A Conversation with Jimmy Whispers


The first time I saw Jimmy Whispers play I only stuck around for about half a song. It was the last day of SXSW and I was exhausted and hung over – the last place I wanted to be on that sunny afternoon was in a dank, dirty, dark bar called ‘Beer Land’. I tried to look Jimmy up on online as we were driving out of Austin the next day, but found nothing. I had only heard a couple minutes of his set, but his catchy, poppy, and slightly melancholic sound had sucked me in. Luckily, I had the pleasure of playing a show with Jimmy shortly after in New York; this time I stuck around for his entire set, and was not disappointed. I talked to Jimmy about his music, being elusive on the Internet, and what Summer in Pain was all about.

Interview by Madeline Glowicki, Portrait by Michael Schmelling

Tell us a bit about yourself.  Why do you go by the name Jimmy Whispers?
I’ve had that name since first grade. It’s stuck with me my whole life. Figure it’s cooler to go by something true and given, rather than making some kind of stage name.

How would you describe your sound?
I write love songs and I write pop songs.  They’re all tracked live in single takes – no mixing, no editing, no multitracking – using a 70’s combo organ and recording onto a phone voice memo.  So it’s kind of a throwback to what lo-fi used to be in a very real sense. Like they way things were before I was born, before everybody started using Garage Band and crap like that.

You’ve played a couple shows with R. Stevie Moore, what’s that like? Do you feel like you and him are a good musical match?
Well, we are both kinda bedroom pop weirdos, I think that’s why we got paired up together in the first place. His agent saw me play with Sean Nicolas Savage in Chicago and was like “you really need to be playing shows with Stevie!”  I was stoked.  Stevie is a genius.  I respect the hell out of him, and he’s been a great inspiration.  He has built this amazing legacy over the years, has stayed completely true to himself, and couldn’t give less of a shit about what other people think.  He’s always done things on his own terms.  He’s a slow burner rather than a flash in the pan.  Did I mention he’s also a sweetheart?

After seeing one of your shows it becomes clear that you like to break down the barrier between the performer and the audience. Why do you do this? How do you think it makes you different from other musicians out there?
I think once you break down that barrier the possibilities for a live show becomes endless. I can feed off the environment and work the crowd, almost like a comedian or rapper.  Every show I try leaving the audience more connected to each other than when they first walked in.  Sometimes I’ll get people to slow dance with each other, or involve the audience in performing a song, every show is different.


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What’s the main message you hope people will take away after hearing your music or seeing you play? What’s the message behind “Summer in Pain”?
Love, mercy, and forgiveness for everyone, forever, all the time.

You used to do a lot of street art around Chicago, what was that all about?
I wanted to get the message and the vibe out there publicly before playing live. And was creating a lot of different images that reflected where Chicago was at, as far as struggling with violence. I wanted to take the message to street.  By the time I began playing, people had already taken notice.

Tell us why your music and art are basically non-existent on the Internet?
I intentionally haven’t put any music online yet, because I want to gain a true word of mouth following first. Cut my teeth in an honest way, as a test to my music and myself.  In this post internet age, anyone’s mom or dad can make a bandcamp or soundcloud page and upload 1,000’s of songs, so what’s the point?  I’d rather be present in the physical world at first, and then release things later.  Then maybe there is a possibility of a meaningful long-term effect.  It’s kind of the same reasoning behind doing the street art and the zine, just finding ways in the Internet era to establish pure word of mouth first.

What do you do when you’re not making music or playing shows?
I write and record about 2-4 songs a day.  I pace around in circles in my living room and chain smoke. The last bunch of weeks, I’ve been working 12-14 hours everyday cab driving, or doing this job putting up posters.  Shit, this tour really just feels like a vacation!

Jimmy Whispers will be performing in Montreal June 11th, 2014 at Brasserie Beaubien