VIDEO PREMIERE: JESHUA “DUALITY (“SLEEPLESS” x “DECAY”)
Sleep really is the cousin of death, turns out. Jeshua is the auntie, watching them bicker and trying to reign them both in before they ruin the function for everyone. Contrary to the moribund titles of these singles, the versatile, luxuriant-haired L.A. born-and-bred vocalist and songwriter is thriving, blessed and booked during these trying times. These songs, however, highlight a malaise simmering beneath the surface threatening to swallow them whole. ‘Sleepless’ / ‘Decay’ are two sides of one malevolent coin, a documentary that bathes in the light and writhes in the dark—visually sprawling and then, suffocating. It was just their birthday, and their Taurus energy shines throughout this interview by Tolliver. Get into it.
I didn’t know your birthday just passed, happy birthday!
Jeshua: Thank you!
I know we’re having some surreal birthdays.
Jeshua: I’m not a birthday person. I’ve never been since I was a kid. I would always be the one that would be like, ‘Don’t sing me happy birthday.’ Even to this day I kind of am just like, ‘I don’t really need to do anything.’ I’ll see the people that I love and then I’ll just go about my day. But a few of my friends came and we just sat out in the yard and put out blankets and wore masks and stuff, which was nice. My family did drive-bys, honked, sat in their cars and stuff. It was kinda cute.
Congratulations—that sounds lovely. I’ve been seeing people have Zoom birthdays with like thirty people and I’m thinking ‘I don’t know if I would enjoy that.’
Jeshua: No. It’s hard enough being on this kind of platform and trying to talk individually. Imagine thirty people and everyone’s trying to talk like ‘Eh-oo-eh-eh!’ I’m not trying to do that. I’d literally be so annoyed and just hang up.
I’ve done some songwriting sessions on Zoom cuz I work for this publishing company, and those have been kind of successful.
Jeshua: Same. I’ve done four or five sessions during this quarantine time, and pretty much all of them have worked really nicely. I think I work well writing with people over FaceTime because when I’m irritated with them I’m like ‘I have to go really quick,’ and I just hang up. Then I go and collect my attitude or whatever, and come back like, ‘Alright, let’s get back to it.’
Well, I’m enamored by this music video project, I’m so glad it was sent to me. A great palate cleanser. One thing that’s really interesting about the songwriting is that it feels like a diary entry—it feels like poetry, just kind of sprawling out. How long does it take you to write a song? Not even the process. Just like … the length of time.
Jeshua: The actual writing of the song … I always finish the song and compose it completely before it ever gets to a production stage. I literally will hand it to a producer and be like, ‘This is the thing—make the sounds sound better.’ So it does take me kind of a long time. I think I wrote ‘Sleepless’ in 2017, and to get from start to finish of just the writing process was at least four weeks, which is so different from when I’m writing pop music or mainstream music for other artists. You know … we bang things out in a session. Three hours, two hours. Sometimes the full song happens in ten or twenty minutes. But whenever it’s my thing, it always takes me so long. I’m like, ‘Am I being too precious with it?’ But I think I want to allow my own music to be a space where I can be most honest and really speak in a way that’s not really worrying about like, ‘This just sounds cute’ or ‘This is a banger.’ I’m not really concerned with that at this point. I try to take my time with it.
Is it inherently more satisfying because you’re taking your time?
Jeshua: I don’t know if it’s more satisfying. More personal, definitely. But I get just as much joy and satisfaction when someone else puts something out that I’ve written as when I’ve put something out. I still have that same joy. Of course I don’t get the same accolades as when it’s my own thing, but it gives me the same fulfillment.
Is there anyone you’ve worked with where you’ve thought ‘I need to borrow some of their process’ or just something about what they do?
Jeshua: I’ve definitely taken some things from Gess. They’re a Virgo and very work-work-work everyday, grind and hustle. I have a tendency to be like ‘Let me just do it when the spirit leads.’ If you wait too long for inspiration … sometimes you gotta be your own inspiration. I’ve definitely taken notes from him. I take something from every person I work with. Johan who produced both songs—he has a huge background in classical music and composing orchestral pieces. Working with him is really cool because he has that ear for strings and beautiful orchestral style music. So I take little hints from there—integrating things from different people that I work with.
Did you compose these two songs prior to working with Johan?
What was that like? When I think orchestral, I think, ‘This orchestrator has composed these parts ahead of time.’
Jeshua: I guess it’s more that his sensibility is more orchestrally minded. But I had them completely composed when I went in because I tend to write with a looper, so I’ll start layering vocals in an interesting way, like if I get a melody in my head. Or sometimes it’s just sounds. I’ll create the loop, and then usually from there I’ll get inspired to say something. Then that becomes the song. It was cool being able to take that to Johan and be like ‘This is already finished’ and him being like ‘These are little tiny tweaks we can make.’ We had so much respect for each other working together. He would offer up his advice and I would take it or leave it, and it was really great.
I love that. One thing that’s really special about these songs is that they feel very in a vacuum, if that’s what I mean. It feels like no one else is making music like this.
Jeshua: Because I tend to write more mainstream pop stuff—or R&B mainstream—I wanted to do something that didn’t feel like it had any limits. I know that when I write with a certain artist I will write out a phrase or a line and they’re gonna be like, ‘This has too many words in it.’ That’s pretty much always the case, and then from there I trim it back. And for my own things, I really took from serpentwithfeet. I really love their style of not having a limit on a phrase—fitting as many words to get the point across in a phrase. So I allowed myself the freedom to play with it.
You told me in the past that you’d worked with labels and that it hadn’t worked—what happened?
Jeshua: It wasn’t so much working with labels. It was more working with people who were already established in the industry. Like producers and A&R people—people who were trying to bring me into the label world. And it just never worked out because it always felt like they were trying to—and they were very gentle—but it was always trying to suggest that I should not do something or be something else or, ‘Bro, there’s a lot of black people here or white people here.’ Like … can’t I just be? Like damn. Why I gotta be like Justin Timberlake? I don’t do that. It was a lot of that push-and-pull at the beginning. And a lot of my own resistance to that—which is why I think it took me so long to be in a place to put out my own project.
JESHUA’S DUALITY VISUAL EP IS AVAILABLE NOW.