We spoke to indie musician Henry Jamison about his upcoming EP, Tourism, and his process behind creating his dreamy, angelic songs.
Can you talk a little bit about inspiration and song arc in your upcoming EP Tourism?
I suppose the inspiration was just the desire to account for a very tumultuous time in my life. I was touring half the year and my relationship was crumbling and songwriting has always had a therapeutic use for me, so it was helpful to write these songs, especially the simpler ones, which are more direct in their emotion than anything I’ve written. In terms of the arc of the tracklist, I always try to end my releases with a hopeful idea, so these five songs travel through various states of sadness, but end with more of a statement of purpose, in the last track “Orchardist”.
Tourism boasts collaborations with several artists. How was it working with these artists?
Really fun and easy in every case. Most of it was done remotely, though I had hung out with Joseph in Portland a few weeks before they tracked their vocals. Darlingside was in the studio with me and basically functioned as my backing band. Harris Paseltiner from Darlingside co-wrote a bunch of the songs and produced the whole thing. Ed Droste and I had met in LA the winter before, through a friend, and his band Grizzly Bear has been one of my favorite bands for a long time, so that was a dream. Fenne and I met in Leeds a few years ago and we kept in touch sporadically. The record she’s about to put out sounds like it’ll be really really good and she was perfect for the EP’s title track, which in some ways bares more similarity to her music than to mine (up to this point, at least). It actually feels like each song was written and arranged with its specific guest in mind, though that’s not really how it happened. The last song “Orchardist” features one of my oldest friends, Lady Lamb, which is another reason it felt like a good place to leave off, in a kind of homecoming.
What particularly influenced “Still Life” and its themes of masculinity and domesticity?
Not all that much of the writing of the EP was intentional. It was written on tour and is about tour, but there wasn’t the same thematically-driven quality to the writing as there was on my last record, which dealt explicitly with masculinity. “Still Life” is also about gender dynamics, just in a less overt way, or I guess more just by virtue of its being about a heterosexual relationship. It’s actually partially about having no idea how to do justice to its subject, neither the individual person it’s about, nor the broader cultural context.
The imagery and photography in “Still Life” is wonderfully vintage and artistic. What was it like making the video and what did you want to capture?
I hadn’t made a video with a crew or wardrobe before, so it felt like a really good opportunity to represent some of my pet themes visually. I think we set the video in the early 1900’s both because it fit our theme (outdated ideas of domesticity) and also because it’s so fun to dress that way. The photos from the set ended up being the ones we used most for the EP campaign because there’s such a done-up stoicism to my look that it set this era very clearly apart from the last one.
The piano feels wonderfully prevalent in “Still Life”. Can you talk about your composition choices in “Still Life”?
That piano part was somewhat of a joke, since Harris and I had an obsession with Bruce Hornsby when we first started hanging out. I saw him live and wrote Harris a review of the show, basically panning it but giving it five stars anyway. We wanted “Still Life” to have the same unapologetic bombast that 80’s ballads have, so I played that piano part on my midi controller and it just kind of stuck. It’s earnest and ironic at the same time, just like our interest in Bruce Hornsby.
Where do you see the future of American folk music heading? And what drew you to the genre?
I actually consider it my default setting, so it’s hard to talk about it as a choice. I made a pretty big attempt to play different kinds of music just after college and I’m still interested in a lot of things that couldn’t be described as folk music, but I think I’ve found my basic pallette. And despite all of the synths and drums, pretty much anything I do will be considered folk music. I’m not a purist, really, and adding “pop” or “rock” at the end doesn’t help anything. A lot of people are writing really good songs on acoustic guitar and there’s a hunger for it still. I think it’s great. It seems like one of the only constants, that there may be little innovations or passing fashions, but that the basic setup is the same, and has been since the 60’s.
“I Forget Myself”, also on this EP, has a wonderful storytelling quality, which is a strength throughout your work. How do you piece together these stories?
It’s another default, I think. I need my lyrics to have a narrative arc. I’d actually like to try writing in a different way, but even in my more abstract songs there’s a strong subject and if you’re singing “I did this, I did that” then there’s bound to be a story. And just practically, once I’ve written some of a verse, I need to write the rest of it and then a chorus and then another verse, so I need to follow whatever thread I’ve started and hopefully that leads to some coherent narrative, or picture of a situation.
Do you have any advice for young musicians?
I always say this, but I’ve been saying it to myself recently, so it does feel like real advice that might be helpful: always come back to the images in your mind’s eye. Huge amounts of material are just there, if you close your eyes and just let images pop up like in a daydream. Then it’s just a matter of describing them or (more mystically) just letting them turn themselves into words and music. I don’t often achieve that second thing, but some people do and you can just tell. When I listen to Big Thief, I can just intuitively feel that the music has been pulled right out of a dreamworld, crafted a bit and then performed.
Any advice for artists and listeners in the time of quarantine? Is this a good time to tap into creativity?
No advice, really. When quarantine first started, I got a surge of inspiration, but since then I’ve been on a rollercoaster just like everyone else. When I see those “you don’t need to be productive in quarantine” posts, I agree, but hopefully making art isn’t something that you feel drains you. It doesn’t help my day to not work on music and just watch TV or whatever. One minute of inspiration can make up for days of not writing anything, so I just try to push myself through blocks and then go for a walk if it’s just not happening.
Follow Henry Jamison on Spotify.