With an expanded edition of the EP 2AM, Chinatown / I Don't Mind imminent, Julian Jasper steps up with a brand-new track. And a few words about it.
We are pleased to premiere “Wait Until Dawn” from Julian Jasper. Featured on the expanded edition of the singer-songwriter’s EP 2AM, Chinatown/I Don't Mind, out May 5 on Misra Records. Laden with danceable rhythms and a mellow haze of late night vibes, the song at times recalls Todd Rundgren and Steely Dan while offering listeners something unmistakably of the now. The tune’s economical nature (it clocks in at just over three minutes) speaks volumes about Jasper’s ability to say what needs to be said and not a word more. There’s even a letter-perfect guitar solo that reminds us that that form isn’t entirely a thing of the past.
We caught up with the man who calls himself Julian Jasper to learn more about this track and his approach to writing, production and more. 2AM, Chinatown/I Don't Mind may be pre-ordered here.
Tell me a little bit about the origins of “Wait Until Dawn.” Where did it come in the writing process for the new record?
Originally I wanted to write a song that was musically similar to “More Than This” by Roxy Music. It has this really strong four-on-the-floor groove but the instrumentation over it defies the typical disco tropes, and so I had that concept in mind before I even started working on “Wait Until Dawn". Though the bass line is still very disco-y, I deliberately brought in the distorted guitars for the choruses and the Top Gun-esque guitar solo to add some more art-rock elements to the track. One of the main goals for this project has been to write songs that are danceable, but that come off with the energy of a live rock band. Dance music has completely dominated/permeated pop culture for the past decade, but with its takeover, I feel like a certain level of musical integrity has been lost. In turn, I’ve been inspired to make music that reconciles my love for old-school disco, but that also preserves the musicality, energy, and songwriting of '60s and '70s rock.
There are some songwriters who say they have a pretty good idea when a song first appears whether it’s going to fly so to speak and others who spend a lot of time working and re-working material. What’s typical for you?
For me, it’s usually one of two extremes, where its either very spur of the moment or it’s a gradual process where the song slowly takes on a life of its own. With “2am, Chinatown” for example, the bass line just came out of nowhere. Then I added the high guitar riff and keyboard parts, followed by the B section, and then after that I pretty much had the vocal melody and lyrics finished by that night. “In the Lilacs” was similar too in that once I had the main riff, the song basically wrote itself. “I Don’t Mind” and “Wait Until Dawn” were much slower, however. I had to sit on those for a few days, experimenting with layering the different parts and patiently feeling out where the songs wanted to go. I usually know though when a song is going to work if the vocal melody comes within the first few initial attempts. I’ve always believed that the vocal melody is the most important part of a song, and if that’s the part that I’m struggling with early on I know then that the song probably isn’t going to work.
There’s the writing of a tune and then the production of it. Do those ideas come to you during the writing process or do you give the tune some time to live and fine little touches to add or subtract later?
The writing and production of a song are very closely related to the music I make for Julian Jasper, but I think that the relationship between those two things depends on the genre. In the realms of psychedelic rock, funk, and disco that I sort of dwell in, I think that there is an innate emphasis on production that doesn’t apply as strongly for other genres. The key is finding the right balance, or determining how many and which production elements ultimately best serve the song. In the case of “Wait Until Dawn", I started to feel good about it after the bell synth part was added. I felt like it was memorable enough that I could loop that section of the song in a club and that people would be able to dance to it for a while without immediately getting bored. After that the verses and choruses followed, so I think it varies; sometimes songs spring from a production move and other times songs come first and production elements are added to enhance them.
I often see production as another element of the songwriting. When I listen to Todd Rundgren or even Townes Van Zandt, I’m as struck by the choices they made with those little touches, etc. But there’s debate about that, of course, the saying that the song has to be there from the start.
Again, I think that in some ways this question depends on genre. “Good Times” and “Billie Jean” are never going to sound as powerful when sung with just an acoustic guitar as they do on record or with a full band, but does that make them “lesser” than “Hey Jude” or “Mr. Tambourine Man”? For dance music and synthpop especially I think that production functions more as an element of songwriting than it does for genres such as rock or folk. That said, I do think that for great songs the “song” does have to be there from the start to some extent. However, the way in which it is executed from a production standpoint can determine whether it becomes timeless or not. For example, what is “In The Air Tonight” without the drum fill or “Let’s Go Crazy” without the spoken-word intro over the electric organ? Both “In The Air Tonight” and “Let’s Go Crazy” are amazing songs on their own, but are made iconic through their production nuances and idiosyncrasies.
There’s this idea that gets floated around that delivering a convincing performance on a record is like acting: You’re trying to fully inhabit the material and get the emotions right, etc.
Part of the reason I chose the moniker “Julian Jasper” was because it was easier for me to come up with an alias than it was to come up with a band name, but there was also another part of me that was interested in the idea of creating a character. I think that on a subconscious level, you can take much greater creative chances operating under a persona because it allows you to inhabit an entirely different mental space -- it sort of frees you from the limitations that you would otherwise put on yourself. I also feel like the name Julian Jasper is reflective of the music itself, in that it sounds interesting and introspective but also isn’t meant to be taken too seriously. So having a name/character that acts as a sort of ethos helps me stay on track in terms of maintaining a coherent writing style and overall aesthetic.