I M U R discusses summer road life & why they want their music to make you uncomfortable
Vancouver, BC – Amidst a summer tour on the festival circuit, Vancouver trio I M U R has had an exciting start to the season with performances at Sled Island, Kamp Festival, Red Bull Open Water Party, and more. The trio has been on road since the end of June, driving across Western Canada in their 2001 Gold Dodge Caravan “Space Boat”.
The trio was formerly a duo of singer-songwriter Jenny Lea and producer Mikey J Blige. But after performing several shows alongside producer and multi-instrumentalist Amine Bouzaher (aka: Simple Machine), they decided to turn I M U R into a trio.
Photo by Kyle Turner
“We believe that being made uncomfortable is a powerful way for us to learn what we care most about.”
I M U R stands for “I Am You Are”, and the group is one of the most exciting acts coming up right now. They’ve honed in on a signature brand of music that can’t really be compared to any other genre or sound. It’s a fusion of soulful vocals, electronic sounds, and live instrumentation, with a noticeable hip-hop and R&B influence.
As they gear up for appearances at Shambhala and Ponderosa next month, I M U R took the time to chat and give us the breakdown on their summer tour experience, live show process, and the importance of making uncomfortable music.
Check below for our in-depth interview with I M U R, as well as to watch the trio’s new live remix video of “Wilkins” (which you’ll only be able to take in via this video or at one of I M U R’s live shows).
Q&A: I M U R
HipHopCanada: Start off by telling me the story behind how you guys met and decided to form I M U R.
Jenny: Mikey and I met through the Vancouver hip-hop scene when I was asked to record a hook on his collaborative project at the time, The People North West. From there we kept in touch, and felt we could create something unique with his experimental downtempo solo productions, and my singer-songwriter background. We back and forthed some beats, and vocals over the interweb, while I was living in the Kootenays temporarily, and it seemed like a really effortless progression. We linked back up in Van to see if we had potential as a live act, rather than a one off project. And we were vibing on the same page heavy. After we self-wrote, recorded, and produced our first EP Slow Dive in Mikey’s bedroom closet over two months, we landed a couple local gigs and worked really hard at turning our electronic recordings into a viable live set. Amine was doing the most insane live looping experimental set under his alias Simple Machine at the time. We ended up going to a bunch of each other’s shows and decided it would be a great fit to book a small tour together. As our shows grew bigger audiences, we wanted to add more and make our set more challenging and exciting. By this point, Amine had been to almost all of our shows and pretty much knew the music already. He also happens to be one of the most gifted and humble musicians we know. And we were honored when he said he’d help us out with a few shows by playing both bass and violin. Another tour, a ton of shenanigans, yada yada… Long story short… a few shows turned into a marriage and lifetime commitment. And here we are, I M U R.
HipHopCanada: Artistically, a live performance is a much different skill-set than just releasing music online. You guys have been doing the festival circuit for a while now. Talk to me about how you’ve tailored your live performance over the years.
Mikey: Our live set has been constantly evolving over the past two years. It’s been a roller coaster ride of technical headaches, fine attention to detail, and just pure elation when it all comes together during a good slot. Things really turned up a notch when Amine came on board and we moved to a dual-laptop setup. We call it “Live Set 2.0” at the moment. We do as much as physically possible live, as we’re all multi instrumentalists. Once we get comfortable playing the written stuff, we’re able to embellish and jam on sections as we keep all the composition live. [This allows] us to improvise and avoid boredom. We’ve also been able to remix our older stuff to have different energy levels for different kinds of sets. The biggest thing that we’ve learned over the last couple years on the festival circuit is that shit happens when you’re doing live electronic music and you’ve gotta roll with the punches.
HipHopCanada: You guys have always rooted a lot of your lyrical content in social issues and commentaries. That’s a very tough task to take on because regardless of whether people agree or disagree with you, you’re making them uncomfortable.
Jenny: It’s really important for me as a writer to be able to express myself freely and honestly. I strongly believe that by being vulnerable with our art, we’re able to connect with our audience in the most genuine way. I feel that authenticity is something a lot of mainstream music is lacking, and people’s bullshit meters are high. If we’re making someone uncomfortable, that means we’re doing our job as artists. That means there was enough tension to create a dynamic. We managed to pull the listener out of a whistling state of mind, and invited them engage. We believe that being made uncomfortable is a powerful way for us to learn what we care most about.
“I feel that authenticity is something a lot of mainstream music is lacking, and people’s bullshit meters are high. If we’re making someone uncomfortable, that means we’re doing our job as artists.”
HipHopCanada: Your recent visual for “Swirl” was a very cinematic experience and – personally – was one of the best videos I’ve seen this summer. You also touched on several things we don’t often see in the urban arts community; specifically fluid sexuality, and a much softer depiction of the black man. Why were those two things of importance to you? And how did viewers receive the video?
Amine: First off, flattery will get you everywhere. Our initial idea for the video was much more general and involved people of all walks of life (socially, ethnically, relationally) embracing and kissing. We had wanted to work with Nancy Lee and Laine Butler of Chapel Sound for some time. And when we brought the idea to them – Nancy especially – they flipped it on its head. We were all huge fans of the movie Moonlight and of its depiction of male sexuality as infinitely more nuanced and complex than is often depicted in representations of urban culture. There tends to be a lot of chauvinism, of putting on airs as a tough, macho guy who doesn’t care about anything other than money and sexy (by media representation) women. We loved Nancy’s idea of juxtaposing a traditional heteronormative exterior with a rich, intimate internal life that challenges conceptions of what it is to be a strong male.
HipHopCanada: You guys came through Calgary earlier this summer to perform at Sled Island. What was that experience like for you? Sled Island is a very different experience for performers, compared to most festivals.
Jenny: Sled Island was amazing! It really was island vibes, everyone was so friendly and no one is in a rush. It was our first time playing in Calgary, and the support was immense. The Block Party and HiFi club was a total lituation. We can’t wait to go back.
HipHopCanada: How does your work process differ when you’re out on tour or doing the festival circuit? Are you still making music on the road?
Mikey: When we’re on the road it’s difficult to write in the typical sense, but we spend a LOT of time together. So a lot of research and development gets done in the Space Boat (2001 Gold Dodge Caravan). Listening to new music, seeing our friends and idols play sets, and going really deep into conversation stirs the pot. We also get to see what works for different crowds. We’ll test out unreleased music and not tell anyone, just to see how it goes over.
“Listening to new music, seeing our friends and idols play sets, and going really deep into conversation stirs the pot. We also get to see what works for different crowds. We’ll test out unreleased music and not tell anyone, just to see how it goes over.”
HipHopCanada: What have been the highlights of the 2017 summer festival season so far?
Jenny: So far this whole summer has been amazing, and it’s just begun. Each festival has been so unique from one another. Highlights – for me – were hanging out with Seven Davis Jr and his band at Sled, and playing on a solar powered barge in the middle of the lake with a floating audience for Red Bull’s Open Water Party.