There’s been a bit of a funk drought through the airwaves lately – a genre loved by so many that has surprisingly started to fade into the mist. Enter Marlon James – a young dead-good Toronto producer who’s new self-titled EP is sure to get you back into the mood. We sat down with Marlon to discuss his process, production style, and Shaggy.
AMBY: Your musical style seems to be inspired by many different genres. Is that conscious in you to try and push or challenge the boundaries within different styles of music, or do you just do what comes naturally to you?
MJ: It’s subconscious in my writing process but definitely something I strongly believe in. Originality is key.
AMBY: What was your baby music like as a kid (what was playing around your house when you were young)?
MJ: Classic rock and blues from my pops and a pretty eclectic mix of jazz and old r&b/funk from my mom. Lots of Neil Young, Stevie Wonder, Sly & The Family Stone…etc.
AMBY: Do you think that may have influenced your taste in what you like now?
MJ: 100%. I’ve always maintained that my mom could be the best A&R in the game. She was listening to Shaggy like a year before he was popping.
AMBY: Do you miss playing in the band setting, or are you enjoying the solo act? There are pros and cons to both, I suppose.
MJ: It’s a lot more work doing the solo thing, but I much prefer having total creative control.
AMBY: I wanted to ask you about your recording process. Was a lot of the music composed in the studio / on the computer, with instruments surrounding you? Or did you write all the songs in full beforehand, and play dress-up afterward.
MJ: Most of the songs were made at home with my computer and some instruments. Shine was made originally by myself and Birthday Boy with programmed drums and soft synths, and was later brought into the studio with the live band.
AMBY: Your production style is very tight, and you can tell there’s a lot of TLC that went into the recording of your EP. I’m just wondering if you’re a perfectionist in the studio, or if you make any loose choices on occasion – like keeping dummy vocals, for instance.
MJ: I’m a perfectionist but I’m a fan of the raw. Some of my favourite stuff I ever made only exists as a voice note form. I’m a Fan-Tas-Tic Vol. 1 kind of guy.
AMBY: Your voice is distinctly soulful, and definitely seems to be one of your musical trademarks. Were you always interested in singing, or did it just become a part of the solo work you wanted to make?
MJ: I’ve been singing since I was 12 years old, but when it comes to the music i’m doing now, my singing is really a result of being a producer who has never been able to find the singer I’m looking for. It’s easiest for me to translate my ideas by just doing them myself.
AMBY: Your EP has a very cohesive sound, and I was wondering if it was a blitz in the studio (and that’s why it sounds very “together”), or if it’s because you took your time to comb over everything carefully in order to get that certain feel you were going for?
MJ: I think that’s a result of me being a fan of albums as an art form The Marlon James EP has an underlying theme of a trip I took to India. The sound clips in the interludes are from voice notes I recorded there on my phone and the whole underlying percussion track on “Away” is actually a looped recording of a robotic drummer that I saw as part of an art installation at Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
AMBY: I love the song Wound Up. Can you speak about what this song means to you at all (or where it was written)?
MJ: That’s actually probably the 3rd version of that song. It transformed over a period of about 2 months with the hook written first and the verses coming later. It’s pretty much about my vices and how they were affecting me at the time.
AMBY: What is the best advice you’ve been given in your music career?
MJ: Keep it jiggy.
AMBY: Is there anyone you wish to collaborate with? Or are you happy in solitude for now.
MJ: I would love to work with Daniel Caesar, he makes some hauntingly beautiful music. Also currently super into Gabriel Garzón-Montano, and I think Jai Paul is a genius.
AMBY: Any upcoming shows in Toronto?
MJ: Busy in the studio now but big plans for summer ’16.
Thank you Marlon James, for giving us your answers!
Interview by Rosemary Fairweather