- Words Miriam Balanescu
- Joviale Dhamirah Coombes
Flourishing, genre-crossing alt-pop artist Joviale talks about their musical inspirations, full moons, and more.
It’s early days for North London artist Joviale, and yet they already have us under their spell. The musician’s first EP ‘Crisis’ was heaped with critical praise for their silkily melodic vocals with far-flung sounds – sounds which shouldn’t merge, but Joviale has a knack of deftly bringing together.
The artist wasn’t raised in a musical household, though their brother, rapper Brian Nasty, is partly responsible for their musical beginnings. He passed on a worn-out amp and an old electric guitar, which they have since replaced with a beloved Fender Telecaster engraved with their name – though they have yet to return it to the friend they borrowed it from.
Going from gig to gig, at one point the burgeoning star even performed as the band Joviale and the Poisonettes, enlisting their friends and their brother who were each given “poison names”. In 2018, the all-around creative graduated and started work as a teaching assistant in a special needs school, while also moonlighting as a musician.
After their lauded first EP, Joviale has ushered out ‘Hurricane Belle’, this time with an even tighter grip on decadent sonic textures and startling intergalactic sounds. Where polished classical, gentle funk, and dystopian pop meet – reminiscent of artists as far apart as Lana del Rey and Tame Impala – the EP takes its name from Peter Shenai’s “Hurricane Bells” experiment, in which he cast brass bells modelled on the five stages of Hurricane Katrina. With seamless production from Bullion, ‘Hurricane Belle’ has consolidated the out-of-this-world artist as one to follow – transporting us to a place where genre no longer exists.
Joviale chatted to Notion about developing a unique sound, mythology and hopes to get back in front of a crowd soon.
Could you tell me a bit about your career journey so far?
Bumpy and fast – from deciding that I wanted to learn to play the guitar to now being here – it’s literally been no time, around three years. I don’t have a lot of retrospect as to what my career has been so far. I’m kind of just living in the moment.
How have you developed your sound since your first EP came out?
So, this project more so than the last project was more focused on how sound can impact you emotionally. I was more sensitive to the relation of sound, vibration, and atmosphere and a bit more conscious of trying to create an emotional impact, not only with the songs but also with the sounds and the arrangements.
The instrumentals are quite varied. There are notes of classical and jazz, and slightly spacey sounds as well. Is that part of what you were trying to go for in this EP?
I mean, that would be a perfect way to describe what my and Nathan’s sounds fused together are. All the electronic textures are something that he’s very well-versed in. Whereas I wouldn’t necessarily call my melodies jazz, but there’s definitely always something slightly off-key, or something slightly eerie about the way that I write my songs. It was great to dive into that, even more so than in the first project. Between artist and producer, between me and Nathan, it happened more because our relationship grew closer as people as well. You trust each other a little bit more with how much you’re letting them in. Our perspectives make us who we are. It was more interesting because we were a lot closer when we did this project, which means that we sound a lot more fused together – a lot more of our sounds are coming out through music.
Which artists do you think had the biggest influence on ‘Hurricane Belle’?
It depends because when I was writing them, it was very much on my own. All my influences were stories or narratives. I was trying to create a dream sequence or come at it in a way to stimulate the imagination. Whereas with Nathan, it wasn’t necessarily music that was influencing us, but more different types of music and the textures they used and what they made us feel. So, we looked at a lot of Portishead, for example. It was never a specific person. It was always: These drums that I heard in this song were really good. Then we listened to that song, even if it’s a techno song or some kind of ambient song or some random folk song. It would be: I like the guitar in this song, so we’d listen to that song and the guitar in that song. I always find it hard when people ask me what my influences are. For me, whatever you’re listening to influences you as a person.
How do you find the interesting backstory for your songs, for example, the “Hurricane Bell” experiment that influenced this EP? I’ve also heard that you have influences from Greek mythology as well. How do you find those sources of inspiration?
Well, ‘Hurricane Belle’ came after I’d written all of these songs. I wrote a lot of these songs around the same time. Both EPs were written between one and a half years. When we started recording ‘Hurricane Belle’ in 2019, it came because I wanted to be a bit more intentional in terms of what I was putting out. The songs are not going to be mine when they’re out anymore, so I was thinking: how can I tie them together more than the last EP, because I want them to live at the same time. ‘Hurricane Belle’ came after because I was practicing a whole load of different things, for example, looking at sound baths, and getting into meditation. Also, I was working at a school for special needs. I was using sounds to calm kids down, working out what kind of music would hype them up. I was interested in being able to regulate that – an atmosphere in a room, just for the sake of education. But ‘Hurricane Belle’ also came from that aspect of – especially now with the pandemic – missing live music and missing being taken on a journey in a room full of people, strangers sharing this moment and this special time. I wanted to do that, but just with this EP. I never saw the pandemic coming and so it’s been cool that it’s had its moment. The songs are all living and breathing at the same time rather than being four separate songs. I wanted to uniform them a bit more.
I’m so influenced by mythology. There are certain stories that stick with you. I think for any family coming from black and brown heritage, there’s always a lot of folklore, a lot of fables. That’s how I remember learning a lot of my lessons in life when you’re getting told off and lectured and someone’s telling you a story… or someone’s telling you a smart story, where you’re taught to use your brain differently – and how you can communicate those messages in very beautiful ways. You’ll always remember certain stories, like Jason and the Golden Fleece or Medusa – those are the main popular ones, but there are always African mythologies or Chinese mythologies. And the lesson is telling.
What was your starting point for writing these songs?
“Zero Cool” came about because I watched this film called Hackers. The main character’s name was Zero Cool and I thought that was f*cking dope. Then I became kind of obsessed with that name. Next thing I knew I was writing something, and it had the word Zero Cool in it. The songs start in so many different ways. Sometimes it’ll be having a melody that you realize is not something you’ve heard before, so you’re like: Okay, let me write this down. It’s hard to describe how we create something because sometimes it just happens. It’s like it’s been plucked out of thin air because you can’t do it again.
What was the vibe that you were hoping to create with this EP?
Honestly, I didn’t know what I was hoping to do. I never went into it knowing exactly what the atmosphere was but I think when I finally heard all of the masters together, it seemed like subconsciously I’d been writing about the earth and feeling rejected and feeling helpless, and also trying to feel powerful in your own intimacy and feeling strong in your vulnerability as well.
Maybe a difficult question, but if you had to put a genre on your music, what would you say it was?
I was talking to my friend, and he accurately describes my vibe as chaotic Zen. It’s like Zen but chaotic. He literally got me down to a T. So, I’m going with that now.
Yeah, that’s actually quite an accurate description. What are some of your most memorable experiences of performing live?
Off playing with my best friends – Nilüfer and Fabiana Palladino at the O2 Shepherds Bush. It was my first time playing at one of the O2s and I was supporting my best friend. It was just the best time. That’s one of my favourite memories because we’re all really tight. It was just great to share that and I love that that was one of my last memories of performing before the pandemic.
I had a headline show – my first – in 2019 as well. I supported Celeste, then my headliner sold out two weeks before the concert and I couldn’t believe it. That was the first-ever time performing “Blow!” because I’d just finished writing it and we’d just finished recording it. I was so excited. It was such a triumph. But also that night was so weird because I remember that was the day of the elections. We found out that Boris Johnson was prime minister at the end. So, it was a mixed bag but quite surreal. There was a full moon in Sagitarrius as well. It was so mad. Obviously, the pandemic was brewing and I had no idea, so that period of live shows was very memorable.
Yeah, it sounds like quite an intense experience. I’ve read that you have a lot of different interests, from writing to art to visuals. I was wondering how that’s shaped your music?
I think for a lot of creative people, the need to create is just, that’s what it is. It just so happens that a lot of people’s methods of communicating their creativity are through music or photographs or whatever. So, they all kind of bleed into each other, just like the way your experiences at home are going to impact the way that you make your relationships outside of the home with friends and partners and bosses and coworkers. They will bleed into each other, so I can’t necessarily pick them apart.
So, what made you go down the path of music, as opposed to anything else?
Well, it’s not instead of anything else because I do the other stuff too, but it just so happens that this music thing was also on the list. I had a few guitar lessons when I was 16 and I found them so boring. I never really learned to play. Then a few years ago, I wanted to try it again, because I love guitar music, I love songwriters and songs with guitars. I felt it was something that I wanted to try and then I just started doing it. I don’t know how I’ve ended up here. I feel like I’ve been put into a spaceship and zapped here because I don’t really know how it has escalated to this point. It was literally something on a whim. I was at uni and chatting to my friends after a night out, listening to music, chatting a load of bollocks. I was like: Yeah, I might start playing guitar, I’m going to start writing music. My friends went: yeah, yeah, yeah, cool, cool, cool. We saw each other for the first time, post-pandemic and they said: We can’t believe you made it happen. We need to cry. I don’t even remember how it’s all happened so quickly.
Has the North London music scene been an influence on you at all?
I don’t really think so, because I don’t really listen to other artists with where they are in mind. I don’t really have an answer. I obviously respect my peers, and I love what they do, but I’ve only just started making more friends who are musicians. It’s kind of hard because I don’t come from a musical background. I studied French and Spanish. I feel I’m being introduced to it very slowly. Also because of the pandemic, as it’s started picking up, I think I’m just now learning what the scene is. I couldn’t tell you, as most of my friends are young professionals trained to be therapists. I’ve only recently started making more musician friends.
It’s tough with the pandemic – as you say, not being able to go out and see live music.
Yeah, definitely. It was starting to happen a bit more. You started inviting people to your shows, or people started inviting you to their shows. It’s only just started picking up again, but these are people that you’ve met once or twice so it’s only natural that everyone’s fallen out of touch over the pandemic. The relationships I have had with friends in the music industry have really developed and gotten really tight because we have all shared this really traumatic experience altogether and are all learning to cope. We’ve all had the same struggles with feeling very lost. There have been two sides to that. I don’t know how it’s impacted me musically. I just know that I have been fortunate to be able to relate to people from the music industry and it wasn’t so much like that beforehand.
What’s something that you’d like people to know about you as they discover your music?
I want them to feel the fact that I’ve shared something by writing the songs as they come across them. I want it to feel intimate every time someone listens.
Finally, where do you see your musical career going next?
Hopefully, it keeps going. I’m working on some stuff. I’m writing a lot. I’m excited to be playing some shows. I’m just trying to get by. So hopefully it keeps going.
Everything’s changing all the time. There are a few live shows coming up, but it all depends on these rules and regulations. It’s kind of hard. It’s a tough one to plan and announce something with confidence. This is something that we’re all going through, so this not exclusive to me. I hope that soon you can start playing live in front of people because bookings that are up in the air will hit the ground sometime soon.