Name: Jamie Leeming
Recent release: Jamie Leeming's debut full-length album Resynthesis is out via Alfa Mist’s Sekito imprint.
Recommendation: This is a tough one to narrow down, so I’m going to go with two albums that I’ve been listening to a lot recently. The first is “Timeless: Suite for Ma Dukes”, which is a live recording of the music of J Dilla arranged for orchestra by Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and the second is “The Blues And The Abstract Truth” by Oliver Nelson, which for me is one of the greatest jazz albums ever recorded.
[Read our Alfa Mist interview]
If you enjoyed this interview with Jamie Leeming and would like to find out more about his work, visit his official homepage. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.
Over the course of his career, Jamie has already played with various key players of the London jazz scene, including Alfa Mist, Tom Misch, Maria Chiara Argiró, and Jas Kayser.
[Read our Alfa Mist interview]
[Read our Maria Chiara Argiró interview]
When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I first picked up the guitar when I was around 13, and was really into old school rock music at first, like Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin etc …. a lot of my favourite stuff was their live albums, which would often feature extended guitar-led improvisations on a lot of songs.
My first jazz album was “Bitches Brew” by Miles Davis, which I picked up as the album artwork caught my eye in a record shop. It’s a very dense album, and I loved the fact that I would hear something new in the music every time I listened.
The album introduced me to so many amazing artists, Miles, Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, who are still some of my biggest influences today.
When I listen to music, I see shapes, objects and colours. What happens in your body when you're listening and how does it influence your approach to creativity?
That’s an interesting question - I would say that sound can affects me in so many different ways.
Sometimes it’s visual (for example, I have a certain type of guitar effect that always makes me think of water reflecting light), and some sounds even have a certain taste to me, as strange as that might sound!
Any kind of strong response to sound makes me want to explore further, and I’ll often end up working this into my music in some way.
How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?
When I listen to people like Miles, John Coltrane, Thom Yorke, Esperanza Spalding, Thundercat, I can tell it’s them instantly, even after one or two notes! They all have their own unique sound, which is something that I find so inspiring.
With my upcoming album “Resynthesis”, I’d been looking to record some guitar trio-based music for a while, and I knew I wanted it to be different to any other guitar trio album I’d come across. I found the best and most organic results happened when I allowed myself to play and write on the themes of the album in the most honest way possible, with no preconceived ideas about where the music should go or what it should sound like.
Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.
That’s a great question! I have always been extremely interested in examining my sense of identity. Growing up, my family moved around quite a bit, and I have a mixed-race background with relatives spread all across the world, so I’ve always felt there are many different components that make up my identity.
With “Resynthesis”, I chose to look at memories to explore this further - when I was reflecting upon what I felt were significant events in my life, I found myself asking why do we chose to recall specific events? Why do certain moments come back to us more readily?
Our memories are such a vital and precious part of how we all see ourselves, it was such an interesting and rewarding experience to take a deep-dive into this through writing and playing.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?
There’s a sentiment often attributed to the saxophonist Charlie Parker that, not in these exact words, goes something along the lines of “master your instrument, master the music, and then forget all that and just play”. The approach of preparing to as well as possible and then completely letting go in the moment is something that I’ve found really interesting, and I think my meditation practice is an extension of this.
One of my favourite examples of this was recording the song “Zen Garden”, from the album. Going into the session, I knew I wanted the middle section to be a kind of improvised dialogue between guitar and drums, and each time we hit record I tried to bring myself to a state of focus where my mind was empty, almost like I was an outsider watching myself play the guitar, with my hands moving by themselves! (laughs)
We only did a few takes, each one was completely different to the last, and none of them sounded like anything I had ever recorded before.
Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?
Maybe it’s just part of being an electric guitarist, but sounds and effects have been something I’ve been interested in from early on. I have a base “clean” sound that I pretty much always start with, and then use my pedal board to build upon that - I think of it exactly like producing a track, but in real time.
Whether I’m performing my own music, or on tour with artists like Alfa Mist and Jas Kayser, using different combinations of effects makes me play in a completely different way, even on the same song. I usually choose sounds in the moment, it becomes part of the improvising process.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.
To be honest, my days vary so much that I don’t think I can say I have a typical routine! I do try and fit in set amounts of meditation, technical practise and exercise every day if I can, and good coffee is also extremely important to me! (laughs)
If I am working on music at home, in general I’ll either be writing/producing or practising - the mental approach for both of those is quite different for me, so I’ll try and avoid mixing and matching them.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?
I have a tendency to be a perfectionist at times, so I often try to leave room for the unintended and imperfect when creating.
For example, when writing the piece “Still Connected”, I recorded the bass loop in a very haphazard way - there was a delay effect switched on that I didn’t realise was permanently recorded, and I didn’t pay too much attention to the execution as I intended to rerecord it later. When I tried to rerecord it playing it ‘correctly’, listening back I found it had lost all it’s character and humanity.
The imperfections were what made it compelling to me, and I think they really draw the listener in and help create an intimate atmosphere.
Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?
Some of my favourite music I have ever been part of has come out of collaborations with like minded artists.
With the track “Long Term Memory”, which features the amazing Laura Groves, as soon as I wrote the piece I immediately thought of reaching out to her about working on it, having worked together before.
I could hear how her approach would fit the music perfectly - I sent the instrumental over with no direction at all, and it came back completely finished!
Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?
I see art as a window into our humanity, and a way of making sense of the world we live in.
Personally, I find both making music and listening to the music of others helps me process things that are difficult to express or put into words.
Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?
I remember reading “The Art Of Learning” by chess prodigy and world champion martial artist Josh Waitzkin, which he says was written to help people “find ways to express the core of their being through their art”.
For some people, this might be through playing an instrument, for others, this might be making a great cup of coffee - I think creativity can exist in the most surprising of places, and that the medium is secondary to intention.
Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?
It is a cliche, but I think there is a lot to be gained from viewing music as a universal language.
A lot of music that I play and listen to is instrumental, yet I find it as impactful as listening to music with lyrics. That is one of the most inspiring challenges for me as an artist - how can I communicate my ideas using sound, chords, rhythm, melody?
It’s a never-ending pursuit, and I love it!