Monochrome: Jazzmosis Takes Center Stage
Timothy Barton doesn't look much like a star. But the chubby, soft-spoken Chia is more than meets the eye; in the past year his throwback group Jazzmosis has rocketed to worldwide success, propelled in large part by Barton's butter-smooth vocals and snappy lyrics. Other folksy bands - like country quartet 2 Gallon Hatz and exotic beatmaker Hikalakas - are following Jazzmosis' path up the charts. I sat down with Barton for an exclusive interview on his unlikely triumph and the state of Neopian music today.
Do you usually talk to the press inside greasy diners?
[laughs] No, just recently. Actually, I started coming here last month, and the food is way better than you'd expect. It's pretty empty here most days, too, so I can enjoy a good meal in peace.
You've talked often about your difficult childhood on the outskirts of the Haunted Woods. What was that like?
Pretty rough. I'd say it's a lot worse living on the border than fully inside the forest, because from where I was I could see the light on the outside and the kids playing under broad daylight. And it was horrible, just watching them and dreaming about getting out. Of course we didn't have a lot of money, so I had to do odd jobs on the side, you know, dusting up the tombstones and that sort of thing. But it did pay off in the end.
How did you make your escape?
It took a lot of hard work. Thankfully my folks were very supportive in letting me chase my dream. I was juggling maybe three, four jobs for six years before I had enough to buy a little apartment in Neopia Central. From there it got a lot easier.
Your cellist [Joanna Newell, a Kyrii] says meeting you inspired her to make music. Care to elaborate?
Well, I first encountered Jo a few weeks after moving in. She actually lived two doors down from me, and we bumped into each other on the way to the supermarket. Jo always says she heard me singing and it lifted her spirits, but I don't remember that. I do remember seeing her in the Neopian Philharmonic some months later and thinking, Wow, she's really something. That got me thinking about singing professionally. I guess we inspired each other.
When you founded Jazzmosis, it was just you, Jo, and drummer Chuck Yamamoto-Gould. Do you think your early work is as good as your stuff now?
Oh no, not in the least. Jo and Chuck were outstanding, of course, but I just wasn't pulling my weight. My vocals were horrifically bad. I'm embarrassed to even think about it. [pauses] Not a lot of folks know this, but Jazzmosis wasn't even a jazz band at first. We had more of a pop sound, really, with a fast beat and lyrics that were more 'hummable', as they say. The 'Jazz' in the name was supposed to be sarcastic, but no one got it. Later we hired [saxophonist] Mathew Brownett and [keyboarder] Jaycen Lyons and changed pretty much everything except the name.
Your first wide-release album, Sixteenth Notes, was poorly received and moved less than one thousand units. How did you and your bandmates react?
Yeah, we were slammed. Jo didn't talk to anyone for a month. Chuck told everyone he was quitting, but then he changed his mind. Which I was really grateful for, because he's a phenom. Matt and Jayce kept blaming either themselves or each other, probably because they'd just joined. Obviously, I was pretty beat up too, but weirdly it didn't hurt me as much. I had this gut feeling that we'd make it back, and I was right.
The next year saw Jazzmosis in its sophomore album, Acoustica. This time you hit it big, making it to #5 on the Top 100 with your smash single "Don't Knock Mics." How did it feel to finally get the gold?
It was amazing. Absolutely amazing. Folks were willing to forgive our missteps and actually listen to our music. I really can't recall anything from that whole time period just because of how excited I was. My head was spinning for days.
Jazzmosis was nominated for six Jub Awards that year and won four of them, including Best Artist and Song of the Year for "Don't Knock Mics". Who keeps the statuettes now?
I have those two, but Jo's got the rest. She puts them on this really high shelf where the light hits them at just the right angle. They literally glow. It's pretty neat.
What do you think your success means for the music industry now?
Nowadays there's a lot more retro stuff going around. A decade ago I would have called you crazy if you told me a monochrome jazz band was going to make it to the top. Now we've got 2 Gallon Hatz, the Mellow Marauders, Hikalakas. Chomby and the Fungus Balls are even doing a reunion tour this month, if you can believe that. [laughs] No, but really, I was talking to [CatFB lead vocalist] Brontopike the other day, and he's just as shocked as I am. I mean, ol' Bronto's seen a lot more years than I have when it comes to fads, and he says disco hasn't been this big in ages.
You're famously disdainful of metal, punk rock, and other 'modern' genres. Why's that?
I just don't think Twisted Roses or Gruundo or Moehawk really care about music. I've watched them play and all I can hear is earsplitting synth and yelling. It's not my business to tell others what to listen to, but that stuff just isn't worth the time.
Last month your longtime manager called it quits after a fight with you. What happened there?
We were arguing over my decision to hire a backup singer [Ellis Jans, an Elephante]. I was hoping I could patch up the issue, but in the end Ellis is worth more to me than a manager. There's really not much I can say about that.
Anything you can tell me about your next album?
Well, this is Jazzmosis' fifth album, and five just so happens to be Chuck's lucky number, so we're experimenting with some different beats for him. So far, the sessions have been going great, although my vocal cords need a break every now and then. Good thing I have this greasy diner to come back to.