By Rosa Barney
To call JMSN a new artist would be a mistake, Christian Berishaj, the man behind JMSN has been making music professionally since he was 17. By the time most people are finishing high school and gearing up for college he had already completed his first album, Love Arcade, which he wrote, recorded, and played all the instruments on. After a few successful but unfulfilling stints making pop-rock and electro-pop music Berishaj decided to leave behind life on a major label and put out his own music on his own terms. He opened White Room Records and began giving life to the darker themed music that was always stirring in the depths of his subconscious. Berishaj released Priscilla, his debut as JMSN that he wrote and produced himself in early 2012 to much acclaim and praise. It was not long before other artists took notice of his self described “hippy R&B” sound and began approaching him for features and collaborations. He has since teamed up with TDE artist Ab-Soul for a collaborative album titled Unit 6 that has yet to be released.
Despite his tumultuous love life documented for all to hear on Priscilla, which is named after his ex, he maintains a positive outlook. His music is moody and dark but JMSN is a surprisingly upbeat man who laughs often and smiles frequently. To watch him perform live is a true treat; he lets down his long hair and allows his rocker past to shine through adding a layer of grit to the melancholic melodies his songs are known for. Pigeons and Planes had the chance to sit down with him during the New York stop on his tour.
How is the tour going so far?
Good, it’s going really good actually.
You are originally from Detroit, right?
Yeah, I’m from Detroit originally but I live in Los Angeles now. I’ve lived there for about six years.
How did growing up in Detroit influence your music?
I guess you could say it’s a lot darker, you know? I feel like a lot of the emotion comes from me being from Detroit. It’s like when you go to California and you listen to a song in your car and then you’re in New York and you listen to the same song in your car– it doesn’t sound the same. Your surroundings affect the music you make and how you hear the music you’re listening to. Detroit is an emotionally dark place and I keep that with me with the music that I make. It’s good, I think.
Your father bought you a guitar when you were very young. What came first– the guitar or your love of music?
I asked my parents for the guitar. Before I got the guitar my mom had me taking piano lessons but I didn’t like the piano. When you’re a little kid you think the guitar is cooler, now I wish I would have stayed with the piano because I’m not very good at it. But, you know, [music] was just something I was drawn too.
Some people just don’t know what they want to do. My brother is like that. I’m like, “What do you like to do?” and he says, “I don’t know!” and I’m like, “What? You’re twenty-five! How do you not know yet?”
You were part of a few different projects before JMSN, how did you get to where you are today musically?
I started making music when I was about 12 years old. I started making music similar to what I am doing now but it didn’t translate well with people. So, I was like, what can I do that will sit well with people? So, I started a pop-rock band and after that I was in another pop-rock band and then after that I migrated into the other electronic stuff that I did. It was all a journey of trying to please other people and trying to cater to this thought and idea that is supposed to work for everybody but really I should have just been doing what makes me feel good as an artist and what makes me feel fulfilled. I evolved through all those years and got to where I am artistically and it feels good to finally be in that place. I was held back for so long and I was starting to feel bitter but it was a learning process. If I would have been successful with any of my other things I would have been unhappy now.
Actually, I don’t have much of a personal life. This is my personal life.
And you’re happy now?
Yeah. Very! I’m happy about this. Who knows about my personal life though. Actually, I don’t have much of a personal life. This is my personal life.
What do you do when you’re not making music?
That’s the problem. I’m always making music. It makes it hard to have relationships with other people when your main relationship is music. We’ll see what happens… Got a lot of life to live I hope.
You mention drinking Jameson alone in one of your songs, did your stage name come from the beverage?
Yeah, kind of. I drink plenty of Jameson for sure and bourbon when I want something sweeter [laughs]. I like whiskey. I like my alcohol straight.
It seems like a lot of people are trying to find a genre to box you into. How would you describe your music?
I call it hippy R&B. It took me awhile to figure it out—I was toying with psychedelic R&B but I like hippy R&B because we all have long hair.
How do you feel when people compare you to The Weeknd or Justin Timberlake?
I think it’s a great compliment. I mean, I don’t know why you would not take that as a compliment. It’s not like they’re comparing me to Weird Al Yankovic, you know? It’s not a problem for me. It’s a compliment. I know for myself that I am a very different thing but I also know that there are times when I sound like Justin Timberlake or maybe the the vibe of a sound sounds like something that you would compare to The Weeknd. I am who I am… The perfect example is when Coldplay first came out and everyone said they were just a rip off of Radiohead. Coldplay is so different though, it is a whole different thing but you just move past that you know? It’s not like it’s a crutch or anything.
It seems like you have been getting a lot of attention from other artists. How did you get connected with Ab-Soul and the rest of the TDE crew?
The manager and their in house producer and other people in the crew got wind of the project and thought it was really cool. I heard from Dave Free who manages all of them and was like, “Let’s meet up,” so I met Ab-Soul there and Sounwave who produces and Ali who mixes for them. I got with Ab-Soul, recorded with Sounwave, got in with Kendrick. I guess Schoolboy is next.
If you believe in what you’re doing it will translate. People will believe if you believe.
Tell us little more about Unit 6, how is it coming along?
Unit 6 is done! It’s just that I’m not signed to a label and Ab-Soul is, so there are some technical difficulties there. Hopefully we can get it worked out because I don’t want to have to leak anything or anything like that. It would just devalue what we did. We spent a lot of time on it and I want to make sure it comes out right and if it doesn’t, you know, maybe it will just come out later. I’m still feeling positive about it and we’re still in contact. I have a song on his new record that he is going to put out regardless. We’ll probably do some more together—it’s all love. I just hope we can get it figured out. It would be nice to get it out. Just a little bit of red tape.
The good thing for me is that I’m not on a label anymore so I don’t have the same red tape on my end. I love that when I want to put something out I can put it out. But when Ab-Soul and I were ready to put out Unit 6, we needed to this and we needed to do that… I don’t ever want to be controlled like that. That was the worst part about being on a label. I would have a record and I would want to put it out and the label would say that they wanted to wait and see how something else would do and I would get frustrated. It is invigorating to be able to do things how I want to do them and when I want to do them. Just put it out. You need to be able to build things, to explore and to evolve without someone else telling you how to.
If you believe in what you’re doing it will translate. People will believe if you believe. And hopefully you’re halfway decent. That helps [laughs].
Well, I think it all happening organically is a testament to your talent.
Yeah, I forget where I was but I was talking to someone and they told me that JMSN had a cult like following and to me that is awesome. To be able to hear that and see it as we tour—that’s how I want it to be. Like Brand New, you remember them? They’ll be playing shows forever. I love them and I know a lot of people that do. I’d rather have that than—well I don’t want to name anybody that has done it differently but I like when artists just stick to what they do well and stay true to themselves and their fans. Just be genuine, don’t bullshit. Just fucking go for it and be yourself. You know, all that corny stuff that you hear. It’s actually all true though.
You write, you sing, you produce, you play the instruments. Right now you’re touring with a band. Are they a part of the creative process?
They are a little bit a part of the creative process. Not in the process of writing the songs but in the production process. When I produce I like to have real instruments and stuff and I’ll have them in to play stuff that I need recorded because I can put down ideas for myself but they are true players. I bring them in and they are part of creating that track.
[At this point in the interview JMSN’s dog, came in to sit with us. After much cooing and petting we got back to business.]
Who is Priscilla?
She is just Priscilla. She is my ex-girlfriend.
Has she contacted you since Priscilla came out?
Yeah… [laughs]. Well, the first song ends with one of her voicemails. She didn’t like that I used her voicemail; all of the voicemails are real. Nobody knew they were going to be on there until they heard it. They weren’t skits and she was pretty mad about it.
Was anyone else upset that you put their voicemails on the album?
Well, the other ones aren’t that bad and some of the other people were kind of excited that they were on it. [Priscilla] was the most upset, she was actually mostly upset that I shifted her voice down so it sounds kind of like Satan at the end. I said ‘you’re mad about that and not what you’re saying?!’ She is a big part of my life so it kind of triggered this thing in me when we broke up. It was kind of like a bomb of inspiration. It made me think about everything that was going on with me. Was it my fault? Was it hers? What am I doing with my life? So, I wrote about it.
Did writing about it help?
Yeah, it helped me move along but it also made it all stay with me. Time heals everything but it was good to get it all out. It was like therapy. There are songs after Priscilla came out that are still about the same thing. Every show that I go to when I talk to the fans a lot of them tell me that they have a Priscilla and it helps them to listen to my music. It’s good, I’m glad everybody has a Priscilla, it means they get me [laughs].
What are you working on now?
I’m working on my next album and of course I’m touring right now but we’re hoping that we can put together a little live album. We’re also going to re-release Priscilla and add a few new songs so that we can extend the touring. Not a lot of people know about Priscilla yet so I still want to get the word out and then once I feel that the new album is done then I’ll put it out. I’m not waiting on anyone else but I want to make sure that I’m evolved and I still have to figure out exactly what I want to do. I’m working on it and it’s pretty far along but I still have a lot of work I want to do to it.