After a two year hiatus, JJ Draper is back with the beautifully crafted “Timshel”, a true pastoral lullaby of expression and contemplation. We caught up with the London-based singer-songwriter to discuss his next move.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us JJ, we appreciate now must be a pretty crazy if you’re a musician. You’ve just announced your new single ‘Timshel’ which I must say is a beautifully crafted acoustic piece, could you go into a little detail about the origin of the song for those who haven’t heard it yet.
My pleasure! It is indeed a very weird time and it feels odd to be excited about releases with things how they are, but I really am ecstatic to be sharing this music. The story of timshel – I’ll try to be brief! When Lily and I were first dating we were in a dive pub near to her house, sitting outside in a more or less unlit garden. She was talking about tattoos she had and very offhand waved her arm across saying “and there’s this small thing here”, briefly showing her wrist and an illegible scrawl. I honestly had some whirlwind flashback of lying on my bed as a young kid and seeing the word on the sleeve of a book… so I said “does it say Timshel?”. I didn’t know what that meant or understand how I knew really. She insists nobody else has ever been able to read it. It’s a reference to her favourite book “East of Eden” and has a particularly poignant and beautiful meaning. Even more so now for us!
Previously your creations tended to lean more on the electronic side, but in Timshel we hear an extremely stripped back arrangement. Is this a sign of a switch in process or was it a matter of choosing which recording style would work best?
Timshel is the most stripped back thing you can expect to hear of my new work. It came out very quickly when I sat down to write it and it only felt right it should remain intimate and personal like that, but there are some big arrangements in the new work with lots going on. Having said that, I’ve moved very deliberately away from much electronic stuff. Apart from the fact I don’t really listen to that sort of thing at all, I’ve found playing with my band and feeling the music in rehearsal has made me realise that that is the kind of music I want to make – organic, song-led, band-y!
Addressing the elephant in the room, unfortunately any shows that were due to go ahead will now be difficult to arrange in the coming months. However you did play the incredible Union Chapel on the 2nd of March, supporting Le Trio Joubran, could you tell us about that experience?
Ah, it was unbelievable! Working with Razzak of Beder and all the Trio guys was lovely – a lot of warmth and positivity in the building, and that place is just magical. A bucket list venue for us all and the best view from stage. I’m very pleased with the performance we put in, hearing it back in a rough mix. It was much more measured and restrained than our usual but it all went smoothly and we got lovely messages for days afterwards from people we really touched. I didn’t make a single controversial joke all night!
Onto a classically generic question for any musician, I’m sure you have many influences, but if you could go open a show for any artist who would it be and where would it be?
Wilco – anywhere! haha. Yeah it’d have to be them, I’ve become a little bit obsessed after reading Jeff Tweedy’s book. They’re probably consistently my favourite band and he just seems to be an absolute dude. So, let’s say Wilco at their festival Solid Sound.
You’ve been working with Joey Walker at Natural Habitat Studios to create a diversely enchanting set of new releases, have you seen yourself develop from the artist you were 2 years ago while recording?
Yeah, definitely. I feel I absolutely 100% know the kind of artist I want to be now. Happy to shift and develop, of course, but I suppose I know what I’m not into! And Joey’s been awesome in that he really wants his projects to reflect the desires and ambitions of his clients. I’d describe some screeching, horrible noise I imagine at the start of a song and he’s like “oh, okay, cool” and then sets about creating it. And he’s brought new life into music that’s been rehearsed a lot with my band and got the most out of them in the studio. It’s just a bloody good place to work, Natural Habitat. I recommend, so long as you don’t take up too much of Joey’s time cos we’ve got about 20 songs to be doing!
So the song is out Tomorrow and I’m excited to say there’s a lot more music on it’s way, should we be expecting anything in particular out of this new batch, or is it best for people to go into the listening process with a creatively open mind?
I think overall it’s more direct and has more of my personality in it. It’s definitely less electronic and I think bolder and more honest in its expression. The lyrics and songwriting are more upfront and it’s veered into more of a live, homespun feel but I think there’s enough in the music to make a clear bridge with my previous work. I think people should be open-minded in that they shouldn’t expect one mood, one dynamic. There’s love songs like timshel and there’s songs that are ambiguous in tone and there are songs that are very, very dark in places.