25-year-old Christian Berishaj is not a “new” artist by any stretch of the imagination. You may know him by his previous monikers – Snowhite of Atlantic Records pop band Love Arcade or Universal Motown “When She Turns 18” artist Christian TV. But what you may have seen and heard from Berishaj in his teenage years is absolutely nothing like the artist that stands before you today. Fed up with being in the music industry, Berishaj retreated and peeled his major-label manufactured layers from his flesh until there was nothing left but JMSN. No longer would he be subjected to being shaped and molded to fit in, JMSN would go his own route and dig into the darkest and most honest parts of his soul to pull out an artistry that may have not been accepted by the mainstream. Gone was the tame pop-rock image and in came an artist’s artist. One who stirs with emotion and wallows in damp basslines and haunting vocals. Celebrity be damned, JMSN wants you to feel his emotion through his music. The January release of †Priscilla† (available now on iTunes) revealed JMSN’s soul and has led to a cult following that is touched by his artistry. But his musical footprint left fans inquisitive as to who Priscilla was and what has led to such a mysterious artist creating beautiful music. Life+Times sat down with JMSN for an exclusive interview that sheds some light on his life changing transformation and why he decided to set out on his own.
Life+Times: You’ve been signed before. What was that experience like for you and why have you decided to go the indie route?
JMSN: I wanted to take all of the information that we know about the music business and give people something that’s real without anything holding me back. The best way to do that is to take out the business and not worry about hit singles. Then it comes down to the bare essentials of music.
L+T: There was a shift artistically for you to a much darker sound. What prompted the change?
JMSN: I stopped listening to everybody else and just started listening to myself. What labels do is try to make you think that you have to chase radio. But don’t worry about radio; make it come to you. Radio is the last thing I want to worry about. I know what I want and I had to believe that I’m good enough to do what’s in my heart. When I was at a major label I would come to them with ideas and they were always on the darker side. They told me they couldn’t put it anywhere. I’ve always been into the dark visuals that contradict the music. With a video you can take a song to a whole different dimension. Why would you want to confine a video to what the lyrics say? Let’s be creative and make it and a metaphor. That’s what is great about music; it can mean so many things to so many people. Darkness is a part of life that people don’t want to talk about as much. But that’s what I want to talk about the most.
L+T: Some of the best albums are written out of pain and broken relationships. Did †Priscilla† have to do with a real life situation or person?
JMSN: Yes. She was the key to Pandora’s Box and opened up all of the shit going on in my life. It’s essentially about a girl but it’s about so much more than that. It’s about my life, what’s wrong with it and me trying to figure it all out. My life in the past six months was that record.
L+T: Many artists fabricate reality but you seem to embrace the dark side with your music. Was there any concern that people would not connect to your artistry?
JMSN: There’s always some concern, but one of my favorite artists, Eminem, put his heart out there and held nothing back. Artist that bare their souls always stuck out to me. As long as you don’t bullshit, they will get that. Even if it’s something they don’t like musically, they’re going to respect it as long as you’re putting your heart out there.
L+T: There’s a certain aesthetic in your music that has been compared to the likes of The Weeknd and Bon Iver. Comparisons usually suck but that’s not too bad company that you’re in.
JMSN: It’s only natural when something comes out that you don’t understand, you have to compare it to something that you like. When Coldplay came out, I thought it was a knockoff of Radiohead. When you think about that today they are two completely different bands. It’s just how the mind works.
L+T: You took your time with this project, released a few videos over the course of a few months and then released the album retail instead of for free; which is a complete departure from what other artists are doing today. Why?
JMSN: It was just us believing in what we had. There are no throwaway songs on this album. It’s exactly what was going on in my life and what still is going on in my life. I believe it’s going to be a long-standing record. I’m going to make a video for every song. I didn’t want to devalue this project or make it a mixtape. I’m not interested in being an overnight celebrity. I want to have real fans, not some motherfuckers that like it because everybody else likes it. I want to create something real because nowadays it’s so easy to steal. I want people to feel like they own it.
L+T: The “Something” video is incredibly dark and stuffed with symbolism and visual metaphors. Where did the inspiration come for this video?
JMSN: The idea started with the octopus. I saw a picture of a girl with an octopus on her hand it was such a strong image. When I started shooting the “Something” video I figured that this would be the perfect song for that visual. Some people can’t handle that intensity. I wanted it to be as intense as possible because I want to evoke emotion out of people.
L+T: You have a deal with MTV where they will be placing your music in their programming. What does that mean to you considering that there is no major label backing you up?
JMSN: It reassures that it’s possible to do what we’re trying to do. If I’m putting out something good it doesn’t matter if we have a label. The label is what you put on something like “This Belongs to Epic Records.” Our label is White Room records. Eventually we want to create something like Shady records where if you’re under Shady records it’s got that authenticity attached to it. People want real music and real artists. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t have real artists like Portishead and Radiohead to listen to when I was going growing up. It feels good to know that we can do this without a label.
L+T: Considering that you’ve done everything internally are you interested in collaborating with other artists?
JMSN: It all depends on the situation. I don’t think I’m at the point where I’d let somebody produce for me. I wouldn’t do it because it wouldn’t be a JMSN song; it’s now somebody else’s. Maybe a coproduction if it feels right. I’m not going to say never because maybe I just haven’t met the right person to want to do that with. As far as producing for other artists, I’m open to that. I remember when Kanye West said he kept the best beats for himself and I feel like that too. I would give somebody a beat, but at this point but I’m keeping all of the good ones for JMSN.
L+T: What does the rest of 2012 have in store for you? Will we see a new album this year?
JMSN: I’m trying to ride †Priscilla† out. I need time to make the next one great but I’ve definitely started on it already. I can’t plan that far ahead because I may make something where I feel like we need to put this out immediately. I can’t put a time on it I don’t want to limit myself.