We reached out to the immensely talented and super versatile Jean Deaux to discuss her process, influences, collaborations & trajectory as a musician. Check out what she has to say in the Interview below.
If you had to describe your music as a mood, what would it be?
Well I guess it depends on the song. Because I make so many different types of songs. Overall, I hear a lot of people say that they feel super relaxed when they listen to my music! It’s more of a relaxed mood. Comfortable and cozy, I guess.
You have two EP’s – Krash & Empathy. These bodies of work stand quite tall. Can you tell us about the songs that resonate with you the most, and why?
The first song is “Way Out” from Krash. This was about my experiences with PTSD & coping with it. So, “Way Out” is very important to me.. and also because I love the song. The second one would be “Deserve” from the same album because I recorded it the day my cousin passed away (before I knew that he passed away). I decided that the song was actually about healing and going after what you deserve, which is what I had to decide for myself after he was gone, while reflecting on my life. “Deserve” is really close to my heart.
Was there a particular moment from your past where you said to yourself “You know what, this is it! I’m going to be a musician” Can you tell us a bit more about that if you had that feeling?
I always felt that I liked creating. It was more so if I wanted to do it publicly. I felt that moment came right before the year I graduated high school. There was a shift somewhere.. I’m not really sure where, but somehow, people started catching on to what I was doing. I got my first deal/offer when I was 17, so I kind of realized for a while that this could be a career path and that I could actually do this. People were already treating me like I’m this artist, this musician. I guess It was then when I started taking it seriously as a job and not just something to do.
You’re often tagged as being a super versatile, multi-faceted musician. Would you agree and what would you say are your major influences?
I mean, I would agree to the definition of multi-faceted and versatile but I just feel like I am who I am. Everything that I love doing is incorporated and overlapped with the other things so I’ve never really felt the need to separate anything. If I want to do something, I should do it. There’s always people saying “Jack of all trades, master of none”, but I don’t really feel like that. To become a master of anything takes time. If you can find a way to make it all live in the same world, you are excelling at everything at once. So, I would say I am versatile. Some of my biggest influences are Missy Elliot, Kelis (a super blue-print for the type of rap girl that I ended up being), Amy Winehouse, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj
A lot of powerful women there!
A lot of dope women! Director wise, Hype Williams and Steve McQueen. I guess I’m drawn to people that make powerful art and that have made important moments in history.
Apart from singing, songwriting and starring in your music videos, you’ve also directed most of them. Can you talk to us a little bit about the process.
Man, its strenuous! I put a lot of pressure on myself and I’m still learning how to be more disciplined as an artist. As a profession, I’m learning how to take my time and really be prepared, especially when it comes to directing. You have to really be on point because, as the artist and the director, I’m a leader of so many people. When I’m behind production, styling etc., I’m helping other people help me. It can feel overwhelming. There are times when I want to be like other artists and have other people do things for me. I feel that only I can really understand where I need to go with my calling and what I’m supposed to be doing as an artist. I think I’m just trying to put out the blueprint of who I am as an artist and what my world is like when it comes to my art so that people can get a sense of me and maybe in the future, it’ll be easier for other people to work with directors and others that can come in and amplify my vision. But right now, I enjoy all the stress and the pressure. It definitely makes me better.
In terms of your collaborations, is there something you have to have in common with the person you’re collaborating with?
Um, not necessarily in common. But, I will say that we need to have some type of chemistry as people. There are some people you meet that you just don’t connect with. And that’s not really a bad thing. I like to work with people that it comes naturally with, because it makes it easier to be honest. Being honest is the first thing in creating something great! So, I’d say I feel like working with people I don’t have a lot in common with because it just gives the whole project a different perspective.
You’ve worked with a lot of producers. Monte Booker, Phoelix, THEMPeople, Sango- to name a few. Is there someone you haven’t worked with, but you know if you did, that shit would be magic!
I’ve met Mark Ronson once when I was very young. And I’ve spoken to him maybe twice after that. We’ve never had a real meeting and haven’t really reconnected since but I feel like those meetings happened for a reason. If we ever make any music together, I know it’s going to be really good. I know he knows me and I know he would remember me. So I’m just waiting for the moment for when I can just see him again and hear how I have evolved as an artist.
If you had a chance to put any two artists in the studio together, past or present, who would they be and why?
I would like to see Fela Kuti and Sango make a project, if that could happen! Wouldn’t that be dope though? He could do a remix project. I’m actually going to tell him that!
You had a really cool song with Sango. I’ve listened to “Rude” quite a few times. How was it working with him?
Sango has family from Chicago (where I’m from). So, once we met, it was super cool. He’s a Christian man and a very upstanding guy so, you know, he’s very supportive. He’s about working and I’m a workaholic. It was smooth working with him. He made it very easy and he loved what I did. We actually have another song that we made last summer that I really want to release but he doesn’t have all the files. We do have another song that we made recently that I love. We definitely be making a lot of cool stuff.
How do your surroundings influence your songwriting? If they do, at all!
They definitely do. If I’m not in a positive space, I don’t write at all. I almost sense when I’m coming out of a negative headspace because I won’t be able to write and then I’ll ease myself back into creating. I guess the studio is an environment in itself. But if my life before and after the studio is a mess, then making music or writing music is a lot harder. So, in my free time, I try and get into that space outside the studio by listening to beats or songs that I really like.
How would you describe the sound/theme of your next project, if you’ve decided upon that at all.
I’m actually still making music for my next project. It’s almost done. It’s very rap/hip hop, I guess. I don’t know how people will feel If they’re expecting another R&B album but it’s definitely more of a rap project. It’s got an eerie feeling to it that I like. That feeling of goosebumps, you know? That’s the direction I’m going, basically!
You said in an interview that you dreamt your cover art for “Empathy”. Is that true? You had a dream and you woke up knowing what your cover art was going to be?
I didn’t have a dream for the cover-art, per se. I dreamt that I saw a white horse. I was atop a mountain and the horse was in the ocean below running towards me. When I looked up what it could mean, I found a combination of interpretations. One interpretation said “fame and good fortune are coming towards you”. I had already decided I was going to visit a ranch while I was in Portland on tour. I knew we needed cover art for the project because I had something that I hated. So I suggested to a friend, “How about we shoot the cover art on a horse?” It worked out perfectly and I ended up on this majestic white horse. It was great and the people at the horse ranch ended up listening to the album and loved it!
As a performer, what festival or gig has been your absolute favourite?
I would say the last time I performed in Oakland at “Woman Sound Off Fest”. There were a lot of brown women & a lot of different women artists. It felt good. There was a lot of genuine love and support in the room. Probably one of my favourites in the past year.
And lastly, What’s the best piece of advice you’ve gotten?
The best advice I’ve gotten was from my uncle. This was for the first video that I ever directed. I was super nervous about changing some scenes around that we didn’t have time for and I felt like I wasn’t going to be able to shoot the video if we couldn’t get everything. He told me, “Don’t be afraid to scrap stuff. Don’t be afraid to delete and change your idea if you need to” and that really, really saved me from sticking too hard to my guns. It taught me that there’s always another way to tell a story. It doesn’t have to be told one way and that’s really helped me a lot with creating.
Thank you, Jean.
Words by Akhil Hemdev