The Brisbane artist chats working with Malay, Clams Casino, Andrew Wyatt and more.
Jarryd James’ second album P.M. came together across three continents over a period of several years. Its eventual January 2021 release will mean it arrives six years after James’ breakthrough single ‘Do You Remember’, which appeared on his debut album, Thirty One.
‘Do You Remember’ wasn’t created without expectations – Lorde and Taylor Swift producer Joel Little co-wrote the song – but its success has irreversibly altered the course of James’ life. As well as making it to the Hottest 100 top ten and introducing James to a global audience, the song allowed the Brisbane musician to abandon his previous job as a social worker.
“In the scheme of my musical journey throughout my life, I’ve been at it for a while in various shapes and forms,” James says.
“But the last five, six years, it was pretty confronting at first. My life did change fairly quickly and pretty dramatically and I was suddenly travelling a lot and always in different time zones and it’s a bit of a blur when I think back. But it’s been good – I get to make music for a living.”
‘Do You Remember’ has collected many accolades since its initial release in January 2015. It’s racked up more than 100m Spotify streams, was certified double platinum by ARIA and was named the fourth most Shazamed song of the 2010s. But James was never vying to be a fixture on the singles chart.
During the making of P.M., rather than strategising about how to match the commercial highs of Thirty One, James was focused on making an artistic progression. He worked closely with writer/producers Joel Little and Malay, both of whom played a major hand in the production of Thirty One. Various other big names appear in the album credits, including Clams Casino, Andrew Wyatt, M-Phazes and Cautious Clay.
“Collaborating and experimenting with other people that have different angles and different ears and different perspectives is absolutely essential to what I do,” says James. “Otherwise, I really think it would be a piece of shit.
“I cannot seem to finish things fully by myself. There’s a point that I can get to, but after that I really need someone else to take over the driver’s seat so I can fully immerse myself in writing lyrics and melodies.”
Malay is best known as Frank Ocean’s most frequent studio collaborator – he receives co-writing and producing credits on the majority of tracks from Ocean’s seminal releases, Channel Orange and Blonde. Witnessing his working methods, as well as those of people like Little and Wyatt, was an instructive experience for James.
“You soak up so much stuff from just being in the studio environment with someone like Malay and just observing,” he says. “You somehow adopt some of what they do and it becomes a new part of how you make music yourself. Same with Joel, watching him work is so effortless and he’s just so dialled into to certain things that it makes the whole thing purely creative – you’re not working, just flowing.”
The album took shape in sessions spanning Los Angeles, New York, Brisbane and Auckland. It’s a fairly a typical list of locations for a contemporary Australian pop release, but the track ‘Let It Go’ came together in a more curious location: the Nicaraguan jungle.
“That was a one-off writing trip run by a record label called Neon Gold who run it at this spot they have set up there,” James says. “They asked Joel Little to curate that one, so he just invited a bunch of his friends like myself and the Broods kids and a few other people. We all went out into the jungle and spent seven days working with a different set of people every day.”
James made ‘Let It Go’ came with M-Phazes, who’s known for his work with Kehlani, Amy Shark, Kimbra and pop-rapper Kyle. They’d never met before the trip to Nicaragua, but were paired up one morning and tasked with completing a song by evening time.
“It was just me and him in this tiny little room that had probably four-inch monitors, I don’t even remember what brand they were,” says James. “We had a microphone, an interface and these little monitors and some headphones and we just had to pretty much improvise with what we had. We recorded my vocals and he had to work pretty hard to get all of the monkey sounds out of, but he nailed it.”
American producer Clams Casino has worked on releases for Joji, A$AP Ferg, Vince Staples and FKA twigs. He linked up with James and Malay on the production of ‘Problems’, which is led by a room-shaking bass groove and James’ syncopated drumming.
“We’d been working out of this studio called Germano Studios in New York, which is a pretty legendary spot owned by this guy, Troy Germano, whose parents ran The Hit Factory back in the day. Me and Malay were working out of that studio and one day Clams came in as well,” James says.
“I was just dicking around on the drums in the live room and Malay’s always tracking that stuff because you never know when something cool is going to happen. Clams chopped it up in Acid Pro and put that together and then I just started grooving on the bass.”
It’s taken more than five years for P.M. to come to fruition, but James is satisfied with the end result.
“I made that first album in the midst of a lot of drastic life changes and my head was all over the place. So [for P.M.] I really just wanted to focus on making the exact record that I wanted to make and really focus on getting all the textures right and making a pretty cohesive thing. I really wanted to make it much more in the direction of the R&B/neo-soul kind of corner of things.”
P.M. is out now via Island Records Australia.