Interview with Aural Wes (04.10.2015)

Jaime de Venecia on empty_mirror & Metaphysics

Jaime de Venecia is a songwriter, DJ, and producer of ethereal jams. On stage and SoundCloud, he goes by jdv plus. His senior recital is Sunday, 4/12 at 7pm in the World Music Hall. He'll be debuting an entire album of new music titled empty_mirror. Miles McLeod sat down with Jaime to talk about old music, new music, metaphysics, the self, and bossa nova.

Miles M: What's the 'plus' in jdv plus mean to you?

jdv plus: Its conception is a long story. It has to do with spliffs and [my best friend] Alexander DeSouza, but the whole philosophy behind plus is very simple. It’s about being additive and seeing the good in everything. At the same time, the plus sign is a very beautiful symmetrical shape. I do think a lot of life has to do with balance, so that’s kind of central to the ethos.

MM: When did you start writing songs?

jdv+: I guess the first song that I ever wrote was for guitar and vocals when I was 16 years old. It was for a school project - for this class I was taking called Theory of Knowledge, which is kind of like a philosophy class. Basically, one of our units was the concept of beauty and art. Like, what constitutes art, what constitutes beauty. One of our assignments was to do something creative, so I was like, well, why don’t I just write a song? The first time I ever really did stuff with lyrics was for my first album, which wasn't until junior year of college. Other than that, it was little phrases but never full songs. As corny as it sounds, I’ve written some [love] songs for people - but nothing ever too serious until about junior year of college.

"I love Kanye West. I think he’s an icon. A really revolutionary person. I think when he dies, that could very well be the next biggest thing to Michael Jackson. And on a surface level he’s hilarious - just really hilarious."

MM: And producing electronic music?

jdv+: I had started tinkering around on Ableton in the spring of my freshman year. Nothing really came to fruition, though - it was really just me kind of dicking around. I didn't know what was going on at all. I watched a lot of tutorial videos which helped me a little bit, but it really took a while for me to get my bearings and actually start making stuff.

MM: When you’re writing or producing a song, are there specific places or types of music that you draw inspiration from?

jdv+: I think it’s important to draw a distinction between music that you like and music that actually influences you. Not crazy important, but a good distinction to make. I think that Groundislava has had the biggest influence on my music in terms of sounds and style. What I envy about Groundislava is that he's able to make great dance music. I feel like that's something I have yet to tap into myself. Also, I do love the whole Wedidit crew in LA.

MM: Why do you love bossa nova? What’s your favorite bossa nova tune?

jdv+: I fucking love bossa nova. It’s just so carefree. You think of beaches and having a drink and relaxing. It seems so lovely. I love how it’s both been influenced by jazz and in turn influenced jazz music. I realized recently that some of bossa nova’s key musicians were influenced by French Impressionism. It’s all connected. Quite simply, what I love about bossa nova are the images it evokes in my mind. If we have to do favorites, I would say it’s a tie between "Chega de Saudade" or "Desafinado," both performed by João Gilberto and composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim.

"Holograms? You know I’m going to have to say they’re pretty dope. The Tupac hologram at Coachella was an awesome idea."

MM: Your thesis is titled empty_mirror. What can you tell us about it?

jdv+: Very simply, it’s a new album. A lot of new stuff that I’ve been working on. It’s definitely a different sound than 重量 (weight) - my first album - but at the same time, I do have these sounds which I really am partial to and always come back to. I try to refine them more and more as time goes on and try to make them sound better and more interesting. Bells and mallets are in there pretty consistently. It’s called empty_mirror, and thematically it’s concerned with this idea that there is no self. The self is this thing that we psychologically construct as a coping mechanism, and that’s how we derive things like personality, and ways of being. As opposed to the traditional view wherein you are an 'experiencer' behind your eyes, this is the idea that you are, in actuality, experience itself. The empty mirror is a metaphor for that concept. The music is varied in style. In comparison to 重量 (weight), it’s a lot more upbeat and danceable at times. This project is kind of head-bobby, and incorporates elements of hip-hop.

MM: What sets this project apart from your previous work?

jdv+: It’s adventurous. I’m definitely trying to make music that people wouldn’t normally associate with me, and I’m excited to show people this new stuff I’ve been working on. On 重量 (weight) I only had one collaboration. This time around - and this is a really recent decision - I did four collaborations. My girlfriend Mia Rossi, Zack Kantor, Alex Rowland, and Keenan Burgess are all involved in the project.

MM: How are you approaching the live performance of the album?

jdv+: I want to preserve the original feel of the album as much as possible, but still have elements of live performance involved. I’m still figuring it out. I’ll use an [Akai] APC40 to trigger parts of the project and use the knobs to alter sounds over time. I’ll do some live MIDI keyboard stuff.

MM: What inspired you to explore the concept of the self in empty_mirror?

jdv+: Initially, during the conceptual planning, I wanted to take it in a direction where I would try to emulate the effects of drugs on the mind. Even though it’s a little cliché, it was something that I had ambitions for. But as time has gone on, that's not really been so much of a theme. The music is sometimes ethereal and trip-like perhaps, but it’s hard to concretely manifest that. I started to think a lot about this idea of there being no self primarily because of this neuroscientist and philosopher who I really love - his name is Sam Harris. I think he’s one of the most reasonable people who exists today. These ideas have roots in Buddhist philosophy, and they really got me thinking about life in general and the nature of being - metaphysical questions about what we actually are.