When someone mentions Nashville, what do you think? Tennessee is, after all, the home of country, but when it comes to music Nashville isn’t a place typically associated with RnB. Enter JMR. The alias of singer-songwriter Joshua Michael Robinson, JMR’s signature sound is one wholly at odds with that of his hometown. His latest music – taken from his new EP, Boyish, which is released today – even shakes up his own his own formula; the sound of his previous 2016 EP Ritual was infused with bubbling electronica, but with Boyish Robinson has committed fully to his understated RnB sound.
His recent single ‘Bound’ marries simple beats and percussion with tasteful synth work, whilst its follow-up ‘June Carter’ dials things back even further with its minimalistic structure. Robinson’s most profound instrument, however, is his voice. Whether it be the mournful crooning found on ‘June Carter’ or the falsetto harmonies of ‘Bound’, one thing is clear: Robinson is a masterful and classy singer, one who utilises his vocal fully in his quest to realise his creative vision, and wanting to be privy to the inner workings of JMR we sought him out to find out more…
You’ve just released your new track ‘Bound’! We love its contemporary RnB vibe; can you tell us a little about what went into creating the track?
Once I had written the song I felt the narrative became more powerful when sang by a choir. I didn’t have immediate access to one, so I began singing the parts myself and it just stuck. My friend Jeremiah and I messed with some tape delay later on which helped make the track a little more unnerving. I didn’t want to follow a formula but stay true to the feeling when making the song.
What themes were inspiring you when you were writing the song?
I had recently watched a documentary about the leftover American land mines scattered over Vietnam that are yet to be detonated and still endanger the country’s natives today. At the time I was feeling trapped, limited in my trajectory, because of decisions out of my control. I was inspired by the choice of freedom despite circumstance.
You do some great vocal work in regards to the harmonies. How important is singing to you? When did you discover your voice?
Thank you so much. I have a love/hate relationship with singing. On this EP’s closing song, a ballad, I wrote about singing when you don’t know you are. I love singing most when I catch myself involuntarily humming a tune– when it’s a natural response to how sweet or solemn life can be. When I was in my early teens I remember making my mother laugh with my impressions of the range of Johnny Cash’s “Daddy Sang Bass.” It’s always been a part of my life.
The RnB and soul sound of ‘Bound’ is more low-key than that of your previous EP Ritual, which has more electronic elements. Was there anything that inspired the change?
I never want to feel trapped by a genre or production style. A dusty, Mississippi, hollow-body guitar sound seemed to fit the feeling I was going for. Stomps, chains and vinyl samples helped give context to the feeling.
You self-produced your upcoming EP Boyish. When did you begin to experiment with that and how important is it to maintain control of your creative vision?
I began recording myself at 14. Since then I’ve spent too much of the money I make on gear and too much of the time I have from learning from those better than me. I had a decent grip on the production of this EP and last year I brought a friend – Jeremiah Dunlap – on board because I knew he wouldn’t copy and paste a favourite recipe. We had a couple compounds in Florida and in a cabin in the mountains of Tennessee. The vision was on a song to song basis for this EP. Additionally the creation of this group of songs span a four-year time period. The beginning of ‘Not Said Enough’, the EP’s introduction, was one of the first things I recorded on a newly bought pro tools many years ago. I think this project as a whole is about trying different things and this EP is no different.
Is there anything that you can tell us about your new EP to whet our appetite?
I was visiting a hero of mine in Miami, Salaam Remi, and during my time there he insisted I go outside and get out of the way and search for the story only I can tell. His guidance led me to writing the track ‘Harbinger’ on the EP that features another hero, Robert Glasper. That song and conversation with Salaam sparked a change for me that I’m only beginning to unravel.
I think my old label put that together. I had written a ballad to some of his sparse instrumentation. He kind of flipped the production and I sent back some vocal takes. I checked back in and they said it was coming out a couple weeks later. Sometimes it’s nice to move that quick and keep it raw. It’s cool to see a different approach to the melodies I write.
You’ve previously stated that your first album was Jeff Buckly’s Grace. What makes you love that album so much and has it helped influence your own music?
By no means is that album perfect. [It’s a] different album, but when the bridge comes in on ‘Everybody Here Wants You’, I always squint and wonder “Why Jeff, why?” Grace and Jeff Buckley overall introduced me to a kind of emotional honesty in song writing that I wasn’t familiar with. When he’s on stage he’s not playing for you, he’s playing for himself and the audience is just a fly on the wall. I want to be that way. I want to be on stage with just a guitar and captivate an audience. No gimmicks.
Are there any new artists that you love right now that should be on our radar?
I basically just listen to Sharon Van Etten and Feist lately, ha.
What else do you have planned for 2017?
I’m devoting a lot of my attention towards writing a short film and story. It’s been an exciting leap of faith.
Is there anything else that you would like to add?
Mainly, just a thank you for supporting me and allowing me to keep doing what I love doing. I’m excited to push myself more and more and would be nothing without the people that give me that opportunity.
JMR’s new EP, Boyish, is out now.