Jake Downs: young, talented, with an impish grin and boyish charm that, paired with a powerful yet delicate singing voice, create quite a musical spectacle. the video for his debut single, Seize the Water, captures personal themes and creates a playful and heartwarming accompaniment to a truly great song. here is my interview with him...
Hello, Monsieur Jake Downs! So, when did you first realise that music was your calling (because, listening to it, it is obviously what you were born to do!)?
Hello, love. I don't think I ever consciously 'realised' that music was what I wanted to pursue; my obsession was born from an amalgamation of experiences, essentially. Music surrounds most people nowadays in modern culture, as it's so easily accessible, so to suggest that I found my way into the music world was through being immersed in it as a child wouldn't make my experience any more than the norm in this sense. I guess the music I was brought up with definitely shaped my love for it: my mother in particular has an wonderfully diverse taste, as with my sister, with favourites ranging from Britten and Byrd to Björk and Kate Bush; Nyman and Pärt to the Spice Girls and the Carpenters. It's all a bit higgledy-piggledy, and I think that's why I've always loved it. So I suppose you could say I've always known a bit.
Your (wonderful) debut single, Seize the Water, is out now. Aside from the theme of Devon and the sea, what else inspired you in the writing of this song?
Seize the Water's sort of a swan song in many respects: goodbye to love, goodbye to home, goodbye to adolescent immaturity. I was inspired by the fact that a lot of 'constants' in my life seemed to be slipping away quite quickly. I think I learnt a great deal over the course of songwriting with this song, which in itself was about a year; it was never meant to be an unhappy song, but rather to re-energise and come back stronger. I think every song I write has lots of layers of emotion laced into it, simply because of how long it takes for me to write, and the huge amount of situations in which the songs are reworked; I use songs as ongoing reflection rather than simply relaying a certain feeling through music. I think Seize the Water is an example of this.
Did you have a lot of involvement in the making of your video?
I had such a wonderful time. Ben, the director, has been a good friend of mine for some time now, so we both enjoyed the process. It wasn't all to do with meeting tight deadlines and 20-hour video shoots; we would sometimes decide that a 4am shoot would be the best option, and so we'd do it. It was all spontaneous and fun; needless to say, a great deal of the footage was cut! Ben is so full of ideas for visuals, but I did have an amount of input; we sort of bounce off of each other a bit.
Being the very definition of a ‘multi-instrumentalist’, how did you come to learn and become interested in the various instruments you play?
Anyone who takes music to a higher level is obsessed with new sounds and effects, I think. For some people, that means learning more and more about their instrument, but for me, I think I just have this real love for new sounds. I can't play many of the instruments very well, but I'm not really trying to be the next Paganini; it's more about the process rather than the product. I get attached to certain instruments, then I lose touch with them, then I rediscover them again. The piano will always be there, though.
Who are your main inspirations in life and in music?
What a grand question! I think, naturally, I'm inspired by those who are the closest to me, as they are, after all, the ones who cause me to learn more and more about myself than I ever would have without them. I'm inspired by all of my teachers in that sense, though I don't just mean in a scholarly sense; I think everyone you meet has the ability to teach you something new about yourself. In terms of inspirations in music, they change quite a lot, though some remain constant (Björk, Kate Bush, and Arvo Pärt are my three stellar examples). For example, at the moment, I'm obsessed with the work of Olivier Messiaen, Iannis Xenakis, Giacinto Scelsi, and György Ligeti, all because I'm a bit terrified of both their music and their compositional processes. I'm always most inspired by things I don't yet - and may never - understand; I like to be overwhelmed.
As a young person who has, in essence, ‘made it’ in the notorious world of the music industry, what would your advice be to other teenagers who want to pursue a career in music?
Ha ha, I think I'm far from having 'made it'! The music world is a huge, huge place, so it's easy to involve yourself at any level. I think my advice for people who want to create and share their music with others is to constantly listen and be aware of what has happened and what is happening now in music; it's useless to become too insular and ignorant. It wouldn't be appropriate to write music without having as much knowledge about music and its history as you possibly can, in my opinion. Surprise yourself: go to a shop or a library or your friend's CD collection and pick out an artist or composer who you've never heard of before and immerse yourself. It might change your life. Also, another piece of advice is to write everything down that you think of; I always forget to do this and hate myself afterwards.
Would you ever consider writing music for other musicians, or do you value the idea of being completely original more?
I think that composers and performers are both equal in their abilities to be original; being both composer and performer does not mean you are original by definition, of course. That's the wonderful thing about the creative process in relation to music, I think. It's an amazing experience for a composer to have someone else perform their work; I love to write music to be performed by others. There's this sort of 'pop stereotype' - that, just because a pop artist hasn't written every note or lyric for their new hit single, nor arranged every single one of his or her own orchestral parts, they cannot by definition be original. I think it's a bit contentious, if I'm honest; I don't agree with the fact that all artists who perform but don't compose are less worthy of being regarded as original and talented. Some of the 'original' singer-songwriters out there are gruellingly unoriginal in all senses, after all! I think everyone has a place in music; I doubt, say, One Direction's songwriters would be able to perform as well as the boys do! Plus, I think a lot of people would be surprised by how many writing and production teams there are behind a great deal of 'original' songwriter-performers. Indeed, try and tell the world great violinist who is learning someone else's violin concerto that they are unoriginal!
Who would you most dream of collaborating with?
What a lovely question… I think it would be one of my 'all-time' heroes: Björk or Kate Bush. I'm also very obsessed with the voice of the wonderful Antony Hegarty. Also Florence Welch, Natasha 'Bat for Lashes' Khan, and Bishi. I think there are so many amazingly talented performers and composers out there!
On the subject of collaborations, if another musician approached you (to work together), how would you react as a solo artist?
I think there has to be a definite artistic connection between two people who collaborate which is obvious from the very start of the process. I like intriguing people, I think, who have ideas which I'm not expecting. I'm quite insular, though, really… I find it hard to collaborate with someone without one of us 'overtaking' the other in some way. I think I need lots more years of experience as a solo artist before I'll feel totally comfortable letting someone else into my perfectionist sphere!
And finally, your video portrait series: they obviously reflect your love for where you grew up, and seem very personal to you. What was your main reason for releasing them?
Thank you for acknowledging the portraits! I wanted to show the process and the general aesthetic of Seize the Water in a visual sense. The wonderful Christina Webber, who shot the cover art for the single, filmed the portraits. We both wanted a 'home video' style to them, which wasn't hard to create, as Chrissy is a great friend of mine and most of the shots she took were done without my knowledge! I think I watch them more than anyone else… they're very natural and make me very happy and nostalgic, I think.
so, that is all for my little insight into the musical world of Jake Downs. here's his music video (isn't he lovely?)
love Sinead xxxxx