Jamie Woon might be touted as a recently discovered talent, but his recent exposure in the BBC’s Sound of 2011 poll has been a long time coming.
Jamie began gigging on London’s acoustic and open mic circuit back in 2002, till he found his break on the Red Bull Music Academy which led to collaborative releases with Subeena, Om’Mas Keith and Debruit. Naturally, this grabbed some label attention and Polydor signed his imprint Candent Records and offered him an album deal in 2009. Since then he has worked with Burial and Ramadanman, and released widely acclaimed single “Night Air”.
You’ve been gigging and releasing music for a while now, do you find it a bit strange being labelled as a ‘next big thing’?
Yeah, I’ve been gigging and making music for quite a few years now, so it’s quite interesting to find myself being touted as a next big thing. But it’s been really nice to have people find out about me from that, it’s amazing what radio play can do for your profile. And it’s been nice getting messages from friend and people who have supported me for a long time, when they’ve been hearing me out and about.
“Night Air” sounds much more electronically influenced than your earlier tracks, like “Wayfaring Stranger”. Has your sound developed a lot since you started gigging?
Well, I think the sentiment behind what I write about hasn’t changed. I’ve definitely always been excited by the idea of making produced stuff, electronic versions of my songs. I’ve sort of been an acoustic artist by default really while I was working out my sound. But I really enjoyed the process of being portable, being able to tour anywhere, not worrying too much about getting lots of musicians together and just playing songs.
So “Wayfaring Stranger” was when I started using the Loop Station and layering my vocals: that was the start of me thinking about recording music. There is a sort of gentleness to it, a kind of fullness of sound to multi-track vocals that got me into using a lot delay and reverb, and that’s what attracted me into moving to electronic music. I could still put the songs meaning across in the sounds that were available and it was exciting because I hadn’t made much electronic music and it was a whole new area to go into.
What is about electronics, whether it be the Loop Station or other production software, that attracted you to use them?
Well I think as a musician I am just interested in new sounds, so it’s exciting if you got ideas coming out of what you could do with it. When I was dreaming about becoming a musician when I was younger it was the studio that first attracted me to it, rather than performing. So yeah it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve really gotten to grips with it.
While I was doing just acoustic guitar gigs I saw Son of Dave and Reggie Watts doing stuff with their vocals, and I was really inspired by how one person could make such a cool sound. It was just really attractive to me as an acoustic artist and it’s easy to set up and works really well in an intimate setting. It brings a sort of improvisational element to my music, like I can do precise harmonies when I don’t have much time to think about it. So that has taken me to new places when doing live gigs.
One of your parents, Mae McKenna, released a bluegrass album when you were younger and there seems to be a blues sound to your music. Is that something that influenced you a lot?
Yeah, my mum has made a lot of folk and Celtic music, and she had a lot of acoustic folk music from America and Britain that was always playing in the house when I was growing up. That gave me a blueprint for my early listening. I love the idea of making folk music. It’s something I’d really like to do if I met the right musicians to do that with and had the right songs for it. Those sounds and those instruments are never going to go away.
I’m sure this is something you get asked a lot, but what was it like working with Burial? Why did you decide to credit him as William Bevin instead of Burial?
It’s always a funny one talking about him, because I know he’d rather I didn’t. Which, you know, I respect. He’s been very supportive of my music. He’s helped me along in finding some sounds and pointed me towards some music, while working in the studio. He contributed a few parts to the album, so his presence is definitely there. But the reason why we said it was additional production was because it wasn’t us sitting down working on it together, it was more fragments that we did for fun which ended up on it. He’s been more like a session musician, in the same way my mum sung vocals on “Night Air”, she was another contributing sound.
So does your mum also make more contributions on the album?
No, she just sung on that one track, we’ve never actually worked together before, I’ve sort of sung live with her before, but not a record. That’s something I’d really like to do one day though.
How would describe the album as a whole?
It’s a night time record, people say it makes them want to fall asleep which I’m not sure how to take. I wanted to make a calming, smoothing, atmospheric record that is suited to the introspection in the songs; I tried to make the sounds suit the songs and what they are about. I think what the songs are about is trying to find a piece of myself and looking inward, I guess in way it’s quite self-involved, a lot of my writing has been about me.
What have you got planned next, is there anyone you’d like to collaborate with on a track?
I have some collaboration lined up, but I’d sort of prefer not to talk about them so not to jinx them. When it comes to collaborations, I like things to happen naturally from meeting someone and getting on with them and liking their style and having mutual appreciated each other in interviews.