Jesse Boykins III is only (half) joking. “I definitely think from listening to it, I always get like a…a Phil Collins vibe. Yeah,” He leans back into the couch in producer Travis Stewart AKA Machinedrum’s basement studio, “that’s what I always say—” Boykins laughs. “If Phil Collins was a brother from Oakland growing up during the Black Panther movement, this is what he would sound like.”
The Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter is talking about his forthcoming album, Love Apparatus. So far, the follow-up to (his 2008 LP) The Beauty Created is a 13-track, three-year-in-the-making anthology of self-described “love songs” with no concrete release date. For the first time, Boykins relinquished main production responsibilities, handing them to friend and collaborator Machinedrum—a prolific individual (possibly familiar to some OKP readers via his early tracks for Theophilus London) whose work is highly-regarded in electronic circles. Theirs is a partnership that has existed in a loose form for a number of years, the first official track the two created together being the gently buoyant “In the Dust,” part of Machinedrum’s 2009 glitchy Want to 1 2? album. The two found that the collaboration took on its own natural flow, and (schedules permitting) have been working together ever since.
Machinedrum traverses happily through various camps—bass music, dubstep and even musicals, amongst others—so the ongoing collaboration between him and Boykins is also an intersection between the different spaces in which they operate. “I call it the Romantic Movement,” Boykins says, extrapolating his partnership with Machinedrum outward. “It’s all my friends that have been coming up and just really trying to take hip-hop–or whatever music we came up on–to another level.”
The partnering of Boykins’ R&B/soul-inclined, feeling-not-thinking vocals with Machinedrum’s production–that manages to emote despite its electronic characteristics–was most recently shared via a 6-track EP, Way of a Wayfarer. The release was as an audio tease of elements that appear on the full-length; Boykins’ cryptic lyrics (“My soulmate is a mermaid,” he sings on “Back Home (Mermaids & Dragons)”) and Machinedrum’s complementary sound, at various times woozy, rolling, shuddering and propulsive.
Love Apparatus pins more on feel and an overall wash of emotion. Tracks like “Show Me Who You Are” incline towards Machinedrum’s relationship with bass music, stretching out the low end while Boykins strolls across, his voice unhurried but retaining intensity. “It’s about comparing and experiencing a woman’s orgasm to experiencing something spiritual, and asking for it,” he explains. “Live in Me” is similar in its elongated groove and apparent subject, as he sings, “Take this chance, girl/Kiss me one time,” demonstrating a gravitation towards matters of the heart/loins.
By way of this album, Boykins seeks to stretch over a number of already-existing identifiers. “I made up my own genre,” he says. “Most artists should just make their own shit up, whatever the project is. I call this ‘world soul,’ and when I say soul I don’t even mean soul-sounding music, I mean soul—like ‘people.’”
OKP: When did you start working on this specific project?
JB: We first started in ‘08, ‘cause I remember I was recording The Beauty Created album.
MD: I think it was more, “we gotta collab.” So we would get together and make something, and it would be like, “this is dope” and time would pass and then we would do something else. Then after a while it was like, “we’ve got three or four joints together now, we should definitely do a whole album.”
OKP: When did it become more serious in wanting to do an album?
JB: I think when I came up with the title [laughs]. I was thinking, “Me and Machinedrum, we gotta come up with a title for the album.” I was like, “I write love songs,” and [the word] “machine.” [chuckles] I typed “machine” into the online thesaurus and “apparatus” popped up. I was like, “Love Apparatus, I like that!” [laughs]
OKP: That’s really interesting that you say you write love songs. Is that your main focus?
JB: See, that’s funny that you say it like that because when people say love songs they automatically think I mean relationships between a man and a woman. But a love song could be a love for anything. So I write love songs—anything that feels good to me.
OKP: What was it that you like about Travis’s production style?
JB: For one, I listen to more than just R&B and soul. I’m definitely influenced by a lot of different kinds of music. And the thing that I liked when I listened to Travis’s music is that you can tell that he’s influenced by more than just whatever he’s known for—no matter what genre or track he’s doing. If he’s doing a jungle track, dubstep or if he’s doing a straight pop track, I can still hear all his other influences in there.
Whether it be in the mix, or in the arrangement of it, with Travis’s production it’s the details, everything matters. Yesterday we were sitting in the studio and I was just watching him and I was like, “This fool is automating every. Single. Drum.” [laughs] Not a lot of producers are passionate about every second. But Travis, you listen to his work—this fool—he was in love with it when he started; he was in love with it in the middle; he was in love with it at the end.
MD: [To JB] I think that’s why we have such a flow together, because you understand that, and you kind of write the same way.
OKP: Can you pinpoint exactly what you’ve learnt from each other during this collaborative process?
MD: He’s definitely made me step out of my shell as far as [being] a singer. He’ll hear me singing to myself and I forget that he’s in the room and he’ll tell me, “You should record that shit.” He got me to start recording myself right at my desk, just out of my comfort zone. He’s definitely opened up that side of me a lot and I give a lot of credit to him.
JB: As far as what I’ve learnt from Trav is just taking time with shit, ‘cause even like with this music that we’ve done, some of the stuff we finished, I thought it was done in ‘09. But now that we’ve done it and I’m listening to it again, all the tracks that we went back to sound 30 times better.
It’s good that we did, because we’ve definitely grown through the last three years to come back and finalize this. It’s probably going to be way better now than if we had finalized it right away.
MD: I also feel like the reason some of this project has taken so long is there are a few of the songs that he pretty much had considered as finished, and I didn’t really have any kind of input in them at all, and so it’s all about pulling those songs into that middle ground. And I think if anything it forced us to lengthen the process, ‘cause otherwise a lot of the songs that we started from scratch together were just like, suddenly we have a song; it was finished. It just felt like the beautiful medium between both of our worlds.
JB: It’s the balance. That’s what I’ve been telling them. It’s like when people ask what does Love Apparatus mean. I’m like, It’s a balance—a balance between everything.
*photos by Jesse Boykins III