"In life you need a cheerleader, or something like that. I was trying to be my own cheerleader," says Christian Berishaj of his fifth studio album, Whatever Makes U Happy. Despite the unrelentingly cheery title, Berishaj, in actuality, has released a searching project underpinned by his lifelong appreciation of funk, blues and neo-soul, and the desire to take his sound in a new direction.
For a man who prefers the guitar he's had since he was 10-years-old because it was "his first nice one," and because it was a successful experiment in taking a heat gun to an instrument frame to strip the paint, happiness is unsurprisingly found in music.
Since 2012, when he first made his debut as JMSN via the album Priscilla, he's maintained a prolific output, putting out a project virtually every year (with the exception of 2015), and securing guest features with Kendrick Lamar, Kaytranada, Ab-Soul, Sango and more. In 2016, Berishaj also revealed he was the artist Pearl, who released two projects via his self-founded label, White Room Records.
This desire to create as not one but two artists is also at the heart of Whatever Makes U Happy. It's the idea that for some, true happiness lies not in recognition, but rather in never being finished making. In JMSN's case, it would seem he truly finds an odd sense of peace in the frustration of things unfinished.
What makes you happy?
What makes me happy is creating what I want to create without being censored in any way. That's what really makes me happy. The only time I really get sad is when I can't do that. I feel like I knew that, but I didn't know it to the degree that I know it now.
What was the catalyst for that realization?
I met someone that got me into that mode of writing about what they thought of me and what I thought of them and where I was in my life. It was all of the things that you don't worry about so much when there's nobody else in the picture. That had a lot to do with it.
What about the title? It feels a bit like an affirmation...
It's about doing whatever makes you happy, but applied to what I was doing musically. I just wanted to make the music that made me happy. I felt like I channeled that more than ever as far as not letting outside influences change what I did. Influences outside of music, I should say.
You come to this moment where you're trying to make a career and figure out where you fit in. Instead of trying to fit into somebody else's box, you do whatever makes you happy and create your own world. I went deeper into doing that.
The content juxtaposes the title in the sense that you seem to be trying to find what makes you happy within the project...
Yeah, it's a daily battle. Even if you think you know what makes you happy and you're doing that, it doesn't always make you happy while you're doing it. Whenever we [artists] write about life topics, I think that we're trying to convince ourselves of a truth. That's why we're writing it down and singing it.
You're having an inner monologue to remind or convince yourself of something. It's hard to try to be happy with what you're doing and where you are. There's always a hunger for more. I think I was just trying to pump myself up like, 'yeah, you are doing the right thing.'
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What were some of the emotions you were working through while writing?
The inner battle. That battle, it drags a lot of creative stuff from me. I'm trying to figure out what to do next and how to do it. I know that I'm going keep being a creative but where to start and what will make me happy in the meantime? Trying to figure that out is an interesting thing to navigate through, you know? Life.
So the process is cathartic for you?
Yes. When you start writing songs that aren't tied to a body of work it feels like you're done when you get to a different place in life. You say, 'let me finish this and put it out, then we'll work on this other stuff.' I will say I don't like to listen to my music after I release it. If I listen to it, I'll think I could've done all of it so much better. I don't want to look back on that and dwell on the past.
I get anxiety and then I really have to get started on new music. If I don't I'll feel like I didn't really get where I wanted to be. Either that or I did well enough that I think I have to keep going because I'm probably going to get better in the next go.
It sounds like a lack of contentment actually drives you...
If I were ever content with something and felt like I'd finally made the album of all albums it would go one of two ways. I'd either think, I don't feel like I ever need to do this again because I hit it, or, because I hit it, why not try and hit it again? Maybe I can hit it twice. Maybe three times.
You also make music under the pseudonym "Pearl". Why did you feel like you needed another creative outlet?
I was making so much music and not all of was a fit for JMSN. I still wanted to put it out because I thought it was good and I also wanted to involve other artists. Being in LA you meet so many up-and-coming artists. Some of them are on labels and some of them aren't, but they're all trying to figure out how to go forward.
I'm always telling them, 'you've got to release music.' Even when they're waiting for somebody to tell them, 'yes,' or a label to be like, 'OK, you can put this out.' I wanted to get their music out and have them be part of something where they could see that when they put music out, people hear it and shit.
We're in a time of future-facing R&B but your project really took it back. Why?
I've always done stuff and counted on the fact that if it's good people will like it. Whatever Makes U Happy is just me not being concerned with what everybody else is doing right now. I don't want to be on the forefront of the future. I just want to do what makes me happy in music because I really do love it and I don't want to compromise that by making something that I'm not into.
It's great that others are doing whatever they're doing. It's awesome that they're getting success doing it, but success is not what's going to make me happy. Making the music I want and having people like it is the real success to me. I can't be too concerned about what's going on right now on the music front. Everything comes back around anyway.
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