When first listening to I M U R (I Am You Are) you are sent into a state of hypnosis, brought on by floor-trembling bass, ethereal melodies and charming vocals. What started out as a unnamed and unplanned musical partnership—consisting of Jenny and Mikey—the band gained popularity after their 2015 performance at the Shambhala Music Festival and the release of their first EP Slow Dive and soon added a former tour mate, Amine, to their band. Their full-length album, Little Death was released on March 24th of this year and features more personal lyrics, more R&B infused beats and the classic hypnotic effect that I M U R delivers so well. Read about their beginnings as a band, their growth and their influences within music.
When it comes to writing songs, what is the process? Is it while you’re on the road, random moments throughout the day or in studio sessions?
AMINE — Well we just spent two months in Montreal, where we fleshed out several existing songs and cooked up a batch of new, vibey tunes. This was the first time all 3 of us had sat down to write and produce together, and with Mikey at the technical helm it was incredibly productive. We’d often start with very basic beats or instrumental ideas and take turns expanding on them through varied instrumentation and arrangement. We would jam on ideas, create a rough arrangement, and then all plug into a scratch session where we would hammer out lead and harmony ideas. Jenny is a lyrical machine, she has so many past ideas to pull on and adapt but also is incredibly versatile with her breadth of style. We ended up having quite a few laughs during vocal sessions about how she needed to use her “Disney voice” or her “Badhu voice” for particular sections.
Along those same lines, what comes first: the instrumental of the song or the lyrics? What is the process of putting a song together?
JENNY — The start of the song process is ever-changing. Because we’re all creating, even when we’re not together in the studio, we often approach one another with an idea in mind. Sometimes Mikey will have a loop, or even a full beat, other times I will have a hook or a poem, Amine might have a lick or rhythm in mind. The beginning is always the most fun, you’d be surprised to see how quickly a spark can turn into a bonfire when the three of us come together on a piece of kindling. It envelopes and excites us all.
How did the band form? Were you all friends who had a common interest in music and decided to pursue that passion, or was it through other means?
MIKEY — Jenny and I started passing things back and forth online in 2015. She suggested I produce her debut solo EP, but the results that came out sounded like its own thing. We worked together really effortlessly, still do, and managed to complete a 6 track EP, Slow Dive, in just 2 months. Jenny had Shambhala booked as a solo gig and pitched the recently completed EP to the Amphitheatre stage manager and he loved it. We had Shambhala booked before we even had a name so we strapped in and went for it! Amine came on board in mid 2016 first as a “just for big live shows” kinda thing, but we got to know him really well after going on a few tours together. He was opening for us with his solo act Simple Machines and naturally we just started writing together while on the road. It’s hard to imagine I M U R without Amine now. So the answer to your question is yes and yes.
What significance does the name I M U R (I am you are) have? How was it decided upon?
M — I M U R is a name that Jenny and I decided upon in a flurry before heading to Shambhala in 2015. It was between that and Jenny and the Jizz Sock but it just didn’t have the same ring to it you know? We didn’t even know how well the name would fit and grow with us when we chose it. It’s evolved to become a symbol for the two sides of our art, outward projection, and inward contemplation. Lately the feeling that We Are I M U R has been growing. The people who are a part of this, who are listening to this, who are coming to shows, are as much a reason it exists as us. It is truly a WE going forward.
Following the release of your 2015 EP Slow Dive, there was incredible response from not only your town of Vancouver but even globally, which landed you a #5 spot on the Billboard’s Global Viral Top 50 charts. How did that feel like and did it further encourage you to get straight to work making your full-length album?
J — We felt incredibly grateful for the strength in local support, and blown away at the fact that it went global. It was encouraging to say the least, but if anything, it was reassurance when we needed it most. We took a leap of faith when we chose not to pay attention to the constraints of a particular genre, and instead create our own path. Slow Dive and Little Death were risks, and becoming a Billboard charting artist was the extrinsic motivation for us to continue moving forward and being true to our artistic vision.
Speaking of Slow Dive, since it was the first piece of work that was being released by the band, how long did the writing and recording process take? Was there a lot of pressure to perfect your sound since you were formally introducing yourself as a band?
J — “Slow Dive” was more of an experimentation than anything. To paint a picture: A somewhat green Mikey and Jenny begin sending tracks back and forth via the interweb, won a bit of dollar bills in Music BC’s Emerging Artist Program, and spend the next 2 months hammering out their first project in an East Van closet with the whackest setup ever, without a band name, direction, or clue. We pushed that baby out as fast as we possibly could so that we would have something tangible at our first show, which was Shambhala Music Festival, where not one single person had a clue who we were, rightfully so. So to answer your question, the only pressure we felt was the pressure we put on ourselves with time constraints. I don’t think either of us were thinking about the impact it could have at the time. We had no idea about marketing or PR. We put it out to the world without even knowing what a premiere or feature was, and somehow 6 months later “Trippin On Feet” was poppin off all on it’s own. The internet’s a funny place. We did things a bit naively, but I think that’s ok, that EP was just purely us in that moment, a soulful singer-songwriter, and a downtempo producer with experimental tendencies.
The band’s debut full-length album—Little Death— was released on March 24th this year, and it is packed full of dreamlike melodies, booming beats and hypnotizing lyrics provided by Jenny Lea. This album is definitely a growth from the EP, what were some of the main inspirations for this album and it’s deeply saturated R&B/atmospheric sound?
M — Thank you! We felt the same way about LD. My roots are in Hip Hop and R&B from the early/mid 2000’s, but during the time of writing we were listening to a lot of Soulection Radio, Juelz, Ekali, Potatohead People, POMO, MNDSGN, Flying Lotus, and a lot of Soundcloud beats. SoundCloud was in a really good place in the latter half of 2015. That and we had just done our first Shambhala so we were like, ok we gotta kick it up a notch here. But as it turns out, our version of hype is most people’s version of chill haha.
J — From a lyrical standpoint, this album was a “dear diary” approach. The songs are general enough that most people can relate to them, though I’m specifically talking about my own experience over the past couple of years dealing with a slow healing process from a severe car accident, coping with recovery from alcohol abuse, and the fluidity that can take shape in love and sexuality. Melodically, inspiration was drawn from artists such as Little Dragon and Ravyn Lenae.
Little Death as an album, is quite short (coming in at 34 minutes in its entirety) but it still is able to convey the feelings of lust, passion, desire and loss so strongly. These feelings aren’t just conveyed through the lyrics, but through the melodies in the songs themselves. It’s a complete experience in just about half an hour. Is it a risk to put lyrics laced with such desire and passion, without it being lost in translation? By that I mean, is there an ever-looming fear that it will just be considered another album filled with atmospheric, sensual beats by the general public? What sets your material apart from those that are also doing heavily R&B influenced music?
J — I don’t ever factor in risk when I’m writing lyrics, and to be honest, I’m not too worried about things getting lost in translation. I think that’s what’s beautiful about songwriting. I love hearing how others chose to interpret. Perspective is subjective, and how you chose to absorb and relay lyrics, in turn, says a lot about you.
A — I think the meshing of flavors, instrumentation and theoretical background that all three of us bring to the table create a sonic palette that you don’t often hear. There is a lot of moodiness to the music but it comes across through a really eclectic mix of sounds and textures, and is also heavily electronic influenced.
M — Uhhh, we don’t use auto-tune and we play the shit ourselves (laughs).
How has it been to perform these songs live, since you are a live electronic act? What have been some your favorite performance memories?
A — For me, getting to take all of the tracks and make them mine with instrumentation, especially with violin, where I can really flow over the top of tracks and meld riffs in between Mikey’s guitar and Jenny’s vocals and keys, has been incredibly gratifying. I’m first and foremost an instrumentalist, and getting to translate even the more electronic tracks into vibey, extended live versions really makes the tracks come to life. It’s been a rough road getting things technically up and running, as we’re working with a lot of complex interactions between parts, but we pushed through to where we are now! One of the most memorable performances for me was when we opened for Tennyson at Fortune; we played a really, really early set and thought no one would be there. We were prepared for an empty room, but weren’t going to give an iota of wasted thought to that during the performance, and yet, our expectations were totally blown away by the number of people present and by their response. One of my favorites yet!
Finally, can each band member list an artist that they feel has heavily influenced their love and passion for music?
A — Bonobo, always Bonobo, can’t get enough!
J — Erykah Badu.
M — Jimmy Page, if I had to pick just one.