I had the distinct pleasure of chatting with Chicago born, world traveled, Brooklyn based, soul drenched performing artist Jesse Boykins III. Among other things, we covered how his experiences in life influence his artistic and musical expressions, gained some insight into how he connects with his audience in today’s ever-evolving landscape, and delved into the creative process behind his latest album release titled “Love Apparatus.”
215mag: Performing here in Philadelphia, where legends like The Delfonics, Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes, and into more recent history, singers like Boyz II Men and Jill Scott made their mark, do you feel you reflect these styles and their influences in your own music?
JB III: Yea definitely. The music culture to come out of Philadelphia has been consistently revolutionary as far as getting their sound heard by the masses. I grew up in the generation with Jill Scott Who Is and Boyz II Men and I was definitely inspired by the rhythm and blues period of the past. I try to infuse that day’n age, and my appreciation for that time of music and culture, and blend it with the things that I’ve seen in my own experiences, also from outside of this country.
215mag: Do you feel all the technology and platforms allow you to connect with a wider audience, or do you feel it is harder nowadays to break through and make a unique connection?
JB III: I feel that it is both of those things. The information, accessibility, and convenience is uplifting in that moment. But I don’t feel the sense of value is as implemented in culture as it used to be. When I was in high school I got into Socrates and Greek Mythology. This was before the internet, so when I wanted to read a book about Socrates for example, I had to actually go to the library. When I did finally get to the library, and I opened up that book, my appreciation for the knowledge was so much more, because my journey to get to the library was waiting for the bus, getting to one library and they didn’t have that book, so I had to go find another library… So because of that process while getting to discover something, I’ve never forgotten that knowledge. That journey of discovering something is a lot different now. Nowadays I can just sit on my ass at home and everything will pop up in less than five minutes. I’m appreciative of the access the internet provides because a lot of people find out about me who wouldn’t. But I also want people to come to the shows and experience what they discovered, and say “let’s go to the show together” and value the experience by being there in the moment.
215mag: How do you and your band prepare for gigs, and how does your show evolve from tour stop to next tour stop?
JB III: I always communicate to my band the importance of live presentation. I always express myself to let them know that I really care, and remind everyone to stay open. We’ve been playing together for long enough now so they understand my perspective and what I’m trying to communicate when I perform. We talk about everything. What we like about the song, what we don’t like, what needs to happen at one part of the song. And of course we rehearse, which is my favorite thing to do… To sit down with the band, and talk about things while we’re playing. Right before a show, we as a band, have a conversation and I let everyone know I am appreciative of everyone there and to make sure we keep letting go that good energy, and share it with the audience.
215mag: Does your approach vary for a smaller, more intimate show, (like Heineken After Dark in NYC July 8th), compared to a bigger stage?
JB III: I feel like it is hard for me to pinpoint what I do with every show, because it just depends on where I am mentally, and what I’m feeling. But for the most part I’m so passionate every time I perform that, I just want to give, so it doesn’t really matter if it is for 10 people, or 10,000 people, I could feel the same amount of loving, and energy. It’s about who is there and what they are willing to receive from me. It’s more about connection. The music I make is for any stage, and I try to always make it feel intimate. You could listen my latest album “Love Apparatus” at home, or you could play it in the club and be like whoa! That’s what I want to do.
215mag: That was a perfect segue, so let’s talk about your latest release “Love Apparatus” … Talk about the essence, how did this project come to be?
JB III: As far as the collaborative aspect, I met Travis (the album’s producer Travis Stewart aka MachineDrum) in 2007 through Theophilus London. All 3 of us had been working together on Theophilus’ music. We had a connection with our musical library. We would talk about a band, or an artist, and he would say “that’s one of my favorites,” and he would play a song I’d never heard for me, and I would do the same back to him. The great thing was that we started as friends, and it just so happened we lived down the street from each other in Brooklyn. For a long time we did songs for Theophilus. Soon after we finished that project, we began working on our own music. So the first song we did together was back in 2008. We realized how fun and easy it was and how we both understood how to express things and make it more interesting for us, and for the listener. We were making music we felt was progressive, and also music that people who listen to the radio could say, “all right, i get this…” while also finding that balance between consciousness, and educating people emotionally, and also making people want to dance and feel good at the same time.
215mag: And how does it reflect what was going on in your life and/or your career during its recording?
JB III: I had always been experimental in regards to making music, but I was kinda locked into doing soul music. Once I felt I’d made a good addition to Soul, I wanted to take it further. I always try to challenge myself because I feel like when you challenge yourself, that’s when you progress. So we would find a synth sample, and I would have a song title, and by the time he would finish the track, I would finish the song, and we would record it that day. So that vibe was why we worked on it so much. And while I was traveling and seeing all these things, I found myself doing a lot of soul searching, and a lot of trying to apply all of these life lessons that I had already learned and acknowledged, but I guess I was just too afraid to apply. Fear was controlling me and my songwriting. For example, in GreyScale – which is the intro to the album – I say “Blinded by the tone of you…I sense you’re frail, I need to hold on,” which basically means, “I don’t care what your complexion is, or where you’re from. It doesn’t matter, you are the same blood as me, we are of the same breath. So when you are weak, I’m going to try my best to help you.”
So when it came to saying things like that, I had never really been able to express them melodically. I wanted to put music behind it and we were able to come up with these sounds that complimented it. It was like a drug. We worked on it for 4 years, because we wanted to perfect it.
215mag: How do you navigate keeping true to your sound while embracing the newest trends / sound from today’s music?
JB III: That’s exactly what the album cover represents. One of my hands is holding a heart, another is holding the world. It symbolizes that I am an individual but I also have to keep in mind that I am connected. It’s about finding a way to find that balance between those two worlds, to kill the ego. So when I make music I don’t go into it with an ego. It’s more so about a free experience. Even when I was making soul music, there were some kinda eerie elements – like my background vocal arrangements, that weren’t typical ‘soul music.’ For people that were stuck listening to just one style of music, they didn’t realize they were actually expanding their music library. By the time I got to Love Apparatus, I was free, especially being an artist in an industry where people connect being successful with being acknowledged for something they may not be passionate about, or didn’t put time into.
I don’t really look at it like that. The music that I make and the music that I am inspired by, is for my generation. It’s never been about, “well rock music is poppin’ right now so let me get on a rock record.” It’s more about, I’m on tour in Berlin, and we go out to the club and this is the music we are dancing to. Or I’m meeting some homies from Australia and they put me on this style. And then I’m doing my research and I’m listening to some Gregorian Chant like, “Wow, that’s crazy!” It’s about my influences and the things I expose myself to, and remaining willing to let those things be a part of me, as part of my evolution. That’s how I look at my creative process.
215mag: That’s going to be the everlasting influence, rather than a hit on the pop charts…
JB III: I don’t concern myself with that type of popularity or acknowledgement. I take not being considered as being one of the greats of this era because I’m not trendy as my motivation. That’s just motivation, that’s it.
215mag: Love can be a double edged sword that involves taking risks, and our culture often portrays the negative pitfalls of love/unrequited love. Many of your songs talk about the positive potential / possibilities of love. Is that a conscious decision you make in your music?
JB III: I feel like I communicate love on all levels. When you listen to Love Apparatus, the first half is pretty fantasy based, and the second half is more reality based. My whole thing is to blend the two. When I think of love, I think of life. You get attached to things, and you let things go. That is all part of love so I put that into my music. There are songs like ‘Create beauty’ that are so fantasy driven… like “let’s have a baby.” Or there are others like “A Matter of the Heart,” or “4 Ever No More” where it’s like, we said “we were gonna be forever, but let’s be realistic… we’re not in it that hard no more… we’re not gonna be forever.” Or “Plain” – “yea we were falling in love, we were lovey dovey for the first 6 months, but shit, it’s been 2 years.. you’ve progressed in that direction, I’ve progressed in another. Obviously we’ve not stayed connected – so it’s plain.” I do understand the whole fantasy thing, but I know it’s necessary for reality to come into play and for people to be presented with their realities and their truths, so I try to present my music in that light.
215mag: Last two questions, quick hitters, using only a few words to respond: One of your past albums was titled “The Beauty Created.” Define creating beauty…
JB III: Living free in the moment.
215mag: Finally, tell your newest fans something about you they’re going to be pleasantly surprised by when they come see you.
JB III: Probably will be a show they’ll never forget. Might be life changing. Might inspire them to chase their dreams.
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