INTERVIEW: JMSN Live at Le Poisson Rouge
  • FRIDAY, MAY 27, 2016

  • Posted by: Mandi Dudek

[JMSN main page image by Cameron McCool]

Coming across an artist like JMSN could best be described as hitting the jackpot. His music is something that cannot be categorized into just one genre. You could say that it's a mix of some passionate soul, funk, alt-R&B, a touch of hip-hop, and a smudge of bluesy-rock. His voice gives off hints of Justin Timberlake and the Weeknd with the seduction of D'Angelo. But to put JMSN in any category would be unjust. Because the best way to describe it is: he's just different. Born and raised in Detroit, JMSN is as earnest as they come and attending his show is nothing short of a religious experience as everyone walks out a believer, which is exactly what happened Thursday night during his sold-out show at Le Poisson Rouge.
jmsn live

Before the show, I met with JMSN to chat a little bit about his new album, IT IS., which was released on May 6th. When I walked backstage, his whole crew greeted me with the biggest smiles and gave me an instant feeling of comfort. JMSN - whose actual name is Christian Berishaj - stood with open arms and we went in for one of those hugs that you give a friend you haven't seen in awhile. It was a very casual setting: I sat on a leather couch as he sat across from me on a stool drinking what looked like lemon water or tea in a mug. I mean, he has to make sure to preserve that heavenly voice for the rest of his tour, which wraps up on Halloween this year.

IT IS is the fourth studio album from JMSN and when I asked about the title, he said, It is what it is and let stuff be what it is... It's about that moment and the energy of that moment." After the release of his 2014 self-titled album, JMSN began writing songs for IT IS. in his home studio in Los Angeles, where he's lived now for over 8 years. The first song he wrote was "Cruel Intentions" and from there he just started making songs that "went in that vein." The instrumentation is a lot more present in IT IS. versus his last and when I asked about his recording process, he said, "I'll write the songs and make the parts as best as I can play them" then he'd have other people come record the rest of the instruments.
jmsn live

The album wears a lot of emotion on its sleeve - some of it is dark and emotional while other songs are upbeat and happy - so I was curious to see if a certain event happened to inspire the album. JMSN said it was more a stream of events like splitting with his manager, booking agent, and lawyer which left him to do everything on his own. He said, "It was definitely a blessing in disguise but at the moment, you know, I felt scared... So I was writing about it." To JMSN, writing his songs is therapy for him. Writing them comes so naturally to him because he wants to get it all out, but the hesitation to be vulnerable and show everyone what's going on in your life and how you feel is the hard part.

The artwork on the previous albums are essentially all black, white, and gray with a touch of one color. JMSN originally had a darker vision for the artwork on IT IS. but when the artist sent him a few different options, the option with the "explosion of colors" caught his eye. He viewed it as a representation of the turning point in both his music and his life - the colors represented an "explosion of influences." I wanted to close out my conversation with JMSN by asking him what he wanted his listeners to get out of IT IS. and he simply said, "I hope they just get inspired to go out and do the things they want to do and not to be scared."
jmsn live

Before the doors even opened for the show, there was a line around the corner of the street. I knew the show was sold-out, but it isn't very often you see a line of people waiting to get in a tiny venue when the show is over an hour away. Tiffany Gouche (in her words, "it's like Touche but with a G") opened for JMSN and the crowd was already filling up the room. She's undeniably R&B with some jazz, hip-hop and soul to accompany her mesmerizing and surprising vocals. Her style went from Kendrick Lamar flows to Lauryn Hill vocals at the drop of a hat. She hyped the crowd up for JMSN and at the end of her performance, she told the crowd to add her on Spotify and Soundcloud so "we can be friends and shit." When explaining what's available at the merch booth, she said, "I got stickers and lighters. Stickers are cute. I know ya'll got laptops."
jmsn live

Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come," Jean Knight's "Mr. Big Stuff," and B.B. King's "Thrill is Gone" are just some of the songs that set the mood while we waited for JMSN to come on. The venue was packed wall to wall with fansl. All the lights went out and JMSN walked on stage wearing a big, teal-blue fur coat followed by a full band and his vocalist. He opened with "Power" followed by "Hypnotized," both off his new album and the crowd's excitement went up about five notches. JMSN was backed by a vocalist, keyboardist, guitarist, drummer, and a bassist; all the ebbing energy from the stage only raised the crowd's enthusiasm.

A girl standing next to me grabbed her friend's shoulder and shouted, "HE IS THE MAN. OH MY GOD." And she's right. If JMSN isn't flirting with his guitar strings, he's going around to visit each band member before running back up to his mic to hit his impressive falsetto. And let's just talk about his dance moves for a second. This man can get down. He covered every inch of the stage with dance moves I've never seen before. During "Street Sweeper," he pulled out an extended guitar solo completely out of left field that left the crowd in a state of hypnosis.
jmsn live

JMSN played "Do You Remember a Time" from his 2012 album Priscilla, but mostly focused the show on his new album. A huge highlight of the show was "Get The Funk Outta Here" - which JMSN told me is his favorite song to perform live and I totally understand why. The crowd the chorus over and over in unison as JMSN lifted up his mic stand to point it towards the crowd. At one point, the sax man broke out into a solo that left everyone's jaw dragging on the floor. You can tell it was a rowdy song to perform when JMSN says "I spit my gum out and just stepped on it, shit!"

There couldnt have been a better way to end the show than closing with "Cruel Intentions" off IT IS. with the encore song being "Bout It." During both songs, JMSN would go around the stage and reintroduced each band member as they executed a flawless solo. JMSN and his band have such an atmospheric power that it captivates you, even the stiffest of Debbie Downers will move their hips during a JMSN show. After JMSN expressed his gratitude, he suddenly appeared at the merch booth. Nobody saw or understood how he got there so quickly, but he was ready to meet his fans.

JMSN said he has already started working on his next album and is hoping to release it at some point this year. If you ever get a chance to see JMSN work his magic on stage, you shouldn't miss out on the euphoric endeavor I experienced Thursday night.

[JMSN live photography by Mandi Dudek]

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