The Wilds is the upcoming debut album of Burlington, Vermont singer-songwriter Henry Jamison. Recorded in Goshen, VT, It’s a lyrically and instrumentally-rich album that brings you into Jamison’s world, through his striking imagery, heartfelt vocals, and beautiful arrangements, which mix acoustic instruments like guitar and banjo with synthesizers and drum loops.

We spoke with Henry about making this album, revisiting recordings from his childhood, and his recent touring experience.


Congratulations on releasing your debut album. How long was it in the making?

I guess you could say my whole life? [laughs]. In terms of the actual songwriting, some of the songs are maybe three years old, and some are written right before I recorded them. It was like a patchwork, a little bit.

What was it like recording it in Goshen, Vermont?

It was very beautiful. I think that people have this idea that recording in the country is like a very peaceful thing, in a way. But, I don’t know, making a record requires so much energy and thought and everything that I kind of feel that you could be anywhere (laughs). It looks like my next record, I’ll be recording in the city, so maybe after that, I’ll have a better idea of what environment does to recording.

Goshen is a small town. Does it feel small when you’re there?

Oh, man, it doesn’t even feel like a town at all. It’s a cabin. Kind of like a house cabin, log cabin, tucked inside of a mountain. Goshen, the town itself, is basically like a church and a town hall and you can walk through it in about a minute. The population of Goshen is like 200-some people.

Listening to your album, I was really struck by how vivid the imagery of the locations are, because you’re taking us to places like Chinatown, grocery stores, sports bars, San Diego, the moon, heaven and hell. Is there a significance of this?

In ‘The Jacket,’ I’m in Chinatown, and the point of that song is that my environment is not sort of helping me feel all the depths of my feeling or be able to express it. A lot of the settings are kind of just because things happened to me in those settings and so, it seemed relevant…[The locations] are almost treated a little bit more like these psychological realities. In terms of [‘Through a Glass’] heaven and hell, really just the way they’re used in a secular way like, “I feel horrible. Maybe there’s this sort of future heaven where all will be revealed and peaceful.” I like just juxtaposing San Diego and the moon, like this very particular place and then this sort of overly poetic ridiculous thing, like taking a plane to the moon. That’s like one of the more absurd lyrics.

So, in addition to the heaven/hell, there’s a few other religious allusions I’ve noticed in the album. Was that something that was important to you or is important is to you?

I feel that people use religious metaphor all the time, even when they don’t quite know that they are. I’m interested in the metaphors, and I’m interested in how dogmatic I’m going to be with myself. I mean, I have like, the cutting off of my own hands, that kind of thing. I don’t think that it’s like a good impulse to be overly pious or to beat yourself up for having what like to, Catholicism or something like that would be a sinful thought. But it just does seem like an interesting dynamic, like the ways in which we sort of self-police.

Are these songs primarily based in truth?

Yeah, pretty much. Once in awhile, I’ll shift things around just to make it scan more poetically. For instance, in that song ‘Through a Glass’, in the end, it’s like, “She was talking to a 6’5’’ ex-Marine, I lost her at the five and dime.” The reality of it is, that actually was happening was happening on Facebook, but I had to kind of ‘New England-ify’ it. I mean, I would like to eventually be able to integrate things like Facebook, because I would like to actually talk about the world as it is.

This album also feels very tightly sequenced to me. Were there any difficult decisions when it came to ordering the tracks?

Over the course of my life, I’ve made so many lists of songs, thinking about tracklisting, just like it’s my job. I mean I have notebooks, back from when I was like 14 or something, where I’m just like reordering the songs. If you think “I’m writing a record,” then it can sort of shift how you write, if you think, “Okay, well, what this record needs is, like, a ballad and a sort of stripped-down thing, or like a super-jam.” But with this record, five of the songs were already out as an EP. So, there was a little bit of a, like, scattering those songs through. There’s the introduction track, it kind of gives it more of an album quality, as opposed to just seeming like a collection of songs. Then, it goes into the title track, that’s a little bit of like a declaration of whatever sort of loose concept there is to the record. There was thought put into it, but my next record, for instance, I’m going to be doing a lot more of that, like thinking about tracklisting and thinking about how [one song] goes into another.

Your father is a classical composer and your mother is an English professor. How much do you feel their influence on your music?

They’ve had an influence, but almost like such a primary influence, that it’s hard to say. I’d say it’s as if you’re standing in the woods, and you need to, like, describe the dimensions of the woods, but you’re just, like, in there.

You were doing your own recordings at a very young age, right?

Yeah, I guess when I was really young, I was making these tapes, just improvised cassette tapes. And then, I got really into baseball and stopped doing it for a while. But then, I started playing guitar when I was 14 or so. When baseball stopped being my main interest, then I got back to it. I have some little dry spells, but I’ve pretty much been writing songs since then.

Have you heard any of those tapes recently? Are they still around?

When I was first going out with my girlfriend, I tried to play some of my main tape, ‘Henry’s Tape’, and it was not as good as I remembered it. [laughs] Basically, to find the good parts, I would need to sit listening to it for like two hours and then maybe write down the timestamps of the interesting moments, because a lot of it is just, like, banging on pots and pans.

At different points listening to this album, I was reminded of Sufjan Stevens, Leonard Cohen, and Joni Mitchell. Then, I read you were inspired by Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell. How do you honour your influences while forging your own path?

I’d say that if there are similarities between my music and that music, it’s like I grew up listening to Joni Mitchell, less so Leonard Cohen, until I was nineteen. Leonard Cohen came along right at the right time for me. But I wouldn’t say that I sit down and actually explicitly try to channel them. I think it’s more just sort of built into my way of seeing the world and way of playing guitar, probably. And then, I guess there is a fairly concerted effort to sort of push the music out of just pure singer-songwriter-land by using a lot of synthesizers and beats and stuff. For better or worse, there’s a contemporary kind of sheen to it. I think that sets it apart from Leonard Cohen. I would hope to actually get back to arranging things a little bit more like he did. I mean, stripping things down again.

The synths and the drum loops you have, they seem pretty seamlessly mixed in with the guitar and banjo. Was it difficult to juxtapose those?

I think that by the time I actually got around to actually making this record, I had tried knitting those things together in a number of different ways, so that I think I kind of just intuitively knew how to do it, pretty much, and there’s plenty of precedent for it. It was tempting, I guess, in the beginning, when I was thinking of like, “Oh, well, what’s the story of this record?” just kind of to make a special point of saying, “It’s acoustic instruments mixed with beats and stuff.” But actually, people have been doing that for at least over a decade. I don’t feel like it’s too special, but it’s a big part of the sound. It’s just those things coexisting. I guess I haven’t thought too much about that. It was more just of necessity, for one thing, and then just sounds I liked. So, it wasn’t too thought out.

Were there any instruments you wanted to include, but had to nix, or that you would like to include in the future?

I was doing the string arrangements. I mean, I play viola, but not very well. I haven’t actually played in an orchestra since I was 16 or so. I think, humbly, one of the one main things that I would hope to do is have my friend or hire somebody to actually arrange strings, so it’s like a string quartet. Actually, I’m hoping to put out an EP of three or four of these songs with string quartet instruments hopefully this winter, sometime. So, probably just a little bit more, in terms of arrangement, having more dry moments, less of the drones going through everything and more of like, “here’s like, a part entering.” That’s probably my main M.O.

You’ve also mentioned being a fan of hip-hop. Does it influence you on both a lyrical and a production level?

At least when I’m writing, it’s certainly not freestyling, but you do need to sort of open up to whatever source of inspiration is just kind of floating around you, which I think songwriters have been doing forever. There is a little bit of this, like, quickness that once in awhile will come in. I call it ‘talk-sing.’ It’s certainly not rapping, but it’s like suddenly going into a kind of conversational mode in the middle of a phrase that would otherwise be really straight. Probably the biggest influence from hip-hop is just having the beats and the synth bass. It’s more production.

You recently completed a tour of the UK and Europe. Which songs went over the best?

My song ‘Real Peach’ has so many streams on Spotify, that some people think I’m covering it. So, that is a pretty bizarre thing, because I guess that like a lot of people know that song without knowing that it’s me. I don’t think that it’s a problem exactly, but like people will have just heard that song on a playlist, and then suddenly, I’m playing it, and they think that I’m covering it, which is weird [laughs]. For the most part, my solo set is a very intimate affair. So, I kind of get the best shows, and pretty much all those shows went really well. In the US, I had a band. So, that was a different, more like, party vibe. This was just, like, people really quietly listening and then clapping in a friendly way.

What’s the best thing someone has said or could say in regards to your music?

I think it’s really just like the very heartfelt expressions of “This song helped me when I was sad,” basically. Because, it’s nice to hear from other musicians who have a particular way of expressing what they like about it or rhythmic qualities of my songs, or like people who really listen to the lyrics and understood them more than I might have expected. That’s all very nice, but if it’s actually hitting people on an emotional level, that’s therapeutic, that’s probably the best thing that I could hear.

What in particular would you say makes you stand out as a songwriter?

Just in so far as I’m able to do this, if I am expressing my individuality. No one is like me as a person, just like no one is like anyone else. So, I think everyone can find some pure expression of themselves and so, when I’m at my best, I’m not going to be like anybody else. But often, I’m not getting there. If incapable of that, then I will inevitably be heard as being myself [laughs] I don’t know; it’s hard to express.

What are your plans or hopes for 2018?

I’m making another record. I’ll make it super dope and tour more and write. I’m writing a lot. I’m trying these new tunings which are getting me out of my comfort zone on the guitar, practice piano, pretty modest goals. I don’t exactly have like a world-beating ambition. I’m really happy with how things are going, and I’m just going to keep doing it and hope to put food on the table.


Henry Jamison will be touring the US in December, during the following dates:

12.7.17 - Newburyport, MA - Firehouse Center For The Arts
12.14.17 - Bethlehem, PA - Musikfest Café
12.15.17 - York, PA - The Capitol Theatre
12.16.17. - Ithaca, NY - The Haunt
12.17.17 - South Orange, NJ - South Orange Performing Arts Center