THE BULLITTS: Mining Creativity
In a musical era where the idea of celebrity trumps creative ingenuity and the conveyor belt system acts as a means to a prosperous end, there comes a one-man band who is not afraid to risk it all by pushing his imagination to the max. Enter the talented mind of The Bullitts. (PART I)
Words & Interview: Amy Andrieux
When one meets Jeymes Samuel, a man who’s name has been tossed around the likes of Jay-Z, Charlotte Gainsbourg, The Gorillaz and quite a few others, you expect to see a flashy man who’s a bit pretentious, but who definitely has a bigger ego than Kanye West. When one expects to meet The Bullitts, a UK based band that has quietly hypnotized us over the past half year with their über imaginative aesthetic — from their multidimensional musical approach and it’s accompanying flixtapes (Yes, video mixtapes); to how they used Twitter to funnel The Diary of Amelia Sparks, their journal-based crime saga narrated by actress and artist Lucy Liu—you just kind of assume that Jeymes is the most vocal member of the band and that the others will be arriving shortly.
What you discover instead might very well be the reason The Bullitts are making a splash. Jeymes Samuel is a producer, filmmaker and now, artist, who finds inspiration on the daily—everywhere. Jeymes Samuel is not pompous, nor arrogant. He is super animated though and genuinely excited by his ability to execute the random thoughts that pop into his head into a creative enterprise. Oh, and there are no other members of The Bullitts; Jeymes Samuel is The Bullitts. And whether he likes the title or not, Jeymes is a creative genius.
Tell me about The Bullitts and how this idea came about?
The Bullitts itself isn’t necessarily an idea. The Bullitts is the moniker that I make music under. So even though it’s got an ‘s’ on the end of it, I supposed I’m just that gangster. I have to think in plurals. [Laughs] I mean, the album They Die By Dawn and Other Short Stories is my debut album, but I suppose it was just a collection of songs that were in my head. For me, I always think of music visually, right, as opposed to one song…
Not like seeing notes though, but seeing actual pictures?
Yeah, yeah, seeing pictures and images, and also like, Amy, we’re living in really interesting times. There has never been a time existing where we’ve got so many like— and I don’t mean this in a grim way, but there’s so many wars going on at once. We’ve got a Black president, right…
That means the “movie” is about to end…
[Laughs] Straight up, like Morgan Freeman. I’m waiting for the asteroid to hit! [Laughs] …We’ve got a Black president. We’ve got Saddam Hussein who was hanged on YouTube. Then we’ve got all this information on every single musician, writer and scholar that has come before us because we’ve got the Internet. We’ve never been in such an informative time. Yet music has never been so drab. Like we’ve never been in a time where artists have such little imagination.
It’s a deep thing if we listen to music across the board. To a point where I’ll read about The Bullitts album or read particular interviews, and the person will come away saying, “It’s great! I think Jeymes Samuel arrives with his concept album.” The Bullitts album ain’t a concept album, it’s an album. It just seems a concept because of the boring age that we’re living in, every song is about love. One song will be “Blame it on the Alcohol,” which I like. The next one will be, “You loved me but you betrayed me…” The next song will be, “I met this girl I fell in love with her…”
It’s strategic. Something for the radio, something for the clubs…
To me, that’s a concept album because it’s a bunch of feelings that the writer wouldn’t even relate to. Whereas, for me, when I write I like to write about what we’re experiencing or what’s going on around us. I always think visually, even if it’s a small song that isn’t even meant to see the light of day, like “Weirdo.” But my brain would see two people with brown paper bags on their heads walking down the street. [Laughs]
Apparently. [Laughs] But how did that pop into your head?
I don’t know, Amy! [Laughs] But my friend, right, Nahim, he said to me one time, “Jeymes, do you think Allah would give us an idea that we can’t execute?” Or my tour manager, “If you don’t execute things that come into your head…” It’s just left as potential energy. So along with that ethos, every time I have an idea, ever since I was a kid, I have to execute it.
One day I woke up and said, “I need to get a hold of Lucy Liu. I need her to narrate this album. She plays a woman called Amelia Sparks on death row. And her songs weave in and out of her narrative.” But I had already started recording and producing the album. I guess that’s just how my brain works. There are no creative boundaries.
But some of it is deliberate though, right? There’s a sense of nostalgia where you’re taking clips from old television shows and films to tell a story.
Yeah, in that, Amy, that’s just what runs in my head. Me and you will sit down right, and we’ll be speaking about all the great stuff that used to come on [television]. Today, music isn’t made by musicians. You have glorified programmers that are worldwide famous as producers, right. Whereas before, even with the birth and advent of new technology, music was still made by musicians. So you had commercials in the ’80s or television programs that had better songs than what’s on the charts today.
Look at the instrumental off of Taxi. [Jeymes whistles "Angela" Taxi's theme song] That’s Bob James that done that tish. That’s some straight legendary tish. Magnificent Seven, which is my next flix tape [Jeymes hums The Magnificent Seven theme song]—you can’t get those feelings from listening to…
You see what I’m saying? So for me, I have to visit all the areas of my brain. So someone was telling me to do a mixtape one time, and I was like, “I don’t wanna do no mixtape, but you know what I’ll do, I’ll do a flixtape.” I’ll take like my old, favorite films and programs that my like older brothers and my mum would show me, and just stuff that I really like that I collect on DVD, I’ll re-edit the clips and I’ll re-imagine the soundtracks. I’ll put Passion Pit on an English program called Tales of the Unexpected. Or Roisin Murphy on The Persuaders theme. Or I’m going to put like Jay Electronica on The Magnificient Seven them. Or me, I done the Taxi one. Or Wretch 32, who’s like a big UK rapper—sometimes you’ve got to work with the home team—I put him on Magnum Force—Clint Eastwood. I’ll re-edit the clips and it’s sometimes like, me and you will be in the movies watching a film and be like, “That’s a dope theme, man. Only if Ghostface Killah would write that…” To me, that’s the basis of the flixtape. So how I approach music will always be from a cinematic standpoint. Even if I tried to stay away from it, it would come back to cinema some way, somehow.
They Die By Dawn [The Bullitts album] is from my favorite film noir starring Farley Granger called They Live By Night. I thought, “They Live by Night, they die by dawn.” Probably the next album I do will be the continuation, They Live By Night, so that’s where it came from.
If there was a real “they”, who would they be?
Competition. Bhhhrrrrraaaaaaaaaattttttt. [Laughs] Like me and Jay Electronica were in the studio one day and Jay Electronica’s brain is exactly like mine. It’s like we use two different tools to get there and we come together. Like Jay Electronica, at root, is like an MC, right, but dude is a producer. He’s got a wicked singing voice, if you remember “Abracadabra.” Like dope. So we’re in the studio and we were just vibing and we came up with this idea, Audrey Hepburn Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but what would happen in the evening? Dinner at Tiffany’s. So we’ve done this song—”The Shiny Suit Theory” is seven minutes, Amy. But the first three and a half minutes is Dinner at Tiffany’s, [then] The Shiny Suit Theory. The first three and a half minutes is Charlotte Gainsbourg, it’s deep.
We flew to France to get Charlotte. At first she was like, “Why this guy Jay Electronica wanna work with me?” But me and Jay are constantly searching for that wow moment. And we told her verbatim on the phone, “Look, with all the various cover versions of “Moon River” [from Breakfast at Tiffany's] there has been, from Lou Rawls—anyone— name me one version, Charlotte, that’s stronger than Audrey Hepburn’s. She was like, “When can you come?” So we flew to France and recorded with a 20-piece orchestra, the most beautiful three and a half minutes that goes into “Shiny Suit Theory” with Jay Electronica and Jay-Z. Seven minutes of mayhem and we did that together.
So for me, as a producer and musician, I always find it weird that there are like six and a half billion people on the planet, but there’s like six or seven genres in music. So what’s that, one genre per billion? If that be the case, I make Action-Adventure, that’s the genre of music I make. I’ll take you from one place to another place in a seven minute period. And interestingly enough, Jay Electronica is a Hip-Hop artist, but for me, he’s an Action-Adventure artist. His debut album, Act II: Patents of Nobility, he’s got some moments on that tish. There’s Action-Adventure, dream love. So he’s the same type of musician and that’s probably why we work so well together.
So which do you prefer being: producer, musician or artist?
For me, Amy, in secret, right, I’m none of the above. I’m just Jeymes.
So you’re just a big kid playing it out?
I’m just Jeymes. I do everything that’s in my brain. But to quote the prophet Jay Electronica, peace be upon him, “I will punch you in the face with the rhymes if you try me.” Like, I will bury you where you stand. Or in the words of Ninjaman, “Any soundbwoy test dead.”
TO BE CONTINUED….
Stay posted for part two of this interview with The Bullitts. The debut album, They Die by Dawn and Other Short Stories, will be out this Fall.