For our latest First Look Friday, we spoke to reggae singer Jaz Elise who talked about recording her fantastic debut EP The Golden Hour. We also premiere the visualizer for her new single “Breathe.”
Reggae singer Jaz Elise traces her roots back to Harbor View, a community in Saint Andrew Parish in Kingston, Jamaica. There, Elise, who was born Jasmine Taylor, began singing at the age of five.
“I just was always singing, even if it was just in class or devotion, church, was always singing in the choir or something,” Jaz Elise said over a Zoom call from her home. Gospel music was significant to the community she grew up in. But she also grew up listening to a vast collection of artists, from Jamaican legends like Sizzla and Stephen Marley to soul Nina Simone. This mishmash of music would later inspire her own evolving sound which, is a fusion of R&B, pop, and reggae.
An interest in the arts led Elise down a creative path that consisted of performing and singing while she was enrolled in school. While Elise’s parents believed she would eventually become a doctor — as her two sisters had — her heart was pulling her towards singing professionally. Once she was enrolled in college, as a psychology student at the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica, she announced to her parents that she’d be pursuing music.
Elise started exposing herself to live performances from local artists. “I kind of naturally [went] to these shows and [was] exposed to not just gospel music but different kinds of spiritual music,” she said. “And that’s really what influenced me, in terms of my love for music.”
The underground culture she was enthralled with led her to connect with JLL, a producer who worked on her breakout 2018 single “For You.” Between 2018 and 2020, Elise logged late hours in studios, wrote countless songs, performed locally and also stayed abreast of her studies. Last March, she performed in front of her largest crowd at the Jamaica Rum Festival where she was one of three female acts, alongside Sevana and Lila Ike. Each of them were called on stage by Protoje, founder of In.Digg.Nation Collective, a record label. In October of last year, Jaz was announced as RCA’s newest signee in partnership with In.Digg.Nation.
In April, Elise released her debut EP, The Golden Hour, a project that is injected with reggae, but which also has crossover appeal. Recorded mainly throughout quarantine, tracks like “After 3” and “Good Over Evil” present the artist’s natural tendency to create uplifting and meaningful music that packs what she calls “vibes.” While “Fresh and Clean,” the upbeat lead single on the album, is a breath of fresh air, but also a primer in what fans can expect to hear from the singer in the future.
For our latest First Look Friday, we spoke with Jaz Elise, who shared her thoughts on her inspirations, recording her debut album The Golden Hour during quarantine, and what it was like growing up with her father who was a musician. We’re also premiering the visualizer for her latest single “Breathe,” which you can watch below.
Who were you before you started using the stage name Jaz Elise?
I grew up in Harbor View in Kingston, Jamaica. That’s pretty much where I spent [the] majority of my childhood. I grew up with my parents and my two sisters. Went to church all the time and [went] to school and I had a pretty sheltered life, I would say.
I just was always singing, even if it was just in class or devotion, church. I was always singing in the choir or something. Always enjoyed music and my dad is a musician but mainly in church. He plays instruments. So, that was most of my upbringing, going to a school where I was in the choir and [in] high school deviating a little bit from the arts in music and getting into dance.
Did singing in church give you the confidence that you felt you needed to pursue music as a career?
That’s definitely not what [gave] me confidence or what made me think to even do it. I was just singing in church because that’s what you do. You go to church. Your parents make you go to church and you sing and that’s what you’re supposed to do.
What I’d say, is [it’s] just a culture of music here. You turn on your radio Sunday morning and you [are] just going to hear gospel reggae. Maybe you hear gospel, you see people walk into church and you hear your draft class at church and you just hear music. And that’s just in the atmosphere in Jamaica. So, it didn’t have a direct influence in terms of like, “Yeah, man, this is why I know I want to do music professionally because of church.”
With your father being a musician and playing numerous instruments, did that ever inspire you as you were growing up as well?
He just [gave] me an understanding of different careers. Because, for me, my dad was a musician and he provided for us and that’s just what I understood. That it’s just a viable occupation like anything else that can allow a father to take care of his children. I wanted to play guitar because he played guitar at the time. It just showed me a different vibe of what’s possible in life.
Going to college and seeing these young artists like Chronixx and seeing that there’s live band music, kind of reggae music, I kind of naturally [went] to these shows and [was] exposed to not just gospel music but different kinds of spiritual music. And that’s really what influenced me, in terms of my love for music.
Do you have a recollection of different artists that you grew up listening to when you were younger, that you were inspired by?
From growing up listening to Chronixx, that was my generation and then before that Tanya Stephens and Lauryn Hill. Then Stephen Marley and Sizzla and Capleton. Those are the artists that I really really love listening to. [Also] Queen Ifrica. Later on I had a great appreciation for Nina Simone and Erykah Badu in their era and women like that from the soul side.
Yes, their voices are amazing, but like Nina Simone and Erykah Badu, to me, they [are] super talented women, but also pioneers. They weren’t just a cookie cutter kind of woman. They really [shook] up the industry when they came in. Nina Simone was like, “Who does she think she is being so brazen and black and bold and talented.” Singing what she’s singing about. Same thing with Erykah Badu. She’s so soulful, she don’t have a heavy voice. Who does she think she is to sing “Tyrone” and all of those different songs that really speak to a different side of your soul. And [the] same with Lauryn Hill. They’re so unapologetic and that’s what I really plan to emanate. That’s what those women were to me. Serious pioneers, unapologetically just women.
On your journey of finding your own voice, did you experiment with different sounds?
Well, it was just a lot of trial and error making music, just vibing. Just creating different songs, without thinking what it would be, but just being open to whatever it would become. [In the beginning] I knew nothing about music and recording. I [didn’t] know [anyone] in the industry, the only person I knew was JLL, the producer who did most of my early stuff with, as well as quite a bit of The Golden Hour.
And it was just the openness to making honest music, regardless of what the genre might be. So, some songs, like “Good Over Evil” are reggae. Straying as well on the project [has that] foundation. And then you have songs like “Elevated” which is the opening track, pretty easy. That is pretty much R&B mixed with who knows what else? It’s just about the message for me. Me love reggae music, me love dance music. I don’t class myself in any genre at first I’m always a Jamaican artist.
Moving onto The Golden Hour, when you were in the studio writing and working on it, how did that go for you?
Twenty-twenty is definitely when I did most of it. It was just, honestly, very collaborative. I’m working with different producers, I’m doing the music and over time that is based on whatever I was experiencing.
Then just working with Protoje and the other producers and just kind of forming the [tracklist.] So we’d say, “OK. Yeah. This song is a definite, that song is I definite.” I think “After 3” was the first song outside of the “Fresh and Clean (Remix)” that we said, “Wow. We don’t know what the project is going to sound like, but ‘After 3,’ it’s going to be on it.” And so, it would just kind of be like that like, “OK, well this song. This is a story. That’s the vibe.”
How did you feel about the reception to the album?
I really was excited about that. I just didn’t think about who would like it or if it would chart [or if] people [are] going to really understand what I’m saying or just connect with it. I didn’t know any of that. I just knew it was going to be a risk. Just putting it out and allowing people to just listen and it resonated with a lot of persons, and there was always something, even a battle among everybody about what’s their favorite. Today is this, tomorrow is this, the next time them listen to [the] project, they have a different favorite.
Just to kind of have that [reaction] really shows me that people are connecting with what the feeling is and what the emotion is and it makes sense to what they are going through or what they have been through.
What are you hoping fans and new listeners take away from The Golden Hour?
My main thing was to get people to hear me and to hear my experience and to just hear my voice and to connect with some of the things that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to say if it wasn’t for my music. Also just don’t give up on anything. If there’s a message it’s in the music, and I leave it to people to connect to the music and see what it means to them. But just don’t give up and always feel, no matter what always feel.
Banner Photo Credit: Destinee Condison