Following the release of his lusciously smooth sophomore EP, The Month of May, Jackie Moonbather has become known as one of the leading figures in the city’s neo-jazz/soul scene that has seen a number of bands and artists bringing out experimental, melody-focused music with a strong DIY ethic.
With fresh music en-route and production work with artists from Sheffield to Ohio underway, we invited Jackie to perform live in session and grabbed a quick natter beforehand. Can you remember what first drew you to music?
My mum and dad like music but they aren’t musical at all. Actually, saying that, my dad was a DJ and used to do discos in Sheffield during the 80s and 90s. Both of my parents are really into motown and David Bowie, my dad also owns a lot of disco records and they passed on their record collections to me at some point.
Plenty to pillage there I imagine?
Yeah, it saved me a lot of money. I started playing guitar when I was eight or nine, then my first band would have been at around twelve. It was just friends from my local area. We changed our names loads of times, only played one gig – and the poster even changed a few times for that gig. We were called The Gonks.
Solid teenage punk band name, that.
But then after that, when I was like 13-years-old, I actually got into the Sheffield punk scene. That meant going to places like The Cricketers Arms, the pub across from Bramall Lane, where they used to have punk gigs upstairs. I played guitar in a band called Global Disaster. This is going way back.
What drew you to punk at that point?
I think it was the rebellion. Yeah, it was like the anarchy thing, I like that. I was kind of raised to question everything.
And what caused you to eventually move towards more jazz and hip-hop sounds?
I noticed the punk scene kind of fits with hip-hop. Like, a lot of the people I used to play punk gigs with when I was younger they went on to start rave soundsystems and stuff like that. So it started moving in that kind of direction. I moved away from it, I grew out of punk pretty quick, started getting into hip-hop at that point and that led me to jazz. Then it was right back round to my parents’ Motown records, and then I just wanted to make, like, soul jazz.
More recently, over the last four or five years, new-age jazz and soul has become popular with the likes of Thundercat, Kendrick, Flying Lotus and others. Did that give you a bit more of a creative kick as well?
It was good because it meant people started listening; it became a sound more people tended to seek out a bit. Whereas before it more like I was on my own, or just me and a few friends. It felt like no one had any interest in it at all. Every gig I had played when I was younger, I was playing with bands that were just not suited to me at all – rock music or metal or indie.
In Sheffield at the moment there seems to be a bubbling underground community of experimental DIY band and artist playing more soulful, jazz-based music and being propped up by a few venues that really help to showcase that.
I think, aside from Thundercat and stuff, it was Mac DeMarco blowing up that helped because it broadened people’s horizons and people started trying to be more melodic. There are elements of jazz and stuff like that in the music, and you can see that with local bands like Oh Papa and others. So it worked well with that because then people were starting to play those sort of gigs, plus there are places like Leeds and Manchester that have a load of jazz coming out of them, so it’s nice to have a bit of an alliance close by.
Those sounds are so removed from the usual kitchen sink-style pop or rock often associated with these parts, and it feels like there’s a bit more room to grow.
I think so. It feels like people want to hear it more, more open to experimentation. Because I’m always trying to experiment like I’m something of a refusenik. When the jazz scene starts really popping I’ll probably move away from it; I suppose I don’t like to fit in boxes and stuff.
Why do you think the new soul and jazz scene has really taken off on a wider, more mainstream scale?
I’ve thought about this a lot and it comes from hip-hop, I think, but it depends on how far back you want to go. But for me, what made this current wave happen starts from Tyler, The Creator. He was shouting out Roy Ayres and other artists, then jazz artists like BADBADNOTGOOD, and after that there was Thundercat which grew things a bit. Following that, people paid attention to Kamasi Washington’s album The Epic, and then afterwards Hiatus Kaiyoute came out alongside Matt DeMarco. In the UK you had the London jazz scene taking off because young people were hearing that music and wanting to learn how to play it.
Is there anything that you’ve been listening to more recently that’s taken your fancy?
Pretty much just Solange. I’ll also listen to any release from Dolfin Records, a Texas-based label who bring out incredible hip-hop.
You’re also active as part of the music collective Blancmange Lounge. Have you got anything coming up this summer we can look forward to?
Personally, I’m producing for a few people. I’ve got a couple of beats on the upcoming Otis Mensah project, which is cool, and I’ve been working on an as of yet untitled project to follow on from my album last year. I reckon that will be coming this summer, but before then I’ll be playing at the Yellow Arch Future Jazz Festival in May. Katie Pham & The Moonbathers are coming back hopefully around the summer and we haven’t released anything in like two years. With Blancmange we have our first transatlantic release coming out in the summer, and we’re also doing a day at Church on the Sunday of Tramlines where some cool people will be joining us. There’ll be Flok, who are a crazy hard jazz fusion band from Sheffield; B Howey, they’re from Leeds and have a bit of Hiatus Kaiyoute sort of vibe, and also Tonia Victoria – she’s great. That will be through the afternoon and the we’ll have DJ sets during the night.