Fool’s Gold: An Interview with Jameszoo

Working with jazz legends. Building a chicken coop in your house. Signing to Flying Lotus' record label. All in a day's work for Jameszoo.

Make no mistake: Jameszoo is no novice in the music industry. Although Mitchel Van Dinther’s acclaimed set Fool is a gorgeously layered blend of jazz styles old and new, it’s his first full-length album proper. Since starting out as a crate-digging DJ in his native Netherlands, over the years he’s turned towards production and worked diligently alongside the likes of Nicholas Jaar and Modeselektor.

In fact, in the PopMatters review of Fool, it was hailed as “a near-perfect album, melding Jameszoo’s sonic eccentricities and experimentation with great performances, stellar musicians, and off-the-beaten-path instrumentation.”

Dinther sat down with PopMatters to discuss everything from family to music and everything else in between.

“Do you listen to hip-hop a lot?” we ask.

“You just look for a certain energy in music,” Dinther notes, “and when it’s not forced it’s great. I’m kind of interested in Young Thug and Chief Keef because they are interested in sound, not lyrics. It’s a kind of jazz as well. We keep evolving … I look forward to the day we go complete gibberish, with people skatting on trap beats.”

For most jazz fans, trap music is more often criticized than praised, but Dinther is no ordinary jazz musician. Hailing from the Netherlands, his taste in music ranges from regional acts like Neil Broos to jazz legends like John Coltrane and Herbie Hancock, and alongside these world-class musicians now stands the likes of modern-day trap rappers. Buried within this rich musical tapestry that defines Dinther’s style is the reason as to why his music is so powerful and unique.

Having just signed to Brainfeeder Records and preparing for the release of his debut album Fool, he acknowledges the plentiful history of the genre but keeps his eyes and mind aimed towards the future. What he sees ahead is not a continuation of jazz elitism by music fans, but an egalitarian world for all genres of music, both new and old.

“There’s this stigma around jazz,” he tells us, “which is that it’s intellectual music or intelligent music, and it’s easy to chip in that stigma and say ‘You’re doing jazz’.”

“Why is that?”

“It grew that way. It’s hard to change a stigma. I think it has to do with the radio. There are also many key European figures who support the form. Even a lot of DJs are playing Brazilian music, African music and it’s definitely cooler to play that than have house or techno these days I feel like.”

It’s easy to see why he’s so open-minded. Leaning back a bit in his chair while smoking a cigarette, Dinther is much too calm and composed to waste time arguing over music hierarchies. Instead, on Fool, he’s taking his music to the masses, with song titles as strange as they are unpretentious.

“One of the things that’s interesting for me is how you titled the songs, and the album too,” PopMatters postulates. “For example, I heard you titled the song “Flu” because you were sick [at the time].”

“Yeah,” Dinther laughs, “it was pretty bad.”

“How did you decide to title the other songs? I have some theories as to why the songs were titled the way they are.”

“Really? I want to hear it!”

“Like the song ‘Soup’. [Are you] talking about making a musical soup by throwing in the old and the new to make a sort of gumbo … or ‘Crumble’, where the rhythm breaks down [as if it’s crumbling or falling apart]. [Are you] trying to make a statement like that?”

“That’s funny,” Dinther notes. “I tried to keep this record … I didn’t want anything unpretentious on [Fool] in terms of titles. Everything is pretty much self-reflective. ‘Crumble’ was like, sometimes you wake up and you feel like complete shit and you have small little things like your leg is hurting, and I had that for months and it felt like I was falling apart. I felt like shit. My knee’s crooked so I feel fucked up about that, and I physically didn’t feel right. So that’s where ‘Crumble’ came from.

“And ‘Soup’ came from when I was sick, and I only ate soup,” he laughs. “I didn’t want anything pretentious so everything’s pretty self-reflective and pretty easy. Like ‘Flake’ is just about being a flake.”

“That makes sense. I guess [the album] is kind of personal, but you don’t know it’s personal.”

“Exactly, and I really didn’t want to make anything out of that. For a lot of people, [they] can hang [their] own finding on it.”

That’s easier said than done. Fool is not a typical jazz album: it’s a musical monstrosity that’s arisen as a direct result of all the music that Jameszoo hears and enjoys. Two of his idols, Arthur Verocai, who is a Brazilian bossa nova master, and Steve Kuhn, who was once a member of the John Coltrane Quartet, both make it onto the album, bringing their own style of musicianship along with them. While they are the only artists mentioned in the track listing, there are also numerous artists who performed on Fool or influenced its sound in some way or another, including jazz drummer Richard Spaven, fellow Dutch keyboard player Niels Broos and Swedish bassist Frans Petter Eldh.

With all of these different artists impacting Jameszoo’s music one way or another, Fool is a sonic amalgamation of sorts, where Brazilian guitar rhythms can float alongside West Coast-sounding synths and rolling bass lines all at once. The end product is as brilliant as it is experimental, but the blending of the organic and synthetic was no simple feat for the Netherlands artist.

“That was the hardest part of the process,” Dinther notes; “All of the musicians could play so it was easy to translate to composition. But it’s like ‘How do you make electronic stuff but at the same time to acoustic stuff?’ There’s a lot of guys doing it, but it’s mainly based on drums and mainly compressing everything to make it sound like a hip-hop track. But then you have stuff like the Herbie Hancock album Sextant … he completely nailed it. That’s how it should sound. That’s what I tried to make it sound like.

“So I just learn throughout,” he continues, “listening to records, trying a lot. That was the most terrible for my sanity because it took ages to blend. I got into a bad habit of putting more and more into the mix and then the last process was getting everything out that shouldn’t be there.”

This wasn’t just a simple process because of the amount of work involved, but also because this is Jameszoo’s first studio release. Before Fool and signing to Brainfeeder Records, the Netherlands musician was primarily a DJ, and played a large role in the development of Dinther an artist.

“It did everything,” he says. “[It’s] really fun because people don’t know what to expect.” Not only did it open his eyes to how others reacted to his music, but it also gave him a motivation to create a full-length album that people would love, even if it meant taking some musical detours along the way. As he says, “I’d rather do a super shitty job at mixing and stuff and then the crowd goes completely ruckus rather than having a super sophisticated night and nothing is happening.”

Still, being a DJ has meant battling the stereotypes and generalizations that come with the job. “When [friends and family] know you’re a DJ, they think you’re doing big techno shows because media has portrayed that image.” Often, his family, especially his parents, might not understand exactly what he’s doing, but they love him enough to support him in his musical journey.

“Does your family appreciate your work?”

“They sure do! I can’t even explain how awkward it is. When my mom picks me up the in the car and she’s playing my music really loud in the car when I know she doesn’t enjoy it. And my dad is super straight about it. He’ll say ‘I don’t like it’ or ‘I’m not into it’. But I don’t want to force them to like my stuff. And my grandparents have no clue. My mom is into Gregory Porter. He’s a jazz player. And my dad, he’s into Sade, which I’m not into, and Julio Iglesias.”

The reception towards his music is reasonable. Fool is a jazz album for the millennial generation, a hectic, disorganized mess that finds cohesion and unity within its inherent entropy. Musically, it doesn’t seem to make sense, but it finds its personality and character within the rich and colorful soundscapes. Only someone as young and erratic as Dinther could have the talent and vision necessary to pull it off.

“I was watching an interview about you called ‘Day As A DJ’, and wanted to know … do you really own a chicken?”

“Nah,” he laughs, “They told me that they were going to film, and me and my friends were talking about some buffoonery, like what we could do. I tried to get a goat in my place, so they would come in and there would be a goat, but the guy who had the goat said that it would trash my apartment completely. That’s what they do: jump on tables, swipe everything off … so a rooster was my second option.

“And they thought it was real!” he elaborates. “I built him a little corner, and it was completely funny because the guy who brought the rooster was a farmer dude and he was really into the idea as well. And they brought the rooster and I was super afraid of it because it’s a huge ass animal, and I called him up before the interview to say ‘Take it back; I don’t want it anymore’, but the guy refused and said that I needed to do the interview first. So he basically forced me into doing it.”

That’s Jameszoo in a nutshell. The same man who thought of combining electronics with bossa nova and jazz is the same one who builds chicken coops in his house and feeds roosters while in the middle of an interview. The same individual who spent many a long night delicately mixing his album to perfection is the same one who’s unabashed of his love for the noisy bangers of Young Thug and Chief Keef. The person who’s worked alongside stellar musicians from around the world is also titling his album and songs after his food choices and illnesses simply as a means of rebelling against the elitism of the jazz world. He’s as quirky, multi-faceted and carefree as his music, which is no easy feat, and in the end, that’s what makes it all so goddamn brilliant.

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