Style-wise, Jesse Boykins III may recall a young André 3000, but his music is more in the mould of present day Sampha or the oft-forgotten early-noughties band, Spacek. His new album Love Apparatus has been in the works since 2008 – he saw no need to rush it - and it sees his soft, soulful voice playing out over Machinedrum’s woozy electronic production. We caught up with the fly-guy at his New York gig to talk about his friendship with Theophilus London, his vocal coaching from R&B legend Bilal and his feminine side.
What was it like working with Machinedrum on the album?
He’d work on something like a synth and I would work on the lyrics and the title, then we built it together from there. It was very free, there was a lot of experimenting.
Love is the big theme. You also did a documentary asking women questions about love and their thoughts on men. It’s nice to see a male artist challenging ideas of traditional masculinity in their work.
As an artist, I’ve always had a feminine side and I’m OK to be vulnerable. I like to nurture and I feel like that healing concept is more of a feminine trait. I acknowledged that in around 2009 when I was travelling and reading different things like The Alchemist or listening to Alan Watts, a philosopher from the 70s in London who speaks about honesty and truth. In the society I grew up in, men are portrayed as being these overly macho beings and secretive and cold. I have my moments like that, but I have my moments when I want to create and express myself and share.
You mean your time growing up in Jamaica or America?
In America it was like that. In Jamaica it was more about unity and self-development and self-love. So through my documentary, I wanted to ask questions that I felt men were afraid to ask women.
Are you very spiritual?
I’ve always been spiritual. I’ve always believed in laws of attraction, in willing something into existence, that there’s no such thing as impossible – it’ll just take a long time to make it possible. I also believe in self-truth and acknowledging flaws, so that I won’t do what I know I shouldn’t be doing.
You worked with Theophilus London on one of your album tracks – he also seems to be breaking from that traditional mould of masculinity.
We started making music around the same time and met in about 2007 or 2008. He happened to live down the street from me and actually introduced me to Machinedrum. We always studied old musical and visual artists and designers. It was cool to share that time with him. I saw myself in him, especially in how passionate he was about music.
You’re both very stylish men.
Artists have always been innovators and trendsetters, but I’m more about the music than the style. Although it’s all about wanting to be creative in any aspect of life, including clothes. I dig eras. I like Buddhist culture and Hindu culture and the Moors. Rastafarian culture too, which is being appreciative of anything around you and using it to make yourself better. If you find a t-shirt here and some socks there and some pants there and some shoes there, put it together and make it hot.
I hear you covered a Justin Bieber song at your LA gig.
Yeah, I did PYD. It went down!
Can you tell us some more about the album?
This album is a life-learning lesson. People say I write love songs, but I write life songs, because love is life to me.
How do you look after your voice?
Vocal rest, warm-ups. I do yoga and meditation and drink ginger and lemon. I used to train under Bilal and in our first voice lesson, he made me do push-ups and some cardio and I was tired as shit. Then he said, “Sing something”, so I took a huge breath and he said, “You see that breath you just took? That’s the breath you take before you say or sing anything.” He would say, “When you inhale, you inhale the room. When you exhale, you become the room. When you inhale, you inhale the world. When you exhale, you become God.”
How on Earth did you manage to get Bilal to give you vocal training?
We had mutual friends and every time I would go to his gigs, I’d talk to him and ask him to give me lessons. I was a 17-year-old kid and I probably annoyed him enough until he said “OK!”