music has caused them to take more of an interest in climate change?
J: That would be such a wonderful surprise for me. It was never my intention to necessarily evangelize any of my political beliefs, which again I kind of talk about in the documentary. It’s too bad that something like climate change needs to be categorized as a political belief. I feel like it’s a much bigger issue than just what side you’re on politically. I don’t know. It’s a strange thing because I would feel the people that are watching this for the most part would share similar views on something like that, but for anyone that doesn’t that sees it, that would be such a gift for them to think critically about that sort of stuff. I think that’s the most important to me when it comes to something like that, that people will be able to develop their own curiosities and it’ll help them be assertive to do research themselves, rather then just be like, “Oh this is a musician I really like, I’ll just believe whatever he tells me.” Because I’m not an environmentalist, at least not a climate scientist or anything like that. I do what I can in my daily life and hope that makes a difference. I’m by no means a preacher or anything like that.
mxdwn: So you’re not trying to evoke a sense of environmentalism in anyone but it’s cool if you did?
J: This brings up a different can of worms that I’ve thought about the last couple of years. When I spend a year writing and recording this music and processing all of these things I’ve been thinking about, when it’s done and released, how can I make it so that I can let go of it and let it be people’s… allow it to be interpreted by people the way they want to? If someone listens to it and sees that I’m wrestling through these issues and it inspires them, then that’s awesome. But at the end of the day what I made is just me working things out, trying to come to terms with how I feel about those things and coming to terms with climate change specifically, fears that I have, anxiety that I face, trying to come to grips with the idea that we’re doing damage to the Earth that is irreversible. Because once it’s been released and people listen to it, if someone listens to it and never gets a whiff out of it at all and is like, “Hey this is just mellow music to listen to as I cook dinner,” I’m 100% okay with that. If someone listens to it and it inspires them to treat the Earth in a better way, that’s amazing and I’m one hundred percent in favor of that. But I have no mandate by any means to like say this music is intended to change the world or anything like that.
mxdwn: You mentioned Sean Carey, are there any other artists you draw inspiration from when writing and recording?
J: Yeah, there’s a label based out of London called Melody As Truth. They just have a couple of releases but I discovered their music… well it’s two artists that release music on the label, an artist named Diego Herrera and then Johnny Nash who runs the label and releases music under his own name. The two of them have put out a couple of records on this label. It’s just that type of music that, for whatever reason, when I heard it I was like, “This is so beautiful, like how have they tapped into…” I don’t know it’s just such melodic music. It’s really, really mellow, borderline ambient; those two guys had a huge influence on me. That’s what I was listening to most when making the record. I tend to be influenced by that sort of stuff when in the process of making records. Whatever I’ve been listening to tends to be sort of a reference point. So as I’m working on the album, different sounds – because I’m recording it all at home, it’s really quick for me to – you know maybe there’s a really cool guitar sound on an album and I’ll do my best to make something that’s comparable to that, while of course having it be my own in this honest expression that’s coming from me. But yeah, those two dudes were a huge influence.
I’m trying to think of what else. You know, I don’t know if it comes through necessarily, but I found myself listening to a lot of the Blood Orange record from last year and Francis and the Lights, that album from last year. There’s this guy Nick Kerkovich who, they’re kind of making like solo ’80s pop records, like in the vein of Peter Gabriel or obviously like the Blood Orange record has more soul and hip-hop influence so there’s a bit of a Prince influence there. But you know those ’80s, you wouldn’t call them singer-songwriters necessarily, but these like performers from the ’80s who have these amazing bands but just solo guys up there. It’s funny, the record doesn’t necessarily come off as an ’80s pop record, but, yeah, I was listening to a lot of that sort of stuff.
mxdwn: How does Themes For Dying Earth compare to your last record Morning World?
J: I think with Morning World I was trying to move away from electronic sounds more. There are definitely still synthesizers on that record but I recorded the whole album in a studio that was just analog. We recorded it to tape. There were no computers in the recording of that record. As opposed to this one, which I did totally, well I shouldn’t say totally – I recorded it in three different studios. All of those places I was very happy to have it be a more electronic influenced record. Something I’ve tried to do right from the start of the project is find a way to blend organic sounds with electronic sounds. I think this record is probably my best example of that.
I think there’s a lot of stuff that comes straight from the computer, different sounds that I created completely within the computer. There are a lot of field recordings. As I was traveling through 2015 I was just taking out my phone and creating a voice memo at the beach or I got to go to Bali and there were lots of amazing sounds in Bali, just tropical sounds. So there are lots of field recordings on the record as well. And then I went to a studio not far from my house and recorded live instruments – so yeah there are lots of live recordings on it too. I think when I initially started the project it was very much just the computer and a lot of synthesized sounds. I think with this record I finally achieved that internal goal that I’ve given myself to be able to blend those two sounds as naturally as I could.
mxdwn: As you said before, with Morning World you were trying to get away from electronic sounds, what made you want to go back to that with the new record?
J: That’s a good question. I don’t know, it just kind of happened really. I think I knew I wanted to make this record on a bit of a smaller budget, so I knew I wasn’t necessarily gonna go into a bigger studio to make it, which, in my mind, almost implied that it would have to be a more electronic record, just because it’s easier for me to make something at home on a smaller scale if I don’t need to go to a studio to record live drums or record any kind of live instrument. So when I started writing the record and making demos, the majority of it – I have a handful of synths at home and I would sample drums from songs I liked and use those drum samples. As the record progressed I realized there was more space for live instruments, so like I said I got to go to the studio and record some live stuff. But I think making it on a smaller scale in my mind said, “I’m gonna try and go back to a more electronic sound.” And, like I said, I had been listening to a lot more pop-influenced music and yeah, there’s also just so much interesting electronic music now that’s come out in the last two years that has been really inspiring in the sense that I would want to throw my name into the group of producers who are doing things that I really like. Yeah, I was definitely happy to move away from the “indie-pop” sound and do something that was a bit more electronic.
mxdwn: You have a string of shows coming up with Mozart’s Sister, are any of these venues new for you or are you familiar with most of them?
J: I think the only venue that I’ve been to before… well there are two: the one in Vancouver I’ve played at before and then the one in San Diego at Soda Bar. Other than that I think they’re all new spaces, which is really exciting for me. It keeps it interesting. How many times can you play in the same space before it starts to feel like déjà vu or something, I don’t know. I’m really looking forward to it.
mxdwn: Do you prefer performing at these new venues versus ones you’re familiar with?
J: Yeah I think so. There’s obviously some, like we were talking before, there’s something about the repetition and there’s a comfort in knowing a space and knowing people at a place. I really enjoy that. I’ve played at the venue Neumo’s in Seattle a couple of times and the staff there has always been so kind to me. It’s always nice to play a place where I know I’m going to have a really good time because the people who work there are so great and the crowds that come out are great. I think because every single tour that I’ve done has been different in some way, whether it’s the makeup of the band that I’m traveling with or maybe it’s just me traveling solo. Of course the music is always gonna be different. So it’s cool to have it just feel fresh every time. I’ve been touring and playing shows as Teen Daze now since the summer of 2010 so, yeah, when you hit this point it’s good to keep it fresh and have it be fun and exciting.
mxdwn: Do you have a favorite venue to play at all?
J: Oh man, that’s a good question. I have always had good shows at the Rickshaw in San Francisco. I’ve gotten to play a couple of sold out shows there which is really fun. Favorite venues, man… yeah, for a while Glasslands in New York was my favorite, which of course is now shut down. Yeah, talk about the staff and promoters at Glasslands, they were amazing people. The venue was a really important symbol for me, being able to plot my accomplishments and successes. Playing Glasslands was a really cool thing for me. I love a venue in Vancouver called Fortune Soundclub. They have an amazing system there. Man, you can tell I haven’t been on tour in a couple of years!
I had a show at Baby’s All Right in New York on the last tour. It’s a funny thing, it can totally depend. I can remember playing in Fargo, North Dakota and having no expectations, just being like I don’t know if anyone here has even heard of me before and we got to the venue and the people were so great and so hospitable. They took great care of us and the show was amazing. That one totally sticks out in my mind. I’m happy to play. I guess that’s my answer. I’m just happy to go on tour. As long as people are excited to hear me play, then wherever that venue is I’m stoked to be there.
mxdwn: One last question: Besides the new album and string of shows do you have anything else in store for 2017?
J: Yeah, I have a bunch of B-sides from the record. We’re using them as bonus tracks for different areas. So if you live in Japan you get a different bonus track, if you live in North America you get a different bonus track. I think we’re gonna compile all of those B-sides and do a physical release for that. Not really sure when that’s gonna happen. Probably closer to the middle of the year once the record kind of mellows out a little bit. More shows: nothing’s quite set in place yet, but there will be a lot more shows throughout the year. Everything’s being worked on right now. I’ve been working on some more straight ahead dance music and we’ll hopefully find a release for that at some point this year. My friend Casey, who made that documentary, him and I are going to be making a music video for one of the songs, which will hopefully be coming out within the next couple of months. And I’m looking forward to winter being over, so that I can go outside again. It’s been really cold. I’m looking forward to some sun to say the least.