Split between Ithaca and Los Angeles, Jimkata is a synth-pop band that specializes in a perfect blend of melody and sound. That is to say, not only do the various bells, pads and beeps of their music sound terrific, but they get delightfully stuck in your head as well. Never has this been more apparent than on the group’s newest single “Wanna Go,” which dropped on July 9.
Their first new release in over four years, “Wanna Go” demonstrates Jimkata’s strengths. Arranged by frontman Evan Friedell, the song’s synths coolly amass into a singular force, grounded by a thundering bass locked into the drums’ tight groove. Additionally, the effortlessness of the arrangement acts as an expression of sorts of the organic chemistry Jimkata has — first playing together in middle school, the band’s members have quite literally developed their artistic sensibilities together.
Last week, American Songwriter and Friedell discussed “Wanna Go” and how it was the first step in the band coming back together after their break. We also talked about the visually stunning video for the single and how modern musicians have become quasi-multimedia entertainers. Highly attuned — and a little bit worried — about the new era of society that has been ushered in by social media, Friedell uses the song, the video and the band’s platform to comment on the phenomenon while also directly engaging with it. In total, “Wanna Go” is as interesting and captivating as it is melodic and catchy, a commendable feat.
Tell me about “Wanna Go” — when did you first start writing it? What inspired it?
So, I started writing “Wanna Go” around three years ago. It started out as a beat I made with a new synthesizer that I had. At that time, Jimkata had stopped playing, so I was making stuff just for fun on my own. I came up with some lyrical ideas for it, and it gradually took shape. For the past several years, I’ve been reflecting a lot on how much social media impacts who we are as individuals. There’s this new world we’re living in where it’s very hard to figure out what is real, what is truth. It’s the age of the whole ‘fake news’ bullshit and ‘alternative facts’ and all of that. There’s also that whole ‘Instagram influencer’ ethos, putting your best image forward, but it’s a distorted view of our society. It’s a real negative impact on us psychologically, emotionally and spiritually.
So, after working on the song as a beat “just for fun,” what was it like to bring it into a full-band setting?
At first, I was doing it by myself — but eventually, the three of us decided to reform and started getting together. They brought a really good perspective to the song and started to shape it. I was kinda thinking to myself “is this song a little silly?” I felt a little insecure about it, I treated it lightly, like “oh, this is just a thing I made that’s fun to put on in the background.” But, my bandmates were like “no, this is awesome, we should make this into something.” These guys are my oldest and best friends, so that perspective from them was really valuable. It’s hard to even describe, but we just have a certain chemistry. We started playing together back in middle school. As we grew up and went our separate ways, we always kept a connection. We found that it was very easy to bounce ideas off each other without much ego in the room.
This was the first song y’all worked on after a hiatus of sorts — how did it feel to come back together again?
Well, I think we’ve all developed our production skills quite a bit. For this song, I wrote and produced most of the original demo by myself. When we first started playing, it’d be like three or four of us in a band room jamming, getting the songs ready to play live. Then we’d go to a studio and record it, and hearing it back we’d start to get ideas on how to edit things and cut this and cut that and add this or that layer. Over the years as technology has become more available, you can work at home on your laptop. We’ve been able to get much more into self-production, which allows you to hear your ideas back immediately. So, I think our path as a band has really gone concurrently with the path of music technology.
So, this song has definitely had a lot more forethought put into it. There were many more steps in the process before it actually got to a studio, more so than anything we’ve done before.
Circling back to the thematic content of “Wanna Go” — this song addresses society’s relationship with social media, but it was written before the COVID-19 pandemic brought that relationship into sharp focus. How does it feel for you to listen to the song now?
It’s funny. We’ve been sitting on this song for a while and it’s been fascinating to sorta watch the world change around it. There’s been this reflection of “you know, I think this still kinda applies.” In fact, I think it might apply even more than it did when I wrote it. The things I was thinking about when I wrote it… I don’t think these things are going away any time soon. Especially now that we’re in quarantine, we are so much more involved in our screens than ever before. If we’re not going to a workplace, if we’re not getting together with family, if we’re not going to bars to hang out, social media is allowed to rule who we are even more. It’s a little strange to observe, but I guess the way I was feeling back then has remained. This is part of us and it isn’t leaving any time soon.
Considering that, how do you feel about the ever-increasing importance of social media marketing for musicians?
Well, I think that the attention span has shortened drastically. So, any musician putting anything out has to ask “how long is this thing going to live until the next ‘thing’ on social media comes?” You spend years developing one song or one album or whatever and then it goes up, gets a couple of days of hype and goes away. It’s a little heartbreaking, but you have to learn to adapt. Perhaps the silver lining about the current environment is that you can treat your social media as your own T.V. station. Musicians are becoming more akin to multimedia entertainers than people who just write good songs. There’s so much more in the visual aspect in regards to how people connect with your music. That’s why we put such a strong emphasis on developing a good video for the song.
Yes, the video really is fantastic — how did y’all make it?
We worked with a cinematographer named Jay Brown, who owns ROVE Lab based out of Portland, Maine. We had worked with him in the past and knew immediately that we would like to work with him again. He’s got a great visual eye and we really jive well together. He did our video for “Jumping Out of Airplanes” as well as a couple of live videos.
So, we pitched him this song and he came back with the idea to do the camera technique of a constant zoom out. He described it to us over the phone and we immediately fell in love with it. He sent over the storyboards and some color ideas so we could begin to see what it would look like, and it just clicked right away. When we actually arrived to shoot it, he had built this set with the yellow wall and everything you see. Jay’s business partner Gabe had sourced all the furniture — in fact, I think the couch in the video is his couch from his house. They were sending us pictures of this stuff in advance before we were going, and everything they sent was perfect. They really created a universe. Everything in this video is pretty much analog, there’s not a whole lot of digital effects. It’s all about the framing of the shot and the actual set. It was super fun. The idea of constantly zooming out to the same scene again but with something slightly altered really fits well with the wider theme of the song.
These days, musicians have to play so many roles — writer, performer, marketer, manager, distributor, etc. Do you think that all of this additional pressure has hindered creative output?
It’s a blessing and a curse. We only talk about these things in the context of music history, and a lot of the great musicians that we are inspired by from the past were allowed to be just musicians. They were allowed to just write songs, form their craft and be these cool, mystical characters that we worship. That was supported by labels, and those musicians didn’t always get a good deal at the end of the day for just passively focusing on music. They often got screwed over. So, the good side of the way it is now is that artists can control all the facets of their careers. They can own their own copyrights and all these different things.
But, don’t get me wrong — I absolutely fantasize about being a musician in a different time where I could be funded to just be in a studio all day writing music. That would be awesome. I think a lot of musicians don’t really care about the business side, they just want it to be handled, they just want to make art. I get that, I feel that way sometimes. It’s strange how once you create something you can’t just let it out into the world, you have to oversee its journey into the world. So, you end up in that weird place where you wrote something years ago and you still have to actively promote it. But, as I said, there are different ways to look at it. It’s a positive thing to be more in control of your own universe.
Watch the music video for Jimkata’s “Wanna Go” below: