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Jamie Staples talks to me from a French suburb, where he’s spending some time as part of his French degree. He’s excited about early spring sun, contrasting it with the wind and rain he associates with Liverpool. However, the dreary weather doesn’t dispel his love for the city where he arrived to study, and where his musical exploits have begun to flourish in recent years. He speaks enthusiastically about the culture here, excitedly describing Liverpool’s musicians as “mad!”, but doesn’t note whether he himself falls into this category.
Jamie’s reverence for his fellow musicians can be seen in his work under the solo moniker JEZTLS (pronounced jez-tulls), where he mixes influences from around the world into his electronic led productions. His upcoming EP El Paradiso mixes steel drums, trap beats, dancefloor atmospherics and a variety of guest vocalists. Taking an improvisational, trial and error approach, Jamie’s focus is on “sounds that sound nice”, as he puts it, sincere in its clunkiness. “It doesn’t even have to be in the same key. It’s a lot more percussion based, and less melody based,” he adds.
He contrasts this with the classical and jazz training he received growing up, which he says has “nothing in common” with his bedroom producing. “I couldn’t stand being in that chair playing the trumpet or playing the keyboard anymore with that pressure,” he says. So, instead, he rebelled from his training out of a teenage desire to be the “mastermind” behind Katy Perry-esque chart hits.
It’s this background and his open approach which makes him such a versatile producer, open to working with whoever he thinks is making the best music. But, as Jeztls, Jamie wants to bring the focus back to himself. “I have a full body of work because I’ve always worked as a producer for other artists, that’s my main thing. So to finally find all these tracks coming up that I want to keep, I wouldn’t want to give them away because they’re more personal.”
Despite this focus “collaboration [remains] the most important part of what Jeztls is”, he asserts, with features from a varied pool of vocalists. There are guest vocals on almost every track on the EP, including Papa Shiraz on the dark Night To End and Apollo Kid on the breezy and kinetic We Belong To The Summer.
The more personal approach is apparent on the recent single, Tear Me Down (featuring Sintia), a track Jamie started work on when he was just 14, which explores ideas around masculinity, family and opening up about emotions. There has been a lot of discussion about men’s mental health in the last few years, and Jamie shared his experience of hearing stock phrases, ‘man up,’ ‘boys don’t cry”, from those close to him.
“I think a lot of the time it’s family that won’t let you be emotional. I grew up with just my mother and I have so much love for her, but at the same time I always felt this pressure to be a certain way. But that’s probably the most hurtful thing, that you’re not allowed to express yourself emotionally if you identify in a certain way,” he shares. “It’s crazy. It was always a struggle. Friends and family would always tell me, ‘You’re way too emotional, you think too much, you feel too much’.”
Tear Me Down comes from the sense of liberation Jamie found when he stopped listening to the people telling him to hide his emotions. “It just hit me, why on Earth should I not be able to be emotional? Where’s that rule? There is no rule! It’s a social construct that’s been placed on people to not be allowed to be emotional. Once I realised that, so much in my life changed, I cried and I didn’t feel bad, it was so liberating. I had tears down my face, but I was feeling good about myself. When you do that, you get to realise your own self-worth.”
While happy to talk about his background and identity, as a gay man he’s keenly aware of the boxes artists can be shoehorned into. There have been some comparisons between Jeztls and SOPHIE, and while there are some similarities, that can read like sticking the two together based on queerness. “It’s like there’s two options, there’s sexuality, and slight genre, so if you fit this box, you go over there,” he admits.
While talking about this comparison, it’s clear Jamie just wants to talk about the music. “I love PC Music and the whole subgenre that’s come from that. For me, I grew up on Donk music, like the Wigan Pier remixes, it was very bouncy and fast BPM.” He says this while enthusiastically pointing out how the picture of who listens to PC Music has changed from “Fiat 500s driving around blasting it out their speakers” to “these LGBTQ+ teenagers sat in their bedrooms, truly vibing”.
It’s his love for a variety of music that animates him and drives him. From his classical training, through making tracks on GarageBand with his cousin’s MIDI keyboard, all the way to his current producer work, it’s his excitement about finding new sounds that is constant. Jeztls is his way to explore that, away from the constraints of classical performance, or producing other people’s music. As he succinctly puts it: “With Jeztls, I can just do what I want to do.”
El Paradiso is available from 30th April via Virile Music.