JST David – Exclusive GIGsoup Interview

JST DAVID is an emerging Alternative/Experimental R&B artist from Baton Rouge, LA. He recorded his debut album “SNACKS” from start to finish in less than 1 month in New Orleans, which was released in March 2018 to immediate buzz and acclaim worldwide. JST DAVID’s smooth vocal delivery, thoughtful lyrics and lo-fi elements of soul, blues, jazz, R&B, classical & hip hop combine into a unique, genre-bending sonic experience reminiscent of a time where music was genuine, uplifting and ambitious.

Who is JST DAVID? And am I pronouncing that right?

I go by the name of JST DAVID (“Just David”); you pronounced it correct. The “JST” is shortened for “Just”. JST DAVID is really a guy being completely himself.

I think, in a world of art and creativity where the norm is seeing individuals who have some kind of talent or ability to make people feel something; music labels, friends or people that are in & around the art world will tell you, “Oh, that’s dope – but you gotta be “cool”, you gotta do this, you gotta do that, you should change this, cut your hair, switch your style up…” Or whatever. Whatever it is, there’s always tends to be this overarching atmosphere that artists are put into where being who they are is not enough. I feel like; what if I was put on this earth just to do what I am supposed to do and be completely myself and no-one else? That’s where the name at its core has meaning.

I’m an artist, a brother, a son, a friend to some, and I’m just a man who wants to leave an impact on the world through anything and everything he does. I want to share truth with people and share unconditional love with them. Music happens to be that medium to do that right now. So, I’m not trying to be anything else than be JST DAVID. I’ve been saying “I’m Just me” or “I’m just David” for years. I want to be genuine, but with intention… With a purpose. I want people to overcome. I want them to win. To start reaching for things they’ve been having dreams about. Do something with art, do something with music, or maybe it’s starting a family, starting a business or brand. Maybe it’s just opening their mouths to say something. Whatever it is, hopefully me being myself and writing about the things that I feel are important and relevant today encourages at least one person to say “You know what, I’m gonna stop chasing the dreams/opinions/desires of others, and I’m gonna find my own voice, my own purpose and just be myself.” I believe the main purpose of all of us is to be beacons of love, peace, joy and compassion.

So yeah. That’s me.

JST David by Molly Olwig

How did you become a musician? Like, what was the process?

I actually came into music in a really roundabout way. I grew up not really listening to a whole lot of (contemporary) radio. It was really a whole lot of gospel and jazz that my dad used to listened to. As I got older and graduated high-school, some of my friends introduced me to a variety of different music and sounds… I actually got deep into a lot of electronic music. One specific buddy of mine; who was a guitarist of maybe 10 years at the time, kinda noticed that when they would jam, I had a voice. So he encouraged me to start singing, and we kinda sung and played together – just to have fun.

We played a few pop-up events, I’d sing covers and he’d play… It was cool. I think that generated an interest in music and performing for me, but also helped me recognize I had a gift for music & singing. Naturally, I eventually picked up the guitar myself.

It was actually the same guy that introduced me to John Mayer. I saw John Mayer play guitar and I was like “Yo, this guy is cool”, but there was a  guy playing alongside John Mayer (on his “LIVE in LA” recording) that grabbed my attention; I heard his (vocal) harmonies playing in the background, I was like “Yo! Who is this guy?!”. It turned out it was a black guy playing guitar and singing. Up until that point I hadn’t really seen someone doing it in a way were I thought it was what I wanted to do. This guy’s name was David Ryan Harris. I checked his stuff out and when I heard his solo album it really kinda changed my world. I played his album ‘Bittersweet’ for months… It was really a motivator for me to dive into my instrument and to get better at singing and songwriting; so I’m all self-taught. It’s been 4/5 years since then, and it was a really unorthodox thing.

After finding David Ryan Harris I started educating myself on a lot of people that have influenced ALL music for the first time in my life; Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Al Green – even in a more ‘contemporary’ sense, people like Prince, Joni Mitchell etc… They became my heroes, just like anyone else out here trying to make meaningful music.

So yeah. Through John Mayer I guess?! [Laughs]. And finding a guy that looked like me, that was doing something that I wanted to do.

Your most recent album is called ‘SNACKS’. How did that come about? Why ‘SNACKS’?

Maaan. ‘SNACKS was like a crazy, crazy culmination of my entire career up until this point. Back in July, 2017 I had an opportunity to work with a multi-platinum award winning producer and songwriter. It’s a long story how we met, but he took a liking to me and he agreed to co-write an album with me 50-50.

This was an incredible opportunity for someone who only got into music seriously 3 years before… An incredible opportunity to go out to Los Angeles and work with this guy; put myself in an uncomfortable position – in terms of having to stay sharp, on top of my game, and squeeze out all of my talent into one moment.

So I go back home to Louisiana from LA, waited for the mix and master to take place and when I received those files… I was really shocked at how low it fell from what my expectation was. Maybe I got swept under the rug, as a lesser known artist who did everything independently – or maybe the artist I was trying to be was a little bit outside the realm of what this person could really, really help me to achieve what I envisioned in my head. Long story short, I was devastated. I’d raised thousands and thousands of dollars to do this for my fans, my friends, and my family who really believed in me. I didn’t have anything to show for it, except for a few songs that barely squeaked by my standard of excellence.

With the help of my good friend Jay Kale who produced the ‘SNACKS’ album, we pieced together a few records using the raw files and stems that we got from the work I did in LA, and put a couple of those tracks out. I didn’t really know where to go after that. I just kind of said a prayer and said “God, you’ve really gotta help me!” And it was almost like the next day, the idea for ‘SNACKS’ came to me. It was supposed to actually be a mixtape at first that was gonna buy me a little bit of time before pulling together a full length project I could really believe in. The moment we got in the studio though, Jay Kale & I wrote four of the tracks in one night! It was crazy how different it was from anything I had ever done. It was like a spiritual experience man!

I wanted ‘SNACKS’ to be something that was relatable; and after that first session, I delved into it knowing it could be something really serious for me.

‘SNACKS’ isn’t really about “snacks” at all – it deals with some of the heavier things we have to deal with in life, but it’s in bite size chunks. This project isn’t out to be a landmark piece of art, or change the world or anything, but I think it’s turned out to be quite a timeless record because of the effect it’s had on people.

We did that whole album essentially in a closet studio in New Orleans. All of it came together in a month, where we came together on weekends and then went back to work 9 – 5 during the weekdays. Jay Kale actually produced the first record that I ever released professionally, and he was also in LA with me when I pursued the record with the other producer. He’s been there through it all.

To have felt the highs of being in Los Angeles and really thinking I was going to make it, to the lows of feeling that I was being used a little bit or maybe misunderstood, I feel glad to now have a project that has impacted people already from Oman to London, from New York, to LA, here at home in Louisiana… All over. People have sent videos, DM’s and text messages. We’ve been looking at the analytics and it seems people are finding this organically with minimal marketing.

You’ve got a few skits/samples on ‘SNACKS’ – What’s the context on them/where do they come from?

I’m really glad you asked that! I didn’t go into the album with that intention (using samples), but it wasn’t until the ‘Do It Right’ song was finished; which was quite transparent about not giving into “the system” and the lie that you can’t do the right thing and make something positive happen from that. It was then I realized the lyrical content was quite heavy, and could be used to tell a story if I framed it the right way. I remember that there was a speech I had heard back in 2011 when I left university; a speech by Newton Minow. He gave a very iconic speech back in the 50s or 60s when he was chairman of the FCC titled: ‘Media Is A Vast Wasteland. It was like a 30 minute speech, but there were key elements in there that I knew existed and that I might be able to pull from – and given the fact it was under public access as it was made by the government, all that kind of stuff is available to the public for unrestricted non-commercial and commercial licensing. I knew I was going to be able to use that [as a] sample with no problem, no clearance. And it just really felt right.

I literally scoured through [the public access files] during the weekdays for hours at a time; finding audio samples that would “fit” to tell the narrative and the story cohesively.

The entire album was also run through analog tape emulators until it had a very lo-fi, dry, and old feel. So even though the production is very new and fresh, it has a very “old sound”.

JST David By Ross Pirelli

Oh, that’s interesting about the tape emulators! It’s subtle, I never would’ve noticed unless you mentioned it. My next question is about the cover art, I thought it was interesting, is it as simple as yourself and Jay Kale are trying to help the kids eat? Or would you say it’s more open to interpretation?

I did all the art direction for all the visuals behind the project, and there was a really talented young lady that I commissioned for the photography (Molly Olwig). I found the location. It was actually an abandoned nursing home on the West Bank of New Orleans. I wanted the kids to be in the piece to symbolize the responsibility of art, artists and creators to the next generation. The kids being dressed in simple white t-shirts is like a symbol of innocence; purity in a sense. Them being in a dark place but also being illuminated is to show that they’re in good hands. Let me back-track.

To locate the kids for the cover, I basically went to Facebook and asked my friends/followers in a post if they had kids that could help with a project that I needed them to be involved in. I think being known as an artist who does a lot of quality stuff helped – I do a lot of art direction, and direct video pieces so people know me from that as well outside of music.

I picked the kids/families that I felt would be the most accessible; the ones that knew me the most – so then it wouldn’t be so much of a stretch for them to do something I was asking without questioning too much, because they know and trust me as person, and as an artist. I didn’t even give them the address! I didn’t want parents looking it up before and finding out it’s an abandoned building and being like “What the heck is he doing!”. I just got everybody lined up with the date and time.

It was like the perfect day! Right before we got to the nursing home the rain let up, and this is like a completely dilapidated, destroyed building… I mean it was condemned man… Eerie… Creepy. I don’t know what was running through their [parents] heads, but they were kinda chill about it! As soon as the kids saw we had tons of snacks, it turned into a play land. They were really happy! Didn’t care where they were… We were just keeping an eye on them mainly so they didn’t hurt themselves!

That was one of the funniest shoots to execute.

It is a very striking album cover! The story behind it is really interesting too… I always tend to have a good time on film/photoshoots too!

So what have you been listening to recently? Any artists or albums in particular?

I mean I’ve been on the road touring recently, and also in the studio; I’ve been working on my next album(s) – I think it’s going to be really, really strong. It’s gonna be specific and heavy, but it’s also going to sound amazing. With that being said, I’ve been listening to Gil-Scott Heron… His album ‘Pieces of a Man’ – which I think is an absolute masterpiece. How he was telling stories in the time that he was alive. It’s very strong, heavy things – but even today we’re still spinning it. Still gravitating towards it. So he’s definitely in the rotation.

I have a friend; I’m really in love with her music and everything she’s doing. It’s Sidibe. I’ve been inspired by her throughout my career since I discovered her. She’s pushing the envelope on production… Everything. Her brand is immaculate, and she’s working with some of the best musicians, producers and people in the industry. She’s got it. In terms of contemporaries that I really respect, I don’t have a lot of them – but she’s been a consistent one over the last several years.

[A Pause]

There’s also this math rock band Chon I’ve been listening to; an instrumental band doing some pretty out-there stuff. I think they’re based out of California? I don’t know a heck of a lot about them, I’m just really digging their fusion of a lot of things. They’ve been inspiring me to go out there and push the limits.