WORDS MAISIE DANIELS – PHOTOGRAPHY EDDIE CHEABA – FASHION BIANCA NICOLE
Singer, songwriter, manager, you name it, Jaz Karis is the multifaceted creative that if you haven’t already, you should have on your radar. Jaz’s newly released EP, ‘All Eyes On U’ is a beautiful body of work. All written in her bedroom during lockdown, Jaz adopts a stripped back, no strings attached approach to creating music, where her raw, reminiscent and reflective song-writing takes centre stage.
Each track on the EP transports its listener on a unique journey and it is here that Jaz’s impeccable versatility as an artist shines through. Take the opening track ‘Garden Rain’, which favours some smooth saxophone, gentle guitar strums, and field recordings as a backdrop. Through to snappier R&B rooted tracks such as ‘Issues’ along with rich, free-flowing Reggae, as she brings back Afro Beats producer JULS for the finale ‘Let Me Down’.
A vocal artist, not only through her silky, soulful singing voice like butter but through providing a rich and real insight into some of the challenges she has faced being a black female in a predominantly male-dominated industry. F Word had the joy of chatting with Jaz about all of this, along with the making of the EP, performing live, musical typecasting and much more.
Maisie Daniels: Heya Jaz, how are you today, have you had a nice morning?
Jaz Karis: Yeah, it’s been very busy but I’m all good!
MD Are you enjoying the glorious sunshine?
JK: I’m sitting in it right now, it’s so nice!
MD: And are you coming to us from London?
JK: South London – Croydon.
MD: Nice, so first and foremost congratulations on the new EP! It’s a great body of work- your voice is like butter, super smooth! How does it feel to have released it into the world?
JK: Thank you! I think it’s the best release I’ve done so far, it’s wicked. I haven’t had anything but great responses.
MD: Amazing! How long have you been working on this?
JK: I started putting this together during lockdown. So not long at all!
Jaz wears earrings PIECES; top PLOOM THE LABEL
MD: I guess you’ve had more time on your hands during lockdown?
JK: Yeah, exactly! There were other things to do but I don’t think we will ever go through a time like this again, so I wanted to put out whatever I made during this period to represent it.
MD: Absolutely, this will be a piece of history. How have you found your creativity has been affected during the pandemic, whilst creating this EP?
JK: My biggest hindrance was always working in my bedroom because having that same space to relax in, work in, and workout in, is too much in one space. And sometimes that made me feel really uninspired. Also, I’m the kind of person that never stays at home; I’m usually always out doing something.
MD: I guess with a lot of creatives you find inspiration from your surroundings. So if you’re just placed in one space, for a long time, that must be a struggle?
JK: Exactly! It has been hard.
MD: Your sound comes with a big smack of soul and emotion. When did you realise this was the musical route you’d like to go down, and how would you characterise your sound?
JK: I would consider myself more Soul than R&B. I’m often characterised as R&B but I have definitely grown up listening to a lot of Soul, R&B, old Motown, and Gospel. I knew initially I wanted to get involved when I joined the choir really young and played the piano. From there I went to the Brits school.
MD: Was the Brits school intense?
JK: Yeah but then it wasn’t as intense as I think people make out. It’s your own little bubble, which I really appreciated, and it’s scary leaving there and going into the big, wide world of music. It’s a good school, I wouldn’t know what I know now, or the people I know now, if I didn’t go there. I really credit them for that.
Jaz wears earrings ASOS; dress FIORUCCI
MD: Back to the EP, ‘All Eyes on U’ takes us on a journey of you exploring your emotions through your beautiful song writing. Am I right in guessing this is a very personal body of work to you?
JK: Definitely, I think it’s a very genuine project for me- I didn’t try to make it perfect- and it’s a bit rough around the edges. To me, this was the least scared I’ve been for a release and I think that’s because of how naturally it came. There was no big team behind it making sure it’s finished in a certain, perfect way. This time has been so questionable – we didn’t know what was around the corner – which is why I wanted to release this, and every song has a different vibe.
MD: Is there a narrative that ties it all together? I feel essences of heartbreak?
JK: You know what, I think this is the first project that isn’t overly emotional – laughs- but it is outwardly reflecting, so that might be why you think this. And as I felt a bit trapped, I was reminiscing a lot.
Jaz wears earrings, top & trousers ASOS; shoes PRETTY LITTLE THING
MD: By creating this during such a turbulent time in lockdown, and the element of reminiscing, has this been a release for you? A kind of musical therapy and self-care?
JK: 100%. Instead of bottling it all up, I needed to release something and this is what came out.
MD: I love how stripped back it is, you’ve gone with the flow, and that shines through.
JK: Yeah, no rules! And those are the tracks that I love the most. Even down to the artwork, I wanted it to reflect me sitting in my bedroom. That’s literally how it was!
MD: I love the artwork for the EP! I can spot a poster of Freda Kahlo in the background- is she an inspiration to you?
JK: Yeah definitely! I think that was a lovely touch. I don’t actually have the picture in my bedroom but I think with art, that’s what you can get away with, and just make the best room ever- laughs.
MD: Who else inspires you?
JK: Beyoncé – obviously! I mean, I guess she’s an inspiration to everyone! Nelson Mandela – I do actually have a photo of him in my bedroom and my cat is called Nelson.
MD: Love it, and is that Nelson (the cat) who also features in the cover art as well?
JK: Yeah- he was a big part of my quarantine life! There are so many people that tie into who I am, and who I’ve grown up watching and listening, so that was a nice little touch that I wanted to put in there.
MD: And the aquatic scene throughout our bedroom window? I’m sensing some symbolism?
JK: When I was making a mood board for my artwork, I came across an image of a room under water, and I loved it so much and really wanted that in my bedroom. Water is a part of being free, which is why I wanted to put that in the project.
Jaz wears earrings ASOS; necklace DESIGN; top & trousers PRETTY LITTLE THING
MD: And due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the music industry has been shaken up a lot, how have you had to adapt when releasing new music?
JK: I feel so happy to have released it but I also feel a lot of pressure. When I released the EP, pressure came away for a few days and then it came straight back. For me, I think it’s the pressure to produce at the rate I was producing, and because I’m not going to the studio physically, it doesn’t feel like I’m working as much. In fact the reality is that I’m maybe working a bit more.
MD: And normally when you release an EP, I guess the next step is going out and performing that to people. How have you felt not being able to share your music this way?
JK: That is the worst part because I love performing live. I miss my band. My guitarist and I have done a few intimate recording performances – a teaser of an actual performance. I don’t know when things will start to allow us to perform live again properly but I can’t wait to dive back into it. It’s been the biggest thing I’ve missed! Instagram live is not the same!
MD: It isn’t, is it! And I think for a lot of musicians, performing live is the heart of the job. When we are finally allowed to go to gigs and festivals, how do you think people are going to respond?
JK: I think it’ll be great! Fingers crossed everyone will be so excited to see all this stuff again. Sometimes you don’t know how much you miss things, until you see them again. The little taster we got from our live recording, we were like ‘yeah- we can’t wait to do this to a crowd!’
Jaz wears earrings, top & trousers ASOS; shoes PRETTY LITTLE THING
MD: It’s going to be all the more special, right?
JK: Yeah! I also don’t mind that it may have to start off more intimate; I really like those kinds of performances!
MD: When was the last time you performed live?
JK: It would have been last year when I opened up for Sinead Harnett in November, and I did a small show in December.
MD: Back to the EP! Do you have a track that you’re most proud of?
JK: Yes! The first track on the EP ‘Garden Rain’. Out of all the songs I’ve ever written, that’s my favourite.
MD: Yes, I love it too. It’s such a great intro track, so soothing and soulful. And also super relaxing!
JK: Yeah, I wanted to make it how I felt when writing it. That’s why I think the saxophone was so important for me to feature on there.
MD: You’ve worked again with Afro beats producer JULS on the tack ‘Let Me Down’. I love how contrasting this is from the melancholy, smooth R&B narrative behind ‘Garden Rain’, to the punchy, Reggae vibes that come through in this track. How did you go about producing this?
JK: So we actually created ‘Let Me Down’ at the same time that we created ‘Soweto Blues’. And both are very free-style vibes, which is why it was so fitting for this project. I didn’t think I’d feel as comfortable on both the tracks as I did, and JULS allowed me to really feel that.
MD: And do you think you will take the same free approach on future releases?
JK: I like to think the EP is quite a wild card! I do love that it came out so naturally, I think if I started to plan to do future projects like this, it wouldn’t have the same effect. When the next batch of music comes, it will have its own sound.
MD: The video for ‘Hold You’ is now out. It’s so beautiful the way it’s been clipped together; you certainly have thought outside the box! Can you talk us through it?
JK: Yeah, it’s a compilation that we put together during lockdown. It’s a “friend’s” project, such that everyone who worked on it, I’m friends with! I put the video together and my fans are involved too, they sent videos because we couldn’t physically shoot during quarantine.
MD: We touched on some of your remarkable, female influences. Being a female in the music industry, have you faced many challenges?
JK: 100%. And not just being a female but being black, and female, has its challenges.
I currently manage myself and a lot of decisions have to be made. I feel like it’s easier as a man to do that, whereas as a woman, you’re sometimes looked at as hard to work with. It’s very hard to do business as a woman, and still to be respected in the workplace, and thrive as an artist at the same time. I also think this industry loves to put women up against each other and I don’t think that, that should be the case. All the time, in a lot of interviews, I have people compare me to “this person, and that person”. And when you actually listen to the comparison of music, I think it’s completely different! It’s just like this with women and we are somehow all put in the same lane, which I don't think is cool. And as women, I guess we have to come together more to overcome that.
MD: Absolutely. Do you think things are starting to change for the better at all?
JK: I do think things are improving and people are finding their voice more, and listening more. Demands are being made now and they have to be met, it’s just a long road.
MD: What do you think are the key things that the music industry could be doing better?
JK: I think to encourage and allow females to work together- don’t put us against each other.
And I think what would be really cool is female events. I know we have events on International Women’s Day but there could be so many other things- this shouldn’t just be one day a year. Along with a lot more events in support of the BLM movement- let’s not let this stop after a while, it needs to be a continuous thing.
MD: Are you working on anything at the moment, or do you want to take a break?
JK: I’m always working on something! I don’t think my brain allows me to just stop. So I have been working on different bits, but I have no plans for it yet...
MD: And it wouldn’t be an F Word interview without asking what your favourite word that begins with F is?