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SoundCheck: Musician Jin J. X reflects on a productive year

Courtesy of Jin J. X

During the pandemic, many musicians used the downtime of not performing to write and record music. It was not uncommon to see a new album from your favorite artists. I knew that December’s Studio Live musician, Jin J. X, had recorded two in 2020: Songs for Liz and The Narrator. He was quick to point out my error:

“Well, um…so this is when I get to be that guy. There’s actually three. There was actually a shelved album that I finished that was in between the two that were released. After Songs for Liz, there were these other songs that were floating in the consciousness.”

Songs for Liz was released in March of 2020. It’s a smooth blend of R&B, rich with Jin’s vocals and warm guitar work. In September, he released The Narrator, an instant jazz classic. Jin explains that the shelved album actually bridges the styles between the other two.

“Ok, so a lot of this actually goes back to 2019,” said Jin. “Went to jazz camp for the first time in Fayetteville and just learned so much. But I just was so immersed in music. So, by late 2019 I had some songs and I wanted to record them. But it was very much like the style that I kind of feel I do a lot – it's kind of R&B but kind of folky thing. But the challenge is that when you record music that’s kind of in between, it’s hard to market it or promote it. It’s hard to get it to radio, it’s hard to put them in podcasts. They’re just kind of existing in the consciousness. So basically right after I finished the Songs for Liz record, I was like, I’m going to make a real jazz record that’s mostly instrumental and kind of more like the fusion stuff that I really got into. And that is what The Narrator was about. It was like my attempt to do an ECM record that like Manfred Eicher would be proud of.”

Balisle: “Give me a little bit of your recording process. Where’d you record at? Who with?”

Jin J. X: “Yeah, I can only stand myself most of the time, so it was all me.”

Balisle: “I wondered that! Definitely I could tell on the vocals. Like all backing vocals on Songs for Liz.”

Jin J. X: “Yeah. I mean, there were, we call them DAW drums, they were like drum machine things that I programmed. But yeah, most of the, basically everything was me or programmed by me. It’s taken on a life of its own, just recording by myself. I’ve been doing it since my early 20s. Like, recording with people feels very weird to me. Like, being in a room with someone and, “yeah, do that take again” - that’s weird. So, I just like being by myself. Yeah, the pandemic definitely helped that, to just say, ‘well, no one’s coming anyway.’

“A big inspiration for me to record at all is the idea of legacy building. And I feel like in an internet world and an app world, there’s not a lot of that. You know, there’s kind of this weird consciousness that everything that we do is here forever, but it also might not be and there’s also not like the intentionality and so I tell myself, I hope that me and my brother and sister live a long time, but I tell my nieces and nephews all the time, like, there’s going to come a point where statistically you will be here and we will not. And I hope that that music is a reminder of when we were all together.”

Be sure to tune into Studio Live Friday, December 10 at noon for a live performance from Jin J. X.

Jessica Gray Balisle, a Springfield native, grew up listening to KSMU. When she's not wrangling operations and compliance issues, she co-hosts live music show Studio Live and produces arts and culture stories. Jessica plays bass in local band the Hook Knives. She and her husband Todd live with their two cats, Ellie and Jean-Ralphio, and way too many house plants.