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:: Spotlight :: J Wess - Presenting Australia's R&B Force

By: Carmine Pascuzzi

Not too long ago, a track titled ‘Bang This’ exploded on to the Australian club scene. The follow-up single was ‘What Chu Want’, which went Gold status, and Australia had a new R&B/hip-hop force to reckon with. J Wess is the man of the moment and he has released his debut album ‘J Wess Presents Tha LP’, a collection of passionate, energetic tracks where J has gathered the cream of R&B talent within Australia to build a fine collection of songs under his songwriting and production guidance. J came to Australia nearly six years ago from California and has lived in Queensland and Adelaide, before now settling in Melbourne. The tracks show a remarkable versatility and a great mix of funky beats and laidback grooves. It culminates in an electrifying last track that will have hip-hop fans in their element. With the high standards that he has set himself, J Wess is at the forefront of Australia’s urban music scene and his in-store appearances and performances have ensured a growing popularity. He looks set to make more inroads with a support tour alongside Missy Elliott in May 2004. I had a chat to J in order to gauge his feelings towards where he stands at the moment.

Q. Congratulations on the success so far. You must be very pleased with the public reaction so far?

A. Yes, I’m really excited about the success so far. The media has been positive and the fans very supportive.

Q.Tell us about your time in Australia and learning the production skills.

A.I’m fairly new at the production side. I feel like I’m five years old again and, with this initial experience, can’t wait for the next album. The beauty of coming to Australia was in playing sport (J came to play basketball). It gave me time to find other endeavours. America was too full on. I’ve now been able to write and produce music.

Q.You changed from the J-Wess Project to simply J. Wess. What occurred with that?

A.The J-Wess Project was supposed to be the name of the album. But then people mistook it as a group, the J-Wess Project. Even now, I’m a little disappointed because it says J Wess, but I really wanted the artists featured, like J Wess Featuring Kulaia, Digga, etc. It’s taken a little while for me to catch up with it. It will probably be the second album before people get the hang of it.

Q.Tell us about the vocalists you’ve gathered for this album. You have the gorgeous vocals of Kulaia (who I remember was a member of Bella), plus Lolly, rapper Digga, Rima, and Abby Joyce…

A.In the beginning I was going to do a compilation album – to get different artists on it. But I realised that I couldn’t tour the album. People told me that there wasn’t the talent in Australia to make international sounding music. I beg to differ. It was just an excuse for people that weren’t trying to make a certain genre of music work. When Bella split up, Kulaia really wanted to be involved. We got working on it straight away with a couple of songs I’d written. That’s the whole thing with this album. It’s a producer’s album, but it’s bringing talent to the forefront. Hopefully, it can open doors for other people out there making music. It should set a standard for R&B, pop acts to put the hard yards in and educate themselves. I got the vocalists through a lot of listening. From a producer’s standpoint, like me, you can write a song. But a singer interprets it. They can make it their own and create things. It’s hard to find singers like that. There were a lot of demos, word of mouth thoughts, and it took time to listen and establish that this particular person could fit the song. It’s exciting. It’s like recruiting a basketball player. You want someone to fit the position. Abby and Rima have been around and I knew their contrasting styles well. They are real pros. I went through a lot of artists who weren’t professional. I had to send them away to do some hard work before being ready to come into the studio. Everybody on the album is a pro. I wanted to show a bit of everything on this album.

Q.In Australia, we seem to be growing in terms of a collection of local producers and MCs. It’s been a struggle for R&B to reach a good level of acceptance. Why is that, and do you think you’re getting the message across now?

A.Yes, definitely. There’s no doubt in my mind that we will make it big here and take it outside of the walls, where it’s coming from Australia. That’s the beauty of it. Hopefully, it will open doors. I don’t mind being at the forefront and I know my head will get better. This is the first album and it’s been a real learning curve. The next one will be easier in terms of producing. There are still quality songs that didn’t make the album and many artists still to be discovered. It’s really exciting.

Q.With the album done, will you be looking to package it for an overseas assault? Have you had any feedback already?

A.The vibe has been good, even with the first single ‘Bang This’. Coming here from the United States, it’s not like a hunger for me to conquer. I’m making the music because I love it. I know eventually that it will break overseas. I just feel it. It’s a natural progression. I want it to be international. If it’s not this album or one song off the album, I know it will still happen. I’m happy with the way it’s going here first. The rules are that you “gotta do it in your own backyard first”. Everything else on top of that is beautiful, but you’ve got to do it here. I’m just happy that I want everybody around Australia liking my music.

Q.You gave us a taste of the music at Fashion Rocks and at a few shows recently. You must be itching to get out there more and perform these songs…

A.Man, I can’t wait. We’ve been choosey of what shows we do now. I really want people to hear the album so then they know the songs when they come and see the show, instead of going out there and doing a 30-minute promo of songs they don’t know. That’s boring. I really want them to “get the music”.

Q.Will everybody on the album play on stage?

A.Everybody on the album will be on tour. On the shows, I do a lot of performing. On this album, the concept was that me rapping on it would not have been unique. The beauty is that it shows all Australian talent. It‘’ at an international level. I don’’ think anyone from here has done that -–taking every genre and working it. I wanted to build it on having the best rapper, the best female vocalist, the best male vocalist, and a female rapper. They all have it. You wouldn’t even know that they are Australian. People may not like the song. That’s cool. But not to say, “Where’s this from?”

Q.As a writer/producer, do you see yourself developing a record label and young artists for building a strong Australian roster?

A.Yeah, this is my first album. I get asked to produce/remix for others, but I’ve been trying to get my own album finished. Now that I understand the process, there are definite possibilities, especially with people like Kulaia and Digga. But this is the J Wess presents album and I hope people enjoy this first.

Q.Tell us about the final track ‘Roll Call Part 1’ – a stunning way to wrap up the record…

A.It wraps up the album well. I wanted to have rappers non-stop on it. Digga wrote the hook on it and we got three or four of the rappers on it. I did the beat and that was it. It’s a great track.

Q.Is there an overseas producer with whom you’d like to work?

A.Yes, I am a huge Dr Dre fan. Then you talk about the father or grandfather of writing musical scores, Quincy Jones. He defines what a producer means to me: writing scores for symphonies. He does everything. He understands that, as a producer, you are a person who doesn’t have to do everything to get a project finished. The beauty of producing is that you are kept fresh by inviting other people’s ideas.

Q.Showing your music back home in California would be a buzz for you…

A.Yeah, it would be the icing on the cake to go back to California and hear your own music on the radio.

Q.Will you continue living in Melbourne?

A.I love Australia, whether it’s Melbourne, Sydney, or whatever. I’m an Australian citizen now, so I’m settled here.

Q.Good luck for future success…

A.Thanks. Maybe we’ll get some recognition at the ARIA Awards this year.

‘J Wess Presents Tha LP’ is out now through Festival Mushroom Records.
Check Missy Elliott dates and see when J Wess will be touring with her.

:: J Wess - Presenting Australia's R&B Force
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