Oyster #95: Nicolas Jaar
Wait, so you have a friend who just doesn't like ? doesn't care ? about music?
In Oyster issue #95 Ariane Halls caught up with electronic musician Nicolas Jaar to discuss Glastonbury, computers and... having faith in music's conceptual power. Here's an excerpt from our interview:
Raised in New York and Chile, the son of an artist father and dancer mother, Nicolas Jaar had his first major release at the age of 17 - almost unheard of for an electronic musician - and since then has been creating music at an alarming rate. After the release of his debut album, Space Is Only Noise, earlier this year, the Guardian described him as "the Renaissance man of electronic music." Does that sound intimidating to you? Because it did to me. Perhaps the most eloquent 21-year-old I've ever spoken with, he's also the only person I've interviewed who has requested a transcript of the conversation, "just to make sure I didn't say anything I didn't mean."
Ariane Halls: You've just been on a long tour, is that right?
Nicolas Jaar: Yeah, it's been a pretty long tour, but it's been nice; really fun.
I know you played Glastonbury, what was it like performing there?
Let's see, Glastonbury was pretty fun. Let me think about it for a second. Well, the mud was pretty crazy. And we were staying at this duchess' house, and so I kind of preferred hanging out there, by the pool, than going into this crazy festival and having to deal with the mud and stuff.
How did you end up staying at a duchess' house?
I don't know, she just rents it out when there's a Glastonbury. So, it was, like, 'hanging out in the mud' or 'going back to the pool', and I kind of always picked 'pool'.
The electronic music scene in the UK is very healthy...
Especially when compared with that in the US. What do you think will happen in the future? How does an artist like you survive in the US?
Well, the US is still OK. I feel like if you listen to mainstream hip hop and pop music, it's all trance and techno. So, it's alright; it's happening more and more, you know? The influence of electronic music is pretty obvious now in the US. So, I think it's OK - I mean, I've still got a year to go in school; I'm not really trying to live off music yet, so I don't really know what it's like. But I think it's going to be fun. I think in the US, if anything, there's going to be a very, very healthy electronic music scene in the next five years.
Where do people go out to listen to music like yours?
Is it only in New York? Is there anywhere else?
No, I'm sure - I mean, there are little hubs all around. We're going to - me and my band - we're going to do a US tour in January, so I'm pretty sure there are places to play everywhere. But mainly, I think, there's this place 'Le Poisson Rouge' in New York, where Mount Kimbie played, for example. You've also got the Music Hall of Williamsburg - Matthew Dear has played there and James Blake has played there. So, there are a couple of little places and they get a really good audience. New York is a good place for music.
I watched an interview with you where you were talking about how music now might sound original, but it's only because the people who are making it have grown up with the technology?
I think, at least for me - and I can only speak for myself here - I grew up with the computer being an appliance, like anything else. I know that I use a computer and I use electronic machines kind of like a guitar player uses a guitar - there's no difference for me - and so I just think, once you have that level of being comfortable with your instrument, then you can just not preoccupy [yourself] with trying to sound cool or trying to sound a certain way; you can just express yourself with a medium. But, it's difficult to get there with computers, obviously, because a computer is an appliance you can use for so many different things? It's not really very romantic; if anything, its kind of boring to hear. But it's exciting to be able to be honest with a computer, and I think we've gotten there.
What do you mean by "honest"?
Like, you know, I'm not going into a song and being like, "Oh, I'm going to try to emulate eighties rock," or like, "I want this bassline to sound like this or that." I feel like, when you're not feeling very comfortable with an instrument, then you're trying to emulate. But when you're comfortable enough to just be able to do exactly what you want to do - what's inside your mind, you know; something original - you need to be really comfortable with your instrument to feel that way. And I think that, some people in my generation, we've gotten there with machines and with computers, and it's exciting to now, finally, be able to hear the music that people were making all this time in their bedrooms. So, it sounds completely unlike any other music that's ever come before.
A friend of mine says that she has no interest in music whatsoever, but I read an article that described you as having "faith in music's conceptual power". What do you think of someone who says they're not into music, or what do you think the power of music is?
Wait, so you have a friend who just doesn't like - doesn't care - about music?
Well... I know some people who are like that about film. I think, in the end, calling it the "conceptual power" of music is kind of giving it too little and also too much, because it's not just conceptual, and that's kind of the whole point. The beauty of music, for me at least, or one of the parts that I find so beautiful, that really makes me want to wake up and make music every day - is the fact that it's just a very basic feeling that everyone shares. The beautiful part of it is that, sure, you can think about all these crazy concepts, and cool technical things you can do with machines, or whatever, but, if you're comfortable enough with what you're using, and if you're good enough at what you do, then you can truly share that feeling with a lot of people. So, I think music is firstly a bodily thing, a feeling thing; and then secondly, it's a conceptual thing. I think that's so amazing. You know, when you're reading a book, it's not the same thing; when you're watching a movie, it's also not the same thing; but music is just feelings, at first - that's so amazing. At least to me.
Do you enjoy playing live, then, and seeing people react?
Yeah, I love playing live. It's really fun. I had an amazing time on tour. I wasn't expecting to have such a good time, but I found myself really very productive on tour. Just overall [it was] great.
But not DJing - you don't DJ at all?
No, I don't DJ.
Because you don't like it, or...
No, I love DJing, I really love DJing; it's not about that. It's more I just prefer giving my own music to people, instead of giving other people's music. You know, right now I'm still making all my own music, I'm making it all the time, and so I love giving it back to people.
Check out one of our favourite Nicolas Jaar videos:
Nicolas Jaar, '-^Tre/ Etre'
Photography: Colin Leaman