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Genre-bending Jean Dawson finds inspiration by speaking his truth and living life without boundaries

todayDecember 5, 2022 5

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Courtesy of the artist

For most people walking a tight rope between multiple spaces and places can be a challenge. But not for Jean Dawson. If he had his way there would be no boundaries, in language, land music or imagery. 

Nothing displays this more than his video for “Pirate Radio”. In this video he plays with the duality of images. He begins the video highlighting the connection between technology and religion, before moving cold medal against his warm skin, he even displays the danger that resided in street life vs. the innocence of a baby deer.

Among the many things we discussed, I asked him about the duality that lives within his creative space. Here’s what he had to say.

The following interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

Element Everest-Blanks: So I am sitting here with singer, songwriter, musician, and what I like to call a creative futurist. His name is JD. How are you?

Jean Dawson: What a lovely introduction.

EEB: Well, thank you. It’s how I feel, so it’s pretty easy to come up with things when you really have a connection to an artist. So you were born to a mother who was Mexican and a father who was African American. And your mother spoke no English when she came to the United States at 17. Can you share with the listeners how she learned to speak English? Because, I thought this was pretty cool.

JD: Yeah, she learned English through hip-hop. So she learned English through African American colloquialisms because that was the culture of people that accepted her into their friend groups, into their families, and into basically the subculture of American culture, or the sub-genre of American culture. So my mom, if you hear her speak, she sounds like somebody that would be an African American woman, but she’s just a little Mexican lady. And that’s how she talks because that’s the people around her. So she learned via music that she listened to and the culture that she was immersed in.

***EEB: So you have a pretty interesting story right out the gate. You were born in a space between Mexico and Southern California. Was that correct?

JD: So I was technically born in San Diego, California. So part of my life, I grew up crossing the border, going to public school by way of trolley, bus, train.

EEB: Isn’t that a perfect level of synchronization with your music? You continue to cross borders and you continue to live in the space between. Now, I want to talk a little bit about the visuals of Pirate Radio, which is a song that we are currently playing. What I noticed immediately in watching the visuals that you put together, the hardness and softness. So you have the metal against your skin, you have the danger, the innocence of a baby deer. You have technology in running through the minds of societies, yet you have religion in the back of our mind, with that metal cross. Because your music is genre-fluid, do you seem to be determined to never get trapped in anyone’s box ever? And if that is the case, is it because you naturally were born and live in the space between?

JD: Okay, so first off, wow! You’re the first person that caught all the nuance of the video in its totality, where it’s like we use religion as a tool or we use religion as early versions of technology, of understanding or communication, and the cross. Wow! It’s really beautiful that it got somebody. That’s crazy. Okay, to answer your question, I feel like-

EEB: Well, I’m an artist too. So I understand you. That’s why I said you’re a creative futurist.

Courtesy of the artist

JD: That makes all the sense in the world now. Because I’m like, “How … Did you write the video? What’s going on here? You wrote it and you sent it to me via telepathically.” So yeah, I feel like being bound by genre or categorization, I said it before, I think categorization is a great tool. There’s nothing wrong with it. It’s not inherently evil or good or bad; good or evil, rather. It’s a tool, it’s a utility. So the utility of being able to figure out what you like in a faster way is never going to be a bad thing.

I mean, humans, we only create out of two necessities, and not even necessities, but we create for convenience … Think of the last things that got made, right? It’s usually just convenience or entertainment. But there’s never really anything in the middle except medication, because medication is not necessarily … It’s convenient. It’s convenient not to die. But it’s also not entertaining. And that’s the usual only thing I can really think of. But everything else is usually convenience or entertainment.

So categorization has that power, the capability for convenience where it’s like, “Hey, if I go into the aisle where the cereal is, I don’t want to find soup, I want cereal.” So that’s the way that I think of that. I don’t think it’s deeper than that for me, but when it comes to being bound by somebody’s perspective of me, it’s something that I’ll never respect. I can respect in their own perception because I’ll never have to live in their mind. So if they’re like, “Jean, you’re this,” I’m like, “Sure, that’s fine, because I don’t have to adhere to what you think I actually am. And I’m still trying to figure out what I actually am. So if you figured it out before me, good on you.” I might meet you there in 20 years and be like, “Yeah, this is what I was doing.”

But in the time being, I think it’s much less important to categorize and separate myself from other things than to bring unison into these things, because I don’t like border shit. I don’t like that things can’t bleed over into each other. I don’t like imaginary positioning that things need to be different. I like the idea of unification. I like Pangaea as a concept. I don’t want there to be separation.

EEB: Yeah. But I think also if you are born in this space, then having to be categorized really will feel unfamiliar to you. It will feel like something that’s being forced on you versus you living your creative nature, which is boundless, versus someone else creating boundaries for you. It doesn’t even feel like you would be received well in that way. Because of the imagery and the sounds that you create, I don’t think you would even be successful trying to do what other people do, because you’re so you, and you were born under this creative space, even with your mom and your father, and even the different language.

It’s kind of like you were created to be this person who spoke to multiple people at the same time and they all understood you. I don’t think that too many people can do that. And with that being said, there have been a few people trying to do their best JD impersonation. And people often say imitation is the biggest form of flattery. I know how I feel about that statement. What are your thoughts?

JD: Well, first, how do I pay for this therapy that I’m receiving right now? What’s going on here?

EEB: (laughs)

JD: That’s so beautiful. But I’ll say, for everything that you had said, wow, this is probably my favorite interview of all time. Let you know right now.

EEB: Yes, come through, JD!

JD: Yeah, I love it. (laughs)

Courtesy of the artist

EEB: You know it’s real when you say the last name, right?

JD: You know. You know it’s real. I’ll say that I’m a competitive person. I’m very competitive, and competitive more with myself than anybody else in the world. But my competitive nature bleeds over into pretty much everything I do. And it’s just because I think since, growing up as a kid, I always had this need to want to impress my father. I started to realize when I turned 22. I was like, “I’ve always been trying to impress my dad, from the first project I ever did, to now.” And that made me super competitive. I always had somebody to be like, “I need to show them something.”

And with that brings so much personal experience of things that I’ve gone through, to where everything for me becomes hyper personal. So when there’s imitations, it’s flattering. But also it’s just like, “I hope that you just lived the life that I live to get to where you are right now or to what you’re trying to pretend to do right now.” So I feel for them, because I’ve gone through very specific things that have made me a very specific person. It’s kind of like negating somebody, their experience, because you like the character that they play in this movie…

EEB: Absolutely.

JD: … and you want to go home and put that costume on. And it’s like, “No, no, no. It’s not a costume that I went through depression when I was 21 years old and I was laying in my mother’s lap talking how I didn’t want to be alive. That’s not a costume. That’s my actual human experience that I don’t wish on anybody.” So sometimes I get saddened by the idea that there isn’t enough human experience in another artist for them to find their own truth, so they have to dictate their truth off somebody else. It’s like every time you see Prince sitting in a crowd when they’re doing a Prince tribute and you see in his face just like, “You don’t know what this song means to me.”

EEB: Exactly.

JD: Every single time you watch a Prince tribute where Prince was in the crowd, he looks not disgusted, but something very similar to it. And for me, it’s not disgusted. For me, it’s just I really hope that you can experience this thing, because the reason I sound this way is because of this thing. It’s not because I fabricated it and there was no personality for me to take it from. So for me it’s like, yeah, imitation is great. I mean, I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t try to imitate artists that I loved when I was 16. But then I realized that I had my own life experience and I had my own story to tell and my own voice to say it. And by the time I realized that, maybe like 17, 18, and then I found myself. And I found that it was more healing for me to speak my truth in my own voice than to try and be a voice actor and play a cartoon character that doesn’t exist.

EEB: Okay. I agree with you more than you can possibly understand, because like I said, as an artist, a lot of people will negate all of the hard work that you’ve put into creating your art, to just imitate the imagery or the sound, and not understand how you got to where you are.

Courtesy of the artist

Written by: Element Everest-Blanks

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