Mining reality and truth with the fast-rising LIMF genre-hopper, Jeanna Colhoun speaks with Jazmine Johnson as she bucks the pop trend through mainstream melodics and emotional storytelling.
On what feels like the hottest day of the UK’s heatwave this year, I beckon down JAZMINE JOHNSON as she emerges through a sea of fatigued shoppers and melting café-goers. Fresh from a driving lesson and weighed down with shopping bags, the singer-songwriter slinks into the seat opposite me. With iced coffees on the go and Jazmine clearly eager to vent, I’m keen to extract how a rising star of Liverpool’s pop scene is taking control of her trajectory and the motivations behind the music.
“Most of my songs, whether they’re happy or sad, all come from a very vulnerable place for me, speaking about my own issues and my own experiences.” Taking inspiration from her own narrative and internal battles with mental health, Jazmine finds catharsis in the emotional storytelling of her own lived truths. Not without aspirations to explore new lyrical avenues, at present Jazmine is an artist who is very much in touch with her emotional state, a dialogue which translates seamlessly from mind to musical matter. “For now,” she confirms, “that’s my thing, to write about stuff I’ve been through. Because that’s my therapy.”
Showcased in her debut single, If I Ever, Jazmine fuses raw, unfiltered lyricism about previous struggles, with a pleasantly contrasting upbeat melodic shape. Achieved through a modern synthy charm and groove-driven beat, the thematic juxtaposition between lyrics and music gives the track a refreshingly of-the-moment and realist tone. “Most songs that are poppy or current, are all about being in love or really light-hearted issues. But I think, wouldn’t it be great to create music that people can enjoy, which is still catchy, still current, but with meaning that says something that people can relate to?” With the desire to stand out among current pop trends, she reflects, “I think that’s what we’re missing in the industry at the minute. Finding that balance between being mainstream and current, but also still being true to who you are.”
Collaborations with other artists both on and away from the local music scene have acted as a self-identity process in exploring both herself and her sound. As a supporting act at Dublin’s Bloom Festival and Nottingham’s Vegan Campout, Jazmine has performed alongside line-ups entirely different to her own style, from the electro-funk stylings of Mutant Vinyl to rapper Akala. As lockdown restrictions began to ease, Jazmine found new joys in exploring the potential for creative connections closer to home, namely her work with Birkenhead-based producer Munkey Junkey and fellow pop extraordinaire Zuzu. “We just bounced off each other,” she recollects excitedly. “With Zuzu, it was so nice to write with another female, who gets issues that you wouldn’t necessarily get with a male. Obviously I love writing with males too, but it was just different and it was great. I wanted to say a certain something and she just brought it out of me in the right way.”
Finding value in the diversity of artist collaboration, it is evident from early in our interview that Jazmine is an artist who is defiant in not defining her sound based on one specific genre or style. “I’m the type of artist who doesn’t put myself in one box. I like to explore.” Whilst the basis of her sound finds its roots in soul, pop and RnB, she stresses the importance of having an open mind as a developing artist. Drawing on jazz and blues inflections which permeate beneath her soul exterior, Jazmine explains, “I don’t just want to say I’m a soul singer or a pop-soul singer or whatever. I think I’m still finding my sound a bit.”
The 22-year-old’s headstrong attitude towards her music started at an early age. After enrolling in singing classes and performing workshop shows at the Cavern Club, Jazmine began to satisfy her young curiosities for singing and performance. Sharing a memory from an early conversation with her mum about music beginnings, Jazmine springs forward with eyes wide open. “‘Mum, I wanna sing!’ ‘OK, well go to these lessons then!’” Spurred on by the support of her parents, the young singer attests much of her innate affinity with songwriting to her family. “That’s where my musical side comes from. Lots of my family write. My nan, she loves writing, she’s got books and stuff that she’s written. All my family have been influences on my creativity.”
Leaving college and fuelled with a desire to explore music professionally, Jazmine joined an artist development course at local performing arts school Rare Studio, falling into the company of a talented pool of local creatives, including her mentor and producer of her first single, RnB artist Tee. Under Tee’s mentorship, Jazmine was introduced to her current band and began co-writing her own songs, before securing her first ever gig at 81 Renshaw. “Since then it’s been like a domino effect” Jazmine reveals. Being a current member of LIMF Academy has also presented her with valuable networking opportunities, advice sessions with industry experts, and a range of masterclasses from production and songwriting to general life skills.
However, as a young artist, Jazmine is experiencing the music industry vastly changing from the days of being signed to a record deal assuring success. The fast-paced volatility of the sector, especially during the present Covid era, means newer emerging artists like Jazmine are faced with the pressures of making their ‘big break’ quickly, in order satisfy traditional preconceptions about the industry. “Sometimes it gets a bit tough,” she admits with a sigh of despondence. “Especially in work, people will be like, ‘Why haven’t you got a record deal yet?’ and it’s really difficult to explain to some people. And then you get tangled up in that. Like, why haven’t I got a record deal? Why haven’t I done this?”
The pressures don’t end there. With an ever-changing industry comes new trends to subscribe to, specifically those which rely on the encroaching nature of social media. Where digital is the new physical, it can be challenging for new artists to project an accurate portrayal of themselves and their work amongst the saturated clutter of digital media and loud online personalities. “I feel on edge talking to a camera, people don’t know me so not much of my personality can come through,” she concedes, before joking, “Like, even if this interview was on Zoom I’d be thinking, ‘Oh no!’ I like to be in the moment. I like to be in the present. It’s just all this online stuff I just can’t deal with, it’s so alien to me, you can’t beat just a real life conversation.”
Such is the interview time warp that we miraculously find ourselves approaching the hour mark, and it’s here where I start to consider her concerns about the Jazmine projected on social media versus the Jazmine who sits here in front of me. Today, her electric energy comes across via a chatty persona, but will that translate to digital viewers? Somehow I have no cause for concern. I don’t doubt Jazmine’s high-spirited passion and vision to create content with meaning will resonate with audiences – either online or in person. Sharing plans to release new music later this year and with upcoming live gigs now confirmed, plenty of people will get to know the real Jazmine.
Broken Bruised is available soon.
Jazmine Johnson supports iamkyami at 24 Kitchen Street on 26th August.