An Interview With Jackson Whalan: A Multi-Talented Lyricist and Producer
Where did you grow up and where do you reside now?
I grew up in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, in a town called Great Barrington, and I currently reside in Brooklyn, New York City.
What and who inspires you the most as a musician/songwriter?
I get inspired when there is a strong purpose driving an artist to express something. I gauge how inspired I am when I get a physical feeling from a person’s creativity. It happens when something I’ve never experienced before is done extremely well. A sensitive new age brethren might call it a “mega-download.” I can’t really call it anything or know what it means, but I know it when I feel it. This happens a lot when I travel to new places too, or when I’m riding my bike through the city seeing the world and society as an art of itself. Going to India was moving in this way.
My younger brother Matt, who spends most of his time writing poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, inspires me most directly. His attention to detail in writing and his knowledge of the world is something that has fed my imagination and music since I can remember. Big ups to my bro. A lot of inspiration comes from the music that my bandmates Sam, Brandon, and Carmen create— they also constantly show me new music they’ve been listening to, always broadening my horizons. Carmen, also in my band, is one the most inspiring vocalists I have ever met. I get inspired when I see my close friends doing what they love. Anyone who knows me well enough, will learn that I love swung, un-quantitized boom-bap hip-hop more than anything though.
The following are a few people and groups who I am inspired by and have recently played shows or collaborated with: Slick Rick, Mr. Lif, J Rocc (Stones Throw Records), Blockhead, JoJo Mayer and Nerve, Dave Eggar, Rabbi Darkside, The Lesson (Gentei Kaijo), Hammerstep, lespecial, Space Jesus, Ross Jenssen, Skytree, M!NT, Jade Cicada, Raiche Wright, Teruko Kushi, Truth Now, Ian Stewart, Robby Baier, Rasp 5, Lean Automatic, and more.
Further inspirations: My family, Gangstarr, KRS-ONE, J Dilla, BEATDIMENSIONS (soundcloud page), Saul Williams, Thievery Corporation, Kendrick Lamar, Aesop Rock, Jay-Z: Reasonable Doubt, Nas: Illmatic, Adam Deitch, The Last Emperor: “Meditation”, Eminem, Pretty Lights’, Bassnectar, Louis C.K., Joey Bada$$, Ott, Tipper, Yasiin Bey/Mos Def (his secret album True Magic), Edward Snowden, Yheti, Alex Grey, Duncan Trussel and his raspy lesbian voice, The Big Up, Janak’s Pance clothing, Lauryn Hill (especially on The Fugees The Score..), Amy Winehouse, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Jadon, Killah Priest, Poets like Garcia Lorca, Walt Whitman, and others, are also inspiring in their way of bringing images to life with few words. The ancient Celtic “bards” are fascinating too (check that out). and many more …
When did you realize you had a deep-rooted passion for hip-hop?
I was around eight years old; I found some CDs my older brother Adam left at our house when he moved out. One of them was De La Soul’s Art Official Intelligence. That may have been the first hip-hop record I ever listened to. The song “Ooh, Ooh” is what did it at first. I wasn’t really aware then how much this and other songs would shape my whole future. I started getting really into it. No other music at that time could reflect what I was feeling. All the sudden, an older rapper from my hometown, Reggie (Dominik Omega), somehow believed in me enough to help me start rapping and writing in bars to music. I would run away from home at night, to go see him at the burrito shop where he worked, because he was the best rapper around. I looked up to him more than anyone. I knew I wanted to rap. Even though it wasn’t encouraged by anyone except for Reggie. He started working at a place called Railroad Street Youth Project. There was a drop in center for kids to hang out and play X-Box and listen to music. Every kid I knew who was older than me went there to hang out, so that’s where I went. The first rhyme I ever recorded was on a tape recorder at my dad’s house when I was eleven or twelve, using a shitty 80s keyboard that spat out some basic drum beats. My little brother was rapping with me… He must have been seven or eight at the time. Then I started getting into local studios that Reggie linked me with. Around this time growing up, my parents were splitting up, 9/11 happened, my grandmother on my dad’s side of the family passed away in a tragic car accident, and I was getting into trouble a lot, hanging with an older crew. Hip-Hop came into my life at a time when I desperately needed something to be passionate about, to be able to deal with the reality of struggle in positive way. After so much in between then and now, I’m continuously reminded of my passion for hip-hop, and music at large, by discovering new artists who are evolving its’ elements in ways that stand out, by continuing to be themselves regardless of the odds.
When did you start producing music on Ableton?
I’ve been producing on Ableton since 2010, so almost six years. Before that I was making beats on Reason for years, and recording vocals in Digital Performer.
I know you’re in a band, Technicolor Lenses. How long has Technicolor Lenses been a band? What does the future look like for you guys?
I co-founded the band Technicolor Lenses with Sam (Esseks) in 2010 with our debut performance at The Big Up Music Festival. Sam and I met while living in a dorm and attending the The New School as freshmen in 2009. We were a duo art first, playing every show we could in Manhattan and Brooklyn, while making an album in our first apartment. Then Brandon, our drummer, joined us the following year. Soon after that Carmen became a guest vocalist and percussionist. We have been a group for about five years now. Since forming the band, we have each launched solo projects as well, and we each collaborate with handfuls of artists. When we make music together, it’s Technicolor Lenses, and the sound is powerful. Up next we are playing live at Spectral Fest in New Hampshire (July 16th-19th), followed by a 3 day recording session and promotional film shoot at Substation Studio in Massachusetts. There’s one song we are working on that I am especially excited about. With tempo and melody, it’s very different than anything we’ve done before. It’s less lyrical, and is much more dance-oriented. As far as live shows go, I would love to see the band touring through more of the U.S., and then international. We’ve had a presence in the northeast for a few years, and it feels natural to me that we continue expanding. We recently played at Brooklyn Bowl, which was a good milestone for us here on the east coast. I’d love to keep touring more and more as our music keeps evolving. Music video for our song “Chrome Heart”: (insert link).
I know you’re releasing a new album, can you tell us a bit about it? Genre wise? How many tracks?
I have six songs ready for an upcoming release titled Pivotal Frequencies. As a disclaimer, I usually rap on every song that I make… out of instinct. But I have been producing music for almost the same amount of time as I’ve been rapping. So I am dropping this next project without lyrics on most tracks. Besides one song with a guest vocalist, the album is all instrumental. It’s a challenge for me to hold back on recording lyrics— I would love to rap on these productions. And I probably will at some point. But I want to let the music speak for itself with this release, and let the listener make up his or her own inner dialogue. Being able to do a DJ set and have a dance floor move without words is a language of its own too. The title “Pivotal Frequencies” is a way of saying that “sound is movement.”, and that sound creates movement. I like the two words put together. Teruko, who did the album art for this project, brings these few ideas to life so well with her imagery. I hope this music can bring joy and worthwhile moments into people’s lives. All music I release is directed at transcending struggle, and having a wonderful time. I’ve been sitting with these tunes unreleased for a while, so I am thrilled to finally share them.
Genre-wise, the music carries the overarching theme of hip-hop and beat scene style. There are also elements of dub, DnB, uptempo breakbeats, experimental, trap, electro-soul, neuro-funk, glitch-hop, RnB, and and future bass influences.
How long have you been working on this album? When will it be released?
I have been working on Pivotal Frequencies for about 8 months, starting when I moved back to Brooklyn in the beginning of 2015. I will be announcing the release date very soon! But anyhow, I am going to release the six songs one at a time for streaming only. After that's complete, I will distribute it and officially release. That's what I feel like doing.
I just made the lead single public on Soundcloud today, titled "On the Job":
Definitely take a listen to get a taste.
Over the past few years, what are some of your favorite memories - performance wise? Songwriting wise?
I have a collaboration on a song with Mr. Lif in the works. Doing a track with him was impactful because I look up to him a lot— he’s one of my favorite mcs, and he’s been doing it for a while. The song with Mr. Lif will come out sometime this year, on an album produced by my friend good friend, Ian Stewart. With Tech Lenses, one of my fondest memories is when we were performing at The Big Up in 2011. The sun was setting with clear skies, then a pouring rain storm came immediately after we performed. It felt like we summoned the rain with our music. We went back to our campsite in a parade and were singing and dancing raging in the rain. We were so happy about how the performance went and the crowd that was there with us. Any time like this with my friends is memorable.
As far as songwriting goes, my most fond memories are making music at SubStation Studio with Robby Baier, the owner of the studio and longtime friend/mentor.
Did you see yourself making music five years ago? Where do you see yourself in five years?
Yes I did. I was making music then. I am hopeful that the next five years will be pivotal for me if I keep up what I’m doing. I also think it’s important for me to balance my highest goals with simply doing this for the love of it regardless of the outcome, or income. But yeah, in the next five years, my goal is to be traveling around the world sharing music and lyrics that inspire people, daily. To be tangible, in five years I will have played a sold out Red Rocks concert and will be collaborating with many of the artists I look up to :)
What artists do you think are really crushing the game right now? Who would you like to perform with in the future?
Hiatus Kayote, live band from Australia, is crushing the game right now. I want to perform with them in the future ;) But they’re not the only ones.