Recently debuting with an activist video on gun violence, Jason & The Rex is stepping onto the scene with “Bullets Are Flying”. A mixture of hip-hop, future-funk, and dream-pop combine to create a dense soundscape of vibrant horns, a melancholy piano lead, and strange-sounding synths. Jason’s pensive, sometimes manic, flow washes over creating a dialogue on the gun violence issue in the US. Jason was kind enough to sit down and give GIGSoup the exclusive inside scoop on the creation and inspiration behind “Bullets Are Flying”.
Tell us about writing the song “Bullets Are Flying”…. what emotions were you feeling at the time?
Chaotic. Disoriented. There’s a scene in Dario Argento’s Suspiria where one of the characters falls into a pit of barbed wire. The more she tries to escape, the more she bleeds. It’s a mangled inner conflict. That’s kind of how I felt when I was writing “Bullets Are Flying.” I felt more and more entangled in a barbed wire mess of thoughts and emotions and political jabs and daily, present concerns.
When the Parkland incident happened, I was already feeling very professionally and creatively stalled. I’m an actor by vocation. At the time, I was going for a lot of Chinatown thug types — violent, gun-wielding, angry Asian dudes. I was getting rejected over and over again for projects that I didn’t really even believe in. I felt inauthentic as an artist. Music was supposed to be my outlet, but everything I created was stale and uninspired. And the worst part, I felt like I was failing as a citizen. I was — and still am — a reasonably privileged adult who has skills and a higher education. The gun crisis stripped teenagers of their adolescence, and those teenagers responded by standing up to the gun lobby and the politicians they controlled. What was I doing? Beating myself up because, after several attempts, I still couldn’t land a part as a stereotype on Iron Fist? Something snapped after Parkland. All the “thoughts and prayers” and familiar rallying cries came to a fever pitch, and I just started writing down…stuff. I was trying to express grief, to articulate my panic and anger, while also trying to provide commentary. I wanted to find an explanation. And someone to blame. A way out. Or a way forward. I wanted to crack the code on gun violence. I was also coming to terms with my guilt. My social posturing. My vanity in all of this. In trying to create this piece, was I turning the attention to myself? It wasn’t joyous or inspiring. It was a regurgitation of all the thoughts and feelings — all the stuff — I hadn’t processed.
The refrain of the song actually came to me much earlier, quite randomly. I like to think it’s because it’s more of a passive observation. Bullets are flying. Where? And why? While they fly, people are mourning. These are constants. Whereas, the two verses — they’re snapshots of that gloomy winter morning when I was pacing back and forth on my bed trying to make sense of Parkland. It’s like I was trying to extricate myself from the gun culture and the epidemic it has created. But every thought would just pull me back into the mess. Barbed wire. Can’t help thinking about it. Gun violence. Mass shootings. I dream of ways to reshape gun culture. But, uh oh, gun culture has shaped giant parts of who I am. And I contribute back into gun culture. Not only do I love a bloody action thriller. I routinely express my love for John Wayne movies. I think the Punisher is a pretty cool anti-hero. In debating and discussing issues related to gun violence, we shout into our echo chambers while attacking opposing views. We display our alliances. We present ourselves on a side. Scoring our solidarity points is just as essential to gun culture as shooting the guns themselves.
In writing this song, I was incredibly self-conscious. Was I just filling my notebook with solidarity points and quips from self-reflection? I offered my perspective on gun violence, while simultaneously reflecting and taking apart that perspective. I felt angry and powerful. But I also felt guilty and insignificant. Is saying something mostly an empty gesture? Probably. But not saying something is equally, if not more, disconcerting. Maybe this song is entirely descriptive of this emotional purgatory I create after a mass shooting like Parkland, where processing anything is just squirming in my barbed wire, while bullets are flying.
What is your favorite lyric in the song?
“I’m an actor, so I know how to weep. ”
There are lots of hidden layers and meaning in the video… can you tell us what some of those are and why you chose to include them?
I’m pretty fluid with my interpretation of the video. But most days, it goes something like this:
Setting – The characters are in a place of purgatory. It’s that place I create when I’m trying to process gun violence. They may or may not know each other.
Screens – On the screens, the characters stare at scenes involving their physical selves.
Characters – I play the boy, and we designed the look to reflect someone in a prestigious position. On the TV’s, he’s probably a politician of some sort. I don’t think that’s who the boy is in real life, especially if the boy is me. But in this particular place of purgatory (maybe there are multiple rooms in purgatory), I’m presenting the politically active parts of myself. The dancer might be a whole separate character. She’s someone directly impacted by political leaders and their decisions. So in this place, we have a civic leader and someone he impacts. Seen this way, let’s say the boy is fried in the beginning. He’s lost his will. Been in purgatory too long. The dancer enters. Maybe she sees a party she’s currently attending in the real world. She pulls the boy out of his funk. They are actual human beings who can connect. When we hear about gun violence, our screens create abstracts of the event and the victims. But here in purgatory, the two have to make actual, physical contact. Their actions directly impact each other.[Or the dancer might be a manifestation of the boy and vice versa. In that case, we’re emphasizing the way that we are all part of this problem, and we’re a part of the solution. There are no sides. We need to save ourselves here. There’s really no “them”. So maybe there aren’t two specific, distinct characters in the video. Maybe they’re really just two aspects of everyone that gun violence impacts, which is, well, everyone.]
Movement – There is a loose choreography. But, mainly, Ashley (the dancer) and I created a structure and improvised within it. Basically, there’s a struggle in the beginning. Japanese Butoh definitely informs the early interactions in the video, as the style can create a sense of shared grief. The movement becomes more playful and celebratory, which I think reflects another convoluted part of processing gun violence. After Parkland, I sunk into a pit of melancholy for probably no more than half a day and then I was out with my friends. We’d talk about mass shootings, but then we’d goof off, and the topic eventually recedes, until we’ve tuned it out completely (though temporarily). In the video, the TV screens are upfront and center in the beginning, but then the movement draws our attention to the characters themselves. [Maybe the boy and the dancer are actually on separate sides. When we pull each other up, it’s a struggle, but we still have some shared humanity. And then you can look at the video as this collective song and dance we, as a society, perform after gun shootings.]
There’s an ominous outro, where we intercut to the party-goers on the screens lying facedown on a roof. Lives lost to gun violence? In the purgatory place, we only have close-ups of the characters, many of which focus on the hands in spell-like gestures. The issue of gun violence does seem to have this elusive, enigmatic quality. So maybe whatever happens between these two in this purgatory has some ineffable effect in the world.
What do you hope fans gain as a result from watching/listening to your art?
Mostly, I hope this keeps the conversation going. Like I said about the video, the topic always recedes, often because the screens start showing other things to us. As artists, I think we can keep things front and center. It’s funny. When I finished the video, I came across grandson’s “Thoughts and Prayers” single. For a whiff, I felt like my project would be redundant. But, of course, until it’s a non-issue, I say the more content we produce, the better. On a more practical note, I’m pledging all the royalties from this project towards organizations like March For Our Lives. So when people listen or watch, they are indirectly or directly (starting to really question my understanding of this concept) benefiting the cause. I think it allows listeners a little extra way to participate in reform measures.
You had a hand in creating all of the aspects of the single… writing, producing, creating the video….. tell us about that process as an artist. How does it influence your work?
It slows down the process by too much. No, but really, it allows complete ownership over the process, at least of the track itself. I’m entirely responsible for every aspect of it. Holding the work so precious does create a lot of room for self-doubt, but the fears of commitment also pushes for more experimentation.
When I create tracks, it’s like I’m recording and re-mixing an exploration. Or maybe it’s like I’m a one-man jam band in my room. It certainly allows me to include weird ideas like recording the words “thoughts and prayers” and using that sample to create different drum sounds. You can’t really tell when you hear it, but I think it’s a fun little Easter Egg. As for the video, I came up with a structure, but this is where I wanted to open up the perspective. I’m kind of enjoying the thought that creating the track itself was like the boy in the video struck in purgatory alone. Then with the video, I’ve invited other perspectives, just as there’s now another person with the boy in purgatory. I’m a nerd, I know. But, yes, I think because I gave myself a clear foundation after working on the track, we were able to do a lot of exploring with the concept of the video, which then allows for its fluid interpretation.
Fun fact: the video was originally supposed to involve a dancer and an agent of death battling over a remote that controls one single TV screen displaying a party.
You’ve spoken about how you want your music to be a platform for activism….. what are some other issues you are passionate about?
There are a lot. But I’m just going to list one here to emphasize how important it is. THE ENVIRONMENT.
Tell us about your upcoming album….. what can fans expect to hear?
It’s tentatively called Synthesizer or Variations of: An Endemic Cycle. The EP will have about 6or 7 songs that expand upon the narrative in “Bullets Are Flying.” Just as “Bullets Are Flying” is set in emotional purgatory, the other songs will be placed in their own settings. All the songs will fit into a narrative that has a circular structure. I’m designing musical themes
that provide a through-line in the tracks. If you play the album and replay it, the narrative from the last track continues right into the first. You can start the album from any track, and the narrative will continue and circle back. I’m also creating visuals for each track. So if you were to edit them together in a specific and play it on loop, it might feel like one single never-ending movie no matter where you begin. Gun violence is so cyclical. You can enter into it at any point — initial grief, debate, ennui, etc. –and it’ll eventually loop right back to where you started.
How would you describe your musical sound?
Musical genres are so bewildering to me. I guess I’ll say this: I’m sort of finding a hip-hop voice in other genres I love. They’re mainly psychedelic dream-pop, future funk, new wave, or even cinematic anime soundtracks. If my process were a scene, I’d like to imagine Childish Gambino getting really high and watching the news with Tame Impala, and maybe Jon Bellion barges in and blasts his new album. I don’t know that these are the sounds that come to mind if you were to listen to my work. But they’re certainly the sounds I’m after, sounds that provide a framework when I produce my music.