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Christian Berishaj, aka JMSN, has made a career out of doing things his way. While his richly produced brand of R&B has seen endless comparisons to Weeknd and Michael Jackson, he cuts a figure which is less Justin Timberlake, blue-eyed soul and more Jesus Christ on Tim and Eric. His latest release, The Blue Album, is a testament to a genre-defying approach which has seen him work with everyone from Freddie Gibbs to Ta-ku. It’s surprising, this considered, that he had his beginnings performing in pop-punk outfit Love Arcade and under Britney Spears-endorsed electro moniker Christian TV, but maybe third time’s the charm. We caught up with JMSN during his Australian tour, ahead of playing at Splendour in the Grass in Byron to talk about what it means to be JMSN right now.

So how’s it been touring with the new album?

It’s been awesome, it’s been a lot of things. It’s been awesome, it’s been hard, it’s been going for a long time, so it’s been surprising how well accepted it was and all of that stuff, you know? It’s been awesome, yeah awesome.

Do you get sick of playing the same songs over and over again?

Yeah definitely, for sure, but you know, you learn new songs. It’s weird, it’s like you get sick of playing them but then when the time comes to play it, you’re like ‘Oh okay, this is why I play this song,’ you know what I mean? Because it makes people, you know move, something in them moves and you feel the energy and then all of a sudden you’re like ‘Oh OK’ you know? You just need that ‘ah-huh’ moment and then you’re back in it. But there’s definitely some songs that have been sifted out because I just don’t like to play them or even like to listen to them. ‘Cause it just happens, as an artist you grow, and you constantly try to make better stuff.

Once you finish up your Australian dates, you’ll be in New Zealand right? Then you’re playing shows in China…

China, yeah we’re going to China…

Is there anywhere you’re particularly looking forward to playing?

Every show, every place I go, is a new experience, you know? I’m excited to play shows, it’s been a little bit since we played. Our last shows ended in the beginning of June, so it’s been like a month since we played a show, so you know, I’m ready to play, for sure.

I read that you taught yourself to produce and sing and play a lot of the instruments you do out of necessity…

I feel like I’m still learning and it is out of necessity because nobody’s going to do it for me, so I had learn to do those things. There’s a lot of people that will go around hoping that somebody will help them, like ‘I’m waiting for the right producer,’ but I didn’t want to wait on anybody, I just wanted to do it. Hopefully stuff happens on the way that enhances what I’m doing and it keeps happening like that, I feel like as long as you put energy towards it and know what you want, you’ll get it.

Where did you start off musically?

I started playing piano, then I quit that because I thought guitar was cooler, which I wish I wouldn’t have but you know, at least I can play guitar now and I can kind of play piano. Not really…

Did you pick it up later?

I was in piano for a hot second, so I know enough to write stuff on the piano, but I can’t fluently play crazy stuff. Guitar is my main instrument so I started on that and from there I got like a four-track tape recorder and started trying to make tracks on that. Then when computers became affordable I got one of those and got Pro-tools. This is when they were just starting to make like, affordable different programs like Acid Loops or Reason. I just had a passion for music and found a way to get it done. I’m still growing, still doing it (laughs)

Because you like to have such a level of involvement in all the aspects of production and performance, is it difficult to work with other artists?

No, no, no working with other artists it’s a little easier because I feel like I can get a separation from that. I don’t have to be as involved in that, and the reason why I’m so involved in that stuff usually is because there’s a trust issue that I have, where I want stuff to come off in the right way when I’m creating it, you know? And I don’t trust anybody to know what I want or give me something even better than I want, at this point. I’m sure I will meet somebody when the time is right, there’s people that I look up to but they probably wouldn’t want to work with me yet, because I haven’t established myself to that point. Like a Nigel Goodrich, you know, the producer of Radiohead–I would love to have him involved in something, but I feel like I’m not at that point, I haven’t earned that yet. When the time’s right it will happen, I’m not closed off to working with anybody.

As far as collaborating, it’s a nice change to not be involved with that stuff and to be having to control everything. I just give them vocals and it’s cool like ‘Do whatever you want with it, I trust your vision and your artistic thing’. If I didn’t, then I just wouldn’t work with you in the first place, it’s that easy. I get asked a lot, like, ‘How much do you charge for a feature?’ If I like what you’re doing, then we can work. It’s never going to be a money thing because it’s not worth the money to wreck something I care about and not be genuine. All those clichéd things, there’s a reason why they’re clichéd [laughs]

Just going back to something you said earlier, do you worry about being misinterpreted when people listen to your music?

No, I don’t think I worry about that as much as I worry about, how I want to say what I want to say and how I want to present myself. As long as I get what I’m trying to say and how it’s presented then, how anybody else interprets it doesn’t bother me. I know that everybody is going to interpret it differently so, as long as it’s quality to where I believe that it’s truly genuine and as good as I could have done at the moment, then I’m not worried about it being misinterpreted. You can’t worry about how somebody feels about it, I just hope they like it [laughs].

What was playing with Ta-ku like in Perth the other day?

It was fun. It’s always fun to play with friends–it’s chill, it’s easy, and the visuals that he had going on were awesome. His friend did them and they were just amazing, so that was nice to be involved in that.

That’s something that I noticed listening to the album; you’re dealing with quite personal themes, but you’ve approached it with a sense of humour. Did you do that intentionally?

[Laughs] Of course, of course. The album does deal with serious things, but I feel like the attitude that I had towards those serious things was more of a hopeful attitude toward dark things. Whereas on the other albums, it was more like ‘This is the end of the world, this negative thing happened and now I don’t want to do anything.’ The Blue Album was more like, ‘This negative thing happened, but it’s going to be alright,’ so I just felt like the videos should kind of go with that whole thing, be more easy, be more waavy, and just go with the flow.

What gave you the ideas for the videos? They reminded me of a cross between an R&B video and an infomercial…

Yeah, for sure, the whole ’90s thing. It’s so funny to me because I would go and watch those old ’90s videos and they’re dead-ass serious and I was like, ‘This is so funny in like the best way possible, I need to do this and be dead-ass serious.’ It’s so funny because the way that I’m doing it, these are serious videos, but that’s what makes them so awesome, I think it’s like a little bit of the self awareness that you’re being serious, I don’t know what it is but I just love doing it [laughs].

All of the albums have had skits or spoken sections in the songs as well, how do you go about choosing those?

Whenever you’re recording audio there’s always the stuff that happens before you hit stop or after you hit record. I would leave something recording when we were doing work and then listen back and be like ‘Wow, this kind of goes with this.’ Like making albums in general, you kind of just start doing stuff, then all of a sudden it just starts taking this direction. So I just kept leaving stuff in. Nobody else knew that I was recording, I forgot too and it’s cool to hear that, it turns into genuine dialogue about what was going on, that’s where I kind of left it at the end of the album for eight to ten minutes.

Did you have to sift through hours of audio that you’d recorded to do that?

No, not too much, I feel like the thing only that was recorded from that was the end and I just left the whole thing. I grew up on a lot of rap albums too, and they would always have their skits, so I just like to put people in the room and add to the whole vibe of everything. On the other albums, it was different stuff between songs you know, a little bit more musical and some of the talking was from movies–there’s always going to be that dialogue. I love just leaving that stuff so that people know, these are people that sat in a room and played together and made this thing, I love that about it.

Can you ever see yourself moving beyond JMSN?

I don’t see that, but I never know. I feel like JMSN is me right now. I feel like I have so much freedom to evolve within that, that I won’t really need to move on to anything else, I could make country music as JMSN and it would still be JMSN music. I feel like that’s what JMSN is, it’s musical freedom, it’s freedom to do and be whatever you want to be.

How do you think it differs from the acts you’ve performed as in the past, like Christian TV?

You know, it was different, Christian TV and my band before that was a different time in my life definitely, and I was listening to everybody but myself, you know what I mean? There was people telling me ‘this is what you have to do to be successful and sell records and stuff.’ It became nothing about the art any more and it was just me trying to please everybody but myself. Once I got to realising that this isn’t what I want to be doing, that’s when I started JMSN and finally found myself. I’m glad Christian TV and the other stuff happened because it was a big learning experience for me.

What’s it like listening to Christian TV and Love Arcade now?

It’s funny, my friends will put it on to fuck with me [laughs]. I’m just like ‘who is that guy, I don’t know that guy’ [Laughs].

JMSN has been touring Australia and can next be see at Splendour in the Grass, Byron Bay, this weekend. For full tour information, head here.

Photography: Jarman Cutrona.


Watch: Ta-ku and JMSN perform ‘Love Again’ at RBMA Boiler Room
ACCLAIM Premiere: Watch the video for JMSN’s ‘Bout It’
Watch: JMSN – ‘Addicted’