Jacob Collier may only have some small electronic influences in his productions, but we just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interview this phenom at Bonnaroo this year.
Discovered via YouTube through Quincy Jones’ management team, Jacob Collier is a one-man musical assault force that plays all of the instruments and sings all of the vocal harmonies in his music productions. He’s amassed praise from musical greats, has the title of instrument inventor, and has won two GRAMMYs from his first album, which was produced in his bedroom in London (aptly titled In My Room), all of this nonetheless at the tender age 22.
Tap into the mind of a self taught musical genius and if you ever see him billed at a festival, or anywhere for that matter, do yourself a favor and witness this high-energy, one-man band show live; you won’t regret it.
So your family is very music oriented, considering you began playing instruments at a very young age. Was there one particular instrument you gravitated towards or did you just pick up whatever you saw?
I’ve always loved the human voice because it does everything, or can do anything really, whether it be drums or bass or blended into a harmony. And then there was always the piano in the house, which is like all the harmonies right there, so I always liked to spend time there as well. And then I kind of drummed all over everything, like the walls or the floor or the drum kit, and other people and on all sorts of things.
Will we see a Collier family album anytime soon?
That sounds great! Right now, no plans but that’s a great idea.
You are a self-declared autodidact. So, this means that you are pretty much self-taught, without any formal training, correct?
Yes, that is correct. I just listened to as much as I could because I really loved absorbing the things around me and just trying stuff out, and experimenting is something that I love. With the Internet though, you can guide your own learning in a way like you never used to be able to and you can go off on some adventure and see what you can find and I love that.
So given that, it still seems that you understand music theory in some of its most complex forms. How do you think you’re able to translate this through your productions so that the average music listener can still understand and appreciate this?
Right, so I’ve always loved to go in and explore all the tiniest details of music and how it fits together, but when you write songs, that needs to go out the window, right? And you just need to write some songs. So I guess there is always that balance of the really small details and the really big gestures and I think that if you get that balance right then hopefully the music can be accessible to anybody. No matter who you are, you can find something in it to enjoy.
How did the idea of inventing the vocal harmonizer come about?
Well I love singing harmonies, that’s my thing right, so I wanted to do this for a live set and I looked all over the market and there wasn’t a way I could see to do this. I then received this Facebook message from an amazing guy at MIT named Ben Bloomberg who’s like this crazy inventor and he asked, “Do you have any ideas of stuff that you want to do?” I mentioned that I wanted to build this vocal instrument where, basically, I could play the different harmonies on a keyboard that I think of in my head while I was singing. So that’s what we did.
How would you describe your live shows to someone who has never witnessed one in person?
It’s a great big circle of musical instruments – grand piano, double bass, electric bass, acoustic guitar, drum kit, percussion, keyboard and vocal harmoniser… and I’m in the middle of them all, dancing around and playing them all at once! There are five different loopers that can all run simultaneously, which I can trigger from the stage. It’s a mixture of the looping ‘on the rails’ technology, and completely spontaneous improvised moments, visiting everything from extreme funkiness to stripped-down folky guitars and gentle world percussion, to raw, slow piano ballads. It’s very exciting to be in the middle of the circle!
I want to say your style of music mixes a lot of genres. Have you ever thought of venturing into different genres or sticking specifically to one genre, say funk, or even EDM?
No, that’s never occurred to me. I always thought it was good to learn and to go into the crevices of one particular genre and see what you can find but for me I think, all of the most exciting music that exists in 2017 is just a mixture of stuff, so I’m drawn to that as a musician.
During Coachella this year, you played alongside Hans Zimmer and Pharrell. What was it like to play with such musical greats?
That was crazy, I mean I’ve never played to over 30,000 people before so that was a new one. I find that whenever you get to a certain level of musical greatness, everyone is always super nice really. Pharrell and Hans are hilarious and wonderful human beings so I really kind of fed of off their energy and that was really fun.
How does it feel to be a two-time GRAMMY winner at such a young age?
Yeah, so that’s weird [laughs]. I don’t think about it too much, but whenever I do, I am blown away by that. It’s kind of insane. You know, I think it’s this whole new world where people can just do things the way they want to do them. I made this whole album in one room in my family home and to see it do all of that is just insane but really gratifying at the same time.
Who is Jacob Collier currently listening to and are there any up-and-coming artists that you think we should look out for?
I’ve always had this massive affinity to older music, like Prince, Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, Joni Mitchell, but there are definitely some people nowadays that I am really drawn to. I’m a huge James Blake fan, also Bon Iver I love, there’s this sort of singer, songwriter, R&B person from the UK called Laura Mvula, she’s a good friend of mine and I absolutely adore her music so she’s one to look out for. I mean there is just so much exciting stuff to see that’s waiting to be found.
Listen to Jacob Collier’s In My Room album below and find his upcoming tour dates here.
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