Jacob Collier – Reimagining Music

By Andy Hughes.

Jacob Collier is a London UK-born musician who specialises in complex re-imaginings of both original material, and classic pop songs. He is currently working on the third stage of his four-stage album Djesse – the second stage collection was released in July 2019.

Andy Hughes talked to the 25-year-old singer, composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist ahead of his performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival in Canada. Collier will be in Australia at the end of August.

Was music part of life growing up for you?

Absolutely! It was like a second language, it was everywhere. At any time in the house when I was growing up my family were playing recordings, or playing something on an instrument, it was very special.

You play the double bass; did you get your bass as a child?

I got it as a present for my fourteenth birthday, but prior to that, I invested a lot of time in understanding the double bass, and what its capabilities are. I could hear a bass line in my head, I just lacked the technical skill to play it, so when I got my instrument, I had to wait for my hands to catch up with my ears.

Most fourteen-year-olds would want an electric guitar?

That’s true, although I didn’t get my first electric guitar until I was twenty, the electric guitar is really not the prime instrument for me, the voice is. Over time I have learned that a voice can be used to play leads, rhythms, harmonies, bass lines, anything if you know how to use it.

Given how young you were when you started, and still are in fact, does the term ‘prodigy’ crop up a lot around you?

It does, but honestly, it’s not my job to work out what people think. My job is to be Jacob, and make music and invest in my imagination. If people say I am a genius or a prodigy, I try not to think too much about it, or care about it. It doesn’t make my life or my music any better if I believe it or not.

That’s a very level-headed response – a lot of young people in your position could have had their heads turned, obviously you have not.

Thank you. I have thought a lot about what makes me tick and what makes me happy. Meeting musicians and making friends with them is hugely exciting and enjoyable, but praise doesn’t advance my creativity, I have learned that. It’s very nice, but I just want to go out and make some more music.

Of all the musical genres open to you, which appears to be all of them, why have you gravitated towards jazz in particular?

I don’t think I have consciously moved towards jazz as a genre, I think people assign it to me because of its complexity. I am well-versed in the theory of jazz construction; Quincy Jones says to me that jazz is the classical music of pop. When you get down to analysing the construction of a song, its elements and features, you are employing jazz theory. I don’t actually listen to that much jazz specifically, to me, the pleasure is fusing things together and I think jazz audiences are more open to the merging of genres, that may be what draws them to what I do.

You started out making your music and putting it online, there must have been a time when it dawned on you that millions of people were liking what you were doing, how did that feel?

It is fascinating when you put something online, where the are absolutely no rules at all, and it catches the attention of some people. I made my first album In My Room in a room in my family home, and everything went on from there, in my first year I played ninety-six shows in twenty-six countries, and was awarded two Grammys, it was just insane how much happened, and how quickly.

Since then Quincy Jones has approached you to manage your career, and Beats have approached you, do you ever feel that you are on a runaway train and your life is out of control?

Never. I am completely ion control. I am very protective of what I do. That’s not to say that I won’t take guidance, and discussion, I do enjoy input from a lot of people, and its valuable. Quincy’s management team have been incredibly helpful is sorting out my schedules and organising things, but no-one will ever have direct influence on what I do as a musician.

How did your Harmoniser come into being?

Very simply – a guy called Ben Bloomberg hit me up on Facebook and told me that he built instruments for individual musicians, so we got together. I told him what I wanted, he started building I made my album in a room, I wanted to take the ‘room’ on tour with me, and that was where the Harmoniser idea came from. 

How far do you look ahead?

Honestly, not too far at all. I think if I can see too much of a clear plan, that is actually detrimental to what I do. I am just going to follow my ears and see what happens. I think the next yen years are going to be pretty crazy, but I am always looking forward.

You can read a full feature on Jacob Collier in the September/October edition of Rhythms.


Friday, AUGUST 30
Melbourne Recital Centre
Southbank, Australia

Saturday, AUGUST 31
Melbourne Recital Centre
Southbank, Australia

Auckland, New Zealand

Wednesday, SEPTEMBER 4
The Opera House
Wellington, New Zealand

Brisbane Festival
South Brisbane, Australia

Saturday, SEPTEMBER 7
Sydney Opera House
Sydney, Australia