JMSN is one of the most talented musicians you might not know. But you know what? He kinda likes it that way. Keeping an air of mystique about himself, the Michigan native isn’t someone you’ll see up in the club rubbing shoulders with the who's who of Hollywood, instead he’ll be in the studio laying down tracks for the aforementioned who's who - as well as himself. Striving to make the best music he possibly can, it’s all about the artistry for JMSN.
Experiencing an identity crisis early on in his career, JMSN (real name Christian Berishaj) went through several name changes before finally settling on the name we now know him by. Going from Snowhite to Christian TV to JMSN, it’s been a journey of self-discovery for the hard-working talent, that is until now.
Following up his 2014 self-titled album (also known as The Blue Album) - an album that could so easily have rivalled any for album of the year that year - JMSN’s latest, It is., hears him get a lot off of his chest while finally accepting who he is and understanding that he’s the only person who can take responsibility for his actions.
Managing to pull music’s most known unknown away from the studio for a moment, JMSN talks to Gigwise about his new album, working on Kendrick Lamar’s good kid m.A.A.d city, why he cut off his trademark locks, whether or not he would ever go back to a major label, and what happened to the joint project he was working on with Ab-Soul… well, sort of.
It is. is the title of your new album. What exactly does it mean?
“It’s more like saying, let it be, it is what it is. Just let stuff be what it is. Don’t try and over-do anything and try and make it something that it’s not. It’s kind of my evolution as an artist and as a producer and as a singer and everything. I just wanted to incorporate that into this album because that’s the attitude I came with when approaching it.”
On the album it seems like you engage in a lot of tough love, you get a lot off of your chest. What exactly was it you wanted to say with this album?
“I was talking to myself a lot of the time. I was telling myself to ‘get your shit together and stop blaming other people for your problems,’ mostly. When I first started writing the album I was going through a big change in my team. I lost a manager. I lost a booking agent. I lost a lawyer. It was like a whole revamp of everything so I was kinda on my own. And it was like, ‘Hey don’t be afraid to be on your own, it’s fine. The only one you can blame for anything not happening is yourself.’ You know what I mean? That’s how it should be because if you’re waiting for somebody else to do something then you’re going to be waiting a long time.”
You have a skit on the album where a shady record label exec is telling you that you should give up doing certain things your way and essentially sell your soul and sign with him. Is this something you’ve experienced a lot?
“Enough times to know what it sounds like.”
So is signing to a major label something you don’t ever want to do again?
“It doesn’t bother me. I’m not closed off to anything, I’m open to all possibilities. I don’t know what the future holds. If they come to me and have their shit together and it makes sense to me I have no problem working with anybody. But the thing is it has to be right for me, I can’t compromise who I am and what I do just because I wanna get money or whatever.”
Speaking of record labels, early on you signed with Atlantic Records as part of Love Arcade and after that you turned down a deal with Sony, why was that?
“Because the guy who was trying to sign me didn’t speak English too well so it was tough to talk to him. You’ve gotta understand that I was 18 too so I was like, ‘I don’t know about this guy because I don’t understand anything that he’s saying.’”
Where was he from?
“Japan, I believe.”
Was it Sony in the States then or Sony in Asia?
“It was Sony in the States. He had a great job but he just had a thick accent that I could barely understand.”
You then signed to Universal Motown as Christian TV and were all set to drop Diary of an 80’s Baby but once the label was shut down you weren’t moved over to any of the other Universal labels so what happened to the album, did parts of it make it on to †Priscilla†?
“No, it was a different album. It was a whole different thing. It’s on a hard drive somewhere.”
So it never leaked?
“No, I don’t think it ever leaked. Nobody cared enough.”
Do you look back at it and think ‘Man, why did I make this?’ or would you still consider it a good body of work?
“I don’t even think about it, honestly. I couldn’t even tell you what songs are on it, except for maybe one or two.”
So you went through two major label situations, declined another, and then chose to go independent. What kept you going?
“I guess I’m just not a person that gives up. What the fuck else am I gonna do? Go get a regular job? There’s nothing else I wanna do so I’m gonna keep trying to do it. It’s very black and white when it comes to that. If it’s what you want to do then keep doing it. If you keep doing it then you’re doing it. You might be failing a lot but you’re still doing it. You can’t do shit without failing first.”
Is it true that when you were first trying to get on you had your mother cold calling record labels for you?
“I didn’t have her do that, she did that on her own. She was sending them stuff and everything.”
That sounds like a ride or die mother right there…
“Yeah! Her role in my career has always been as my number one fan and cheerleader.”
Aside from labels, you’ve gone through a few name changes too - Snowhite, Christian TV, JMSN - why did JMSN stick?
“Because I feel like it came at a time when I finally decided to be myself. It was a time when I was finally coming into my own and decided that this is really going to be something that I do, and if nobody likes it - like I was talking about earlier - the only person I can blame is myself, and so I’ve stuck with that. Who knows, maybe I’ll change again but right now this is what it is.”
What is the significance of the name JMSN?
“I just like the whiskey.”
Well that’s pretty simple. Now to the important stuff… you’ve had your hair cut. What happened to the trademark ‘Jesus’ hairstyle?
“Because of that reason right there, people calling me Jesus. Nah, I was just ready for a change. You know? New album, new everything. The evolution of Christian, more so than JMSN.”
Going back to It is., ’Most of All’ is one of its many highlights. It’s simple yet addictive. What was the creative process behind making that particular record?
“That record was a really easy one to make. Usually I find the easy ones are the most enjoyable. There’s this weird part in it and every time we play the record out my keyboard player says to me, ‘Are you sure you want that note and that chord in it.’ And I tell him yeah, it makes it weird and almost off. So after that the lyrics just came out super quick and easy and then it just felt right so I had to put them on the record.”
What about the video, you’re really getting your groove on. Who choreographed it?
“Haha! There was no choreographing. That was just me feeling it. I don’t think I could do the whole choreography thing, it would be weird. Plus, I wouldn’t wanna practice that over and over again. Fuck that!”
Your music has the natural ability to put people into a groove trance. How do you go about creating that vibe and what inspires you to make the music you do?
“It’s pretty different every time. Life is the number one inspiration. When something happens it’ll inspire me to make a voice note or something. Ideas flow. Something triggers those ideas and then they flow.”
Whatever happened to the joint album you put together with Ab-Soul?
“Business stuff happened is what I guess you could say.”
Will it ever see the light of day?
“I don’t know, that’s a good question. It could. It’s on my computer and right now that’s where it’s gonna stay.”
Aside from Ab-Soul, you also worked on Kendrick Lamar’s good kid m.A.A.d city album, providing background vocals on various different tracks. What was that experience like, working on one of the most critically acclaimed albums of the past five years?
“It was just good to see the energy over there and how everybody is working as hard as they can. Being a part of that was inspiring because I work my ass off too so it was nice to see these guys working just as hard to get it going.”
You’re music seems to draw inspiration from so many different genres. When people ask you what type of music you make what do you tell them?
“I mean, it’s definitely a kind of R&B I think, right? I used to call it hippy R&B or psychedelic, something like that but in reality it’s just me. It’s JMSN, that’s the genre.”
You appear to be a very private person. You have an air of mystique about you. You’re not someone often spotted out and about with other celebs in clubs and at high-profile events. Why is that?
“[The mystique thing] is cool but really I just don’t like to be around a bunch of people. I love being in the studio with loads of other artists being inspired by them but the whole nightlife thing, that’s just not shit I do. I’m not out here trying to mingle, I’m trying to make the best music I can make. That’s my purpose, you know? I don’t wanna waste time doing other shit that doesn’t benefit me or aid me in making the best music I can.”
It is. is out now.
Meanwhile, JMSN's upcoming shows are below. For tickets and more information, visit here.
Fri October 28 2016 - BRISTOL Small Horse
Sat October 29 2016 - LEEDS Headrow House
Sun October 30 2016 - MANCHESTER Deaf Institute
Mon October 31 2016 - LONDON Jazz Cafe, London