Canadian musician j ember delivered his debut EP, “Sleepwalking,” in March 2020, right before the world was heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Like a lot of artists, he was unable to tour and used his time in lockdown to get creative and made a new body of work for fans to enjoy. Released in 2021, his sophomore EP, “Full Size Render,” is described as “a collection of short stories on mid-20s anxiety” and was influenced by the likes of Oasis, Phoebe Bridgers, and Joni Mitchell.
j ember has no plans of slowing down, however. Fresh out of education, the Toronto-based singer has only been pursuing music full-time for a couple of years and appears very driven and determined to reach as many audiences as possible. Ahead of our interview, he explains he is preparing to pack for a trip to New York where he is hoping to get more music done during his visit. While fans eagerly wait for new material, the emerging star spoke to House of Solo in-depth about the creative process of his latest project, being a personal songwriter, and his desire to perform on the road.
Like a lot of artists, your EP was created during the pandemic. Do you think the project would have been different had you not had time to reflect on life and take a break?
That’s a great question. I think that this project wouldn’t have existed without the pandemic, probably. One of the reasons for that is because I was planning on moving. Right before the pandemic, we were thinking about making a move to New York because a couple of producers I was really enjoying collaborating with were living there. I kind of thought I’d do 6 or 7 months there and see what comes out of the trip musically. I thought I was going to be spending time in New York and then maybe working in LA, London, and coming back to Toronto. I had plans to tour and that probably would have influenced music as well. So, with this project, I really went back to square one. I really reflected on the last project and how things were put together. On the last one, it was put together with lots of different producers. I would sometimes come to a session with a part of the song and then we’d finish it. At the end of the process, I had to mix it down to a cohesive piece of music from all of these different stems. With “Full Size Render,” I was living at home, I moved back home because things were unclear and I got introduced to Duncan Hood who is a Toronto producer and is in a band called Jaunt, who are very cool. I was a fan of theirs and I probably met him two weeks before the pandemic. About maybe a month in, he asked what I was working on and I wasn’t really sure how long everything was going to happen so all I was doing was writing songs on guitar in my parent’s basement. I sent him 10 songs and he told me about some of the songs that had potential. To answer your question, I definitely feel like there was time to reflect and Toronto was super quiet. I was taking a lot of walks and I was thinking about what I wanted to say in my music. I’m doing well now but I was in a dark spot and I had just left university and had only been doing music full time for a year. I really do wonder what the project would have sounded like if things didn’t happen.
Production-wise, it feels that there is more instrumentation on this new EP. Was that intentional?
For sure! We wanted it to be more of a band sound. With this particular pallet, we almost used all digital drums. We used this kind of analog 808 drums, it’s called a pocket operator. We then pretty much recorded everything else on tape in the rhythm section. I just wanted it to sound like a band. I came up in music playing in bands that really brought me joy and I feel really comfortable in that space. At the time I was listening to many indie rock, singer-songwriters and I really wanted that to come through.
What sets your new EP apart from your debut?
I think the new EP is a bit more refined. I think lyrically it is more refined as we put a lot of intention into what we were writing about. It was really important to me to have a voice come through in the project and have people hear it and be like “oh, that’s j ember.” Because of the pandemic, I had a lot of time and spent time doing that. I think the other element is that we really worked on it being cohesive. Because I worked with one producer, I really feel like we were able to create a world within the project. If you listen to it from front to back, everything transitions well. I love the last project but it was like taking five bangers that we loved and it being an introduction of myself.
Was there any particular song that was most challenging to create?
“Turning Point,” which ended up becoming my favorite song. It started off as literally a punk song, like fast guitar and distorted. I showed it to Duncan and he was snapping along to it in a really slow way and I could tell he was thinking something during that moment. He suggested we should turn it into a psychedelic feel. We stripped it back and there was almost a moment where it was a euphoric song. We added drums, there was a pre-chorus, we took that out. It legitimately might have gone through 20 revisions and that was just the production. It was also a difficult song to mix. There was a moment where I questioned not putting it out and coming back to it another time.
As a songwriter, you are personal with your lyrics. Do you find it easy to be open or are there times where some subjects are harder to put down in songs?
I think it’s really difficult to be open and really difficult to be open about people you know that have directly inspired the songs. I tried to look past that because ultimately, people that don’t know me, I hope they can take a little peek into my world. It’s definitely tough but a lot of this is about what’s going on. The more raw and honest I can be, the more therapeutic the experience is for me also. I would actually love to be more open, I feel like I’m holding myself back.
With the industry being so digital and focused on statistics, how much do you pay attention to your streaming numbers?
I barely look at it. Truthfully, I’m not even logged into the accounts that tell me my streaming data. Once in a while, I’ll have a look because it’s interesting and funny to see what playlists people make and put my music in. I like seeing that but you know, it’s the industry and streaming is important and a metric people use to determine what’s popular and how people are listening.
Is there an album or another project in the works? You mentioned at the beginning of our chat that you were going to New York to hopefully get some songs done.
I just wanna make a bunch of songs. Now things are starting to go back to normal, I’m feeling super creative and I’m starting to really collaborate with people in person. I’m trying to make a bunch of songs so I can see where it leads to. Maybe that could be an EP or an album. I’m just trying to catch the next vibe. I would really like to put out another project next year by the end of the summer. I think I can, but we’ll see.
Is there a specific goal you would like to achieve with this EP? I assume live shows are one of them.
Yeah, I haven’t even toured because the “Sleepwalking” project came out in March 2020. I’ve only ever done a few shows as j ember and I would love to get on the road. If I can play a show in Toronto, Montreal, New York, and even the East Coast cities, that would be a huge goal for me.