OFFICE MAGAZINE: ALL-ACCESS WITH JESSE BOYKINS III
All-Access with Jesse Boykins III
Just like his eccentric clothing, Jesse Boykins III's presence is intriguing and very colorful. Having just signed to Def Jam Records, Jesse is dead set on sharing the inner-workings of his hyperactive imagination with us, the first effort being the 17-track, acid-induced Bartholomew.
Bartholomew is a concept album with heavy female features from names like Syd and Willow with an overarching sound and approach that Jesse describes as "surreal realism."
"Without imagination, reality is pretty fucking dull," Jesse explains to me as we sit in the green room before his show at Le Poisson Rouge. "And I'm not keen on the same old shit."
office chilled with Jesse before he got on stage and discussed his pre-show rituals, approach to performing live, and the power of frequencies.
How are you feeling today? Exciting time?
I’m a bit tired—not gonna front. It’s like the kind of tired where you feel like you’re in a dream-like state. A lot of surreal things have been happening, but most of them are for the better.
What surreal things have been happening?
Like my video shoot yesterday. It’s a concept I came up with for the song “Earth Girls” on my album. I’ve been waiting to shoot it for a year. I found this amazing team that believed in the story I was trying to tell, and we shot it in 12 hours. Then I got on a flight and came here, and it was a red eye flight, so it kind of felt like a dream when I woke up.
Where’d you shoot it?
Los Angeles, Highland Park.
Oh, so it was a long flight, too.
Yeah, it was a trip.
Would you describe your new album Bartholomew as a concept album?
Yeah. All of my albums are concept albums, but this one is definitely over-conceptual.
Do you approach your live shows differently because of that?
Yes. The emotion that I bring into the initial creative process of recording the song, I always try to relive them on stage with my band. The best way for me to do that is not even rehearsing the songs but actually developing sub-stories for me to get into character. I think it’s important being a performer and knowing that each song lends to a different emotion, and you have to be in that emotion. That’s my main focus on stage: communicating the emotion that I’m trying to express as best as I can.
So it’s less technical, more mental?
When it comes to a lot of things, I’m not really technical. I do believe in execution, but the next thing under that on the list of priorities is to let the moment take us and not depend on being like, “Oh, we practiced it this way, so we have to do it like that every time.” The kind of energy that is brought out when we perform in different venues and even on different sides of the stage—these things are all taken into consideration. Innately, though.
I feel like I just recently realized how real energies and things like that are, and how it actually affects things.
Of course. I’m big on frequencies, I’m big on energy. I think that’s my main source of belief. A lot of times, people don’t realize that you can see something a certain kind of way, but if you don’t put effort or actions into what it is you see or feel, you don’t get anything out of it—regardless of what it is.
Do you get nervous at all?
I’m not a nervous person. I think I go more to solutions—I’m always trying to solve things. That doesn’t lend time to nerves. Things that I get nervous about are not things that I do all the time. But I’ve been on the planet for a little and I’ve experienced a lot, so for the most part I don’t get nervous.
How do you psyche yourself up for a show?
For me, it’s just about being with my band—being ourselves in our space and having that open dialogue before performing on stage. I like to conserve my energy. I don’t jump around or anything, I just stretch. I kind of treat it like I’m getting ready to hit a yoga class, and then when I get on stage, that’s my session. Talk less, be as present as I can be with everyone, and then right before we go on, I do visualize how I want it to go down in my mind and what I’m trying to deliver. Sometimes I like to remind myself not to give as much because I’m really giving on stage.
Have you ever had to perform to a shitty audience?
Of course, I feel like any artist at some point in their career has played in front of people who didn’t care. That has happened many times. I’ve been an opener for a lot of different artists who have a strong core fanbase, and then I get on stage and I’m a stranger. But I’m really good at taking that as a challenge, not a negative thing. The first thing I try to do in those situations is connect with the audience, whether it be a joke or picking on someone in the audience, picking on myself—anything to make them feel like, “This is common ground. Let’s hear this person out.”
I’m interested in hearing who some of your favorite performers are.
James Brown. Prince. David Bowie. Jimi Hendrix. The Beatles. Pink Floyd. John Coltrane. Parliament-Funkadelic. Michael Jackson, of course.
I also really like more new-age performers. Frances and the Lights is really good. Emily King is amazing on stage. Anderson.Paak is really dynamic on stage. Miguel. If I had to name people from my generation, it’d be them. Also Sza. She’s the fucking free-est. Mostly the iconic stuff is what I like to delve into when it comes to the art of performing.
With everything being so microwaved lately, the sight of performing has gotten kind of boring. You better slow cook me. Marinate my shit.
Do you align your setlist according to a certain narrative or storyline, or is it more about how things feel?
For me, it’s more about flow and sonics. We’ll go from track-based to live instrumentation, and then shift back to track to show a different dynamic. It’s like watching a film—there’s a beginning, middle, and climax, then someone gets their heart broken, it’s raining outside…you know what I’m saying? I like to put on a show like that in my head.
Any weird or unexpected things on your rider?
Nah, I’m pretty practical. I don’t ask for crazy things. One time I was on tour in Tokyo with Hudson Mohawk, and this motherfucker had a box of socks on his rider and was just collecting them as he went along.
That’s really smart.
It’s super smart. I had never thought about it. For me, it’s just ginger root, sometimes ginseng, Manuka honey, peppermint tea. Those are just for energy and digestion, all that stuff. Then a towel, fruit, water—just the bare essentials, really.
Any essential hygiene products you use?
I’m big on oils. I do believe in certain traits that oils have—lavender is a natural stress reliever. So I do like to have lavender in my bag, and peppermint helps the respiratory system, so I do the same thing. I rock with avocado oils, too. But nothing crazy.
What’s the overall story you’re trying to tell on Bartholomew?
There are a few points, but if I had to sum it up, I think the main story that I’m trying to tell is a coming-of-age story based on these lessons learned by Bartholomew’s character. Through those lessons, he understands the concept of true friendship and not desiring anything from anyone or having any motivations when it comes to meeting or getting to know someone. It’s basically portraying a pure idea of what life was before social media and people trying to get on the top of the food chain. It’s actually about community and expressing what it is you feel within your community, and being open about who you are and what it is you’re trying to accomplish, who you’re trying to inspire.
That’s why there are so many collaborations and more female energy than there is male energy because I feel like feminine energy is a more honest energy. It’s just trying to tap into that. In order for me to do this, I had to make it fiction and then bring it into the real. It’s surreal realism, in a sense. Anything imagined is a real possibility, to someone, somewhere. So I like to dabble in those two worlds, because without imagination, reality is pretty fucking dull. Without having some sort of forecast or vision or some sort of story you’re trying to tell, waking up every day is kind of just the same old shit. And I’m not keen to the same old shit.