Jaz Karis on doing it all herself, the stats-led music generation, and making sounds that warm the soul.
Jaz Karis grew up absorbing musical influences from everywhere she could find. Finding herself drawn to a huge variety of genres, she cut her teeth as a singer in her local gospel choir, trained in classical piano and eventually graduated from The BRIT School, where luminaries like Adele and Amy Winehouse studied. Her influences, then, sit at the precise meeting point between classic and contemporary, creating a sound that feels refreshing in a busy market.
Jaz has been working her way up ever since the release of her first EP in 2017, which saw swift success. However, her career took a truly serendipitous turn in 2020. Stuck inside as the pandemic raged on, Jaz felt the creative drive within herself but no obvious outlet – so she did the only thing she could and recorded a new EP, ‘All Eyes on U’, written, produced, and engineered completely by herself at home.
Even as she has now returned to the studio, Jaz has maintained the DIY spirit she fostered during the pandemic to redefine herself as the epitome of an independent, individual artist whose sensibility is without compare. She’s dropped two big new singles so far this year in collaboration with singer-songwriter J Warner, and she’s not stopping there.
With Jaz Karis finding new heights of creativity, we sat down with the artist to chat about her latest work, recording independently, and the modern stat-focused culture in music.
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Congrats on the release of your double single – “2NIGHT” and “GAMES WE PLAY”. The songs feel like two parts of a story – was that always the intention?
Yeah. When I wrote them, it wasn’t the case. A lot of the time, it makes sense afterwards, and then I really just piece together as I listen to them. So that’s why I put them together.
Is it an autobiographical story or conceptual?
Definitely about myself. But I like to elaborate and I’m quite dramatic. So I just draw from my own experience. And I think it’s fun sometimes to just create in your head.
What was the creative process?
I usually start with the music, definitely. And then I just write. I think that dictates the vibe or the feeling of what I’m doing. Unless I have something specific I really want to talk about, then I let the music kind of dictate where I’m going. And then it just kind of free flows.
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You teamed up with J Warner on both songs. How did the collaboration come about?
I’ve known Jay for years, and I love his work. I think his mind is just crazy. I’ve always loved and been in awe of how he works, vocals especially. The first one, “2NIGHT”, was already done. I just needed the filling of the sandwich basically, and I was like, what more perfect filling would there be than J Warner’s vocals? And then “GAMES WE PLAY” came about from a session afterward. We had a really, really nice conversation about this generation and the dating scene and getting back into that, and it just naturally came about.
What did you love about working with J?
I think it was really nice to appreciate his mind. To see someone that you love, listening to their music, it’s very, very interesting, seeing how they actually piece it together before it’s out. I think was my favourite part.
You’ve also teamed up with Juls, Jords and Katy B on previous tracks. How do you decide who to work with?
If I love their music, it’s all on the feeling I think; feeling and gut, that’s the same with anything in the world. I think that it’s the same with music and even if you think it sounds weird at first, I reckon just the thought of saying, ‘let’s pair these two together’, when you actually get into the music side of it, it’s always good to try. Some stuff won’t work out, but this stuff was natural, and that’s why it ended up coming out.
Is there anyone you’d like to work with in the future?
Oh, I’ve got a whole list of dream collaborations. I don’t want to reveal too much too soon. But yeah, I have a list, there’ll definitely be more collaborations, even some revisits that I’ve done in the past as well.
And who is on that bucket list then?
I think the top one for me would be Frank Ocean. There’s literally a whole list, I would just go down my childhood dream list.
Over lockdown, you wrote, recorded, and engineered your EP ‘All Eyes On U’ by yourself in your bedroom. How did you find that experience? What were the challenges and rewards?
I found it very fun. I’m a control freak, so it was quite nice to know everything that’s going on. Obviously, I had help from friends. I think the challenges were that I was new to it, it was my first time. One thing I was very cautious of getting was demo-itis, when you get used to how [a song] sounds, you can’t then hear a mix because you’re used to the demo. I think I was struggling to separate the two because I was in my head the whole time, more than I’ve ever been before. But then at the same time, the perks were the fact that I can actually do this and I can record on my own time, whenever I want, however I want. Now a lot of my songs I’ve done, I’ve just recorded myself. I don’t know if there’s a downside, but now I’m more comfortable doing that than going to the studio because I know how I like it. And it’s a lot easier when I just do it myself. But then I think I also have to bear in mind, that there are a lot more professionals that have been going been a lot longer, so I have to keep my mind open to that as well. I’m so grateful I learned to do it then, and now I can do it all the time. It’s just about that balance. Sometimes you get better quality instead of just doing it yourself.
It must feel so liberating to be able to, if you wanted, use that skill set in the future.
Yeah, definitely. I think it’s weird because you still get people shocked, like, you do that? Maybe not so many people actually sit down and record themselves. To me now, it’s like, how did I even survive without doing this? Because I get so much more done.
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You also co-direct your own music videos. Why is it so important to have creative autonomy over your work?
I think it’s very important as an independent and young female artist that you get the kind of story that you want across properly. I love to write, that’s my life. It was very important to me that visuals were a part of that process. Because I just didn’t want to regret anything. It’s a lot of hard work, it’s very expensive. I want to make sure that it’s 100% what I want it to be the vision I see in my head. And sometimes it gets to the point that a video might not even come out because it’s not come out the way it was supposed to. I think in the future, I will always want a bit of creative control when it comes to visuals, 100%.
As well as releasing your own music, you have worked as a songwriter for other artists, such as JusFne. How does the process of writing for someone else challenge you but also benefit you as an artist?
I’ve written songs as if they were for myself, and then someone has liked it, and then they’ve taken it. And then there’s the other side of things where you’re in a room writing specifically for someone. I think I definitely prefer the first because it’s easier, just to speak for yourself. But then it’s interesting when you get a brief or when you get a challenge to write for someone. I think it’s easier to know as much information and backstory as possible, like how do you want it to sound? I think that’s when it becomes a bit more of a task, a freedom of skill. Some people are so great at executing a brief, whereas I much prefer writing freely, or having a conversation with someone and then it coming like that. They’re very different. Both of them can create amazing songs.
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Some artists feel pressure to consistently drop music in order remain in playlists. Have you been affected by this? Do you think this poses a problem for artists?
That’s such a hard question. I think this generation is genuinely about stats, more than music, in fact. I don’t know when it will pass, but I’ve had to play the game you if you want to stay relevant. It is about good music, but at the same time I just think stats speak louder these days, unfortunately. I hope it changes because I genuinely think like classic music that we still listen to now, that our parents grew up on was not created by stats, it was created by making room for really good artists and allowing them to put out music that is real. It’d never pop off here or make 100,000 streams a day. And there’s not much you can do about it except for trying to make great music, but at the same times, still try have great stats. So it’s a hard game to play, but hopefully it will come full circle, because otherwise we’re not going to have new music forever instead of old music anymore. Which I think is really sad.
If your music were a flavour, which would it be?
When you said that I immediately came to prawn cocktail! I don’t know why. But going off that, probably because I think it’s a bit of everything. It’s a bit random. And it warms your soul.
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