Interview: The World of Louis Prince Comes to Life on Debut Album ‘Thirteen’

Louis Prince © Justin March
Louis Prince © Justin March
Louis Prince, with the help of trusted collaborators, has created an engaging and memorable multi-medium experience with his debut album ‘Thirteen’.
Stream: ‘Thirteen’ – Louis Prince

A 13-track debut record released on Friday, March 13 Thirteen is a project Nashville-based artist Jake McMullen has been incubating for a long time. Though he previously released music under his own name, McMullen decided to adapt the moniker “Louis Prince” during the making of Thirteen, signifying a degree of separation from his identity and a new life form for his music.

Thirteen - Louis Prince
Thirteen – Louis Prince

And the music really did come to life. Over the course of a few years, each aspect of Thirteen was thoughtfully constructed. The tracks are propelled by experimental piano and an array of inverted sounds, visually supplemented by psychedelic yet simple album artwork, and live shows that intertwine visual art with the music, like a breath of fresh air.

Thanks in part to a team of trusted collaborators, a piano from Kentucky, and Ethiopian jazz — among a slew of other influences — the world of Louis Prince shapes up to be an engaging and memorable multi-medium experience.

Thirteen is out now on Last Gang Records, and Jake McMullen recently spoke with Atwood Magazine about how its sounds and visuals came to be. Read all about it in our conversation below!

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:: stream/purchase Thirteen here ::


Atwood Magazine: Congrats on Thirteen! I've really loved the album so far—how long has it been in the making?

Louis Prince: There were two or three songs on the record done in 2015, and then I wrote around 60-70 songs during the first half of 2017. And then, Micah Tawlks (who produced Thirteen) and I worked on it from September to Christmas Eve of 2017, and we mixed it the following February. It originated in 2015 and we finished it in March of 2018, so it’s been done for about two years. I’m glad that it’s finally seeing the light of day; we worked really hard on it!

Wow! That sounds like a challenge to pare down 60-70 songs to 13.

Louis Prince: Yeah, I kind of view Micah as the editor. I’m realizing even now, I’m really bad at finishing things. I love starting and discovering things, but Micah’s helped me transform five songs into one, because he hears things that I don’t. That’s kind of how “Half Acres” came about. He’s really good at seeing the bigger picture whereas I want to be weird and go to outer space. He kind of loops me back in.

That's cool to have found someone who plays off of how you think so well.

Louis Prince: Yeah, I think it’s a really great partnership. I’m lucky to have found him!

Louis Prince © Phoenix Johnson
Louis Prince © Phoenix Johnson

I know you previously have released music under your given name (Jake McMullen), so what prompted “Louis Prince” as a moniker?

Louis Prince: Well I was going to put it out under my real name, but in the middle of making the record there were some people who came into hear it that made the suggestion of putting it out under a different name and giving it a new life. I was kind of averse to the idea at first, but it really needed to happen. The ability to name [the project] something else gives me a pretty objective perspective on everything. Aesthetically speaking, I can see the world a lot clearer and I also don’t feel like it defines me. I love music, but [this way] I don’t feel like success or failure can stamp my life. So it’s a degree of separation and I can kind of create this character—it’s a bit of an alter ego. It’s just fun, and feels good.

It's almost a healthy sort of compartmentalization of something you do from the rest of your life! Do you hope to keep releasing music as Louis Prince?

Louis Prince: Oh yeah, I want to keep doing this. And there are so many other projects and things I have ideas for, but this will be the main thing. There are already new things happening too!

That's exciting! When listening through Thirteen, I felt like it's such a sonically engaging record that I hadn't heard anything quite like before. What were your main influences, whether places or sounds, while making the record?

Louis Prince: I listened to a lot of jazz, but probably what first inspired it was when I drove to Kentucky to pick up a friend’s piano that they were going to give away. I drove the piano back to Nashville and taught myself to play and would play eight hours a day. I ended up writing most of the record on it. [I was inspired by] a lot of The Elevens and Keith Jarrett, and then this whole Ethiopian jazz scene. Just the idea of the piano and having a new outlet was pretty freeing. When we were recording, my friend Kevin had a jazz piano and a four-track cassette player, so I got really into sampling too. Like the idea of, how do you take something and turn it on its head, how do you make a real instrument sound like something else?

The majority of the rest of the influence comes from conversations had when we weren’t recording; like, Micah and I would talk about how to not really pay attention to anything else in the world, particularly music, but instead to do what you want to do, because that’s what you want to hear, and not being afraid of the music not fitting some fad.

Right — I relate to that a lot. There are some good parts about gleaning from other people, but at the heart of it, it's what exists in your head, and you have to tune out the world to access that in a clearer way.

Louis Prince: Totally. And you know what’s good, you know? I trust I have good taste, and I trust that the people around me I bring in have good taste, and none of us will allow something bad to be made. You know when you’ve made something bad.

Louis Prince © Justin March
Louis Prince © Justin March

Definitely. Anytime I listen to a record, I pay attention to the track titles and their order, and I felt like the titles on Thirteen were simple yet obscure. Is that something you put a lot of emphasis on?

Louis Prince: The track listing, for sure. We spent a lot of time flipping things around and there are some songs that didn’t make the record. But all of the titles are the working titles from the demos. I didn’t change any of them after the songs were done, and some of them even could’ve influenced what the song was written about. I had a note in my phone of titles I thought were interesting and I would throw them on a song when I was working on it.

So some of the titles don't necessarily go with the content of the song?

Louis Prince: Well, some of them do. Like “Half Acres” wound up being about equating life with something unsown. My family lived in Minnesota for awhile and we’d be around fields all the time and see winter destroying some of them, which related to a lot of personal shit that was going on [when I was making the song]. So, they all have some sort of meaning. And “Rive” is an actual word I started to discover because I was singing it over and over again. Rive means “to tear apart”. It all has meaning, but in some cases the title came to me before the actual content did.

Do you have a song on the record you're most proud of? A tough question, I know!

Louis Prince: Oh wow, I love them all equally. Hmm, Maybe “Rive”. We’ll go with that, but it changes all the time.

When I listened through Thirteen I actually remembered “Rive” from a show of yours I saw in Brooklyn. That song stuck out to me and I didn't know the title of it, but I remembered it instantly when I heard it again.

Louis Prince: Thank you, I’m really proud of it; it’s one of the songs that started back in 2015. It was “Rive”, “MN”, and “Afternoon” that came about first, and if it weren’t for those three pointing the direction, there would be no record.

I’ve seen a few of your shows — one in Brooklyn and the one in Nashville at the Cordelle — and the visual components really stuck out to me, especially the show at the Cordelle because other artists were involved too. How did the idea of incorporating so many visuals come about?

Louis Prince: Ah you were at the Cordelle show, that’s wonderful! The idea for that show was to make it feel like an art gallery. There’s sometimes this inclination for music and art to be competitive in some way, and so I’ve really been trying to do things that elevate the people around me. We (Louis Prince) can do our thing, while also creating this platform to let others know about all these folks I love and care about. So the goal is to make it feel unlike any other show in Nashville, and that’s the hope for when we take it on tour as well. The goal is to step into this world we’ve created with all of these different people involved. Why not point back to all these people I love? Because what’s the point of having a bunch of people gather into a room just to care about you for a second. It’s not that I’m afraid of the spotlight — I’m trying to embrace it more — but it’s like, “If I have your attention, let me tell you about this other person too.”

Louis Prince © Justin March
Louis Prince © Justin March

Yeah totally. I feel like that is a fitting description for the show at the Cordelle, and it’s a show that stuck with me; I love any kind of multi-medium production. And at both shows you had a projection behind you, right?

Louis Prince: Yes, the projection visuals were done by my friend Kevin Clark. He also did the video for “Ode.” We try to bring the projector everywhere we play, but depending on venue and how much time we have to set up, it can be hard to make it happen.

I really like that aspect of the show. And speaking of visual components, all of your album art is both abstract and continuous. What was the thought behind those pieces?

Louis Prince: You’d have to talk to Bráulio Amado, who did all the artwork, for the most in-depth answer on that. But the idea was to keep all the single artwork very minimal, and then have the album cover, the record, and the packaging be this overwhelming thing. We wanted to do some symbols, and it ended up feeling like some weird psychedelia thing without fully going there. After I sent him the record he sent over a few ideas and I picked the album cover very early on. I don’t think it was overthought too much; Bráulio feels, to me, like a very instinctual person so I trust him a lot.

I have one more question: What is one thing you hope listeners might feel or get from listening to Thirteen?

Louis Prince: Probably just that they feel or get anything out of it at all, whether it’s a positive or negative reaction. I think, to get something out of any sort of art, is a gift. So if I can provide a sliver of that — that would rule.

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:: stream/purchase Thirteen here ::

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Thirteen - Louis Prince

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