Thursday 11 July 2013

8th Grader interview

Written by Imran Mirza

Nova Albion.  A four-piece indie band hailing from sunny California – heavy on guitars, and heavy on catchy melodies and pop sensibilities.  So, just how did the band’s lead singer go from this, to crafting an EP of contemporary R&B-infused music as effortlessly as he has done? 

The lead singer in question is multi-instrumentalist, and singer-songwriter, Jayson Martinovich, who, under the new moniker of 8th Grader, is taking the ever-evolving genre of R&B to new places and continuing upon the newly-paved path recently travelled by artists including Miguel and Frank Ocean.  8th Grader’s transition from one genre to the other is perfectly seamless.  Incorporating characteristics from nu-soul and chillwave, songs like ‘Heavy Without You’ perfectly straddle that line between 80s soul (and like something that could sit comfortably on Prince’s ‘1999’ or ‘Sign O The Times’), while still being progressive and imaginative, like the aforementioned Miguel and Ocean.

The self-titled six-track EP is bursting with these multi-layered gems, with ‘Diamonds, Silver and Gold’, ‘Heavy Without You’ and ‘Let’s Get It Right’ among the standouts – not to forget the cover version of Janet Jackson’s ‘Let’s Wait A While’ which proves to be an inspired selection for the EP – again, faultless in its approach.

The EP serves to be an excellent pre-cursor to a full-length album which we can only hope we won’t have to wait a while for!  It’s our great pleasure to introduce… 8th Grader!

You must be thrilled with the way the EP is picking up steam? 
Yes, I am.  It's been wonderful so far.  I really had no idea whether or not people would be into it, but I really enjoyed writing and recording these songs. 

From an R&B/soul perspective, who are some of your early musical influences? 
Prince, Chaka Khan, Hall & Oates, Janet Jackson, Sly & the Family Stone and Al Green. 

Can you tell us a little about what went into putting the EP together?

I started writing the songs in late spring 2011, after getting off tour with my other project.  It really just started by playing around on a rhodes electric piano and listening to some old-school slow jams that I remembered falling in to when I was younger.  Namely, "Love You Down" by Ready For The World and "Tender Love" written by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.  I was going through a rough patch in my relationship, so these songs just came very naturally.  I wrote about ten of them fairly quickly in my studio apartment in the Haight district while drinking a lot of Pinot Noir. Then I recorded them and had them mixed at Different Fur in San Francisco.   I wanted [to] show some vocal range from "strong" to “vulnerable” and less vocal-ey.  "Heavy Without You" is a very lazy, but meaningful vocal, whereas "Diamonds, Silver and Gold" is all about the vocal in a traditional sense. 

How would you say the creative process in writing, producing and recording new music usually work for you?
I've really found my process to be haphazard and focused at the same time.  I sit down at the piano/synth to write or produce every day to see what may come out.  I live on the corner of a pretty busy intersection near a hospital, so I see a lot of people walking by and I try to imagine their plight or story.  I try to empathize with what I don't know about them, but what they might be going through.  It's a fun and often emotional game I play and it usually gets the juices flowing. Before I know it, the story has become my story and I've related it back to my experience so it is authentic in some way.  It's a good tool if I don't have any immediate personal content to write about or draw from. 
I use Logic to record and I use a combination of soft-synths and live guitar, bass shaker and, of course, vocals.  If the track isn't making me dance, then I've gone amiss.  I have to be jumping up and down all crazy for the song to make the cut.  Even with slow songs, the groove needs to be infectious and exciting in some way. 

It’s proved to be such a good fit, but what made you decide to tackle Janet Jackson’s ‘Let’s Wait a While’?

I've always loved the sincerity and innocence of Janet's performance.  Although I don't agree with waiting too long :) it's a well-written song.  I actually tried to "under-sing" the song because I think too strong a vocal would get in the way.  It wasn't a likely song to cover so I thought I try... I started playing bongos to it and suddenly it turned into a dance-party at the end. 

Are plans currently taking shape to develop a full-length album?
Yes.  In the making...look for it in late fall/winter.  It's sounding like Sade meets Vampire Weekend.  I have a lot of collaborations and remixes I'm doing the meantime.

Were you nervous about taking the leap from the music you were making with Nova Albion to what’s on the EP?
Well, this is the music that I actually learn to sing to, so in some ways it's more natural for me to sing in the style of R&B.  It's always difficult to break from what you've been comfortable with but Nova Albion has flavors of R&B mixed in as well, so each project has complimentary layers. 

How does the new music transfer to a live performance?
It's very hot.  I've got two backup singers, saxophone, live synths and a tight drum and bass section.  Great players who came to me so it's really easy and very smooth.  I have a lot of up-tempo electro-funk songs that are unreleased so we mix those in to create a balanced set. 

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