Interview: Jaedyn James and The Hunger

Bursting into the Minneapolis music scene in the fall of 2014, the 10 piece, raw funk, rock n roll, soul band, Jaedyn James & The Hunger takes their fun very seriously. Consumed by her passion Jaedyn James was determined to assemble a group of collaborative musicians who could cultivate music, acceptance, and empowerment. The Hunger is built on a foundation of friendship, honesty, and respect. Playing regularly around the Twin Cities for a year and a half, JJ&TH is no stranger to a variety of venues and audiences. This tantalizing group of weirdos has performed in warehouses, dive bars, and elite jazz clubs. No stage too small. No dance floor too sticky. Tickets for their show on December 18th are still available at thecedar.org.

We spoke to Jaedyn James in advance of the show.

Bethel Gessesse, Fall Marketing and Content Intern

Q: How did Jaedyn James and The Hunger come to be, and how did you choose your name?

A: Two years ago the bass player (Jason Olson) and I formed the group along with our first drummer (Nathan Dean Kleinwolterrink), who wasn’t a technically trained drummer (excellent guitarist and musician), but loved the concept of the band and the three of us worked really well together so we set out to build a big band. Basically we added people we loved, people who had instruments, and people who showed interest in being in a big band that was about learning together, accepting each other,  empowering each other, oh and putting on big ridiculous funk and soul shows.
Jaedyn is my legal name. James was added to honor those who inspired the group- James Brown & Etta James. (The first drummer was the genius behind this one). The Hunger as a band name is a reflection of my desire, of our desire to do this thing in a gritty and real way. When people are Hungry they don’t always act logically, they do what needs to be done to survive, they’ll scratch and kick their way to what is they crave. We like investigating all spectrums of human feeling and experience and the word Hunger allows us to do that. The name needed to be powerful, tireless, timeless, universal, and playful. 

Q: Your band is quite large, consisting of twelve members. How has it been working with such a large group?

A: We have had the same 10 core members for a year now, and there have only been a small handful of others who have come and gone. It’s been important to me that it feels like a family. That we share real love and respect for one another. Sometimes I look around the room and think, “What have I created? They won’t stop talking and laughing.” It’s also a blossoming business so there are rules and expectations. So yes, it’s hard. It’s really really hard. I lead and manage the group, but I encourage collaboration. Their voices and ideas enrich my vision and test and challenge me.When we get hot about something or there’s a conflict between members most of the time it’s because people care about what’s going on, I respect passion and arguments and misunderstandings are a natural part of being on a team. It’s essential that we are flexible with each other, that we listen, that we speak up when there is a problem, that we take care of each other. All of it’s work and all of it’s worth it.

Q: JJ&TH came into the Minneapolis music scene in 2014, and since then, you have played at many different venues – jazz clubs, warehouses, dive bars, etc. What has been your favorite show?

A: I thought about this one a lot. Turns out no favorite shows. Lots of great moments. Lots of ” We did that in front of people?”  or ” I could have done that better” moments too, but it’s always an honor to get up on stage with these people and put on a show. We’ve played to empty rooms and packed clubs and festivals. The important thing is that we do the best we can and we put all of our energy out into the room and into the music. Which I’m proud to say we’ve done; our live energy as a band is what people rave about and cling to. It’s what keeps them coming back.

Q: You’ve mentioned that you take inspiration from musicians like Etta James and James Brown. What does it mean to carry on the legacy of the musicians that inspire you?

A: It’s crucial to carry on the legacy of those who inspire us. Really it’s at the core of what JJ&TH is doing, can do, and will do. The greats paved the way and it’s our responsibility to keep their work and traditions alive. So much of being an original artist comes from years of copying those you love, but then twisting the lens and trying to push the boundaries they created, taking a right when they took a left. Finding your own unique voice.
So how as a band do we carry the torch of those we love and admire while still being ourselves?
1. We play cover songs that for the most part are not top 40 and if they were- they’re at least 40 years old.
*Not all funk & soul groups are cover bands! We want to do those deep cuts that open the door for listeners into funk & soul.
2. We listen to them! We buy their music! We go out to local and national shows! We take lessons!
We know we aren’t James Brown and The Famous Flames and that it’s ok. There’s room for everybody in soul music, you just have to have… you know… a soul.
3. We write original music with our stories, but then inject it with flavors from our favorite artists.
4. We are a symbol that big homegrown bands aren’t dead.
5. We see the need and love of this music and that there’s still a place for live instruments and music education in our community.
6.We have egos, but we love our audience more. Audience participation is key in our world. It’s about us, all of us.
7. We want and need people to dance. We dance. It gets awkward. We’re not smooth and we don’t care. It’s about moving together in real time with feeling.

Q: You have two amazing openers, Danami and The Blue and Brian “Snowman” Powers. Cedar fans know how incredible Danami is, as he’s appeared here as part of the 2015 Minnesota Next Showcase as well as opening for Midnimo artist Jubba and Swedish hip-hop trio Movits. However, this will be Brian Powers’ first time playing at The Cedar. How did you choose him as an opening act, and what can we expect? 
 

A: I heard about Snowman through one of my saxophone players. Kalen raved about his technique and feel and had said he really wanted to take lessons from him. Eventually I got smart and went to check out one of the bands that Brian plays in called, The New Primitives. I was blown away. The whole band is fantastic. Cajun, Funk, Mo-town, Reggae Soulful goodness. It took me a few Tuesdays to introduce myself (New Prims play every Tuesday at Shaws), but when I did I expressed desire to have him help out the band. Somehow he said yes and somewhere in one of our conversations it came up that he was forming his own solo group and needed to start working on a date for the debut. I was looking for a third act for the Cedar so it all came together.

We should expect his group to be a portrait of who he is. Originally from Louisiana, Snowman started playing saxophone when he was eight years old and then proceeded to move to New York to study his craft. He’s one of the kindest, hardest working, passionate people I know. I expect to dance and drool and take pride in the fact that this is one of the best Christmas presents I could ever give myself and my audience. Debut shows are always electric.