► Here is something where Kina and you differ: You’ve just come off a huge touring schedule for Kina’s album Elements, where you supported Kina as part of her band – for Sunlight there are no definite plans for touring yet, at least not as we speak…
That’s right, there is nothing in the works quite yet. As you said, we’ve done so much touring together in the past couple of months, and not just in North America either. So there was a lot of travelling involved. We’re feeling like taking a little break from that, even though my album is coming out now, which is typically the crunch time for touring. (laughs) But I’m okay with having it out there for a little while before hitting the road again.
► Which would have been the death of any record even just a few years ago. Now it’s perfectly possible to concentrate on promoting your album online at first, without any shows…
Yes. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to play Sunlight live for people. I think it would be really great to play it with a full band. I want to do that eventually. But I really love this aspect of making music in today’s digital world: I could do a concert online or make some videos, talk with people on Twitter and Facebook, and get people excited about the album through Instagram. There is no longer this absolute need for a tour right when an album is released. There are so many other options of reaching out and connecting with other people, without physically being there. It’s amazing.
► But it can be dangerous too. You can spend so much time in front of the computer, fooling yourself into thinking you’ve done a lot of work to promote your stuff – whatever kind of content it is – and in the end what you did was mostly browse Twitter and other people’s Instagram feeds…
I see your point. It can happen that you get lost in these things every now and then. But I do feel that even that is part of the work. If we take Kina as an example again, you can see how much these things tie into the music. You have to create and care for the channels through which people can hear from you and also communicate with you directly. And you have to learn how to do that first. It’s your homework as an independent artist. But once you’ve done that, it is so much more personal. In the past an artist would put out a record, and then you’d read something they’ve said in an interview. Which is fine, but it is nothing like being able to connect with them on this level. I’m happy with this approach for Sunlight.
► I have to be honest, I was surprised that I enjoyed listening to Sunlight as much as I did. Usually I’m more with the pre-Sunlight Jesse – the melancholic tunes, troubled lyrics, more rain than sunshine. And Sunlight made me think more than I would have expected it from such a positive record.
Thanks. That’s a huge compliment. So let me ask you this: What kind of things did you think about when you listened to the record?
► Not to make this too much about me, but lyrics like ‘we are the love that we give’ or ‘we are born to make the world a little bit brighter’ can make you think about how you see the world. Or maybe I’m just coming off too-long a European winter and Sunlight was the right type of music for the first sunshine in a while.
Hah, I can see that. We’ve toured Europe in November and December. It gets kind of grey. And I remember a previous tour, two or three years ago – it was in February, and we were training for a half marathon at the time. We had to keep the training up, and going running in negative temperatures was no fun. Either way, I love that it got you thinking. When you can connect with music in a way that you start thinking about how you live your own life, that’s what it’s all about.
► Does it make you nervous to know how different the sound of Sunlight is and how that might be received by existing fans?
There is an element of, let’s say, nervous anticipation. Sunlight is definitely a departure, in many ways, from my last record. I hope that people will come along for the ride and see this as what it is, which is an exercise in happiness. And I hope that they can like both things. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. With my last album, people would often tell me that they would listen to it as they were going to sleep or studying for a final – in some kind of peaceful place. I hope that this can continue and that Sunlight can also occupy a certain space in their life.
If my music has a place in your life – whatever that is – that’s incredible. What more can I ask for as a musician?
► I sometimes wonder how musicians feel about what kind of spaces their music can occupy. There is someone whose music I always put on in high-stress work situation, when I really need to concentrate over a long period of time. But I don’t know how much of a compliment it is to say, ‘You’re music is my background noise for stressful situations, because it is pretty mellow and not too demanding’.
Well, you’re not the only one who thinks that way. People would even apologise to me: ‘Don’t get mad, but I put your record on right before I go to sleep.’
No need to apologise. If my music has a place in your life – whatever that is – that’s incredible. What more can I ask for as a musician? None of these thoughts come into play while you’re creating music. But afterwards? It’s a nice thought exercise and kind of a reflection on your own music to think about where and when people will listen to it. The funny or weird thing is, as an artists you are never there when someone is listening to a song you’ve made. You never see their reaction or witness the circumstances they choose to listen to your music to.
► Unless you play live, but then their reaction is different than when they listen to it on their own.
Exactly. So when people tell me about the thoughts and emotions they have when listening to my music, it makes this relationship really real. I think when we were playing in Berlin, someone told me that they had one of my songs from Fire Escape as their alarm clock because it’s such a mellow song and it makes them feel good when they wake up. I love hearing that. And that brings us back to social media. Now it is so much easier for people to share how they experience your music.
► So what do you imagine people doing as they listen to Sunlight?
The image that I have in my mind is of someone driving in their car, on a freeway, going somewhere with their friends or someone they love, rolling the windows down and just appreciating life.
► A soundtrack for a summer road trip?
That would be a much more eloquent way of putting it, yes. (laughs)
► Which, weirdly enough, is how I felt about Elements last year.
Oh really? That’s interesting.
► It needs to be said: While they are very different records, there are certain similarities to be found. And maybe that’s a good question to end this on, for the fans of both Imaginary Future and Kina Grannis: Of course, Sunlight is the thing for you right now, but since it is so inextricably tied to Kina and since you have collaborated so much in the past, is there a chance for a complete collaboration between the two of you? An Imaginary Kina EP or even album?
We’ve talked about it. It’s something we would like to do if we would find the time to make it happen. A duet album would be really fun to do. Or just an EP we co-write together, because that’s easier to fit into our schedule than an entire album. As it is, we do our things separately, but then we help each other out here and there. To do something together as a joint project would be a new experience, and I can only imagine that it would be a lot of fun to do. We’ll have to see if we can find the time for it. :x:
This interview first appeared in issue no.2 of XCENTS.
photo credit featured image: Yoni Goldberg
Interview by Ewan McGee.