Jas & Jo: The PraiseNet Interview
“Haunting” is a worn-out adjective, but it definitely applies, here: Remaining in the consciousness; not quickly forgotten. Jas & Jo's music is somewhere between a lullaby and a nagging conscience: soothing our fears while policing our motives and behavior at the same time. It may take a pass or two for them to get in there, but once they're inside your head, you hear them whispering to you all day.
in the parking lot of the Gaylord Opry Hotel, when this strange
man wanders up to them—one of no doubt hundreds of strange men
wandering up to them at the GMWA’s annual holler-fest down in
Nashville. What was different about this guy, though, was I sent
him. Minister Darryl Cherry, who is exploding all over MySpace,
was the one who called my attention to Jasmine and Jovan
Jackson, a pair of music business majors at Middle Tennessee
State who, like so many other young people, are working on an
emergent music career. What distinguishes these young women
(besides their fall-down-and-hurt-yourself good looks) is a
lyrical depth to their writing that suggests real spiritual
depth and commitment. Which, of course, makes me wonder why on
earth they’d want to sing Gospel music, where such things are
not routinely valued. But don’t get me started.
Guitarist Jasmine and pianist Jovan are not just music majors, but are music business majors, which also suggests they’re taking their careers seriously. Over the past 28 years, I’ve produced any number of star-wannabes, several of whom I’ve either worked hard to get out of bad deals or tried desperately to talk into coming in out of the rain, struggling to prevent them from signing bad deals. Music-type folks: there’s a lot of bad deals out there to be signed. It’s not enough to have a pretty voice or even a pretty face. Your faith in God, your commitment to Christ won’t save you from being a moron. You’ve got to learn the legal side of the business, the business side of the business, or you’re just kidding yourselves. Realizing these ladies are taking their career seriously bumps them up a notch. But it is the music itself that separates them, that intrigues and draws us in.
“Haunting” is a worn-out adjective, but it definitely applies, here: Remaining in the consciousness; not quickly forgotten. Jas & Jo's music is somewhere between a lullaby and a nagging conscience: soothing our fears while policing our motives and behavior at the same time. It may take a pass or two for them to get in there, but once they're inside your head, you hear them whispering to you all day. I don’t believe these girls are Gospel singers. Except for “God Is Real,” their most commercial effort thus far, most of their music sounds a lot more like CCM—Contemporary Christian Music. The sophistication of the writing transcends much of what Church Folk are accustomed to, and their willowy translucence spins away from the holler-and-roll-in-the-aisles bombast.
In that light, I don’t really think they necessarily are mainstream. I think they're much better than the mainstream, and I'd encourage them to not follow trends but to create their own. The CCM market will be much nicer and more receptive to them, providing much more freedom for them to expand their art beyond traditional limitations of black urban praise and into more social relevance, applying God’s word to real-world concerns of young people today.
What distinguished them, for me at least, was the song “Right Back,” a whispery guitar noodling by Jasmine, a prayer for a loved one serving in combat overseas. I doubt Gospel A&R guys would be terribly excited about vignettes like this, but CCM execs would see the enormous power and ministry at work there. Besides being incredibly moving, “Right Back” is an example of practical application of faith in God, ministering to those who are struggling with unanswered questions. I mean, the obscenity of a 20-year old having to worry about someone stuck in a war zone— that's what their peers, their audience is worrying about.
How does God's word apply to/resolve those situations and conflicts? I'm listening to a lot of Gospel, urban Gospel, black Gospel, whatever. It's all Praise The Lord—which is fine, it's never inappropriate to praise God. I just think J&J have more to say, more they want to say. I would encourage them to say it. To move away from the mainstream and challenge those ideas of what a “Gospel” artist should sound like. Make a record that gets people talking, not just about their beauty or their talent but about their conscience. Their commitment. The deeper they stab at the hearts and minds of today's youth, the more effective their ministry will be.
Which brings us to the ladies themselves (I keep having to police myself from saying “girls” because, I’m, like, 189 years old), and a few random questions.
Mystery Revealed: Jovan (Left) and Jasmine.
The A Few Minutes With Jas & Jo
Priest: Once, centuries ago, I use to date somebody who was so
attractive that, when we went to a restaurant, the lobsters
would stop crawling in the fish tank. I mean, it was really
annoying. ‘Cause women would look at her like, “Who does she
think she is?” and then men would look at her and then look at
me and sneer, like, “Punk.” Waiters would spit in my soup. It
was really annoying. I dumped her because she was just too
attractive. I didn’t need that kind of pressure.
Being attractive is an obvious asset. There being two of you kind of underlines the whole “Boy Is She Hap’nin’” thing. But, I’d imagine, there’s also the temptation for men, especially, to view you in a superficial way, missing who you really are?
Jasmine: We try to get people to look past the external and look inwardly. We’d like to be recognized for the music and ministry of Jas & Jo.
Jovan: We’d like to establish ourselves in the music industry as songwriters and composers. We feel that our body of work will surpass our outward appearance to where people will focus on the true essence of Jas & Jo.
Priest: In both personal and professional relationships, is there (1) rivalry (2) a sense of people you meet making you two interchangeable? And, how do you deal with that?
Jovan: It’s funny, when some guys show interest in us, they seem to come across as not caring which one of us they would like to talk to. We actually had a guy come up to us and say, “Now which one of y’alls numbers should I get?” It’s actually really funny. So yes, sometimes people do treat us as if we are interchangeable, but Jas and I never have had rivalry because of that. We just laugh at it and we’re just like “man what’s that guy’s problem?” If anything it helps us to further understand that we look just like each other, so why be jealous of one another?!
Jasmine: As far as professional relationships, we find that people really want to see what we are like individually. They want to see what sets us apart from one another as far as our different talents and how we work together. So it’s actually very different in that area. People are interested in our chemistry so they may ask, “What are the things that we both contribute to the process of writing a song or composing music?”
Priest: In my experience, the people I know who’ve made it, who’ve become recording artists and producers and so forth, did so because they made a major commitment. Which isn’t to say, “don’t date,” but it is to say watch out for distractions. Do you realize how tough a journey you are on? How many pretty girls who sing well are banging on record company doors?
Jasmine: Anytime you have committed yourself to God you have become a living sacrifice. That means giving up some things for a while and practicing restrictions in order to keep your eye on the prize. It’s all about giving your all to Christ. Yes, we have heard about the many pitfalls that artists have experienced, but have prayed and ask for God to lead us down the path to the “right people”, and expose those who aren’t here for our best interest.
Jovan: Anytime you’re trying to do a great work for God, the enemy will always be working to put distractions in your path. He’s trying to do anything and everything to throw you off focus. That’s why it’s so important to stay focused on God and doing God’s will. It’s very important to understand that even with your most genuine intentions to follow Christ and to do his will, if you leave room for the enemy to come in and work in your life, making decisions without acknowledging God first, you can find yourself in a place that is not in line with God’s plan. The bible says that evil is always present even when we mean to do good. Knowing this, we recognize that it’s very imperative to just keep pressing toward the mark. Everything that we desire, everything that concerns us, God already knows. God wants us to just seek him and let him take care of the rest. He knows what’s best for us. All God asks is that we seek him first, and all these things will be added onto us.
Priest: So Jasmine is the beauty queen? Beauty speaks to both the transcendent spirituality of man or the transcendent beauty and spiritual nature of women. But it’s a thin line between artistry and vanity. How does Jas walk that line? How do we reconcile pageantry and faith?
Jasmine: I understand that everything I am is God given. Whatever I do should be to God’s glory. Pageantry for me has been yet another source to influence people in a positive way. I get the chance to show what I stand for, and give back to my community. Pageantry is a ministry to young woman that with Christ, you can achieve great things for yourself. You would be surprised how many young women who participate in pageants have strong religious convictions that follow Christ. Our platforms represent various subjects that directly or indirectly involve Kingdom building, such as teaching abstinence, helping mankind, being good stewards. All these things are mentioned in the word of God. When one is walking in accordance to God’s will, you will see God’s work in everything you do.
Priest: Some basics: Who sings better? No, just kidding, ummm, do you guys play instruments? If so, which ones? Are you playing on the tracks you sent me? How long have you been playing music? How long have you been singing? What made you decide you wanted to do this for a living?
Jovan: Well, I have been playing the piano for about 7 years, and Jas has played the guitar for 6 years. Our grandmother, Margaret Brooks, is an organist, and she inspired us to become musicians. Although we both have soft voices, vocally my voice is heavier, and Jasmine’s voice is lighter.
Jasmine: We have been singing since we were toddlers, and sang throughout our school years. In high school, we participated in show choirs, theatre productions, and were a part of the prestigious Indianapolis Children’s Choir. For me, singing is like breathing, I must do it everyday, all the time. My decision to pursue singing as a career was made in high school. I figured that singing was the best way to serve the Lord with tenacity. God gave me this gift and I want to share it with everyone.
Priest: This seems to be a family thing, with Mom & Dad involved and supportive. This isn’t a Stage Mother thing, with your mom shoving you onstage and your dad doing the Joe Jackson thing and whupping you when you miss a note, is it?
Jasmine: Lol, Oh No! She lets the decisions concerning our music be totally up to us. When we told her we were serious, we made the choice to move to Nashville and pursue our dreams. Mom & Dad have been very supportive from the beginning.
Jovan: Our parents have instilled in us a work ethic, of being responsible and good stewards over our music. That is when we decided to educate ourselves about the Music Industry.
Priest: Why sing Gospel?
Jovan: We feel that Gospel is a great genre of music to help change lives. Gospel is God’s direction for us. We are fulfilling our purpose through this ministry.
Jasmine: We were raised in church, and loved praise and worship. We grew up on influence of gospel, and loved all types of Gospel artists in the music industry. We realize its contributions to music history, and it’s significance today.
Priest: You guys are awfully quiet. Black folk like their singer hollering. Is there any struggle to be “commercial” or appeal to a black audience versus a white audience?
Jovan: We want to write music that is timeless. Songs that will help deliver one from bondage, minister to souls, uplift spirits and lead people to Christ. Our style is atypical, and we love that. We want to appeal to a broader audience….everyone. We write songs from the heart, songs that everyone can relate to, songs that brings people closer to Christ.
Jasmine: Our voices aren’t traditional gospel style in terms of having a raspy voice, belting out phrases and doing all the rifts. We love all those artists who embody those styles, but God gave us a different style, and we must use the gifts he’s given to us.
Priest: Talk a little about ministry. Nobody’s holding a gun to your head and forcing you to preach God’s word or to help people. You could sing Whitney tunes and sit in the pews on Sunday. Nobody would judge you. But singing Gospel requires you to be a role model, one both Church Folk and the world will hold to impossibly high standards. I mean, Whitney could get a divorce and nobody would blink. You get a divorce and it's a serious body blow to your career. Why put yourself out there?
Jovan: I truly believe I’ve been called to do this work…. It is a responsibility that is at times difficult. I take it seriously, because, I don’t want to hinder or have a negative affect on others who are seeking Christ. With that said, there is a standard that all Christians should aspire to reach. I am in no ways perfect, but I always stay humble and seek God for guidance.
Jasmine: I too believe there is a calling on my life to serve God. There have been many obstacles along the way regarding record deals that haven’t come to fruition, or difficulties finding producers to complete our project, but we just stay the course and trust God. My sister and I remain consecrated, asking God to guide our way and give us direction.
Priest: Why should anybody buy your CD? I mean, there’s a lot of music out there.
Jovan: Yes, there’s a lot of music out there. We just want to speak to an audience who enjoys good music. Music that is fresh, and different in terms of originality with messages that everyone can relate to.
Jasmine: We are working on a release date for our CD in 2009. Our CD will comprise of music that will compel every listener, uplift their spirits and move their hearts in a powerful way.
Priest: Talk a little about the creative process: how do you move from idea/concept to finished work?
Jasmine: For me, songs come all times of the day. I hear a tune ringing in my ear, and I grab my guitar. Sometimes I hear portions of a song such as the hook, or melody. Other times, I hear songs in the late night hours, and feel so compelled to wake out of my sleep to play the song. I also sleep with a tape recorder next to me, and record melodies in my head.
Jovan: I also hear songs in my head. We come together and collaborate on songs that are partially finished. We also work with fantastic producers that can compose music on the spot, as we are singing the song in our head.
Priest: Talk a little about your producers, musicians, singers—who’s helping? Why are they helping? Which one(s) do you hate?
Jovan: Tyrus Sass produced “Mystery Revealed”, Mike Hicks produced “Cant Live Without You”, and Mario Moore produced “God is Real” I helped compose the music for Mystery Revealed, and Tyrus Sass brought the song to another level. Every producer has different styles and approaches. We have been fortunate to work with guys who are ethical, respectful and open to hearing our ideals about the direction of our songs. We do our background vocals, and Mario Moore has done some background vocals, as well as, vocal arrangement for some of our songs.
Priest: The track that moved me the most was “Right Back” (I think it now says “For The Troops” or something, which seems too on-the-nose. “Right Back” has a sad irony to it, in that troop deployments are routinely extended. “Right Back” seems like the perfect title). If you must leave, don't say goodbye. Say you'll be right back. For anyone who's ever had to say goodbye to someone they love, this is sadly cathartic. This is an intense and personal song, and I feel like I’m butting in asking you to talk about it.
Jasmine: I actually wrote several songs this summer that had a sadness to its message. During that week, I had been up late in the hours at night; almost the whole week. The best way to explain it is, I had a spirit of heaviness on me, and I began to write songs that reflected my mood. When I presented these songs to my family; they looked at me and asked, “Jasmine are you alright?” I felt so compelled to put these songs down, even though it was outside the realm of gospel music. The song “Right Back” is simply about missing a loved one. It could be a mother missing her child, a child missing its mother or a husband missing his wife. A friend of ours suggested we dedicate the song to the men and women who are serving our country. I have friends who had to leave college and were deployed to Iraq, and so this had personal meaning for me too. The song is still called “Right Back”, but we wanted to pay respect to all those who serve this country.
Priest: How do you feel about including songs that, standing alone, are not strictly defined as Gospel music? I mean, if it’s written by a Christian, isn’t it *all* Christian music?
Jasmine: I write songs from the heart. I have written songs that even sound like country! My songs are written based on people experiences, such as learning and growing from one’s mistakes, disappointments, love, joys and pains of life. I have many dimensions to me. I just know that God is love, and songs that come to me are from the love of God.