MY: I think that harkens back to Duke and having all of these people [stars] roll through where they’re there because they’re trying to teach you something. It’s not like you’re there to see them as fans, they’re like, ‘Nah, you’re at this school because you have talent, and we’re here because we’re trying to teach you something so that one day you can be in our shoes.’ So, that’s that confidence I think a lot of Duke kids have.
JC: Oh yea, definitely. That’s one thing we got early on--we’re professionals. They taught us to be professionals. We were working. We were actually working. We didn’t get any of the money, the school got the money, but we were working musicians since we were 14, 15 years old. So, for us coming out of Duke, we had these years behind us. We really were out here playing gigs, playing with celebrities, and we were playing for the rich white people. 15-year old kids out doing these gigs that professional musicians now are out here getting paid money for, but we were doing it too, and we were kids, but we didn’t get none of the money though, you know what I’m saying. But we still had the experience, so it definitely gave us an attitude like, ‘We are professionals,’ so whether you’re out here mingling with the top people or not, you’re still a professional--no matter where you are. So for us, nothing is too small. Whether you’re playing a at a wedding or the Essence Awards, it’s all something that you need to take seriously, and that’s how I carry myself. Everything that I do, I take seriously. Every venue I go to whether it’s big or not, I take seriously because it’s about being professional at the end of the day. It’s about caring about, like I said earlier, it’s about caring about the experience for other people, not just yourself.
MY: You’ve played a lot of venues in D.C., what are some of your favorites?
JC: Not to sound biased because I work there now, but 9:30 Club. Yeah, it’s definitely my favorite--the sound is incredible. Just to hear my music come out of that sound system is like, ‘Oh my God!’ It’s like a dream. I can only imagine what it would sound like if it came out of the fucking Anthem sound system. That definitely was my favorite show of all time. There have been some good ones, but that was definitely incredible.
MY: What do you think is left to accomplish here in the city as far as playing, as far as exposure?
JC: Honestly, I kind of feel like I’ve max-ed out. I feel like I’ve accomplished as much as I’ve wanted, like I’ve wanted to play at 9:30 and I played it. I mean, I guess the only dream I have now is playing at Anthem, which would be dope. But other than that, I feel like I’ve pretty much max-ed out everything that I’ve wanted to do here and I’m ready to move on, ready to start something else.
MY: That’s a narrative I’m hearing among a lot of artists, like Jamal was just saying that about Nag Champa, too. How do you get to that next place of playing outside of D.C.?
JC: I guess that is what everyone’s trying to figure out.
MY: Why do you think that’s a problem, though? Why don’t you think more artists don’t have that ability? Because there are artists who are playing outside of D.C.--April + Vista--people who are becoming nationally known. There’s a lot of talent here that deserves to be exposed.
JC: Well, I think it boils down to very simple things: one of them is money and the other thing is support. I can’t speak on the support that April + Vista have, but they obviously have some sort of backing that allows them to leave and travel. Some of us don’t have that--I think that’s the biggest struggle for a lot of us--it costs money. Even people that I know who have done nationwide tours, they come back and they’re broke because everything that they made touring goes to traveling. It’s like they can do a show where ever, but they have to take that money and use it to pay for gas, use it to pay for places to stay unless you know somebody that is in every state! You have to spend some money. Unfortunately, a lot of us are living the narrative of starving artists. We’re very good but we’re very broke.
JC: It’s like if you don’t have a team behind you that can support you traveling it doesn’t matter.
MY: I’m sorry that has to be the narrative right now because there’s too much money in the city, especially politically, for the artists to be burdened. But this house--it’s got a very creative vibe to it, tell me about it.
JC: We have shows here every month. We started having shows here in June --I can’t remember when we started, but it was this year. We’ve had shows here before, but on a consistent, monthly basis we started this year.
MY: What’s the series called?
JC: I don’t really know if we have a name for it, it’s just ‘The Castle’ because that’s the name of the house. It’s consistently been successful, we’ve had our house filled up a lot. There was one time where it was out of control. It was super packed, it was actually for a Howard party. We ventured into doing parties, and that ended very quickly--like 20-year olds, outta control. But, yeah, we’ve had some pretty dope things happen here.
MY: So what’s going on with your album Free?
JC: Well, Free is delayed for numerous interesting reasons. One, I originally...my first album I recorded myself. I recorded it on this computer and a few years ago all my USB ports and my CD drive just busted, so I haven’t been able to plug a mic up into it and do anything with it. I also haven’t been able to edit the production I’ve done because I also wanted to fix, but I can’t plug in my MIDI controller. It’s been a lot of technical shit that seems like, ‘Oh, it would be so simple to fix,’ but because it costs money to fix it, I haven’t been able to do it, and I’ve taken up collections, but then I’d get some money and be like $200 short. It’s hard to save to really invest because every time I try to save I end up short on some other shit and it’s been a lot of chasing my tail. Also over the years, you know how you make something you think is dope, then you go back and you listen to it and it’s like, ‘Ugh, I need to go back, I need to do that over, I need to do that over, I need to bring out that [sound].’ So, it’s been a lot of changes on the way that I view the project, which is making it difficult. We are going to doing more work on it this coming week. It’s starting to move now and I thank my manager for that because he’s been pushing me to get it done. I’m at a point now where I want to get it done. I care how it’s received, but at this point I really don’t. My main goal is to get it done and have it out because I’ve worked so hard on it. I’ve put a lot of emotion...you know, the project itself started as an affirmation for myself--an affirmation of wanting to be free from concern. The first project was really emotional because I was going through a hard time with a breakup.
MY: What was the first album called?
JC: Red. It’s on Bandcamp. Yeah, so I’d gone through a really bad breakup and I was just really angry and there was a lot of trying to deal with stuff. And then Free for me is, ‘Okay, I’m done with this. I’m cool. I’m happy.’ It’s kind of ironic because it was an affirmation that wasn’t quite true, but as time has gone on its become more and more true. I feel like [Free] hasn’t been finished because I needed to actually make it true. I needed to confirm what I’m saying on the record. And I’m happy with the process. I want it to be finished, but I’m happy with the process because it has become more and more true for me, and I’m starting to feel more comfortable.
MY: It sounds like there’s still some more songs to write or do you feel like the voice is there?
JC: The voice is there, now we just need to get it on wax.
MY: What is your role as an artist in the DIY scene?
JC: I don’t know, I think it’s gonna be up to us to have the awareness to take care of each other because I feel like with Union Arts, that community we had, is kind of not there anymore. I do remember a time when everybody was collaborating, everybody had this mindset of, ‘We gotta work together,’ around the time of Trayvon Martin and Ferguson. We were really like, ‘Okay guys, we have to do something.’ We were really invigorated by that and there was a lot of things that were being done and coming together, but after that shit died down that spirit died down, too, and now it’s everybody for themselves again. Not to say there aren’t people trying to preserve that, but it’s also like, ‘Let’s make the music and get out,’ which is sad. At the same time, getting out of D.C. is kind of necessary. We need that experience to open our minds and realize there’s more than this. There’s a lot more to accomplish. And that’s not to degrade this. What we have here is very important, it’s gonna be important forever, but as artists and as people, we need more experiences to develop ourselves creatively and to help bring more eyes to what’s going on here in D.C.
Luce Unplugged at the Smithsonian American Art Museum
Thursday, November 1 @ 5:30pm
F St NW & 8th St NW
Washington, D.C. 20004