Majid Jordan are veterans in the new age era of alternative R&B. Alongside acts like The Weeknd and PARTYNEXTDOOR, the duo has played a major part in the gloomy, melancholic sounds coming out of Toronto this decade. Consisting of vocalist Majid Al Maskati and producer Jordan Ullman, the group have slowly and steadily taken their cult following in the 6 to the worldwide masses, getting their first breakout on Drake’s ‘Hold On We’re Going Home’, and not looking back since.
In late July, I got to sit down with the boys on the Melbourne stop of the Australian tour. Despite their flight-every-morning, show-every-night schedule, they were vibrant, excited and immersed in the beautiful architecture of the Melbourne city. Doused in tracksuits, they seemed tired; seeking the comfort of their hotel rooms. But the same way they approach performing shows all around the world is the same way they approached me; engaged, positive, and foreshadowing a brighter future.
To start off: it seems like your music has taken you around the globe as of late, visiting places like Malaysia and Australia. Do the crowds overseas differ from the ones back home?
J: There’s really no difference it seems, at least to me. Everywhere is exciting and different songs resonate in different areas, but we try to bring our signature positivity everywhere we go; which I think makes the crowds around the world enjoy it in similar ways.
M: We try and make it intimate regardless of the size of the crowd or where that crowd is in the world. That’s just how we are as people.
Australia is a country that always seems to be compared to Canada. Did you see any similarities on your tour down under?
M: I mean, yeah, maybe. I like to look at things architecturally opposed to looking at politics and the government, so I can definitely see it in that aspect. I could see some of Melbourne’s buildings in Toronto, or some of the clubs and bars popping in Toronto.
Speaking of Toronto: There seems to be a really unique music scene over there rising in the last decade that you, alongside your OVO contemporaries, have been a prominent part of. What is it about the city that makes it different to other places?
J: It’s the open-mindedness, and the willingness to push boundaries. We don’t really categorize the music we’re making, the world categorizes it. I think that is how the scene you see today was created. It was a culmination of artists trying new things, collaborating with each other, and being from one city. That’s why I think it resonated.
M: Generations of people have been making music in Toronto. Now it’s coming to the point where the people that have been doing it are fulfilling their duty of passing their knowledge on to the youth.
From my lens over here in Australia; it seems that on one hand there’s this icy cold R&B and hip-hop sound, and on the other this warm, late-night club and dance music. Is this a contrast you see? And does it inspire you in your craft?
J: Yeah, I feel like seasons really show in people’s work. People in Toronto are a lot more weathered than other people around the world. We deal with a lot of different climates. In the winter, we’re inside making music. In the summer, we’re usually outside together. I feel like that turns into different waves of music.
M: The winter’s heavy man, it changes your whole lifestyle. The sun sets so early, it’s dark a lot of the time, and it’s just really cold. If you want to go out and see people you’re really committing y’know? So what ends up happening is people end up living closer to the places they’re going out. We’ll be at the same bar every weekend because it’s like a two minute walk. So you end up having these little communities and neighbourhoods where the creativity happens.
I’ve heard you talk about your last album The Space Between as kind of like a journey on the highway in a sense: driving for 50 minutes. How did you work together to find this type of cohesion on the project?
M: A lot of it is Jordan syncing the songs, and building transitions between them. Then I would just write songs with lyrics and themes that we could expand. It was all about finding the pieces and connecting them in a way that made it an album.
J: It’s like in movie soundtracks. A lot of it is transitional. I think when you make that leap in music it automatically becomes more audiovisual. If the transitions are seamless, the music will take you somewhere, and you’re not taken out for 50 minutes. We kind of just built off of that idea and created a world with themes and things that exist in it.
M: We also love the idea of momentum. There’s freedom in momentum.
I think that’s why listening to music while driving is such an interesting thing. You have things like momentum and the scenery around you contributing to how you consume the art.
M: I think doing things while listening to music is interesting altogether. Reading, walking, jogging, driving, studying, cleaning the house.
J: I think travelling is where music resonates with me the most: whether you’re on the plane looking out the window or driving. You’re able to focus on the sounds so much more, instead of sitting in a room and trying to really dissect what something means.
M: For me, I like to do something and then have something catch my ear. That’s when I’m focused on it.
Scenario: You’re planning a roadtrip. What three albums do you bring with you?
M: There’s Daft Punk’s Discovery in there for sure. Also some Nina Simone and Marvin Gaye. There’s this Nina Simone record where she’s singing the blues; ‘I Love You Porgy’, and you can really hear that she’s hurting. I remember driving around to that a lot. And Marvin Gaye I think is my favourite male vocalist.
J: Yeah there would have to be a Daft Punk album in there. Some Amon Tobin. And yeah, probably some Marvin Gaye as well.
It seems like you guys are deeply rooted in a love for soul and R&B. What is it about these genres that you think have helped it stand the test of time?
J: Because it’s real. These genres tell stories that people can relate to. There’s a certain connection sonically and lyrically that I think is missing with other music. It’s easy listening, but it’s also personal.
M: There are intricacies you can catch; there are layers. You’ve got the surface sound which is very warm, and the lightness of the sounds allow you to find yourself in the stories these artists tell. It’s almost like they’re articulating your feelings for you. It speaks to your soul – that’s why it’s called soul.
Your lyrics delve into emotions that we all feel: love, heartbreak, things that stem from real life experiences. When you’re touring, and you’re not doing much other than going from hotel room to hotel room, do you find it hard to write music?
J: Not at all. I mix records on the plane, and it can actually be better. I feel like a lot of the great music we hear is out of necessity. Travelling and touring is a necessity for a lot of people in the music industry. So when you’re in that state of movement, your mind and heart are more present than ever. That almost pushes me to make music. I don’t want to look for inspiration, I want to be involved in it.
M: I usually get some beats and sit alone in the hotel room writing lyrics. That alone time really helps.
The first time a lot of people heard of you was on Drake’s ‘Hold On We’re Going Home’, and over the years you’ve matured as artists tremendously. What has Drake taught you over the years at OVO Sound?
M: He’s all about pushing your boundaries. He’s not afraid to tackle any genre, and he’s in tune with the newest, cutting-edge sounds in music. The behind the scenes guys, like 40, are always looking for things like the best mixing. Learning how to build a team like that. He offered us his initial tour team on our first tour. Those guys on that team are some of the world’s best professionals and we know them, they’re our family.
In a previous interview, I saw you talk about the fact that you’re still learning; that there was still places to see. Now that you’ve officially been around the world, what have you learned?
M: I don’t know if I learned anything (laughs). I’ve learned to do the work, and enjoy doing the work. Things like pushing the bags off the carousel; really delving into the tour life. We’re all in it, carrying everything. We’ve learned to find it exhilarating, not exhausting. We’re having fun, enjoying little moments. We even bought an industrial fan for Jordan when he’s playing keys on stage (laughs).
J: Yeah, I’ve learned that I get hot (laughs).We’ve learned to sleep as much as possible. It’s a marathon y’know? It’s not a sprint. We want to do this forever.