Interview with Jacob Lee: A Bold Voice and Daring Philosophy

Jacob Lee © Jaser Adrian

The impact of a song comes with its sincerity, and in my experience the subconscious harbours more emotional intelligence than that of the conscious mind.

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Australian singer/songwriter Jacob Lee has already found his voice, and is well on his way to making a name for himself with it. Hailing from Gold Coast and completely independent, the 23-year-old racked up millions of streams with his 2017 introductory EP Clarity. Boldly embracing a wide variety of musical elements and styles, Jacob Lee came onto the scene as a true musical anomaly: In addition to being unsigned, his still-nascent catalog already encompasses the electronic, acoustic, pop, rock, and folk worlds – and there’s nothing stopping the artist from further expanding his creative breadth: “I’m absolutely obsessed with artistry and becoming the true definition of the word,” he explains.

A lofty goal this may be, however the young artist has already proved (and continues to prove) his aptitude. Such shameless creativity and wide-eyed excitement is a rarity in the music industry, especially amongst high-streaming artists – but that willingness to stand out is part of Lee’s charm. “I don’t write to please industry folk or follow trends,” he tells Atwood Magazine. “To me, artistry is more of an empathetic exercise. Where most artists treat songwriting as a direct outlet for their emotions, some sort of therapeutic experience or release, I endeavour to do the opposite.”

Jacob Lee © Susan Magnano

Jacob Lee © Susan Magnano

Almost exactly one year ago today, Jacob Lee began releasing songs off his forthcoming debut album, Philosophy (anticipated later this year). These songs range in everything from subject matter to sound and genre, but one thing they all have in common is their depth: Lee is flourishing as a songwriter, tapping a pot of musical gold lying deep inside as he sings about love, devotion, desire, heartbreak, insecurity, self-doubt, and more – themes every twenty-something can easily relate to, but which also extend to listeners of all ages.

With You - Jacob Lee

With You – Jacob Lee

Lee introduced his ambitious project with with the explosive “Demons,” a bombastic and provocative song with equally provocative cover art: It was with “Demons” that fans were first exposed to the skull imagery that has since adorned Lee’s past six single releases. “For an album titled Philosophy, I was looking to display imagery that represented some form of intellect… when I asked myself the necessary question, “Where does intellect reside?” the answer was obvious.”

After unveiling himself through the heavy blues-rock inspired “Cursed” this April, Jacob Lee released two beautiful love ballads this past June: Both “With You” and “I Belong to You” are emotionally stunning tracks that approach love in very different ways while highlighting Lee’s incredible vocal and lyrical capacities. Revealing the artist’s softer side, these songs bring us up close and personal with Lee’s raw inner core – giving plenty of room for his powerful voice, as well as the words that fall out of it, to breathe.

Indeed, Jacob Lee is a definite artist-to-watch through the second half of 2018 as he prepares to release his debut album. There’s no telling what Philosophy may ultimately look like, but with an artist of Lee’s confidence in command, this debut album promises to be both intellectually stimulating, and emotionally challenging.

Meanwhile, Jacob Lee has found his voice and will continue to develop his artistic identity. “I feel as though I’ve entered a stage in life where I know who I am, who I want to become, and the path I should take,” he says excitedly. The future is bright for this indie Aussie, and we cannot wait to join him on his journey. Dive into Atwood Magazine‘s interview with Jacob Lee below!

I’m absolutely obsessed with artistry and becoming the true definition of the word.

A CONVERSATION WITH JACOB LEE

Atwood Magazine: There’s something dignified and disturbing about your skull imagery: It’s a constant reminder of death, as well as how underneath it all, we’re all the same. Can you speak to this imagery and why you’ve incorporated it into your “brand”?
I Belong To You - Jacob Lee

I Belong To You – Jacob Lee

Jacob Lee: I feel as though a skull is one of those objects that can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. It has the potential to be aesthetically interesting, while implying a deeper intention. For an album titled Philosophy, I was looking to display imagery that represented some form of intellect, something that could be creatively manipulated ten times for each track on the record. The notion to incorporate skulls into my music was one I never thought I’d find attractive, although when I asked myself the necessary question, “Where does intellect reside?” the answer was obvious and as such, the theme was established.

My first single ‘Demons’ was actually the perfect test-subject. Coming from more of a sophisticated background with the previous EP, I was interested as to whether the new visual would be well-received, [and] as soon as people mentioned that they wanted to tattoo the piece I knew I was on the right path.

Only you know that the man I am behind the surface.” I love how you chose to capture love’s depth and vulnerability in “I Belong to You.” How did this song come about?

Jacob Lee: This song holds a special place for me. I wrote ‘I Belong to You’ early afternoon, out the back of my home, sitting on an uncomfortable chair just two weeks before my brother’s wedding day… My mother had asked me countless times during the months prior to try and create something personal for Luke and Eva’s wedding, and though I tried, nothing really came to me until the week before. I found that I was constantly coming up with clichés and forced metaphors in my search for a song I considered worthy for such a special occasion, and it wasn’t until that afternoon where it all just seemed to flow.

It’s somewhat difficult to convey the true meaning of this song without writing paragraph upon paragraph, but in short, my brother has always been quite the shy individual, he’s never been one to open up to a large amount of people. Throughout his youth it seemed that it was only my parents and I who truly saw him for who he is, until Eva, his wife, literally looked beyond the surface, seeing what others never took the time to notice, and they’ve now been together for over 7 years, married November 18th, 2017.

One piece of information you must know to truly empathise with this song is that I wrote it completely from Luke’s perspective, talking to his wife at the altar as though no one else is there. I tried my best to capture his emotions before they even happened and as the best man, I think I nailed it.

What inspired this interpretation or view of love in this song? What is it about this message that is lacking in the other love songs in existence?

Jacob Lee: The first half of this was somewhat answered earlier, however, I’m of the belief that many other love songs just try too hard. There is a subtle honesty in love that is rarely spoken: A sentimental feeling of comfort, pride, fulfilment, security, and support. If an artist can uncover a way to actually articulate those emotions, the result ends up extremely relatable and emotional. I may be biased, but I think ‘I Belong to You’‘With You’‘Secrets’ & ‘Chariot’ all have that quality…

There is a subtle honesty in love that is rarely spoken.

“With You” employs an incandescent cello and violin that truly lights up the song and captures its warmth. How’d you decide upon this arrangement?

Jacob Lee: There’s always the question, does this song suit strings? If yes, we call Chris. I was lucky enough to be introduced to Chris Carmichael last year as we were tracking breadcrumbs, a magically talented string arranger from the UK. We sent ‘With You’ to him once we’d tracked guitars, percussion, and scratch vocals, and knew immediately that he’d grasp the vision. Strings always have a melancholic beauty that isn’t heard enough in mainstream music, and I adore it.

Strings always have a melancholic beauty that isn’t heard enough in mainstream music

You’ve described “With You” as a song for your future daughter, which has me in emotional shambles. What inspired you to write this musical letter to the future, as it were?

Jacob Lee: The initial line, “I’d travel the world with you, ’cause I know where you’d go” was the only line I had written in my notes for about a month. It was tethered to a guitar riff I didn’t exactly like and was the middle section of a verse that just felt eh. After a while I think the song inevitably slid back into the archives whilst I wrote other music. Late last year however, I was sat in my garage pondering what melodies I could come up with to portray a simple soundscape of innocent love… The instrumentation you hear today is just that, and finally I felt like the line above had a place to rest. With the initial groundwork covered, I then started writing a song I thought would be centered around travel, until the line, “If we have a daughter, I’ll make sure she knows” fell from my thoughts… As soon [as] I uttered that line, it completely changed the trajectory of the track.

The weeks to come were spent contemplating what I would actually say to my future daughter, and the words you now hear are what I came up with.

I feel a deep connection to your love songs because they strive to capture what I’d call the full experience of love, as opposed to one side of the emotion, be that physical, emotional or other. What do you think it is about your songwriting that lends your work this greater impact?

Jacob Lee: I think it’s the fact that I don’t write to please industry folk or follow trends. To me, artistry is more of an empathetic exercise. Where most artists treat songwriting as a direct outlet for their emotions, some sort of therapeutic experience or release, I endeavour to do the opposite. I think there’s a misconception among artists that, in order to write a valuable, truly poetic piece, your creative well needs to be filled to the brim with emotional understanding and you must be consciously aware of what you’re writing about, where, my perspective seems to be skewed in the other direction. As much as I can treat this creative well as bottomless, I do.

The impact of a song comes with its sincerity, and in my experience the subconscious harbours more emotional intelligence than that of the conscious mind. As I sit to write a piece, I never have any preconceived ideas of what I will write about, I’m always alone and I have my voice memos on just in case it captures a lyric or melody I sing and forget in the moment. I recognise that inspiration is fleeting, and if I feel overtired or creatively drained I’ll go and do something else for half an hour, most likely eat or exercise, then head back into the session feeling renewed.

It’s funny, as someone who claims to have some understanding of lyricism and songwriting, I still find it difficult to provide tips or insight on the subject. At the end of the day every artist is different and every method implemented is as unique & as powerful as the rest. All I know is that I’m absolutely obsessed with artistry and becoming the true definition of the word.

The impact of a song comes with its sincerity, and in my experience the subconscious harbours more emotional intelligence than that of the conscious mind.

“With You” and “I Belong to You” feel distinct from some of your previous material, even the soulful, driving prior singles “Black Sheep” and “Cursed.” What musical space do you consider yourself to be in right now, and where do you feel you’re headed?

Jacob Lee: I’m unsure how to answer this question, as I’m rarely in a particular headspace. As someone who’s always strived to better themselves, I feel as though I’ve entered a stage in life where I know who I am, who I want to become, and the path I should take. This mentality has put me in a place of songwriting where I can literally write about anything just out of pure creativity; it’s wonderful and I’m definitely blessed. I’m finding more and more interest in philosophy, theology, and spirituality as I grow older, and it seems as though my music is taking the shape and form of that mindset. Ever since my adolescence, I’ve wanted to have a library of lyrics that touches on every subject imaginable, so if I’m honest, I never really know what concept is going to come out next.

As far as love songs are concerned, can we expect more of such balladry in the future or do you plan expand back out into other subject matters as 2018 continues?

Jacob Lee: I think you can, yes; it really just depends. As mentioned above, at the moment I’m writing from more of a philosophical standpoint… Songs on the coming album are titled ‘Knowledge’, ‘Guidance’, ‘Conscience’, etc… So it’s probably not difficult to decipher what’s to come. Although, there have been some very prominent life experiences over this year that are slowly leaking from my pores, some wonderful, some not so much, and they’ll be implemented in album number two as well. Even so, I adore writing music about romance, love, and companionship so yes, I think you’ll hear much more in the future.

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I Belong To You - Jacob Lee

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Mitch is the Editor-in-Chief of Atwood Magazine and a 2014 graduate from Tufts University, where he pursued his passions of music and psychology. He currently works at Universal Music Group in New York City. In his off hours, Mitch may be found songwriting, wandering about one of New York's many neighborhoods, or writing an article on your next favorite artist for Atwood. Mitch's words of wisdom to fellow musicians and music lovers are thus: Keep your eyes open and never stop exploring. No matter where you go, what you do or who you are with, you can always learn something new and inspire something amazing. Say hi here: mitch[at]atwoodmagazine[dot]com