We talked to the up-and-comer about nostalgia, change, Coppola, and whether he actually shot his dog.
At 17, the now LA-based artist, Jimi Somewhere, was a Norwegian kid dreaming of moving to the US to pursue his musical dreams.
Today, he's 20 years old and releasing his first EP, PONYBOY, after a string of singles including the infectious "I Shot My Dog."
JIMI SOMEWHERE - I SHOT MY DOG / 1st PLACE www.youtube.com
Despite all this, life was better—or at least less complicated—when he was 17. Or at least that's the thesis of his most popular song, "1st Place," which forms the heart of his nostalgic and infectious EP
. Like the movie from which it draws its name, the EP explores the simultaneous discomfort and thrill of leaving home and striking out on one's own.
In a way, Jimi Somewhere's music is youth incarnate. Intense, saturated with feeling, and yet still buoyant and dreamlike, existing somewhere outside of time, PONYBOY is tailor-made for savoring sunsets by the ocean or late-night drives in the heart of summer while knowing that soon, nothing will ever be the same.
Image via P3
Popdust caught up with Jimi Somewhere—real name Benjamin Schnandy—to talk about Los Angeles living, famous friends, songwriting therapy, Coppola movies, and that simultaneously universal and intimate experience called coming of age.
What was the move from Norway to LA like? How was meeting Kevin Abstract, getting connected with all these producers and having all that happen so quickly?
It all felt really organic. I was scared before leaving since being so far away from home on my own for so long felt super scary, but it all ended up flowing really well. I've met Kevin [Abstract] a couple of times, and he is the nicest guy, so it was cool even though I was always nervous. When it came to the producers and stuff, it was so much fun. Me and Milo Orchis (the producer behind all my music) hadn't been in any session with other people before LA, so it was interesting to experience that.
What was growing up in Norway like? What music did you cut your teeth on? Do you feel like being Norwegian influences your work?
Growing up in Norway was great—it was also a bit boring. I listened to all kinds of music during those years. My dad is heavy into Supertramp, Pink Floyd, Elton John, and all those 80s artists so that's what was playing in the car when I was a kid, while my sisters played a lot of Coldplay, Green Day and U2 in their rooms. Other than that I got heavy into hip-hop in elementary school and used to listen to a lot of 90s, early 2000s stuff. And then later I got into pop punk and folk-rock. I really love all kinds of music [so long as it's] made with passion and has some emotion to it. Emotion is what I'm drawn the most to.
I do think being Norwegian influences my work. I think that growing up unable to understand a lot of the lyrics in the music I listened to made me pay more attention to the melody and flow. I think that's a strength in Scandinavian music in general. We've got great melodies.
A lot of your songs are about coming of age. Has your music helped you process growing up?
Yeah. Writing is therapeutic, and it helps me deal with stuff that feels overwhelming. When I feel bad or sad I can turn those dark feelings into something worth something, which makes it feel better, like my sadness isn't wasted.
How do you write your songs? What's the process?
I don't really have a routine or anything, but usually, it starts with Milo bringing me chords or a small idea he had, and me just sitting down with it and starting to write. I write really fast; it just pours out.
The emo-suburban-coming of age story is a very specific one, and it's been prominent for a while, especially with artists like Kevin Abstract and Roy Blair really pushing that imagery. Do you feel connected to this narrative? What about it inspires you?
Overall I guess I'm inspired by it because I grew up in a suburb myself. I don't overthink it or anything. I just try to replicate the feelings I've experienced in different situations and make them into songs. In general, I'm just very nostalgic as a person. I'm always thinking about things that have been.
What inspires you in general? What makes you want to share your voice through music?
I have a need to express myself. It's always been there. I've written songs for as long as I can remember, so it's just in my nature. Whenever I've gone through something or experienced something, I just put it into words and melody.
What's the story behind the name "I Shot My Dog"? It's a pretty intense title.
I had this dog in elementary called Noddy that we had to put down because he was getting aggressive and bit this girl in my class. It was really sad and broke my heart. In the old days, farmers used to shoot their dogs when they had to put them down. So instead of singing "I put down my dog" I chose to write "I shot my dog." I thought it had more punch and felt more cinematic. But for everybody asking, for the millionth time, I didn't actually shoot a dog.
Your new EP is called PONYBOY—what made you choose that name? Why do you feel connected to Coppola, and how does film influence your music?
I chose the name just because I felt so connected with the movie. Coppola's Ponyboy is who I want Jimi Somewhere to be. The whole feeling in that movie is so special, and I definitely found myself thinking about it while writing. Film influences all my music pretty heavily. I love movies, and I watch one almost every day. My favorite movies are always spinning in my head whenever I write.
Where do you see yourself going in the future? Where do you want to be?
I've been thinking about that a lot. Watching Billie Eilish doing what she is doing right now is really inspiring. That's the position I want to be in—to be able to create freely whatever I want, whenever I want and still have it top the charts. That's the ultimate dream, but I'm happy as long as I get to do this for a living.
JIMI SOMEWHERE - BLUE SKIES www.youtube.com
Eden Arielle Gordon is a writer and musician from New York City. Follow her on Twitter @edenarielmusic.
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Protest music aside, there is a slew of good underground music out today
An invigorating slew of protest music hit the shelves today.
Detroit-based emcee Tee Grizzley collaborated with Queen Naija and the Detroit Youth Choir to craft a melodic ballad that attempts to open up a dialogue with police. Meanwhile, alt-Jazz pioneer Terrace Martin took a different approach in his collaboration with Denzel Curry, Daylyt, G Perico, and Kamasi Washington, with "Pigs Feet" being more of an angry f*ck you than an attempt at communication.
The former Bitter:Sweet lead singer on primetime TV and lessons learned.
The singer eyes a new beginning.
The consensus among many singing show alumni is that competing on primetime TV is much like boot camp. You strap yourself with your best cover songs, ship off to Los Angeles for sometimes months at a time, and your fellow housemates transform into eagle-eyed enemies marching into the combat zone. You step onto the dazzling stage of Hollywood and hope what you bring to the table is unlike anything America has ever seen or heard before. Promise of fame and fortune is just at your fingertips, and one slip up could cost you everything.
But for Shana Halligan, who saw moderate success as singer and musician for alternative-pop outfit Bitter:Sweet, visions of grandeur didn't obscure her thirst for exercising her craft. Millions of people tuned into The Voice every week, and Halligan proved her mettle on such covers of Cher's "Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)" and Kings of Leon's "Use Somebody." Her journey was tragically cut short, but not before she was bestowed with a wealth of resources, equipping her to recharge and soldier onward into an even more worthwhile future.
Her new song "Hurricane," an inkier version of Lana Del Rey, laced with a James Bond-sloshed shellac, sees the singer returning to form, as she bites venomously into the lyrics and unleashes a grim vocal performance. Originally intended for another project altogether, in a similar vein as Bitter:Sweet, the somber track landed in a trailer for YouTube's new drama, Youth and Consequences (below) earlier this year, and it's slick and slithering melody not only latches onto the brain but burrows into the backbone. "It's not necessarily eluding to what's next," Halligan tells Popdust over email, "it's just what was in that moment."
Along with producer Kiran Shahani, Bitter:Sweet have sold over 500,000 records, from genre-bending project as 2006's debut LP, The Mating Game, and Drama (2008). Halligan has also amassed more than 70 songwriting credits and syncs across such generation-defining shows as Orange is the New Black, Grey's Anatomy, Nip Tuck and Desperate Housewives. All of that success, however, could not have prepared her for what was coming on NBC's blockbuster singing show.
Now, a month or so removed, the singer-songwriter is working toward more ambitious music endeavors. "I'm exploring stripping the electronic components way back and getting back to more of my jazz roots. But I'm also having fun with this whole electro-swing movement that's going on," she says. "I love dark , stormy, moody electronic music, as well, and I've always created music to a bit of a cinematic landscape, so.....I plan on doing it all."
Below, Halligan takes one final look back at The Voice, what she learned and how her craft has changed.
Did you ever feel you were "over-qualified" to be on a singing competition?
If I were to look at this experience as a singing "competition," I probably wouldn't have been able to go through with it. I looked at this as an opportunity to showcase my talent on a very different platform and for the largest audience to date I have performed in front of. I may have had more experience than many of the other contestants as far as my previous musical achievements are concerned, but for me, I felt like I had to do something drastic to shake things up. I've been in the industry for so many years.
I've been the flavor of the year, on top of the world and heading in to what I thought were the beginning drops of stardom, and I've crashed at the bottom, having to work my way back up after my band broke up. I've had to create new beginnings, and reinvent myself, all the while hopefully growing, evolving, and being open to trying new things. The industry is always changing so the way I was fortunate enough to get exposure in the past, wasn't working today. I chose not to "compete" or have that in my consciousness while on the show. Instead, I chose just to do my best to be in the moment and use this as a bigger stage to to make a bigger splash on.
You wrote on your website that the experience was "not an easy ride" and you "had to face a lot of challenges." What did you face?
The biggest challenge that I had to face was being away from my 2 and a half year old son and my husband for such a long period of time. I felt like part of my body was missing. All the love and joy that filled my heart and gave me strength to do something like this, felt so far away. Even though it was filmed in Los Angeles, we are sequestered and unable to see anyone apart from the show. A mother's guilt is fierce. Even though I knew my husband had it all under control and he couldn't have been more supportive, it was really difficult to let go and feel 100% ok.
It's also a very unnatural experience preparing for something like this. As a professional musician, I have played everywhere from The Greek Theatre, Hollywood Bowl and Royal Albert Hall to The Kennedy Center for people who have actually bought tickets and were willingly and happily there to see me perform. In contrast, while on the show, we were preparing for and thinking about a 90 second moment for 20 million people that may or may not result in a "chair turn," all while listening to vocal gymnasts all around you. It's a recipe for insecurity and second guessing yourself. As centered and as at peace as I felt, I was in my life going into this, one can't help but to get a bit wobbly through the process.
How did that transform you as a person?
Before the show, I had some pretty deep fears about touring again or leaving my family for much longer than like two days max. Being brought up in a rock and roll household and seeing the toll that that kind of absence took on me growing me up as a kid, combined with the amount of touring and career obsession I also indulged in through my own past relationships, I felt that leaving my boys would be the worst thing I could ever do. I was finally so happy. My sweet new family has brought me more beauty than any career ever has, so how could I leave?! But I think this once free-spirited hippy swung so far on the other side of the pendulum once my son was born, that I was holding on to them for dear life. And that, perhaps, wasn't so healthy either.
I learned from this experience that I don't have to have only one or the other and be paralyzed in that kind of fear. Because I have such a supportive husband (who manages talent by the way and totally gets it) , I got to experience both. I got to reignite the importance of continuing to chase my dreams, while slowly allowing the guilt to dissipate. I'm proudly showing my son what it is to be strong, ambitious, courageous and thoughtful about our choices. Since then, I've been traveling regularly to Nashville and the red carpet has literally been rolled out for me in the songwriting world there. I miss the shit out of my boys every time I leave, but then I'm back and squeezing them to pieces! And guess what? We are all still a sweet family and everyone is OK.
You also wrote: "It took everything I had to stay grounded and at peace with my decision to do this." Can you elaborate on this sentiment?
It's taken me years to get to a place where I know exactly who I am as an artist. Not that I'm unwilling to grow and expand, that is essential as an artist, but in terms of my sound, what resonates with me, my genre....
During the show, I found myself taking the longest road at times to get right back to my starting position. The place that I knew in my heart was right all along and then asking myself why did I just do all of that second guessing just to get right back to where my gut knew I should be? While I had all of these influences and circumstances that were so completely out of my control, always shining their bright headlights on me, I couldn't help but start to feel less than and uncertain. I'm sure everyone there did, many a time! Then, I would get upset with myself. I know who I am, dammit! Why am I allowing this strange situation to mess with what I already know? So, I would take bath, light some candles, meditate, watch some videos on the internet of myself performing in front of thousands to remind myself that "oh ya, this is what I do," and try to calm the hell down. [laughs]
Doing something like this show is not for the faint at heart. In the end I made peace that no matter what, I'm me and I will never please everyone nor is that my goal. I can only remain authentic and that will illuminate. When the scent of "competitiveness" was in the air as the "battle" rounds started, that's where I had the most trouble. Music is not a competition. I cannot, in any bone in my body, approach it as that. Maybe to my detriment, but so be it. Music is art and comes from your soul. Period. I felt very saddened by the idea that other contestants could actually treat this as a competition. But that's when I remembered, "Shana! you're on a damn singing competition!"
In music terms, did the show change your technical approach to mood, melody or building a song?
I had never really warmed up my voice before so regularly. We had vocal coaching, and we were given these fantastic vocal training exercises. For my own shows, I was used to having a shot of tequila or a glass of red wine before hitting the stage for a full set and hoping for the best! I was noticing a vocal strength and consistency I could count on in a way I had not thought about before. I also had never really sang anything but my own music before, so it absolutely stretched me to have to find a way to sing songs that didn't belong to my voice, but make them belong. The luxury of having nothing more to do than sing is pretty captivating. I could try things I had the focus and time to play around with. When else in life do you only get to do one thing? Never!
Ultimately, do you think doing the show has been a game changer for your craft?
Yes. In the sense that this was so far outside of my comfort zone, and I had so little control in so many areas, that it has given me a different kind of clarity and confidence to go out there in the world far stronger, knowing if I can do that, I can do anything! In my own music, I'm in control of my band, I know what arrangement I want. I write the music, I more or less feel as in control as one can feel, given unforeseen circumstances when it comes to a performance. Through this experience, I realized I will still show up for myself no matter what and no matter how challenged or vulnerable I may feel. I also realized I don't need a whole production, a huge band, projections, smoke and mirrors, or many of the things I believed I needed in the past, especially while playing in my electronica projects. Not to say it isn't fun having all that. When I hop on stage with Thievery Corporation, I'm all too happy to have their full blown set up. But I can move people perhaps even more deeply with everything stripped way back and maybe, just let my voice and my energy be the pillar.
You recently teased you've been writing with some new producers since doing the show. How have you seen your creativity, energy and confidence flourish in these new sessions?
It's been pretty amazing. I've been thrust into writing sessions with truly epic producers. The irony is I had all of these wonderful things lined up before I even went on the show, but the energy coming off the show has absolutely reignited my fire to to stay motivated. From writing for other artists to exploring what the next evolution of my sound will be, it's been so fun. I started to miss the fun in music after a while, and I'm finally getting back those butterflies when I think about how many dimensions I can break through musically right now. Plus, it didn't hurt having Alicia Keys tell me I'm the most unique artist she's ever worked with. She said I have such a distinct clarity in my individuality and put me in the same league as Portishead, Sia and Florence + the Machine. And Blake Shelton called me a goddess. Said I memorized him. I mean....sweet Blake. That can only help my swagger in sessions. [laughs]
Jason Scott is a freelance music journalist with bylines in Billboard, PopCrush, Ladygunn, Greatist, AXS, Uproxx, Paste and many others. Follow him on Twitter.
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