Jacob Collier
Jacob Collier
Photo Credit: Dyan Jong

Jacob Collier Reflects On Signing With Quincy Jones, His Genre-Blending Sound & Recording 'Djesse Vol.3' [Interview]

In an exclusive interview, the North London musician speaks on his music-filled childhood, meeting Quincy Jones and finishing his latest album in quarantine.

Jacob Collier is grateful for quarantine and the time it’s given him to create. For him, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has given him space to record rather than touring. The four-time Grammy winner has kept himself busy over the past few months by taking time to complete his latest album, Djesse Vol. 3, a stunning portrayal of his musicianship (out today). “I'm really grateful for the buffer it's given me to rethink things in my life and spend time creating the things the way that they should be created, rather than always in a rush,” Collier said over a Zoom call. 

Born in North London, Collier grew up immersed in music. His mother was a violinist and teacher for the Royal Academy of Music. The room he’s sitting in during our interview was always his favorite room in his childhood home. At one point he zooms out his camera and shows me that the room has over 100 instruments in it including a piano and guitars. This room was where he performed his widely watched NPR (Home) Tiny Desk concert.

“I was such a sponge as a kid, and everything that I heard went in and was processed in this sort of alchemic way.” He counts Beethoven, Johann Sebastian Bach, Prince, and Earth Wind & Fire as influences on his funky sound. When expanding on building his artistry, he shares he always wanted to find a way to bridge different flavors. Collier studied as a jazz pianist at the Royal Academy of Music but admits he was never good at being taught. “I guided my own learning, I think I had such a strong idea of my own universe, and I really cared about getting it exactly right,” he said. He adds that his mother who was always supportive and also talented herself gave him space to carve out his own sound which never felt like a job, he still feels that way now.  

The genre-blending covers Collier posted on YouTube years ago eventually led to an email from Quincy Jones when he was 19. After that virtual connection, he met Jones, signed to his music label, and went on to release three albums. Two of the releases are a part of the four-part series that includes Djesse Vol. 3. Collier set up the albums to be an exploration of numerous genres encompassing R&B, soul, folk, dubstep, orchestral, gospel, and electronic music. Vol. 1 was his take on the acoustic space, while Vol. 2, which Jacob described as “cozier” and “more conversational,” featured Lianna La Havas, Jojo, and dodie. 

The latest installment includes features by artists Jesse respects in the R&B canon: T-Pain, Ty Dolla $ign, Mahalia, Jessie Reyez, Daniel Caesar, and more. He tapped these artists because he knew he’d need their assistance to tap into the genre in an authentic way. 

For “In Too Deep,” a lush track on his new album featuring Kiana Ledé he recalls, “I knew I wanted a voice that had that angelic delicacy that she has. She’s super soft, silky soft.” After she agreed to record the song Collier sent the singer a microphone to record. Alongside FaceTime with an interface, he was able to control her mic, control her computer and install LogicPro remotely. After this process was complete he was able to hear her even though he was in London and engineered the track from her end. 

Jacob Collier Quincy Jones (Photo by John Sciulli/Getty Images for Spotify)

All I Need” with Mahalia and Ty Dolla $ign was recorded similarly. Even though Mahalia was nearby in London, due to social distancing and quarantine, she recorded at home, engineered the song herself and sent her bits to Collier. “I think it turned out nicely, and it was nice. It's quite rare for a collaborator to be able to take something into their own space, without the pressure of being in a studio with an artist or a collaborator,” he said.

One reflective notion he shared about streaming and genres stuck out during the conversation. "I think I've almost made it my mission statement to be difficult to categorize as is humanly possible to be," he said. "It's tricky because we're entering into a streaming age of music where these playlists are very much designed by algorithms, mostly nowadays, to adhere to specific things. It's a space like this genre, and this genre, and this genre," Collier added. "I think that it's more important than ever for artists, the world over, to remember how important it is to take risks, and not to do the thing that people expect you to do all the time, and to stretch your idea of what's cool and what's not cool and what's right and what's not right.”

Jesse adds that he’s proud of his music even if it can’t be categorized, he mentions here that his music is how he hears and engages with the world. In his own words, Djesse Vol. 3 is an “extravaganza” where he’s exploring the limitations of music. He hopes fans listen to the album and realize during the times we’re experiencing they shouldn’t be afraid to use their voices. 

Stream Djesse Vol. 3 below.