This week's Edinburgh interview sees Eric Berger in conversation with Jack Storm, a South African musician who has just released his new single, Smooth Operator.
Eric: Jack, I know you dabble in a lot of different genres, so I was wondering: How would you describe your music to someone that’s never heard it before?
Jack: The cliche thing to say is “I’ve always listened to everything,” but growing up my parents listened to tons of different music. So while my mom was listening to The Fugees, Lauren Hill, Pharcyde, 90’s hip-hop, and some house music, my dad only listened to classic rock. So I try to experiment.
At the moment, I’m going for an alternative-rock vibe as well as low-fi 90’s hip-hop-type music. You hear a lot of up-and-coming U.K rappers who are taking that into account. Instead of heavy-baseline drill music, it’s more 90’s beats, Kanye West instrumentals. I like to experiment a bit. My music is of two worlds: it’s either alt-rock or low-fi hip-hop generally.
It’s interesting because people seem to like both sides of my music - which is something I always worried about. Because people seem to like a genre or particular sound, but for me, it’s nice to get positive comments on both sides. As long as people enjoy it, and I enjoy making it, I’m happy.
Eric: For your alt-rock stuff, and hip-hop stuff, what were some of your influences?
Jack: My personal listening preferences have changed a lot. My Spotify playlists are meticulously ordered and separate. For alt-rock, my biggest inspiration has been Jeff Buckley. A great guitarist, singer and songwriter, and overall musician. Even though I hated my GCSE music course, and I was terrible at it, I loved finding new songs but it got me into Rock, Blues, and Jazz music. So people like Chet Baker and Billy Holliday and the big names in that world were big inspirations for me. I think there are parallels between Jazz and Rock, they’re not so far apart.
In terms of hip-hop, my earliest memory of listening to music was an old Eminem album. My dad had these aggressive hip-hop albums that I “shouldn’t” have been listening to in the car, which progressed towards me going on the internet and finding new things. There are a few YouTube channels that I was obsessed with as a kid, which take old vinyl from the ’80s and 90’s - single pressed rap vinyl from artists that never “made” it - and make it into a video on youtube. And also, the Fuggees as well - Lauren Hill is one of the greatest ever. Fugees, Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest - though I’ve never rapped alongside anyone else it was the groups that gave me the most inspiration.
I’m into the new U.K artists that are less into trap music and are more into telling a story. That’s what I always enjoyed about rock and what I enjoy about rap music. That’s nothing against trap, but there’s something about the older hip-hop combining music, lyricism, and poetry - it’s not just words and a chorus, a meaning behind everything. When you can convey more things than what’s blatantly obvious, I’d say that’s important.
Eric: I know making music can be a cathartic experience. How is it different, in a cathartic sense, when you write rap vs when you write alternative rock?
Jack: Ultimately, not many of my songs make me incredibly sad. Even though alternative rock music can be depressing, it’s a place and time, which doesn’t always reflect how I’m feeling. I tend to find when I’m singing things, it’s received as sadder. However, when I say something that has equally a deep meaning to me, it doesn’t hit you in the feels as much. If the chords are in A-Minor, the music reflects the lyrics, but with some raps songs it’s contrasting and you have to look for it. Take “I Guess”, a lot of lines are very sad to me. It’s got a very deep meaning to me, even though it sounds very upbeat. I’ve got this song “Essence of You”, which is an alternative rock song about when someone leaves a relationship and you hold onto the small things that remind you of them. That’s a sad song to me, but it doesn’t make me as sad as “I Guess”, which sounds and seems much happier. So I feel that emotion when I’m singing it, but afterward, it’s gone. It’s a sensory experience for me.
Eric: I want to talk about “Dark Twisted Fantasy”, one of your newer songs. It’s more in the alt-rock pool compared to some of your other work. I’m curious about the name of the song, with “Dark Twisted Fantasy” possibly tying into Kanye’s album of the same name. Did that have any influence?
Jack: It was an album I listened to at the time it came out, along with a lot of Kanye when I was younger. It was more the name that resonated with me. Whenever I write music, I always play the chords first and freestyle. Then, I write down the words/bars that I like. That just sort of came out of my head: Dark Twisted Fantasy. And this made me think of Kanye. He’s been an influence on my rap music, especially him as a producer.
While Kanye’s influenced me, it was more the album’s title that stuck out to me. It’s such a contrast. It’s a dark twisted fantasy, it’s not pleasant or fun. It’s some illusion you’ve made up in your head. But at the same time, it’s still beautiful because it’s yours. I try to take that outlook on a lot of things in my life. Okay, it might be tough, but I’ve put a lot of energy into it and it’s still this beautiful place. So the song is me trying to explain to someone what’s going on in my head. It’s messy, dark, twisted, almost like some fairyland and I can’t always convey what’s going on. But I still love you and this is my way of communicating that.
Eric: And I saw the painted cover for the song as well, could you speak on that?
Jack: So I’ve never been much of an artist. My outlet is music and lyrics, so art has never been my thing. During quarantine, I watched some art classes and tried a few things, and the one thing that stood out to me was patterns. That’s what I always loved when I was little growing up in South Africa. Patterns and details. So I found my old paint set and went about making something that wasn’t dark and dreary but has a little bit of everything.
It’s got all of the colors in there. You’ve got dark and light, which works with what I’m trying to get across in the song. Positive and negative. It’s never just one way, you’ve got to have all of them. If I focused only on the negative things, I’d feel awful. But I’ve got blue, red, yellow, orange, green, and darker colors. Maybe it represents how I feel. If you focus on one tiny bit of it, it’s only bright, or another it’s only dark and negative. You can never be 100% one way, you have your flaws and things that are good about you. If you can see the whole picture, it’s never that bad.