True music lovers know that Amsterdam is one of Europe’s most booming euphonious cornerstones, especially when pertaining to nightlife culture. Dutch DJs and producers have long time been making names for themselves in such a stirring and dynamical scene. One of Amsterdam’s best-kept secrets, Jarreau Vandal, has been setting the tone relentlessly since the beginning of his relationship with music – his effervescent, nonpareil sound continuously evolving in a way that is only to be understood by the esoteric ears and minds of harmonics. His upbringing in the church allowed him to learn an array of instruments and aided in his general understanding of music as a whole. His affinity for music blossomed in his very early years, his grandfather being a long-time producer who launched Jarreau into the world of music program Logic as a young teenager. What originally began as him just playfully messing around on the computer later unfolded into him into becoming a restorative artist of many trades. With his exceptional craft behind DJing and producing acting as the foundation of his excursion as a creative, his knack for never staying attuned to one genre, always looking to recreate new textures has long time been leaving dedicated listeners on their toes. First making his professional global debut during SoundCloud’s epoch back in 2012 through L.A. based collective, Soulection, Jarreau decided to continue his trek forward, releasing two EPs and his debut album Anthology.
With his platter never being exclusive to just one sound, Jarreau combines the sounds of instrumental hip-hop, rhythm backed R&B, electronica, and African fuji/highlife sounds that most know as “Afrobeat” music to recreate his own signature sound that one would refer to as “timeless”. I was able to snag Jarreau for a quick phone to discuss the extension of his Suburb Superhero EP, some of his favorite memories over the course of his involvement in Amsterdam’s music scene, how the worldwide pandemic granted him the opportunity to pay closer attention to what matters most, and more.
How has this worldwide pandemic affected you as a creative?
Well, when it all started I was doing shows in Mexico at the time. The borders were about to close. You know how people are. They’re like “I will never be affected by this” until they are and then they’re like, “Woah, what do I do now?” Back then, COVID was really only popping off like crazy in Italy. Luckily, the borders at the time of me being away weren’t actually closed just yet so I was able to get back home. I’m also very thankful that we had a pretty intelligent lockdown here in the Netherlands. To be honest, it sucks but I’m also happy about this unexpected moment of rest. It did hit me in a negative way in regard to how much time I was spending inside. I felt like it was time to push myself even harder. I spent a lot of time reflecting to myself, “now you have all the time in the world, now you have to be productive, now you have to make a beat a day” but all that shit just didn’t work for me at all. Instead, I’ve been allowing myself time to rest, hang out, watch movies, smoke weed, and literally just chill out. I noticed that I really needed that. This time has also really drawn me closer to the people around me since I’m not as busy anymore. This may sound corny or cliché but I’m the type of person who always has to make a positive out of what appears to be a negative situation. With every minus, there’s always a plus.
Looking back on the days when live shows were a major part of our lives, where would you say was your favorite place to perform and why?
I know I’m going to forget some. There are so many. I’m going to start by saying Seoul, South Korea. That is a crazy crowd. You could literally play anything and they go crazy because they appreciate the music so much. I noticed this separation because there are places here in the Netherlands where the crowds only want to hear hits, like top 40 shit. If you don’t play something that they know, they just stand still with a straight face which can be so frustrating. Both Sydney and Melbourne, Australia have amazing crowds too, plus the venues are just beautiful. Cape Town, South Africa, Johannesburg, Italy, London, Portugal, and Lisbon are locations that just have the most insane energy. Truly such magical places.
With the appreciation for music being so strong in a place like Europe, what experiences shaped you into who you are now as an artist? What was most memorable for you?
I will start by acknowledging how strong the DJ culture is here in the Netherlands. Parties start around like 11 PM and end around 4-5 AM depending on what kind of club it is. You really have to come correct in these environments. As a DJ, this really pushed me out of my comfort zone. As a producer, it’s a bit different considering I listened to a lot of jazz and funk. My classmates along with people I was hanging out with at the time were listening to totally different music. I was always a bit of a “weirdo” per-say when it came to what I was paying attention to musically versus what others were paying attention to. I remember my friends would always ask me what I was listening to back when I had my MP3 player. They were always thrown for a loop too, based on what they would hear. They never knew what to expect. I was first introduced to hip-hop through samples that I would discover and from there, I just really fell in love with the genre as a whole. I began to pick up on the producing side of my career through my grandfather, who was also a producer for a very long time. He was the one who introduced me to Logic. We had a computer in the house so it became a hobby for me to sit down and mess around on there. I never went into it with a fixated idea of how I wanted to sound. I started by just really creating the music that I was hearing. With that comes learning the basics so I started studying music production. I figured since I was essentially imitating the sounds I would hear, I had to start at the base. In 2012, that’s when I started doing my club nights where I would host. We eventually started booking artists, DJs, or producers we followed on SoundCloud. This is actually how I got connected with IAMNOBODI from L.A.-based label, Soulection. We were chilling at his hotel before an event and he asked me to play some of my beats. He asked me to send him a bunch and before I knew, Joe Kay was playing them on Soulection Radio. That is how my professional music career started.
I read in a past interview that you started young musically, growing up in the church. I believe that setting specifically puts such a different spin on one’s understanding when it comes to music and how it’s made. Do you think some of those core elements have translated into the way you understand & create music and in what ways would you say?
Music is such a collaborative experience that you share with the ones around you. Especially when creating it. I learned this in Sunday School at a very young age. I was involved in the church from the time I was 10 years old to about 17 years old. Singing and clapping with the other kids to songs we learned in our youth-led to the beginning of our own band. One of my friends played the bass, his sister sang, and I played the drums. We rehearsed once a week and perform at each Sunday Service. I also believe that learning how a band works really helps you understand each instrument’s particular role. Nothing should be too dominant when it comes to the understanding of the sound, you know?
How would you say your music has transitioned over time? What new sounds or tools have you added or subtracted to your creative process?
When I first sat down with Logic, what I would make sounded like shit. *laughs* Nah, I truthfully just tried to emulate a band as best as I could. I began experimenting with hip-hop and boom-bap beats then transitioned into post-dubstep and future garage-type beats. Flying Lotus and J-Dilla fusions. I pretty much just took a bunch of elements from each sound and blended them together. From the sounds that I choose, the way I layer the vocals over the beats and how I arrange it, that’s what gives a song that timelessness in my opinion.
What are some of your favorite sounds to work with when creating beats?
I love starting with the harmonics of a song first. Building a nice chord progression or a melody I have in my head helps me better lay a baseline on top of that. From there, I’ll lock it in with some crisp drum patterns. For example, I love rimshots. High-pitched, tight sounding drums are my favorite. Warm, mellow sounds are very nice. I like using tape effects that make the track sound a bit gritty, which also bends the pitch slightly. Of course, these points are all subject to change especially as I advance and evolve throughout my tastes. I guess if I plan on staying relevant over the coming years, things must adjust accordingly.
The name of your EP Suburb Superhero: The Villain Within – what inspired that name?
Suburb Superhero was one of the very first EPs that I released. It was essentially about the concept of building up to something out of nothing in away. I dropped out of school to pursue music. When my peers recognized I was DJing overseas out of nowhere, it was a surreal thing to them. I feel like I’m romanticizing the idea of honing in on my abilities and creating my own reality regardless of my circumstances. “The Villain Within” is a continuation – kind of like an alter ego side in a sense. For example, it’s really easy to get lost in the club scene especially when first starting out as a DJ. I developed a bad drinking habit, I got out of shape, and messing around with way too many girls to be honest. It’s tempting to be in that space. It’s not good for you mentally or spiritually either. That was where I decided to take a step back and take better care of myself. I remember vividly I was backstage with some friends drunk one night and my friend was so drunk that he dropped my Hennessy bottle on the floor. It shattered everywhere. That turned into us getting into a fight. We sparred but then it got serious. He then challenged me to a boxing match and that’s where I actually started noticing how out of shape I was. My manager suggested that I stop drinking for 3 months and once I stopped, my body changed so much. My skin got so much clearer and I had so much more energy than I did before when I was drinking all the time. I wake up early every single day, I eat healthily and I work out now all the time. Taking better care of myself formed the “superhero” idea of who I am becoming. I just learned how to balance the villain with the superhero, if you know what I mean.
Are you working on anything new at the moment? Will we be looking forward to any visuals behind your new project?
I just released a music video for “Nothing Nice” which was an animated video. It shows a dystopian world with me animated and the storyline is pretty wild. I’m chasing this big red ball in the video which symbolizes summer and life. You can even link this song to coming from a bad place or position. I wanted to do more music videos but with COVID-19 and shit, you know how complicated that is right now so I’m kind of just on pause with all of that. I just did my own kombucha collaboration with YAYA Kombucha which I’m super excited about. I had this idea to reach out to a sculptor to release action figures in support of the new EP as well too. It’s been such an intensive process trying to get all of that together. I’m just trying to give people enough to work with, especially during these times.
The 7-track EP features Nigerian musician Tay Iwar, LA-based singer-songwriter Kiah Victoria, and R&B vocalist Col3trane. Stream the new project below.