In a world where musical styles are ever-evolving, changing, and melting together, many artists describe their sound as a cross section of two independent genres. Rather than a subset that pinpoints, to a tee, the exact corner a song lives in (Rock => Blues Rock, British Invasion, Glam Rock, Rockabilly), this way of categorizing brings artists to an open field of sonic possibility. If “Old Town Road” has taught us anything, it’s that we truly live in a crossover era (lest we forget brave souls like Nelly & Tim McGraw [“Over and Over”] that paved the way). Enter Jeremy Jones, melder of soul and pop, an artist for whom Radiohead strives to meet Kanye, and they live in peace.
When I sat down with Jones for drinks on the east side, it was the middle of an unusually gloomy and rainy May. Unusual, that is, for sunny Southern California. But that kind of weather would not be unusual for Indiana, where both of us happen to be from. I wasn’t going to bring attention to this fact, but my excitement got the best of me, and naturally, “So you’re from Indiana?” were pretty much the first words out of my mouth. Like many L.A. transplants, Jones came out here three years ago drawn by a creative promise, specifically with a band formed at Ball State University. While that band is no longer together, Jones is still chasing that dream—and showing no signs of slowing down.
Jones had just finished a day of busking on the L.A. Metro when we met up. It’s surprising—even though L.A. is a music hub, high quality busking is not something you see everyday in Hollywood. More often than not, the musicians you run into in public spaces resemble the man playing incoherent flute outside the local Trader Joes, not the type you stop and listen to. But for Jones and the musicians/friends he performs with, it presents a unique challenge and opportunity.
In L.A., people quickly warm up once they start playing, partially because street performing isn’t as common as it is in other cities. “The hardest part about it is getting past the awkward stares at first, like right when you open up the case,” he explains. With Jones often on viola and others across on guitar and vocals, they find covers draw strong reactions, but they also try to play original songs. “It’s a good place to practice your originals because you’re forcing yourself to flesh it out in live performance rather in your room or in a studio,” he says. “You’re actually doing it in front of people. It’s a different experience.” It’s a welcome change to the overprocessed world of studios, complete with too many egos—as he puts it, the best way to do the L.A. circuit is to do it your own way, like performing on the train.
In many ways, you could say Radiohead is the reason Jones started busking. Love for the band is what kickstarted the idea to perform on the train over a year ago when he saw his now-friend Kiazi singing. “For one, I was like ‘Wow, someone’s playing on the (train) platform,’ but also it’s a black guy playing Radiohead which is, for me, surprising.” This eventually sparked the idea that they could join forces—“That could be really cool, two black guys playing stuff like Radiohead. Not Migos, something completely different.”
When they’re not playing to L.A. commuters, Jones and his friends are all working on projects as solo artists. In addition to being a violist, Jones is also a singer, writer, and producer, releasing music through Darling Recordings. Jones’ most recent release, LATE BLOOMER, is filled to the brim with catchy R&B hooks and soulful melodies. Catchy, but a little left-of-center with production that clearly showcases a world of influences outside the genres the EP lives in and simultaneously bends.
Jones cites Pharrell and Kanye West as impacting his taste growing up, and listening to LATE BLOOMER, it’s easy to hear where the two meet, pop sensibilities crossed with an extensive production pallette. It’s a fine line many artists walk, but Jones is particularly aware of it: How do you write relatable songs with wide appeal that still push the envelope? In this case, it seems to stem from having a wide variety of influences and the ability to receive listeners’ honest, raw, real-time response. And from our conversation, it seems like Jones will be exploring this question even more in the music to come.
Lyrically, LATE BLOOMER touches on the complexity of relationships, growing pains, identity, and even light politics. The first track, “Intention,” details the struggle of letting other people’s words (or sometimes lack of words) get in your head, a familiar battle for many, but especially an emerging artist in such a musically saturated town as LA. When asked about the title of the EP, Jones commented, “I feel like I got a late start to going after a music career.” Even if later than anticipated, Jeremy Jones is now moving full speed ahead. Whether it’s on the train or online, he’s wasting no time getting his soulful pop to the masses.
LATE BLOOMER is out now.