Jam Rostron returns with All Love’s Legal, a universal dissection of sexuality. A poking, provoking opus and the most political astute work in the P2R canon. The follow up to March’s confident Misogyny Drop Dead ep, it retains the flair and singular delivery of W whilst channelling her most powerful message yet. Rostron is a deeply intelligent artist who is capable of challenging conventions, whilst simultaneously giving us a giggle.
We caught up with her before her raucous Brighton performance.
Bowlegs: You’ve acknowledged this is the most politically charged record that you have ever written? Why do you think you are releasing it now?
Jam: Funnily enough the last album had a lot to do with that,. When you make your first album, you have all those years prior, and then you’re expected to turn around a new record in another two years. You don’t have the same wealth to feed off. I did try and deal with issues on W (the second record) that I was dealing with at the time, after that album and that tour, even though it was really fun to do and people did get more interested in what I did, but I had a bit of a meltdown, I had to answer questions like, “why am I making music?” and “what can I bring?”. The first album track I wrote last summer, Patriarchy over and out, was like an exercise to work out where my head was. I wanted to bring together my public and private life in my music more, they were too separate. With Patriarchy I wanted to find a way to deal with a topic that is very heavy, in a way that is simple. I would think in my head I want patriarchy out of the way, and so that became the main hook, “get out of the way!”. From that point onwards I could work out what the rest of the album was going to be. It was a real breakthrough. I made something that was useful for me and hopefully useful for others.I think I’m the happiest I’ve ever been really, I’ve worked something out that seems to be really important for me right now. I made this record for me and close friends, I can’t imagine writing music for anyone else, it’s a bit of a strange concept. There seems to be a timing thing too in that it seems at the moment that there are people who want to listen to this and confront these issues.
Bowlegs: You are ‘interested in expanding upon the limits that we live in – how we are defined’, how and why do you explore these themes?
Jam: There’s so many reasons why I personally have issues with gender, the idea of genderising everything as we know it, your skills, you talent, your interests, your intellect even. A very simple example, but, if you say to someone they’re a bad driver because of their gender it’s just ridiculous. I know it’s a bit utopian, but I dream of not having that to deal with, that we could come into the world and define yourself without being conditioned.
Bowlegs: Are there other, less obvious issues confronted on your forthcoming album?
Jam: I think that Steps is more of an emotional track, it’s about depression and self destruction, it’s probably the track that is most open to interpretation. Most of All Love’s Legal is lyrically very direct though. I was aiming for a level of immediacy and I didn’t want to leave much room for misunderstanding. Originally with W, I had the idea that you must be too direct you must leave room for people to imagine and now I don’t feel like that anymore, I tried that and it didn’t work.
Bowlegs: You speak of the patriarchal systems in the music industry, do you believe that sexism is more of an issue in music?
Jam: The music industry is what I know the most, it’s where I operate, I’m lucky though, I’ve always managed to operate on my own terms and I’ve been supported. It helps that I have a stable base because it means I can deal with issues. Sexism is a dumbfounding experience, you can’t quite believe it still happens. It’s hurtful and disheartening, and it brings you down. I don’t tour alone anymore and that really helps, I always tour with a support or two, it really helps to have more women present.
Bowlegs: Though your music deals with serious issues I still find it humorous, is this intentional?
Jam: I’m so glad you’ve said that! No one believes me when I say that, they say “You’re really scary”, especially with W, it’s probably because of the prosthetic!
Bowlegs: The first few bars of Misogyny made me laugh quite a bit!
Jam: Well I’m so bloody glad, you’re the first person to say that! I was thinking that when I was making it, it’s absolutely daft as hell, especially when I sing the high bits too!
Bowlegs: You’ve lived in Berlin since 2002?
Jam: Yes, well I started coming in about 2000, but moved here, I’d say about 2001, it’s a bit of a blur actually!
Bowlegs: What impact has the city had on your ability to freely express yourself?
Jam: I’d say it’s had a big impact on me because of the time it was in my life, I’d just graduated, I was trying to work out what I wanted to do, I just the timing was right, I’d been given a bit of an opportunity to work my life out, and I’ve formed my most important friendships here in Berlin.
Bowlegs: Would you ever consider returning to England?
Jam: I guess I just don’t think in those terms, I just can’t say, i love going back to England but I do consider Berlin my home.
Bowlegs: Your records are incredibly eclectic garnering comparisons that vary from the Knife to Morricone (which I hear especially on Steps), where do your main influences come from, what excites you to create?
Jam: Oh Wow! Big question! So many things! I guess with this record in particular it was so much about what I was singing about and writing, and that did inform a lot of the decision making regarding the music, for example that I wanted it to be a dance record, because I wanted it to be quite happy, and I also wanted to try my hand at making more dance music. I guess that’s one thing but there’s so much, films, definitely other music, other producers, way too varied to say one specific thing. Film funnily enough does influence me.
Bowlegs: You direct your own videos as well?
Jam: Yeah, I was writing music that was quite classical, and I didn’t want to go to conservatory and study, my sister was at art college and so I thought i could try my hand at that and got into video that way. I like music because you don’t need an institute or a qualification to make music, anyone can do it and it’s just a level of freedom that you can’t find anywhere else. I’ve always wanted to be part of the music world. When I left art college I was making videos and music and at the time, about 2006, I thought how can I bring that together. Now it’s more regular, it’s a norm now for bands to work with imagery and music, which is really exciting. In my mind, imagery, visuals and music combined are the best thing, just the most powerful language, I’m fascinated by how people use it, and I think it’s getting even more interesting over the years because people feel like they’ve the freedom to do it themselves so you get a more diverse output.
Bowlegs: With the videos for this record, what were you trying to convey?
Jam: With Misogyny it was mainly attitude that I wanted to convey, it was a tricky one to do because I didn’t want it to be about me. I’m not interested in pushing an individual agenda and definitely considering the topic. It largely came from me not wanting to see my face the whole time I was editing, and then I lip synched the mouth over the top. I wanted to have the presence of somebody, but without it really mattering who it was. It needed to have attitude and character, the mouth is there to look opinionated.
Bowlegs: I wasn’t entirely sure it was you, were you doing that so the viewer can project their own identity?
Jam: Perfect, that’s exactly it! It’s not about music or me.
Bowlegs: How about Human Drama?
Jam: It’s such a funny video! Half the time when I’m making videos I never make shot lists or scripts. I used to do that but I always end up doing something totally different. I work with some friends as well, my friends Imogen and Alexa , I wanted it not to be too personal despite that track being too personal. I think the main theme I’d term it as is ‘Gender Police’ or ‘Weird Spies’, not quite sure what, I like the openness, it’s not too literal, it just conveys this strange feeling. I like the way it became quite retro too, which was not my intention at all. One of my friends says I look like a “Hippy, Teacher, Spy!”
Bowlegs: What’s the biggest issue that you address in Human Drama?
Jam: It’s a track where I talk quite openly about working out my own sexuality and also challenging the notion of gender and what gender is. In my opinion I feel that gender is just something we put on. It’s not a truth, I don’t have this essentialistic way of thinking about it. I wanted the line “Gender’s just a lie” to be quite a provocative statement. It’s as much a question as a statement and I think gender should be a playful thing and not something that should confine individuals.
Bowlegs: You collaborated with The Knife and Mount Sims to write Tomorrow in a Year, how did all of you get together and how did it end up being so cohesive with so much input?
Jam: First of all we were all friends before the project, I’ve know Karen and Olof almost ten years now. Olof was approached by this Danish company to create this opera but at the time I was doing W and I had got really into recording acoustic percussion and he hadn’t really had the experience of recording acoustically We got really into field recordings too, some really cheesy stuff! I was happy to be behind the scenes on the projects, not involved with the lyrics or singing, that was mainly Karen and Matt.
Bowlegs: More of a production role?
Jam: Exactly, really nerdy, I got really into mics! There were times we’d drive out to the lake in Berlin in the early morning and literally just stand there with mics and try not to laugh at ourselves! It was a lot of fun.
Bowlegs: Are a lot of your sounds acoustic or synthesized, there’s a lot of orchestral drums on All love’s legal?
Jam: Well most of it’s synthesised because I really like synth orchestral sounds and I’m quite aware of digital vs analogue, from a political point of view, I’m a fan of analogue gear but it’s expensive. I want to embrace the digital way of making music because it means more people can do it and I’m not a fan of this hierarchy. I made most of the sounds with synths or software.
Bowlegs: Do you consciously avoid playing sounds in a humanized fashion?
Jam: Yeah, and then that’s a challenge when you play live because it’s often impossible to play. On the last album on I’m your man there’s a synth sax which my live saxophonist couldn’t do, it’s impossible to breathe. Creating sounds like that is what’s so gratifying about producing.
Bowlegs: So is a lot of your work difficult to translate to the stage?
Jam: It’s a challenge, I’ve been thinking about how I’ll do my vocals live. I would like to achieve what I have done in the production but I’m also interested in bringing another layer in where I try and impersonate the production, which sounds a bit bonkers I know! On an economic level I’m talking to a lot of musicians who are finding it very hard to tour at the moment. I have a lot of friends who struggle to get booked and you have to think practically when you’re touring as to how much you can replicate live.
Bowlegs: You founded Human Level not only to release her own music but also to provide a wider platform for female talent, what projects do you have in the pipeline?
Jam: Well there’s a great one coming out in February by someone called Planningtorock! Next year we’ve got another RROXYMORE ep planned, I think she’s going to do three, and then there’s another electronic artist who I can’t say her name yet, because she’s still deciding what her artist name will be but she’s based here in Berlin and makes extraordinarily beautiful electronic music, mostly instrumental. Unfortunately there’s no way to check her out yet but I look forward to being able to debut her work next year on Human Level.
-Interview by Joe Burns-