Love songs are embedded in Western culture. We all understand love, we all yearn for it and we all analyze its effects. “Every song you hear [on the record] is a love song, but every song in this world is a love song. What’s not a love song?” Asked Jesse Boykins III, as we discussed his new album Love Apparatus. Since the album is a study of love and relationships, naturally the topic of whether Boykins was in love had been brought up during our conversation. “I’m in love. I’m always in love, I’m a lover,” he said. “I think you have to love as an artist, just the sense of appreciation and the sense of love always make you discover.”
Jesse Boykins III paused, letting his constantly buzzing and creative mind catch up to his lips before he continues to dive into the importance of love. “When you’re really young a lot of people are ignorant to things. You grow up accustomed to something, but then you meet a girl and she’s well travelled and cultured,” Boykins said. “She tells you to try sushi. I love her so I’ll probably try sushi, you know?” Jesse is a man who sees the big picture. The question of whether the R&B singer is in love has turned into something much bigger. “That’s usually how people’s minds open up; through another person or falling in love so much that you want to be a part of the culture or whatever it is that you’re in love with,” he said. “That’s the way to be. I’m always in love.”
Love is translated from something that may only apply to the individual singer or it may become an enlightening experience in all peoples’ lives. Jesse didn’t respond with a simple yes or no related to a relationship in his personal life, he views love as something so much bigger and more powerful. The singer understands how art and emotions can link men and women in surprising and beautiful ways.
Love Apparatus takes on this philosophy, examining love from many angles. Whether realizing that love isn’t in the relationship anymore in “Plain” or expressing love through a physical act with “Create Beauty.” The album has been in the making since 2008 – a timely process that was orchestrated primarily by producer Machinedrum (Travis Stewart). It has become a way of life for the artist, not just writing and singing love songs, but analyzing the concepts of the emotion and how society interacts with the elusive state of mind. Along with the album, Jesse has documented interviews with women from around the world of different cultures and ages about the ‘L’ word. Boykins said with excitement, “The questions I ask these women are inspired by the album. I didn’t have the questions before I wrote the songs. I had to finish ten songs and listen… they gave me the initiative. [The album and documentary] go together, they’re one in the same for me.”
I asked about when the interviews will be released. He responded, “I really want it to come out with the album, but my team is telling me otherwise, to be strategic, because the impact will be substantial. My plan is to release it as a series at some point, like a TV program or something, and to have a full length at the end of the year.”
Although based in an audio art form, Boykins has many ties to the visual realm. Along with his upcoming documentary, Jesse has created an aesthetic to accompany his sweet, modern R&B. His Tumblr, Instagram and music videos all have eclectic urban imagery showcasing the artist’s killer style and eye for beauty. “I do have visions,” he mentioned, “I do visualize and come up with concepts. I look at everything as a story, to take things and apply it to what I’m doing. Like any artist, you take in as much inspiration as you can and revert it into expression.”
Once again proving the singer’s ability to view things on a bigger scale. “I like to surround myself with people who think like that, and be in an environment like that as much as possible,” he said.” A lot of the visual direction that I have is heavily influenced from one of my best friends and creative director Doctor Woo (@DrWooArt). He shot all my videos and did the artwork for my first two covers.” Jesse brought up the collaborator’s long history, “We went to school together. [After] he went to Parson School of Design. A lot of my friends are in the art world and that culture. I was intrigued by it and I definitely took it upon myself to educate myself more on expressions of art and contemporary art, and to do the research. I feel like there are things you can do with music, but you can do a lot more with visuals, that’s why films make so much more money than anything else in the [creative] industry. We are naturally visual people, it happens that sonically we can connect as well. When you have the two things meet at a point and improve each other, that’s the ultimate and that’s what I am for.”
Discussing the world of art, I ask whether he can relate the album to an art movement or a visual artist. Boykins hesitated before saying, “I can tell you I took a lot of inspiration from a few [artists], but it’s just about being courageous enough to do something outside of what’s expected. A lot of artists want to live up to expectations rather than challenge what the outcome is going to be. I don’t want to be that artist.” Love Apparatus is so much more than art that had inspired it. Boykins sees the record as a timeless collection of thoughts and feelings unrelated to current culture, or any trends in the art world or otherwise. “[The album’s creation] was purely trying to take risks in my genre, and to be truthful to that as much as I possibly could, without the influences of trends that are going on around you that look so much cooler than what you’re engulfed in yourself,” He said. Jesse doesn’t have his eyes on a hit single or a trendy collaboration, instead he’s looking for a shift in people’s tastes in music.
Love Apparatus brings many perspectives and sounds to the table. When I asked what Jesse considers highlights from the LP, he responded, “I’ve been listening to it so much. I have an appreciation for each song, like I know what songs are going to be people’s favourites, but I don’t want to say that because that’s not my intuition with putting out this conceptual album. It’s not like I’m putting out a bunch of singles thrown together. You’re supposed to press play at track one and go through the whole album, then you decide.” Boykins recalled, “I started working with Machinedrum in fall 2008.” Stewart’s sparse production bringing a modern polish to Jesse’s traditional R&B sound. “Travis is a genius to me. I don’t really think people understand the diversity he has as a producer and a musician, because he does the Juke stuff, the up-tempo stuff and electronic-dance stuff, [but] Travis can do whatever he wants to do.”
If Boykins’s has a gift for seeing the bigger picture when it comes to culture, love or his album, then Machinedrum had a similar vision of greatness in mind. The two make music like some of us eat food; it’s natural natural and instinctive. “We genuinely loved to [create music]. It’s like eating a slice of pizza, ‘We’ve got to go eat today man, gotta eat,” Jesse laughed. The process of making Love Apparatus was a beautiful challenge. The singer said, “We were so in it. You look back at the footage in the studio and it’s like we’re arguing, but not arguing. It’s ego killing over and over again. Two people really in love with something who grew up with different points of view coming together and trying to create a balance.” The two artists joked about their collaborative process calling it “epic magic.” “It’s magical when two people can come together and create something bigger than them,” Boykins continued. “That’s how I feel about the record, and that’s what the process was like working with him.” The process led to a solid album that highlights what both producer and vocalist are capable of fulfilling.
The process of making an album has changed drastically over the past decade thanks to file-sharing, and many artists’ need for touring income. “We had our moments when we were like, ‘I don’t know if we’re going to finish this shit. You’re in Berlin, touring for 3 months, then I’m touring for 2 months,” Boykins illustrated. “DJs are used to being in the room by themselves, like a chemist,” he compared. “Back in the day it would be like, ‘We’re going to the studio today at noon.’ Fifteen people had to be there for the album to be created. I wanted to grasp that aspect of making a record, just like I did with my first two records. I want it to be personable. I don’t want it to be files and singles. It’s conceptual. We had conversations about this, we did the music research, the history, we talked about culture, we broke bread, we ate lunch, we talked about our fucking ex-girlfriends. I want it to feel like we’re capturing a moment. That’s what Love Apparatus is; a really big moment because it took 4 years,” Boykins chuckled.
The album has now been unleashed for the world to hear. Pitchfork reviewed the LP, stating “Love Apparatus is a warm, dreamy album that easily allows you to get lost in its glow.” The respected website’s review draws comparisons between Boykins and other R&B acts who have broken the rules of what the genre can be. Its celebration of breaking down stylistic rules is something Jesse supports, it’s about challenging how one can express themselves within a genre of music. Jesse mentioned, “It’s like when you’re a kid and you get a little colouring book and crayons. You can stay inside the lines if you want, or you can just be like ‘no, I’ll make my own lines.” He continued to say, “I want to make an impact that shakes up culture. Ask certain questions and push boundaries or test whatever may be the norm.” The album succeeds in remaining a true and honest R&B gem, but one that was built for 2014’s ever-changing mixture of styles.
The importance of authenticity is a major factor for Jesse. When I ask him about dream collaborations, the desire for genuineness point him toward high-caliber artists like Kanye West and Yukimi Nagano from Little Dragon. (Most fans have heard the new Little Dragon songs, but Jesse’s waiting for the full album before listening.) “Flying Lotus [is another]; it varies,” he said. “It would be cool to have a conversation with Thom Yorke, talk with a cat like that for an hour, and gain some knowledge. There’s a huge list, but for seeing the creative process with someone, it’s Kanye and Yukimi. I appreciate how they’ve given to music, and been honest with their creativity.”
Other than his work with Machinedrum, the R&B singer recently worked with Odd Future’s The Internet on a song titled “Higher Times” from 2013’s Feel Good. “The Internet’s my homies. I call them young visionaries. They’ve done a lot for music, and their generation, that probably won’t be acknowledged for five years,” he said. “It’s really cool. They’re laid back with me, we smoke weed, we talk about life, different things in culture, and then we apply what we’re talking about to what we’re creating. It’s honest, it’s the truth. They make honest music and anybody that likes honest music, I like to be a part of it.” That yearning for honest music relates to how Boykins sees culture and humanity. The need for truthful displays of one’s emotions, whether through visuals, lyrics or other means. “When you think about it,” he said, “you never know what reality is and what fantasy is. It gets confusing; religion, politics, fucking print lifestyle magazines depicting culture.”
The topic of astrology is addressed, and like with other questions, Jesse expanded his answer to relate to the world, not just himself. “I believe in a lot of things. I find myself adding a new belief every time I leave my comfort zone,” he said. “I come back with a revelation, something to add to the list of beliefs. You never know, so you pick and choose what you like, and astrology is something I like.” Boykins is a Pisces, typically linked to romanticism and creativity. The artist noted that, “Pisces are a little intense. Too sensitive at times. I find myself battling with not challenging people all the time.” Adding that, “astrology is soothing. It’s calming, you never know what’s going to come next, and everyone can walk around and act like you do know so why not just believe in the stars?”
The stars seem to be aligning for Jesse Boykins III as of late. His view of the world, the links between art, emotions, religion and more have all lead to a strong LP that exhibits Jesse’s ability to understand things on a larger scale than most. In regards to the success of Love Apparatus, he simply stated, “I put in the work, the research and dedication over the past few years, and I’d like the opportunity to have people open heartily listen to [the record].” The chance to show his point of view, and thoughts on love on the record have been constructed with not only his own experiences, but through the documentary interviews as well. Jesse is an artist searching for honest expressions of what all people must go through. Love Apparatus is one chapter of that thirst for understanding all of us.
Love Apparatus was released April 22nd
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Images from Boykins’ Tumblr.