English singer and multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier can barely believe what’s going on in his life right now. In 2011, he was seventeen and making split-screen YouTube videos of himself playing a variety of different instruments while covering songs like Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing.” But the Internet’s an amazing thing, and you never know who you’re reaching. In Collier’s case, one of those people was Quincy Frickin’ Jones.
Fast-forward five years, and Collier, now 22, has signed to Jones’s management company, and things are moving along quite nicely. He’s preparing for both the release of his debut In My Room album and the first dates of his inaugural U.S. tour this month. It’s a month of firsts, and Collier is hugely excited.
“I’ve been back and forth to the States a fair bit over the last year or so, but I’ve never done this, fitting the whole puzzle together,” he says. “It’s dead exciting, because there are so many different kinds of people who I’m going to be exposing myself to. The other thing is, the show that I’ve been touring with over the past three years is changing all the time. The main difference is the presence of album songs. It’s like a brand-new slate, and I’m taking these songs on the road that I haven’t played before.”
It’s also going to be exciting for his Denver audience when he plays in Colorado for the first time. In fact, he’s kicking off the tour here before heading to California. That’s convenient for Collier, as he has friends who live here and has been looking for an excuse to visit.
“I’ve heard about the mountains, the warmth of the people and the wide roads,” he says. “It’s such a fantastic way to kick off the U.S. tour. It’s super-nice to go and explore the city. I’m going to come in the night before, stay with friends, and head up to the mountains a little bit just to have a look around and drink in that clean air.”
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It’s a big adventure for the guy who, three days earlier, will have been performing in Switzerland. Collier considers himself a musical inventor, a tinkerer, someone who sits in what he calls his “inventing room” at home and finds new ways to create new noises, blending sounds and genres into his own jazzy, electronic, indie thing.
“I enjoy exploring music so much,” Collier says. “Growing up, I had a room in my house full of musical instruments. I always created things, layered things on top of each other. That hasn’t changed at all. With this first album, it was basically a celebration of that process of inventing and building sounds. The difference is that these are original songs, whereas what got the whole thing started was playing songs that other people had written and making them my own.”
His sound is all over the place, and trying to ram him into a genre box is futile, but that's what makes him so attractive as an artist. When he says that he listens to anything and everything, this cat really means it.
“As a member of a generation who have been subjected to much over-stimulation, it’s hard to say I fit into any one category,” Collier says. “In some ways, jazz is the broadest umbrella of them all, because it involves different parts of different genres. It’s really hard to say that there’s no folk, no classical or no electronic music. It’s all about balancing out those different sounds. I’m one of those people that’s listened to so much music, I feel like I’ve soaked it all and not rejected anything, so it’s all present there when I’m in my inventing room.”
Certainly, all of Collier’s influences are present on his debut album, because he’s the only musician on it. He played everything, he produced it, sang on it; it really is his baby.
“There’s nothing done by anybody else on there,” he says. “I wrote the songs and did the arrangements. That’s as true an introduction to Jacob as there could possibly be. It’s really exciting, and it’s nice to take this one-man show on the road, which is a representation of that.”
The show is going to be fascinating, and quite unusual. Collier will place himself in the middle of a circle of instruments on the stage, and will be playing many of them at the same time, thanks to technology that he helped develop.
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“I’m playing them all at once using some technology that I’ve been developing with a friend called Ben Bloomberg, who’s a grad student at MIT in Boston, so he’s obviously a crazy motherfucker,” he says. “We’ve been putting our heads together for a number of months, thinking how on earth are we going to take this room on tour without any other musicians. We’ve done this crazy thing using a bunch of different looping machines, and some brand-new instruments that we’ve built from scratch using MIT’s resources to enable this thing to be possible.”
That’s Jacob Collier: part musician, part mad scientist. It’ll be a treat to see his experiments come together in Denver. He’s in demand, too: After he’s done touring later in the year, he’s going to be working alongside respected artists like Flying Lotus and Thundercat on Herbie Hancock’s new album.
And to think, it all started with a kid farting around on YouTube.
Jacob Collier plays at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, September 14, at the Soiled Dove Underground, 7401 East 1st Avenue, Denver, 303-830-9214.