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Getting The Spin on Jason Downs


Feature: Jack Foley

"I’VE lived like a bum when I’ve had to, I’ve dined with the richest of men. I’ve had little taste of the action, I won’t go backwards again…"

So confesses Jason Downs, the 29-year-old singer, songwriter, storyteller and actor, who realised, on one rainy April day in 2003, that everything had to change.

Having scored a massive hit with his single, White Boy With A Feather (and its album of the same name), things had gone quiet…. too quiet.

"I had to clean-house my life," he says one year later. "In my personal life I had been non-committal, my professional life was infuriating and unnerving. For years I’d avoided any sort of grown up decision. That was the day I started everything again."

The results are there for everyone to judge on Jason’s second album, The Spin, which is released on July 12.

Fans of its predecessor, 2001’s enchanting White Boy With A Feather, should fall, once again, for Jason’s unique modern-day storytelling flair.

Still in place is an outlook both universal and achingly personal, tragic while being heart-warmingly funny, but while Jason remains unchallenged in his subtle blend of hip-hop and country, there’s a new spin to Spin.

New and old fans alike will relish the delicious forays into electronica and a blossoming narrative style. Songs of innocence are now songs of experience. At the age of 30, Jason Downs is right where he wants to be, and you’ll want to be there too.

Jason was born in Maryland, USA. He’s part-Cherokee - Jason’s great-great-grandmothers were among those who were driven from their lands in the 19th century and went on to settle down with white farmers.

He admits that he blundered through his teenage years, with ‘a combination of innocence and ignorance; full of myself but also full of life. I was both naïve and arrogant’.

During his Bible belt upbringing (‘naïve and arrogant in itself’, he laughs) he fell for the performing arts.

It turned into a love affair and a fantasy.

"The only thing was, my parents were so supportive that I didn’t have a reason to wake up from the fantasy."

Not until a slightly older Jason moved to New York, that is. "I went out into the world and got my ass kicked in a major way," he admits.

After the precise variety of chance encounter people move to New York to engineer (working as a janitor in an apartment block, Jason got talking to a florist, who’d been booked for a party, which was being thrown by Lauryn Hill’s manager), Jason was put in touch with seminal hip-hop stalwart, Milk D, whose Audio 2 hit, Top Billin, had soundtracked much of Jason’s adolescence – his old high school team used it during warm-ups.

Gradually, things began to take shape; management fell into place and, finally, in 2000, he signed to Jive.

Then things began to move quickly. By 2001 Jason was in the UK promoting his debut single - White Boy With A Feather, an autobiographical look at Jason’s first days in New York - and The Face quickly dubbed Jason ‘your actual 21st Century popstar’.

The single shot into the UK Top 20, followed by widespread critical acclaim for the album, also called White Boy With A Feather.

Jason released a second single – a dramatic reinterpretation of Harry Chapin’s classic, Cat’s In The Cradle - but then things went quiet.

It had all been a steep learning curve for Jason and, at the top of that curve, things felt rather different.

"By the end of that campaign," Jason recalls, "I’d learned that I didn’t know jack shit and that my ignorance and enthusiasm could do a lot of damage."

As work began on the follow-up, he began to realise the reality of the pressures that come with delivering a second album.

In keeping with the current fickle musical trends, the album should apparently be, so Jason was told, ‘more poppy and more commercial, about partying, fucking the chucks and yanking the ho's’.

With every week that ticked by, Jason began to feel that the album was slipping away from him.

This 21st Century pop-star, whose music teemed with a unique identity and voice, was being erased from his own record. As a result, two years passed.

"We'd managed eight songs," Jason admits. "Just eight songs. It was slow."

Understandably, the label intervened. Soon after that April day, which changed his life, Jason was working with a new lease of life, and within just three months, another eight songs had been recorded.

The finished product is The Spin – so called, Jason says, because ‘you can spin things any which way you like - negatively or positively. That’s the pretentious side of the title’.

And the non-pretentious side?

"It’s fun. It’s a party album… More or less. It’ll be a fun spin to play at parties. Or on road trips."

And while The Spin was taking shape, a restless Jason found other things to occupy his mind, including indulging his other passion: acting.

In 2003, he drew on his time at New York’s legendary NYU Tisch School of the Arts, co-producing – and taking the male lead in – a low-budget indie flick, called Come Lovely.

The film, which was shot in less than one month, was a partial response to 9/11 and the helplessness of losing someone you love, and was a finalist in the USA Film Festival.

Other things have happened to Jason, too. He got himself ordained on the internet, so that he could marry his brother and his wife. He’s been working with youth theatre groups. He moved out of the city, and bought a house in the mountains.

He’s discovered sneakers. Things are good. When you hear The Spin, you’ll know how good.

"I’ve been swimming through bullshit and my own ignorance to get here, but I’m here," Jason smiles. "I’m a very headstrong person. I took a lot of wrong turns to get to the right place, but I’m here now."

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