With all that mainstream music plaguing the radio recently, it’s quite comforting to have a breath of fresh air on the scene. Our fellow Malaysian-British who came in 4th in the recent BBC Sound of 2011 poll, Jamie Woon is clearing the fog with his fresh mix of soul-inspired electronica dubstep. JUICE grabbed the chance at an interview, to share with you a little bit about his music style and chilling vocals!
Image & Interview Courtesy Of Universal Music
So, what were you up to before the interview?
Erm I’ve actually just woken up as I’ve been at the Glastonbury festival so I only got back yesterday. It was amazing though, the weather got better as it went on.
Sorry to wake you! Tell us, what was the first album you ever bought? What’s your favourite song from it?
The first album I’ve ever bought was ‘Dangerous’ by Michael Jackson. I was the same as all the other kids, you know, I only liked Michael Jackson. He was what I listened to before I got really into music, I loved it. My favourite song was ‘Will You Be There’ when I was a kid.
Good tune! Your music is quite unique, for example, ‘Night Air’ features a huge variety of instruments and vocals. How did you first get into music and why was it this particular style?
Basically it just came from my love of singing and I have other musicians in the family so I was surrounded by it. When I was a teenager I played in bands and just really enjoyed it, so when I was about 16 I started writing my own songs. That’s probably when I got the satisfaction out of writing songs and realised this is something I’d like to do. The style is just a combination of the things that I like really. I was just trying to make music that people would like to hear and also which reflects my influences. I grew up listening to my mum’s music and a lot of blues and folkstuff. When I was older I got in to bands like Radiohead and electronic music too but I’m a bit of sponge really (laughs). I just throw it into a pot and see what comes out.
Well people certainly seem to soak up your music. What about your lyrics? They’re really enduring and seem to hold a lot of deep meaning in the words. Where does the inspiration for your lyrics come from?
With lyrics I’ve just always thought that you should write about what’s important to you. I don’t really feel motivated to write a lyric unless I’m thinking about something a lot, so yeah I write about things I don’t understand, confuse me or even move me. There are a couple of love songs on the album but it’s kinda about growing up and being comfortable in your own skin. In the end it’s just things which are just important to me.
Speaking of important things, you came 4th at the BBC Sound of 2011 poll. That’s an awesome achievement! What do you think of the winner, Jessy J as an artist?
I’ve only really heard the singles on the radio but I think she’s incredible. Her personal style isn’t exactly what I’d go for but she’s great. I think she makes pop music and that’s mainstream but to me, she’s got that American style and I think she’s an unbelievable singer. I’ve seen the YouTube videos where she is just sitting in her bedroom and we’ve never really had anything like that in the UK, we don’t do that stuff. But she’s doing really well and she’s worked really hard at it.
It’s not all about the money then? The Guardian has described your album to be ‘substantially less boundary-breaking than expected’. What was your reaction? Was it your intent for that album?
I mean, with making albums I just wanted it to be for myself you know. I was working it for me and how I wanted it to be, obviously there were expectations, although I didn’t expect there to be. There was a lot of hype around it and a lot of talk over what it could be like. In the British media there’s that whole dubstep thing and I’ve got some association with it, so I got put in that box a little bit – although I’ve never said that myself. I wanted to put it out on the table as its own, without expectations because I don’t make music with them in mind.
Which song means the most to you then?
It changes from day to day but I’m really enjoying ‘Street’ which is the 2nd track on the album. It’s just about a beautiful day in a city; it could be any city with endless possibilities around you. For someone to wonder around and find direction can be confusing and overwhelming, but beautiful.
That’s deep! How would you describe yourself then?
Myself… ermm. (laughs) I’m a pretty low-key person, but you know, I think I’m easy going, but music is a big part of my life.
Take music out of the equation for a sec then, if you weren’t a musician what other career would you have wanted?
I actually wanted to be a writer when I was younger, novels or even journalism, I found it really interesting.
You went to a performance arts school with Amy Winehouse. What was it like performing with her live? Do you ever think about collaborating with her, or would it taint your style?
Amy Winehouse is a fantastic singer. It’s quite sad what’s happening to her now. She’s a cool person and it’s sad to see that she’s struggling with addiction so much, she’s great and going up and up. I’d like to collaborate with anyone really, if it felt like the right singer for the song and if there was a reason for it. I don’t think collaborations are something you just do, there has to be a reason behind it. If it’s going to boost your song, and you meet someone you have a connection with, then that’s a good place to start collaborating from. You don’t want it to just be a marketing exercise.
True that! You’re half Malaysian right? Have you been back recently?
I came back a couple of years ago actually, for Christmas. I’ve still got family in KL and in Malacca.
Any particular memories you have of Malaysia?
The heat! Culture, shopping centres, great food, family. And I’ve been to some really beautiful places in Malaysia, Langkawi, KL, Penang… they’re all beautiful.
So where do you call home now?
Well I’ve always live in London so I definitely feel British, but I also love Malaysia a lot and want to go back soon.
You should come back for Merdeka! You obviously know Malaysia is celebrating 54 years of independence in August. What does independence and being independent mean to you?
That’s a good question. Independence is respect I guess and respect for yourself. That’s the main thing. Obviously Malaysia has been independent for a while now and I feel that Malaysians have really shown what it’s like to have your own identity and that’s a pretty great thing.
We try our best. What do you do in your down time then?
Really boring stuff, like cooking dinner and hanging out with friends. I’ve pretty much been on the road constantly so I haven’t had that much time at home, so when I get back all I can think about is doing my washing…
Ah yes, doing the laundry! What embarrassing songs would we find on your MP3 player?
I don’t really get embarrassed much anymore, but I like ToTo, and Michael McDonald’s stuff, so yeah, they can be described as my guilty pleasures!
If you could have one super power what would it be and why?
Hmmm…probably the power to stop time. It means I’d never be late for a start, which I always am. You could go and mess around with people and stop time and knock peoples hats off and really freak them out. You could do anything you wanted. You’d be pretty deviant if you could stop time.
We’ll know who to look for if things start getting freaky soon! Where do you see yourself in 50 years?
50 years? Wow, I’d be 78. Hopefully still alive! Be healthy and maybe live in a little place by the sea somewhere nice, somewhere beautiful. I’d like a long career but you know, not many people make music till they’re that old but if I still am and capable of making music at that age then that would be amazing.
Craving more of Jamie Woon? Check out his latest album at www.myspace.com/jamiewoon.