Sunday, September 18, 2011

John West Interview

With his combination of positive lyrics, smooth soulful voice and catchy beats, John West proves to be a hybrid musician that everyone can enjoy. The Baton Rouge native, spent a majority of the last several years honing his craft while playing for crowds on the streets of Santa Monica. A little over a year ago, West signed a major record label deal and has been working hard on writing and recording his debut LP, set to drop this fall. I recently had the chance to sit down with the Mercury Records artist to discuss how he got hooked up with the label, the current status of his debut album and musical background. Check him out at 
How has the tour been thus far?West: For me, this is my first tour. So right now I am just learning how to get comfortable. It's almost like going to summer camp, where you have those first two weeks where you are like "I'm homesick!" Now I have gotten into my own flow, because on the bus it's just twelve dudes. It's cool, but everyone has to get acquainted quickly. We have these little bottom bunks that are almost coffin like (laughs), but it is so cool to be on a tour bus. Good times (laughs).
I just saw you play live, and I was wondering who are some people that you have looked up to in the past, in regards to stage presence and live performance.
West: I have been listening to a bunch of Jane's Addiction lately, only because I absolutely love their first album. He (Perry Cantrell) isn't the best singer, but just the way that he plays onstage and is able to get his band into a certain kind of vibe is inspiring. I come from a street performing background, so on a more old school tip, Bill Withers is the man hands down. He is somebody who did his thing, was obviously successful at it and also decided that he was going to have a real life too. After a certain period, he decided he was going to take a break from doing the whole live thing and focus on his family. Guys like Neil Young too, people that had a life outside of performing and who weren't consumer with their careers.
How did you get into street performing originally?West: I first started about five years ago when I moved out to L.A. and I met someone on MySpace, who wrote a song with and they were like "come out to 3rd street Promenade, and check out my friend Hope (on Atlantic Records). She is a really dope artist!" I basically saw her go out there and sell a 100 CD'S in a day and was amazed. So I started going out there by myself, and did it solo acoustic for about a year. It was hit or miss. On my best day, I would sell 40-50 CD'S but on a slow day you might sell two. I would go out there on a Saturday or Sunday and play two, two hour sets and be out there for eight or nine hours. So, I took a break for a year, and when I came back I brought a percussionist and played some more dynamic songs, that had the "8O8" sound. We would bring out a box drum, but hit it with a mallet to give it a booming sound. We would interact with the crowd more and started to learn how to put together a live set. All of the sudden we started doing really well, selling eighty or ninety CD's a day. We had a homeless dude selling our merchandise for us, Davey Hustle. He would be out there passing out fliers for our show and selling CD's. I did that for a couple of years and then got a manager, and began writing new songs. The 3rd Street Promenade wasn't connected to us getting the record deal, directly, but it was cool. Through the Promenade I was able to promote shows, because if I was selling close to a hundred CD's in a day, we could hand out five times that amount in fliers. Our motto out there was the "Humble Hustle."
Tell me about the time period between the "Humble Hustle" and starting to attract attention from major record labels.
West: Well, I had been out there for about a year basically making a living, being able to pay my rent. Then I did another year with a percussionist and then the next year I got with my manager. Every year I did only about three or four shows in L.A., so you would split them up and pass out fliers. We got the deal last year, the same weekend as Lollapalooza. Since then, we have just been making the album.
Any idea when the album is coming out?
West: Well, the last track on the album "Already There," will have Big Sean on it, which was just confirmed. He did a verse on it and it’s a super cool dude too! We will basically put out that single, hopefully within the next month and then news on the album release will come after. We'll just have to see how it pans out.
With the album, how did some of the songs come together? Are you pulling some songs that you wrote a while back? Or did you write the whole album from scratch?
West: Some of the stuff is my old material, and then a lot of it is new. About seventy percent of it is new material. We have had some really cool sessions, and have been working with new producers.
Are you into co-writing? Or is it pretty much all you?
West: When you are working with a lot of Urban producers, you sort of split the publishing regardless who is doing what. I consider that co-writing, because you are both writing on the track, whether it's lyrics or the beat. Even when you are brining a rapper in to be on the track, they normally want twenty percent of the track. For the most part I am writing the new material in collaboration with some very talented people.
How does writing a song pan out for you personally?
West: I just try to write something that feels good to listen to and just feels good making it. It was completely different, when I used to just sit down with my guitar and it was my only source of inspiration. Now I work with a couple of guys. For example, I was working with these guys Pop and Oak. Pop does the beats, so you may walk in and he already has an idea going. Then Oak will jump in with keys, and then I will figure out some stuff while he is working on the chords. It is a very collaborative process normally. You are really bouncing off of the person that you are working with, and hopefully it is the same for them. Every song is like a different dance, meaning you work differently with different people. You are always exploring different sides of what you can do. It's a good feeling when you come up with a good verse, or someone comes up with a good beat. You are able to feed off of each other's energy and jam and you are recording at the same time!
Are there any songs that you can think of, where you got that feeling?
West: Yeah, definitely! "Lovely," the track that we leaked with Pusha-T on it was a dope track. That was also one of my old songs that we re-recorded. When they came with the re-mix, the new beat and started throwing in string-arrangements, everyone started to get that great feeling. Some of the other singles are great, but I think that some of the best songs have come out of some of the most recent sessions with Pop and Oak. Only because I got to do something a little bit darker, but still with a positive message through a darker context.
Is that a challenge for you?
West: No, not really. With some of the new stuff, I am rapping in the songs more and more. Just doing that in interesting, darker ways. The reason that I rap on these songs is not because I am trying to be a rapper, but I just feel like that's what the song needs. Melody is so important, but I feel like you can say more in a song sometimes when it lacks a melody and depends more on the poetry of the song. Some of the new stuff has a combination of styles, much like a "Drake: sort of thing. Where I rap and sing over some really well produced stuff. I am excited about the record for sure!
What attracted you to Mercury Records? How did the opportunity come about?
West: We had a publishing guy who listened to some of the new tracks that I had been writing and specifically a teen-pop" song that I had written that was really for me. So we set up some A&R meetings and flew out to New York to meet with Mercury and some other labels too. On our last meeting of the day, we met up with the president of Mercury, David Massey and it was just an awesome meeting. We played him some of our songs and it was more of him telling us his vision of our music. He had a real old-school kind of vibe where he is all about the love, and putting out good music. He has worked with some great artists like Oasis, over the years too. He's just a cool dude. He was like "hey, I gotta go to Lollapalooza now." The next day we got a call we got a call from the record company saying, "we'd like for you to sign a record deal with us before you leave town." It was great, because we got a really fair deal and they have made us a priority over there. Maybe it's because we have made some good music along the way. They have given us some great creative freedom, both Dave and our AR guy, but it has been a good time. Now we are out on the road for the first time, just getting warmed up.
Perfect day, driving with the windows down, what are you listening to?
West: It might be kind of dorky. I have been listening to a lot of Jazz and Grant Green. I have also been listening to a lot of Joe Henderson, a really great tenor sax player. He was a really import figure in influencing modern jazz. It's really upbeat and I can just vibe out to it.

No comments:

Post a Comment