Part 1

Name: Samuel Jones Lunsford aka Stimulator Jones
Occupation: Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist
Nationality: American
Recent release: Stimulator Jones' Round Spiritual Ring is out via Stones Throw.
Recommendations: The Book of Chuang Tzu a.k.a. Zhuangzi (the most beautiful book I have ever read); Alice Coltrane - Journey In Satchidananda (1971, Impulse Records)

If you enjoyed this interview with Stimulator Jones and would like to find out more about his work, visit his profile page on the Stones Throw website. He is also on Instagram, Facebook, and twitter.

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 started playing drums seriously around the summer of 1993 when I was going into 3rd grade.

My older brother had a drum kit that my parents had bought him when he was around 5 years old. He took lessons regularly and was an excellent player and I was inspired by listening to him. I started practicing every day, copying the things I saw my brother do, and building upon fundamental beats and techniques that my dad showed me. Over a span of several months I basically taught myself how to play and became pretty proficient. My dad had a few guitars and my mom played piano so I would mess around on those instruments too and eventually figure them out.

There was always music being played in my house growing up - on instruments, on the stereo in the living room, or on my little Fisher Price turntable and boombox radio I had in my bedroom. It was just a part of my everyday life. I was drawn to its uplifting energy and its power to influence mood and emotions and tell stories.

My brother and I recorded things on cassettes starting at a very young age, and around the same time I started playing drums my dad bought my brother a cheap Vestax 4-Track cassette recorder which opened up the exciting world of multi-track recording for us. I was blown away to discover that you could record yourself playing multiple instruments all on the same song on the same tape. At first my dad or my brother would help me use the machine but around 1996 or 1997 I gained an understanding of how it functioned and I started making 4-track recordings all by myself, many of which I still have on old cassettes.

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?

For me it often gives this sensation of time standing still. I'll listen to a song and it's like entering a whole other universe outside the confines of our usual time and space. It's like a dream. It's a vehicle that transports and transcends. When it really hits you nothing else exists or matters in that moment. It can be an incredibly healing, medicinal, therapeutic, transformative, awakening experience.

Or it can be cumbersome and annoying and feel like an assault on the senses, like someone hitting you on the head with a hammer over and over. Or it can be incredibly middle-of-the-road and mediocre and evoke no emotion. It's a power that can be used responsibly, or not. It can simply perform a service, like providing a platform for dance and body movement. It can be used solely for the sake of consumerism and capitalism or to make people buy products.

It's a conscious choice that the creators of the sounds must make. Maybe there's nobility in all of it. Maybe it can be all of those things at once.

As far as my creativity, I often find myself exploring the juxtaposition between ethereal, layered melodic textures and raw, earthy rhythms and bass tones. I think there's a kind of magic in that combination - it can serve multiple functions and stimulate different parts of the mind, body, and soul at the same time.

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

I started my musical journey as a drummer so for a long time I wasn't really writing or composing music that much. As time went by and I became more adept at guitar and piano that changed, but in the beginning I was kind of at the mercy of other musicians. I was backing up other folks and performing their songs and their compositions.

I got frustrated with that after a while and became motivated to branch out and start coming up with my own tunes. I started coming up with my own riffs and chord changes and tried to write lyrics sometimes, with varied success. In my heart I am always a drummer so rhythm and cadence are crucial to me, but I am also a student of melody, harmony, and poetry. Discovering the world of Hip Hop production and beatmaking was a revelation because it opened up a universe where I could compose things on my own through the art of sampling and that's been a huge part of my journey as well.

I think I truly found my personal voice by learning to use music as a vehicle to exorcise my own joy, pain, fear, doubt, pride, longing, confusion, suffering, etc. Music can offer such a sense of release and I found a freedom to express things in music that I couldn't express anywhere else and in that sense I found a way to transmit honesty and authenticity.

I realized the practice could be cathartic and that approaching it from that angle can generate art that is extremely powerful and personal.

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.

I was raised in a household where, between my two parents, a plethora of different genres of music were being played on the family stereo - rock, jazz, blues, funk, soul, reggae, opera, classical, jazz, showtunes, zydeco, country, folk, etc. My older brother was into heavy metal, alternative, punk and rap and I was simultaneously tuned in to all the eclectic offerings of late 80's and 90's radio and TV. It just seemed normal for me for all of these different sounds and styles to exist in the same universe and I had the philosophy that they each had something to offer and something to teach.

In middle school when I got heavily into the world of Hip Hop DJing, sampling and crate-digging it really drove home that idea because I learned that there were funky beats and drum breaks and interesting sounds on all types of different records. If you're looking for things to sample you don't just look in the R&B section at the record store - there's cool sounds everywhere in all the different sections.

So that's the kind of listener and the kind of artist I am - I think music is universal, funk is universal, beats are everywhere, grooves are everywhere. There's so many different colors and flavors to stimulate your palette - why limit yourself? No one feels the same every day so why would you expect them to want to listen to the same sound everyday?

My tastes are fluid, as are my creations. Good music is good music. Genres are a capitalist marketing tactic.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

Funkiness, freedom, feeling. Human imperfection. Finding joy in simplicity and repetition and knowing when to avoid overindulgent exhibitions of technical prowess. Exploring sacral sounds that stimulate the body, have immediacy, and tap into primal forces, as opposed to creating anything overtly conceptual or cerebral in some attempt to appear clever. Creating not just a sound but a mood, a feeling, an emotion. Emphasizing music over fashion. Making good records, period.    

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

So much of what people consider "new" or "futuristic" centers around technological advances.

Technology can be important and useful, it can also be harmful. It can be a consumerist ploy to get you to buy a new product because the old product is suddenly "outdated" - planned obsolescence as a means to gain capital. Throw away the old, buy the new - it's the philosophy of a disposable society. In that sense it can be a trap and a lie. I think if you're listening to a record and you're thinking about whether it's traditional enough or futuristic enough you've lost the plot.

My main concern is does it sound good or not. I like old records and new records, they both have something to offer. I'm not hung up on it one way or the other. I definitely don't obsess over whether something is innovative or not - that's a bit too much of a cerebral approach to listening for me.

With that said, I do look for personality and appreciate uniqueness. I can tell when someone is biting and not injecting any originality into the music and that can rub me the wrong way. But I think there's a way in which artists can take elements and pieces of pre-existing things and repurpose them with a unique twist and a personal approach that is exciting and fun and has integrity - that in itself is a tradition which has produced loads of great music. I guess I'm a part of that continuum.

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?

The multi-track recorder has been vital for me as a multi-instrumentalist so big thanks to Les Paul for that one. Being able to create songs where I'm playing all the different instruments and singing all the different harmonies is essential to me, and with that, having the ability to layer and stack sounds upon each other opens up so many possibilities for composing and producing.

I still appreciate the raw immediacy of live performance and more stripped-down approaches to music making but for me multi-tracking has been such an important vehicle.

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