While some of us are often left disappointed and frustrated with humanity, people like JD Samson are out there making change, good music, and inspiring the hell out of people like me. The former Le Tigre band member, DJ, and activist self-released a new album entitled Labor yesterday with MEN, her electronic art and performance project with bandmate Michael O’Neill. In the new album, JD mixes her politically outspoken commentary with her love for showing us a good time and created a decadent recipe for vulnerable story-telling and purposeful dancing. Labor is a monumental album that’s beautiful all the way thru and sounds even better when you buy it directly from the band. I was lucky enough to meet up and vibe with JD a few weeks ago to discuss the new album, the music industry, technology, and one message that can be found in all her work.
Let’s talk about Labor. Can you tell us a little bit about the genesis of the album?
JD: I feel like that’s such a long answer. It’s interesting to do interviews and see where I take the answer to that question. But, the thing I can say for sure is that the title explains the process [laughter]. It was a really interesting time moving from having a label put out your record to self-releasing, and that meant a lot both creatively and business wise. So, I think part of the title is about the labor of love and the labor of trying to find yourself from your work, and then part of it is just talking about the music industry as a job. And all of those things I think we really kind of delved into as artists and came out with a totally different image of ourselves and the industry. I think it was a really interesting process.
So you create art in a way that allows meaning to come naturally. What was the writing and recording process like for this album?
JD: This process was a little bit different because we decided to work with other producers. And it’s the first time that I’ve really done that and given creative control, well, somewhat. I think I was always saying ‘No, not that’ or ‘Yes, that.’ But at the same time, I really wanted people’s style to shine through. So, it was really cool to do that. And because we worked with different producers, I think there were different tiers of the writing process. The first was just writing in our home studios upstate, where we went a couple years ago to write. And that process felt really exciting, but we definitely had the sophomore record fears of what are we doing, who are we? But it was really great to be in the country doing that. And then we came back to the city, recording and producing with other people, which was a totally new, exciting experience also. But in terms of artistically, it was like a lot of the lyrics were really based in automatic thinking or automatic writing about subjects about self-discovery and duality. I was reading a lot of psychoanalytic texts and stuff, so I think I was really just trying to go pretty deep.
I’m curious to learn about the back story for “Making Art.”
JD: I think that was this experience of just feeling really frustrated within the career of the music industry and also stunted in my artistic approach to my future and trying to figure out where I fit and what I’ll miss and what I want to say and who I really am. So I think that song is just this frantic exploration of that.
Unlike Talk About Body, this album is more personal and less community based. What influenced this transition in your work?
JD: It’s funny, we kind of set out to make this record and had a couple of different ideas of approaching. One of them was to try and build a broader fan base, because I feel like so much of Talk About Body was exclusive to a queer community or something. And not that we wanted to leave that behind, but we wanted to open ourselves up to be able to talk about things in a little bit less of a literal way or something. Somehow it just made me start writing about personal struggle, and I think maybe that’s normal for people. All of the songs on the radio are about love and personal struggle [laughter]. Maybe that had something to do with it, but it wasn’t the intention for sure. Also, the first record was made in a different collaborative way – we had a lot more members in the band. We were always throwing stuff in the pot. And then this one was like, if Michael’s not around cause he’s at a wedding or whatever, has a different gig, then I was just alone writing, so I think I went pretty deep.
So you’re very open about what life is really like as a musician. What are some changes you’d like to see in the music industry?
JD: Um, I don’t know. I mean, what’s interesting about the way I think about the music industry is that I don’t necessarily think it needs to change. I just think that musicians need to find different ways of working within it if they want it to be their career. Or just having two jobs [laughter]. Cause I’m not angry at the music industry. I was really lucky to have experienced the music industry in a completely different way, which was people buying records, getting advances, people going to shows. So I feel really lucky to have had that. And right now it feels so dark and scary to be in this other place, but at the same time I feel like that’s just what it is now. You know, it’s like my grandma talking about smartphones or something. Obviously, that’s just what’s gonna happen – they’re not gonna go away. But she remembers a time when there were –
No phones? [laughter]
JD: [laughter] Yeah. And she remembers a time when there were no cars. So I think it’s just the way technology changes things. For me, the excitement has to come through how to make work with that technology that’s fresh and interesting and just keep finding new ways to be able to experience culture through music.
What is one message that can be found in all of your work?
JD: Sincerity and compassion. Or sensitivity. I think sincerity for sure. I mean, I just think my activism is all about my sincerity and being able to find a way to bridge gaps between different groups of people based on humanity and having a heart and soul.
And wanting to dance [laughter].
JD: Yeah, totally!
Interview by Nasa Hadizadeh. You can follow her on Twitter @nasaHDZDH
JD wears Mercura Sunglasses and oversized shirt by Daniel Palillo
Jacket, shirt, pants by Rich Kim