An Interview With Singer-Songwriter HENRY JAMISON On New Music and More!
Posted On 14 Aug 2017
Meet the Burlington, VT-based singer-songwriter Henry Jamison! He has amassed over 20 million track plays on Spotify for his narrative-driven, but experimental folk music, even before releasing his debut full-length album!
His upcoming LP ‘The Wilds’ is out October 27th, and he recently released the baseball-themed video for his biggest viral hit “Real Peach” (over 13 million streams) as well as other stand-out tracks “The Jacket” and “The Wilds.” He recorded the new album in a mountainside house in Goshen, VT — a location he previously recorded his ‘The Rains’ EP which he credits to inspiring him with its wilderness while also challenging him with its isolation.
Writing was always in Henry’s blood. He comes from a long line of familial bardic tradition; his great-great-great-great-great grandfather was George Frederick Root, a Civil War-era songwriter who penned “The Battle Cry of Freedom,” and he also traces his ancestry back to 14th Century British poet John Gower (a known friend to Chaucer). His mother is an English professor and his father is a classical composer, as well.
He has been inspired by the songwriting of Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell, as well as the guitar work of Nick Drake and fearless experimentation with synth harmonics of James Blake, Henry’s music takes the heart and soul of traditional Americana/folk and meshes it with a more avant-garde sonic sound and undeniably current writing style.
Learn more about Henry Jamison in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! How has 2017 been treating you? Musically, did you approach this year any differently then you did last year?
This year has been good. I did three support tours and finished my record, plus I’ve been writing and demoing new songs. I have some free time right now, but I’m planning my August/September tour and working on music every day, so I’m keeping pretty busy. It’s nice to feel busy in this way though.
Where does this interview find you today? Is there music playing in the background? If so, what is it? What kind of music do you listen to when you are working? What music gets you instantly out of a bad mood?
I just finished tracking some midi upright bass on a demo and after I do this interview, I’m gonna go see the folk duo Anna & Elizabeth at Shelburne Farms with my dad. I’ve been listening to their latest 7 inch, plus Arbos by Arvo Pärt and both put me in good moods, I guess, though not ecstatic, more contemplative.
Growing up, have you always wanted to be a musician? Can you recall your earliest musical memory? Do you think that knowing you had some incredible songwriters in your family helped convince you to pursue songwriting yourself?
I was well into songwriting before I learned about my family’s history and even then I don’t know that it changed my approach. My dad is a composer and got me going with some tiny guitars and a boombox that I recorded improvisations on. These songs included “I Don’t Wanna Go to School” and “Santa”. Recording those tapes is my earliest music-writing memory, though my brother and I also sat on my dad’s lap while he played piano and we sang children’s songs from a book called Go In and Out the Window.
If you weren’t a musician today, what else could you see yourself doing?
I’d maybe be getting a degree in philosophy or teaching fifth grade or both.
I always like to ask artists about where they came from and how that city or town has influenced them as an artist now. So how do you think Burlington, VT has affected who you are as a musician and the art that you create?
Maybe if I had ever lived in a bigger city then I’d have a better sense of how Vermont has shaped things. I will say that I’m only just now really appreciating the beauty of the lake and the trees etc. I’ve traveled enough this year to start integrating more of the world into my songwriting. I never want to be in this separate place where I’m not understanding how things really are “out there”, but as long as I feel like I’m in touch with the world as it is, then I don’t have any qualms about staying apart from it a bit in my refuge up here.
Later this year, you will be releasing your debut full-length album called “The Wilds.” What was it like putting this collection together? Did anything surprise you about the whole process? What was the inspiration for the songs on it?
I’d say that the whole process was like one big, slow surprise. There were a lot of stops and starts and changes in vision before it started rolling and ended up how it is. I’m not sure how much was lost in that winnowing-down, but I do think it was necessary for this collection. The central inspiration was relationship, but in this almost all-containing metaphor of the wildness of the imagination, how we spook ourselves and how we remain so unconscious of our motivations, but also how we can accept the plurality of our being and find some peace and how that peace comes through relating and hearing other people’s stories. This will stay my theme, since it’s so big, but my treatment of it will change.
I’d love to know more about what it was like recording “The Wilds” in a mountainside home? Why have you decided to record two collections in that environment? Is it the isolation that helped you write music? Can you elaborate what it was like writing a few of your favorite songs on this album?
Full disclosure: The Rains EP is on the record in its entirety. It’s just where it wanted to live, so it’s nestled in there with the 7 other songs. But I’ve been recording with Ethan West on the mountain for years now and the setting did inevitably work its way into the record. Not only in peaceful ways though; in panicky ways too, since the time recording came with all kinds of emotion. Maybe I wouldn’t have lit upon the “wilds” metaphor if it hadn’t been for his studio being there. The title track (“The Wilds”) actually came last, was written and recorded last. It sums the record up to some extent and builds off of a metaphor I use in another song, “Sunlit Juice”. That’s of the Roman soldiers moving into the hinterlands and converting pagans to Christianity; it’s a metaphor for what we do when we exert ego on our imagination, which can be conceived as a polytheistic universe, something that wants its freedom to be Many and not One. Those are some of my favorite songs here.
What are your plans for the rest of the summer? Do you have any tour dates currently lined up?
My US tour starts August 24th and I’ll be in New York for rehearsals the week before that. Between now and then, I’m reading and writing and getting things in order as much as I can. When I get back from that tour, I have a week or so off and then I go to Europe. And then my record comes out October 27th.
Who are some of your very favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music? What musicians would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
I mentioned Arvo Pärt before and I’ve loved him for over ten years. I’ve also been very inspired by Adrianne Lenker since a while before Big Thief formed. I played a show with her and Buck years ago in Williamsburg and felt then that they were making some of the most honest music I had heard. I still feel that way, maybe even especially now. I also always love Lady Lamb and Cuddle Magic and the fiddler Martin Hayes.
What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?
The stuff I said before, with the “wilds of the psyche” etc, I don’t think it should be explained so much. So I actually don’t feel the need to hash it out like I did before any more than is necessary to get the point across, if I can get it across at all. I just want people to come away with images and not to feel like I want them to make meaning out of them. The meaning is in the images.
What advice would you give to someone just getting started on this music path? Or even to someone young that is thinking of becoming a musician one day?
If you’re going to be a musician then it’ll just come right from you and you’ll have to do it. And then there’s a lot of time off, even on tour sometimes, so you have to stay calm both in the activity and in the sudden lulls. I think it helps to have other interests, actually. I’m tempted to say that if you feel like you need to be a musician then try not being one and see if you can take it. If you can’t take it, then you’ll figure it out.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers about yourself or your music?
About a month ago, I decided to build a table out of scrap wood. I got the boards for the top of it, but couldn’t figure out what to do for legs. Then I was walking down North Willard St. in Burlington and I found perfect wooden table legs right on the street. That wasn’t so crazy, just seemed lucky. But then two days ago I was downtown and decided we needed a dustbuster for the apartment, so I went to Home Port, but they didn’t have one. So I started walking home along North Willard and there, sitting on a broken chair, in a free pile, was a dustbuster, ON THE SAME STREET THAT THE TABLE LEGS WERE ON. It was with its charger and works perfectly.
The lesson I learned from this experience is that reductive narratives about the world are officially wrong, that I can manifest household items on North Willard St. through a simple wish and that the Universe plays happy jokes if you just look out for them.
I’m playing a bunch of shows coming up and I’d like people to come to them. You can see dates and buy tickets on my website: www.henryjamison.com