INTERVIEW: J FERNANDEZ

 

The Chicago-based musician J Fernandez debuted his first full-length album, Many Levels of Laughter, off of Joyful Noise last year. When you listen to his psychedelic-tinged pop songs, your jerk reaction might be to call his music “bedroom pop.” And he did record the album in his apartment. Yet, while his music shares a lo-fi charm, it doesn’t bask in isolation, unlike much of the genre. Instead, he builds an exciting yet languid sound-space through jangly guitar chords backed by a jazzy rhythm section.

His music feels like a daydream. Bass lines tend to anchor his songs while a synthesizer adds depth and a saxophone creates space. We talked to J Fernandez about his favorite Chicago bands, his previous work as a map-maker, and about touring with Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Enjoy.

Have you always lived in Chicago?

I'm originally from Little Rock, Arkansas. I lived in Washington DC for a short bit after college then moved to Chicago for a job and have lived here for around eight years. I wouldn't say that I'm here for good, but it definitely feels like home at this point.

So J Fernandez first started as a side-project from your main band, how did it transition into your main project? Did it feel like a natural change?

I've been recording a little bit here and there on my own for years. It started to slowly transition into more of a focused project when a friend offered to release a cassette tape through a small Chicago label. Then eventually I assembled a live band to play the songs. It felt like a natural progression.

How did your experience in different Chicago bands feed into your work, your songwriting, or your aesthetic?

Most of the Chicago groups I played in were writing pop songs but everyone had their own unique methods. What I'm doing is just another version of that. I can hear pieces of those projects in certain songs because of the way I arrange songs or record.

When you seek inspiration in the city of Chicago, where do you go or what do you often do?

I have a studio in my apartment where I spend most of my time working but when I'm not there I might be at WeeGee's Lounge. It's a low-key bar near my house that has shuffleboard and a garden in the back. Seems like it could be a good space to come up with some ideas.

What are your favorite Chicago venues, or who are your favorite bands in the area?

The Empty Bottle. I've seen so many shows there in the past few years. It's probably the most obvious choice. The Whistler is another good spot. It's a smaller venue so the shows there seem more personal.

The Chicago music I'm into right now: Famous Laughs, Lala Lala, Courtesy The Hecks, Bunny, Potions. There are a lot but those are the ones that come to mind.

What’s your favorite piece of musical gear that you own?

I go through different phases. My favorite instrument for a long time was the Vox Jaguar combo organ, but it needs to be repaired. Right now it's the Korg Delta synthesizer.

Do you still work as a map-maker? Maybe this is a simple and silly question, but I don't know anything about map-making: do you enjoy it? Is there much room for creative work in that field?

No, I don't work with maps anymore really. I studied geography and cartography in college and moved to Chicago to work for a map company but have slowly started working in other fields. There was the objective, data related side of things but also some room for creativity with arranging visual elements. I liked the balance of those two things.

How was the Unknown Mortal Orchestra tour last year? Is there an experience from the tour that sticks out to you?

The shows with Unknown Mortal Orchestra were fun. They're good at translating the recordings into something different live, adding energy to the songs every night. I had those songs stuck in my head for weeks after that tour.

Do you have new songs in the works or any plans for a new record?
 
I have some new songs in the works but it's still very early in the recording process.

That's it! Thank you!

Interview done by Colin S. Smith.

MORE BY J FERNANDEZ.