Self-discovery is one of the leading sources of art. For singer-songwriter JMSN, looking within and staying in what he refers to as his “bubble” led him to songs like “Slowly,” where he admits to not being emotionally available in a relationship, as well as to the country blues of “Slide,” which finds him committing to his burning desires.
“I’m glad I’m never short on inspiration,” he says with a laugh. “Something’s always going on. I just take that and put it into my music.” Both tracks are on his latest album, Whatever Makes U Happy.
JMSN is taking the soulful record on the road this summer, touring the U.S. and Europe. Before hopping on a plane from Los Angeles to New York, the Detroit native spoke with Billboard about confusing devotion for emotion, and how Marvin Gaye is the reason his album is eight songs long.
Especially in the digital age, most artists pack their album with as many tracks as possible. But yours is tight at 35 minutes.
Yeah, I got the idea for that from old records, like old Marvin Gaye records. They were about eight tracks long. That made them replayable. And it got the point across. More isn’t always better. If it’s not enough for you, wait for the next one. [Laughs.]
What’s the overall message you’re trying to get across on this album?
Do whatever makes you happy in every aspect of life. My goal was to follow whatever I wanted to do musically. Forget what everybody else is doing. I was all right at doing that on this record. I didn’t let anything outside of my bubble influence me.
“Drinkin’” is about how you’re constantly feeling judged by those around you. It sounds like you’re on a search for freedom.
Everybody has their own journey. As long as you’re not hurting anybody else, I think you have right to figure out what is right for you. Not everybody wants to take the same roads. The people that judge [probably] don’t feel free themselves.
Have people tried to restrict you with their judgments? What parts of your life are critiqued the most?
For sure. Musically and personally. Telling me that I should be signed to a major record label. Telling me that I should make radio singles and have my songs be shorter. Telling me I should stop drinking and smoking and drinking so much. Whatever. I’m following my inner navigational system. That’s my path. Who are you to say it’s the wrong one?
You’re mostly seen as an R&B guy now, but for real listeners, there are tons of other influences on Happy. “Slide” has country vibes to it.
I’ll continue to fight that battle. Maybe forever. You can’t my music in a box. But people try to. I’m from Detroit and there’s a little country influence there. You can see it in Kid Rock or Bob Seger. I love to put that influence in my stuff. There are a lot of different influences in my music
The general idea on that song is that there’s this burning fire inside of me that keeps me going. Most people wouldn’t understand, but some people do. There are a lot of people who can relate. We feel like we have to do something or they won’t be satisfied. Like, “I don’t even know why I’m doing this, but I’m doing it.” I would have to have that type of conversation with my family. I just keep pursuing and evolving. That’s that ring of fire. I just keep on riding, even if I told know where I’m headed.
On “Angel” you talk about your relationship insecurities and thinking that the girl is cheating. Did you go through that recently?
It’s definitely based on a relationship I was in. You don’t want to get yourself into negative spaces in your mind. That’s a song about that, making up stuff in your mind that makes you insecure. I’m glad I made that one.
The mind is crazy in that way. Sometimes even things that don’t yet exist — positive or negative — become real when you play them out enough in there.
Absolutely. If you want to do something, you do it. If you pursue it, you’re putting your thoughts towards actions. It all starts in the mind. It’s just a decision. It’s a daily battle on the way. You might be in and out of it. But your mind always wins. Your mind can bring you anything you want. Anybody can be anything.
“Slowly” is heavy because I’m sure there are a lot of men out there that truly believe that just being present and loyal is everything that’s needed in a relationship.
You can get them mixed up pretty easily. You think that by being loyal, you’re giving yourself emotionally, too. That’s a different thing, I’m learning. [Laughs] You’ve got to know what it means to be present emotionally. Loyalty is all I know, like “I’m here, and I’m giving you all my time.” When that’s not enough, then you have to figure out how to navigate past that. Ask yourself “How do I become more emotionally invested?” I’m still trying to figure that out. It’s hard to do. It’s a very complicated thing.
A lot of people are gravitating to that record. I’m glad that I put it on the record.
You’ve been through a lot in your career — name changes, artistic turns and more. How do you feel about where you are now?
I’m in a good place. This feels like my debut album. I’ve finally started to find my place and what I do musically. And where my place is. From here, it’s only up. This record got me excited for the future. I’m happiest when I’m creating. And I’m always trying to stay happy.