Jai-Jagdeesh’s new album, Down Come the Walls, is nothing short of magical.In a beautifully bold and vulnerable declaration of the glory of being human, this new album explores divinity, passion, heartbreak, and authenticity in an exquisite musical journey. For her third studio album, Jai-Jagdeesh has surrounded herself with a creative team of multi-instrumental masters to provide her an impeccable and dynamic current for her potent voice to sail on. The barriers of genre and classification swiftly fall by the wayside as she flawlessly merges sacred mantra and poetry with a vast variety of influences, including Jeff Buckley, Nina Simone, and Amy Winehouse, while subtly nodding to impressionist classical composers and jazz greats. Jai-Jagdeesh is unabashedly herself, admitting her perceived flaws and courageously embracing them as opportunities for greater love. It is said that a person’s cracks are where the light gets in. In this case, Jai-Jagdeesh has decisively demolished her entire facade to reveal a blazing majesty that is nothing short of magnificent.
Spirit Voyage recently had the pleasure of connecting with Jai-Jagdeesh about this new album, the inspiration behind it, as well as her creative process. This is a two-part interview. You can find Part Two here.
Spirit Voyage: What was your inspiration for this album?
Jai-Jagdeesh: A thousand things. Life, mostly. The depth of it, and the shimmering beauty of any & all moments of awakening, of grace. I went to some dark places over the course of the past few years, delving into aspects of myself that had broken. Some of that brokenness was mended by the process of writing and recording these songs. And some of it was opened further, expanded, liberated, set free.
Spirit Voyage: What makes this album different from the rest of the albums in your catalog?
Jai-Jagdeesh: Down Come The Walls was recorded with most of the musicians together in the studio at the same time, which gave us an opportunity to riff off of one another as we played our parts for any given track. This was a new experience for me. Each of my previous albums was put together piece by piece, one contributor at a time. Reason being that we were utilizing the talents of instrumentalists who lived (or were on the road) far away from our studio space – which, of course, necessitates a different type of assembly, a puzzle-building method. For this project, I had an opportunity to do it differently, because several of my collaborators were available at the same time. So I seized the chance. I’m really happy I did, too. There’s a crackling “alive-ness” to the music as a result.
Spirit Voyage: Can you share a story from the making of the album?
Jai-Jagdeesh: It was late late late at night when we recorded Requiem. We shut off all the lights in the studio, sat down at our stations, did a mic check, and then Ram Dass hit ‘record’. We didn’t have a plan for how it would flow; I just had my lyrics and a basic idea of a melody I wanted to sing. Tripp Dudley had written these beautiful guitar chords… and Jared May had never heard the piece before, but he’s a genius on bass, so we knew he’d be able to wing it. We sank into this delicious musical space together and explored it for 15 minutes or so, then came up for air, and then did another take – again for about 15 minutes. Ram Dass jokingly tugged at his collar when talking about the challenge of trimming either of those takes to an album-ready length, because 15 minutes didn’t make much sense to us for a non-mantra piece. But once Peter Stoltzman had laid down his epically brilliant piano, we were unwilling to trim any more than a few minutes off of it. Because there was an undeniable alchemy that had somehow happened, and we wanted nothing more than to share it JUST as it was.
Spirit Voyage: Can you give us a sneak peek into your creative process?
Jai-Jagdeesh: It’s shockingly mundane. In fact, I would argue that I don’t even really HAVE a creative ‘process'; I just stumble into creativity when an impulse presents itself to me. These things forever feel “accidentally on purpose,” you know? The best advice I could ever give to ANY type of artist is to keep a note-taking device handy all the time. I record snippets of melodies on my iPhone, even if I don’t think I’ll ever use them (because you truly NEVER know…), and I scribble lyrics down quickly whenever they flutter through my mind. I don’t trust that these things will stick around until I’m in studio mode; I’ve lost some GENIUS lyrics and melodies in the past, simply by letting my mind wander away from them for a moment or two. I don’t take that chance any more. And you know what? It makes for a continually creative existence, being a note-taker. To ALWAYS be present to the possibility of some alchemy flowing through you, ready to be expressed. We are all capable of making magic; we must just claim our right to reach for a piece of the cosmos when it reveals itself. For my part: I promise you – and EVERYone out there – that I won’t be mad if a great lyric ends up in your hands instead of in mine. The more creatives, the merrier, truly. Bonne chance!
Spirit Voyage: Is there something that your fans would love to know from the making of this album?
Jai-Jagdeesh: I had SO MUCH FUN making it. Down Come The Walls was medicine for me, literally. The first day of our studio week was the day after Trump had been elected, which ALSO happened to be the day my father fell off the roof of my parents’ home and broke his back. My nervous system was so traumatized when I arrived for day 1 at Hyde Street Studios (which, by the way, is where the Grateful Dead did some of their recording…), but as we rolled up our sleeves to dig in, everything within me shifted. Music is a rare & wonderful entity that’s transformational at EVERY stage, even in its creation phase. So… this may be a moody and melancholy album, and it DID terrify me to take some of the chances we took… but you should know that it was also a total blast. And everyone who worked on it brought their “A” Game. I hope you can hear how much we enjoyed weaving this tapestry for ourselves, and, in turn, for you.
Spirit Voyage: Are there any special contributors to this album?
Jai-Jagdeesh: Bogdan Djukic is back. The violin virtuoso whose genius is all over Of Heaven & Earth is very present on this album, and in extra fine form. I always gasp when I hear his parts for the first time. He creates sound in an otherworldly way. And I finally got to record a whole album with my first touring percussionist, Tripp Dudley. He was only ever able to add little bits of tabla to a few songs here & there in the past, so it was wonderful to have him with me for an entire project. He brought such great groove to this collection of music. And he wrote the hauntingly beautiful chord progressions for both Aykaa Maaee and Requiem, both of which are unmissable tracks. Bryan Benner (guitar) is a first time collaborator, as is Peter John Stoltzman (piano), and Jared May (bass). I’m hoping I’ll be able to work with ALL of them again, because they’re astonishingly talented. The heartbeat, spirit, and soul of this album is bigger, broader, and more luscious for the fact of their contributions. And my friend Raymond Sicam, whose cello has traveled with me to Bali, Belgium, and a few states in the eastern U.S., added his instrument’s richness to a few tracks. You’ll feel him even before you hear his first note. The backing vocals were done by a woman I’ve never met, a singer named Adrienne Shamszad, whose instincts were genius. She creates this etheric cradle on pieces like The Gift (Aasees) and Hold Your Hand. Super dreamy. Last but hardly least is Ram Dass, producer extraordinaire, whose gifts are many, and without whom none of this would exist. He’s a technical wizard, to be sure, and he’s also added some of the juiciest harmonies I’ve ever heard – not to mention played a perfect bluesy piano for 13 Times. He’s been incredible, and I’m so grateful.
Spirit Voyage: What do you hope your listeners experience or learn as they listen to your album?
Jai-Jagdeesh: I hope anyone who listens to this album experiences everything there is to feel, learn, and understand about their own longing to belong – and, simultaneously, feels like they DO belong. We share a collective ache for something indescribable, and I suppose this music is my attempt to describe it. I can’t claim to have succeeded in the attempt… but I do feel a deeper knowing in my own soul, and that’s certainly evidence of well-worn journeying shoes!… So, may these songs take you on whatever journey you’re ready to go on, and may you totally enjoy the ride.
READ PART-TWO OF JAI-JAGDEESH’S INTERVIEW HERE!