This is indeed the age of the Indian American musician. While Jay Sean makes waves across the Atlantic, we have Jason Joseph, whose singles “One Man” and “Just Move” are quickly moving this man into the upper echelons of the American music scene. “One Man,” created in 2008, was dedicated to then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama and ended up being widely disseminated among the grassroots that propelled Obama to the presidency.
If it hadn’t been for a chronic case of boredom at his day job as a computer engineer, Joseph might have been coding for a living even today. Instead IT’s loss was music’s gain. We caught up with the vocalist, musician, songwriter, and producer in Los Angeles.
What made you choose a life of music?
I was singing at a very young age. Radio and records formed a part of my childhood. Then I began singing for community and church events, and that’s how it all started.
You graduate as a computer engineer, have a steady paycheck coming your way, and then decide to throw it away for music?
You know I barely worked for two months; I could feel the life getting sucked out of me. The thing that I enjoyed about programming and engineering is creative solutions to problems, but beyond that it became very tedious on a daily basis. So I decided to go back into music, for which I had a pre-existing scholarship in college.
Was there a period of initial struggle when the thought occurred, “Maybe I should not have taken this path?”
LA is an interesting place in that there is a lot of glitz and glamour from the outside, but when you actually get here, it’s a hard place to start. New York is very much in your face, people will tell you off if your music sucks. Here it is, “that sounds good,” so you can’t really gauge from other people where you are going.When I first came here, my expectation compared to the feedback I was getting was not in synch and this was definitely confusing. Everybody said, “it sounds great” but I wasn’t getting any work. The first year or two took a lot out of me. I tried my hand at many different things. I was trying to break into studio stuff, promoting live events, working with other bands, playing with them live, as well as writing. Basically I overcame that initial struggle by doing anything and everything that I could.
Why Los Angeles, why not New York or London?
I was in school in Boston and going back and forth to New York. My original intention was to go to New York. Then in my last couple of months in Boston, I got a call from a music producer here in LA. I instantly fell in love with Southern California, especially the weather. I grew up in Florida and this weather was perfect. It is also the vibe of the West Coast, which to me has some similarity to the South; everyone’s kind of laid back. That won me over.
When did you realize your songs were going to be successful?
The two songs (from my repertoire) that kind of stuck out were “Just Move” and “One Man.” “Just Move’s” tracks were in my head and I laid them down in probably thirty to forty minutes and while doing so, it felt really good, very different. It had a lot of my personality in it. I was pretty sure it was going to resonate with people. “One Man,” was written months before the Obama election. And even now when I play it, it is exactly right—the chords flow from one to another, when the lyrics flow it is almost a perfect song. When we wrote it we knew we had created something special.
Where do you go from here?
The journey has kind of brought me to this place where I do a Monday night weekly event and it has allowed me to play with some of the best musicians here in town. That has led to us building a studio. Expanding into music production with my own label and studio would be the next phase of the journey, expanding the horizons of the people involved with me and also pushing myself in all frontiers of music. All the music that you write is a snapshot of where you are in life, so I look back and say “that was really relevant to where I was, now I find myself in a different political and social environment.”
Being South Asian American, were there any challenges that you faced in the music business in the United States?
When I first came here to LA, I had to deal with unfamiliarity and ignorance. People would not know what box to put you in, “you’re not white, you’re not black,” and in a lot of industry people’s thinking those are the two boxes. Some people would hear me and say, “dude you’re black.” Then I’d start doing the rock thing and the black people would say, “dude we thought you were black?” It has allowed me to take the best of each genre. I grew up being exposed to both black music and rock music. I tried to embrace it but I have also tried to be true to my identity as a South Asian without making it into an ethnic thing. I think I have just assimilated the sounds of the things I have heard growing up. Part of that is definitely Indian music because I grew up with that.
So if an offer from the Indian film industry came your way?
I would absolutely love to do that. I’ve actually been fortunate enough to have acted in a few things here. I was in the Warner Bros film, Poseidon, done some TV, I have acted in a Sprite commercial that is going to be aired in India. I had to speak in Hindi, which was a very interesting process. My Hindi sounds like trash! If I was ever to leave LA, the three places I would like to go to would be New York, London, or Mumbai. It would have to be the right thing though.
Finally, can an artist find the balance between art and commerce?
It’s hard, it’s a constant struggle. As an artist, people want to see you bleed, see that vulnerability. When you are an artist writing from that place and emoting from that place, it’s very hard to be objective. To think of it from a business point of view, you have to be completely objective. To be completely objective is very rare for an artist. I don’t think I’m very good at it.
The key is to have people around you that you trust and people whose opinion matters, who know you, who can give you an objective view. Ideally these should be people who are involved in the industry and have some insight into it. But then being a great artist is also about not giving a f*** about what everyone else thinks. So it’s almost as if the two forces are diametrically opposite. When being an artist, behave like one, but when done, get the opinion of people you trust.
Jason’s music can be heard on his website athttp://www.jasonjoseph.com.With permission from Indianentertainment.info, a webzine co-founded by Vivek Kumar and actress and alternative healing specialist Barkha Madan.