Fresh from being signed to Mercury Records, John West is setting the electronic world on fire with his warm, familiar acoustic sound. The artist, who is appearing with Tamar this Wednesday at the Living Room, took time to talk to the Loyolan about loving his audiences, his dream collaborations and covering a Rihanna hit.
Kevin O’Keeffe: How did you come to play at LMU’s “Live in the Living Room” venue?
John West: I had a friend who does some college bookings. He lined this up as well, since it was in L.A. But I don’t go too deep with the LMU scene, since I never went there or anything.
KO: Did you know of Tamar, your fellow artist at this concert, previously?
JW: I haven’t specifically met her, but I look forward to meeting her.
KO: On the topic of other artists, I have to ask: Who would be your dream collaborator?
JW: I’ve just gotten a deal with Mercury Records, so I’ve gotten the chance to work with some really great producers. Just yesterday, I got the chance to work with Bruno Mars’ camp, so I really look forward to getting to work with him. There are a lot of great people out right now, like Kanye West or Drake. Alicia Keys, too.
KO: You’re well-known for your interaction with the audience during a live performance. How do you adapt that to this college campus setting?
JW: The way I’ve built my fan base and my live performance technique, I’ve played on the streets as a performer. To some degree, when I play a room of people who aren’t going to walk past you a couple seconds later, it definitely takes the edge off. You’re always playing in front of strangers, but I don’t know. I don’t take it too seriously. It’s about having fun onstage and making sure the people around you are having fun too.
KO: What is the experience you want your fans to take away with them after a concert?
JW: The Dalai Lama has a great quote that’s something like, “I don’t want to be just inspiring; I want to be awe-inspiring.” If I can inspire people in a crowd, that’s the dream experience I would want them to take away from a concert of mine, whether their dream is being a musician or being the first in the family to get a college degree, anything.
KO: You’re also known for your acoustic cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella.” What was your inspiration to take such a well-known song and turn it on its head?
JW: I just liked it a lot; it was such a great song. It’s what I like to call “dark pop”. When you cover a song, you definitely have a style that comes through whatever song you’re paying homage to. Sort of my spin on it, I was playing it how I felt it, which was a little slower and more focus on the lyrics.
KO: Would you say the tone and style of the “Umbrella” cover meshes well with your usual musical style?
JW: Yeah, I think my newer stuff is more up-tempo. Everything has sort of a laid-back feel, but yeah, I think it definitely fits.
KO: What do you think of being a recording artist in today’s constantly changing media world?
JW: It’s been challenging for an artist for the past 30 or 40 years because pop music is constantly evolving. Who’s the biggest artist in the world? Probably Lady Gaga, and similarly, everyone’s into these big dance songs. As an artist, the question is, do you attempt to fit that mold, or do you press on doing your own thing?
KO: But what specifically about today’s media makes it either more or less difficult?
JW: As a recording artist in 2006, you were probably in a rougher spot with the labels, so unaware of where things were going in media. But now, downloads and ringtones are just as important as selling records, and 100,000 records is a major hit now. For me, even without a record label, I’ve been able to be self-sufficient. I just think there’s a lot more power in an independent artist’s hands.