Jaw Gems- Chain of Inspiration

I had the pleasure of chatting with Ahmad Muhammad of Jaw Gems about their work and their upcoming album HEATWEAVER coming out this August. 

Check out their Soundcloud here.

Like them on Facebook here.

Pre-Order HEATWEAVER (Coming out Aug 26) Here.

MT: How did you guys get your start?

AM: The band formed in fragments. I knew the bass player first. Musical friends from Portland introduced me to the genre and the other keyboardist. The common thread that really brought us together was J Dilla's music. At that time in Portland about seven years ago, people didn't really know about him. They didn't know there was this producer that had created this entire style of hip hop and rhythmic cadence and sonic pallette. That really interested us and it was something we were really interested in playing live. All of us coming from instrumental backgrounds and being interested in electronic music. Through the grapevine people directed us to each other because they knew we loved Dilla's music. We had the opportunity to hold a residency in Portland for about 7 years. We played every Tuesday night at this bar playing Dilla and Flying Lotus kind of stuff live. That gave us the opportunity to hone our sound and more and more we introduced our own sounds. We're all beatmakers too, so it was a great chance to adapt the beats we were making to a live setting. We most likely wouldn't have been a band if not for that residency.

MT: How did the band get its name?

AM: Haha. Jaw Gems is playing with the concept of hip-hop artists having gold and platinum grills. It's the idea of having gems in your jaws. We were doing so many hip-hop covers when we first started, it was a name that seemed really fun for us.

MT: It's been mentioned in press that you guys like to hunker down together to make your music. Can you go into detail about how HEATWEAVER came together?

AM: It was sort of like a field trip. We go to a different place and set up all of our gear. We detach from society and try to stay close to what we're making and work really hard on it. We'll also take breaks and watch movies and try to make a fun experience out of it. For HEATWEAVER, we went to the other keyboardist's parent's home in Northern Maine. We were lucky enough to have access to that space while they were away on vacation. We just took over the house- every piece of our gear was there. Over the course of the day an idea would get fleshed out because we were all there. 

MT: How many days were you guys there?

AM: We did the bulk of recording over a seven day stretch. 

MT: You guys did two tracks a day??

AM: Haha. Yeah. A lot of ideas are sort of half formed. We probably played a few songs live. We know how we want them to develop. Since we're all beatmakers, we have a lot of songs that enter the recording process half-done, so the layers are already in place and songs can come together pretty quickly. 

MT: I've listened to HEATWEAVER a few times now and it's hot. To me, it reminded me of early Ratatat. Can you describe some of the influences of this new album?

AM: It's really a reflection of where we are as beatmakers. We all make beats and then we come together and make a record. Often times, a lot of songs start off as beats we made individually that we transform into something else- whether it has more of a live feeling or more of a bedroom beat kind of a feeling. Me personally, I really love Shigeto, Tyco, a lot of stuff on the Ghostly International label and the Brain Feeder label. Flying Lotus of course. I'm a huge fan of all types of ambient music and I think you hear elements of all those things on the album.

MT: There are some tracks on HEATWEAVER that I think would be perfect for vocals/rapping. Would you guys ever consider having Vox accompaniment? 

AM: Actually, we've had vocals before. Just a year ago, our buddy Kareem, a fantastic vocalist, was in the group for a while. For about six months, we were exploring including vocals. It was fascinating. He was less of an MC and more of a vocalist/singer. We haven't gone deep in backing an MC, but we're so ready to do that and it's something we've been talking about a lot. Although all our focus is on being an instrumental group live, since that's our home base. 

MT: Being an instrumental act, I'll bet it can be challenging to steer the thematic direction of a track. Can you go into some detail about how songs come together thematically? That is, the feelings communicated through the music.

AM: As far as a record goes, it's a constant chain of inspiration that takes place between all of our ideas. The great thing about being in a band with three other people is that any idea that you have and don't know how exactly to develop, there are three other people who will have ideas for that. And most likely, they'll have really good ideas for that. The thematic development of a lot of the tracks on the album is a  group effort. One of us will start with a new idea and share it with the group and someone else will take it to a new place and someone will take it to another place and the original person will have ideas as well. And all of a sudden it's a collaborative work of art. A lot of our tracks form that way, but others will be driven by one person's vision. There's a lot of variety for how our tracks come together. 

MT: To follow up with this idea of developing themes in your work, how do you guys decide the visual direction of the band? That is, the music videos and artwork?

AM: We have amazingly talented friends in Portland. Who, from the start, have been doing our videos for us. Our drummer, DJ Moore, is really interested in photography and always has really cool ideas for photos and our Instagram account. We have a lot of really cool  photos that were born in his mind. DJ has cultivated our visual aesthetic in a really good way that really fits us.

MT: What words of advice do you have to aspiring artists? 

AM: Keep on making things. Don't let anything stop you from carrying out your creative process every single day. It's super important to show up every day and to try to be close to your creative process. Make it like breathing. Make it something routine. Make it habitual to be making things. Fall in love with whatever it is you do. Fall in love with practicing. If you fall in love with what you do you won't feel like you're working. That's vital. You need to love what you're doing. We live in a world where sometimes we pursue things for the wrong reasons and we get burnt out. Love what you do and show up passionately every day and in time everything has to work out, eventually.