From the bedroom to Berklee – virtuoso musician Jacob Collier is set to grace Australian shores.
Jacob has a lot on his plate. Between international tours, sold-out stadium shows, and playing dozens of instruments, he discusses his musical vision, the recording of latest album 'Djesse Volume 2', and his upcoming Australian tour.
“These shows in Australia are the gigs my band and I have been looking forward to the most, all year, and I'm so thrilled to return,” he says.
“I've just returned from a six-week tour, so I'm in that kind of preliminary state of slight delirium and exhaustion – but also satisfaction, in a way. It's good to be home, but it was a really, really great tour.”
Jacob's musical celebrity took off with a series of YouTube videos depicting simultaneous versions of himself, performing in the natural habitat of his home studio.
His repertoire includes dozens of genre-blurring originals as well as highly creative versions of pop classics including 'Don't Stop Til You Get Enough', Stevie Wonder's 'You And I', and, on his latest album 'Djesse Volume 2', an imaginative rendition of George Harrison's 'Here Comes The Sun'.
His rare gift for lending pop accessibility to complex musical concepts caught the attention of music legend Quincy Jones, who swiftly took Jacob under his wing.
On his creative process, Jacob explains “it comes down to what moves you as the creator.
“I always try to strike this balance between something scintillating, something with spikes, and something that catches attention and has real heart... One of the things I'm most excited about is considering, 'how do you build an experience that feels wholesome?'.”
With three studio albums and two Grammy's for arrangements featured on solo-produced debut record 'In My Room' under his belt, the sky is the limit for Jacob.
At just 25 years old, he's worked with the likes of Herbie Hancock, Pharrell Williams and Hans Zimmer, developed groundbreaking music software, delivered an electrifying TED performance, and amassed millions of fans worldwide.
His first one-man show centred around live-looped layered tracks performed entirely by himself, on instruments ranging from double bass to piano to conducting his entire audience, all set to an impressively dynamic projected visualisation.
“The way it works is I play the music on stage, and the software listens to midi messages and transmits them visually. If I made, say, a four-part piece, skeleton-track versions would appear on screen, generated in real time.”
Never one to stagnate, for the latest tour Jacob has expanded his one-man concert experience to feature a full band of world-class musicians, with an updated audio-visual experience to boot.
“It felt only natural to scale it from one man to more people. I learnt so much about managing energy in a room, and about all the instruments I played... but the one thing that was missing was absolute spontaneity.
“For this new show, I have four band members, so I took that [music visualiser] technology, and reinvented it for lights. If the drummer plays on his drums, the midi messages connect to the lighting rig. It doesn't take over. We're all multi-instrumentalists, we all sing, so rather than losing all the elements of the one-man show, it has all of that, but now I also get to jam with my friends.”
Collier's latest album, 'Djesse Volume 2', is a smorgasbord of flavours. From funk to chamber music, jazz fusion to hip hop, the record showcases an even more expansive repertoire of sounds than his first, all glued together by poignantly soulful songwriting.
The four-part 'Djesse' series is set to feature dozens of musical collaborators, including guitar legend Steve Vai on the bouncy 'Do You Feel Love'. “He's so great,” Jacob says about working with Vai, “such a visceral legend – a guy who dominated an era, but also a really special human.
“We connected over the last couple of years, over harmonies which are extreme, grooves which are extreme... but also music that just feels really good... I'd been waiting to bring him in on this project. I needed a kick, so I gave him a call.”
Often referred to as a prodigy, Collier had a somewhat atypical musical education. His formative years were underpinned by an emphasis on creativity and play, fostered by the encouragement of his musical family.
“I've always thought of music as a language. It's far from an exact science – it comes down to something to do with how people learn things.
“I learned music in a way that is similar to language, in that all of it was a great big blur of sound, and then started experimenting with fragments – children don't sit down and learn grammar first and then vocabulary. It is a matter of playing with phrases, verbs... gradually figuring out how to communicate things.”
One gets the feeling that Jacob Collier wants nothing more than to inspire, to make his audience feel they are truly inseparable from the experience he creates.
“Music is often taught the wrong way around – people often are phenomenal technicians as instrumentalists, but don't necessarily have stories to tell. Growing up, I always valued things feeling good. I was given the space to play... and children make as many ideas as there are ears willing to hear.”
It's certainly hard to argue with the perspective of such a humble and groundbreaking young artist.
Jacob Collier 2019 Tour Dates30-31 Aug - Melbourne Recital Centre
6 Sep - Brisbane Festival @ QPAC
7 Sep - Sydney Opera House (Sydney)