Jim Stoten is the name of the ideal love child of an illustrator and a psychedelic rock n’ roll musician who let their child have free roam. Also tutoring for Brighton University among others, Jim received the pride of Cartoon Brew’s Artist of the Week. He’s a professional illustrator who’s worked for the likes of the New York Times, MTV and Urban Outfitters, however his talents don’t end here.
For the past decade, Jim had been recording songs secretly in his bedroom and bathroom, experimenting with many an instrument and taught himself to record, creating, what he says he couldn’t find in the music world before. “I knew what I wanted to hear in music, and sometimes, I would find it frustrating that what I wanted to hear did not exist, so I found ways to make the music I wanted to hear. Then I’d listen to it until I got bored with it, then I’d make some more.”
It wasn’t until February of last year Jim decided to post his music for all to see on Bandcamp. The first featured in the discography was ‘Bear Care’ where he borrowed an 8 track tape recorder from his friend, which he says he got completely obsessed with. Alongside his electric/acoustic guitar and organ, his form of percussion for the record was characterfully hitting the microphone or touching the input on his guitar. The second secret album was named ‘Monday Night Special’, where he states he got really into harmonies, multi layering and arrangement. You can see his musical maturity blossom, considering the 6 year gap between this and the first.
It had been four years since the former however, that Jim decided to share his psychedelic delicacies with the likes of you and me. “I don’t know why I kept it to myself for so long. I think I was just making music for myself. Over 10 years, I just built up a big collection and when I was looking back through it all, I realised that the first recording I made was 10 years ago, and it just made sense to share it.”
An image of Jim’s he did for the NY Times Sunday Review
Now that it’s been 5 years since he recorded ‘Monday Night Special’ in his studio in Ipswich, Jim made his way to Scotland to spend a week completely alone recording the new addition to his music babies ‘On A Flying Frog’. The week comprised of him hardly sleeping, preparing lyrics, learning the ropes of a proper studio and lots of whiskey and coffee. “It was a really good week and I fully recommend going away for a week and doing the thing you love most for the whole time, as long as what you love most isn’t something terrible. I wanted to go and do something that I could allow to take up all of my time and focus. It’s an amazing feeling to have nothing else to think about except a project that excites you.”
On first thoughts I thought it sounded a little lonely, but Jim said it wasn’t lonesome, but quite a strange experience. “I just enjoyed getting completely lost in the task I had set myself. I hardly ate, I didn’t talk to anyone, I just woke up early, made coffee and started writing and recording until I got tired in the early hours of the next morning. I’d go for a little walk and look at the sky changing colour. It was magical.”
You can hear, and tell, quite incredibly the level Jim has matured musically, when hearing ‘On A Flying Frog’ and looking back on his earlier tracks. This being the first album he actually wrote lyrics down for, the songs seem to have meanings deep and miscellany. This was also the first time Jim had to learn how to use a whole studio in one day. “I didn’t know what I wanted to make when I got there. The guy who owned the studio was amazingly helpful. He took me through it all and then the next day, I just started playing the drums a bit then over to the guitar, then the bass, then the vocal booth, and it all happened very quickly because whenever I picked up a new instrument, I was just responding to the bit that I had just played on the last instrument I had. It was a bit like building a house out of blocks that are all different shapes and sizes, and you have no idea what the house will look like at the end of it, or even if it’ll work, but it’s just fun building it.”
‘I Look At The Sky’, the sixth song in the album has just been accompanied by a video fit for a 90s acid art exhibition, whom Jim acquired the help of his friends; Ben Newman an illustrator and art director, Irene Fuga an artist and illustrator and the director Dave Brown, a photographer, designer and Bollo from The Mighty Boosh. “The man in the furry suit [in the video] is an excellent illustrator called Ben Newman. We do a regular podcast together called Newten’s Porcelain Panther, where we talk to creative people about their inspirations and favourite music and things. I have always loved the way Ben dances. He is a free mover. No fear. It’s hypnotic. So, I had an idea that I wanted to just film him dancing to my song, and the idea grew from there.”
I take a lot of joy from the lyrics to this song, and it’s a song where a lot of people can relate. “Why on earth are we here, it just blows my mind” is a lyrical stroke of genius, but what’s the best thing about expressing thoughts through lyrics, I ask Jim. “I guess the best thing about expressing thoughts in a song is that you can talk about things in a song, that might just be too boring or difficult to talk about in a normal conversation.”
I backtrack to Jim’s expression of making music because he couldn’t find his sound elsewhere, and quiz him on wether he would still have started making music if his music already existed. “I think I would’ve started to make music anyway. I started recording music when I was at university. I would make animations and then make the soundtrack for them. No words though. Just weird instrumentals. Then, when I graduated, I borrowed a friends 4 track tape recorder and recorded the first album on the bandcamp site (in bear care). So it started partly out of a practical need for specific music and partly out of an enjoyment of the creative process.”
Jim is an artist among many others who deliver their music via the internet’s many song hosting websites, including Bandcamp & Soundcloud. King Krule cited the internet has played a huge part in his success and this is the same for many artists now. It’s websites like these that make music just so accessible, but Jim thinks this is possibly a negative thing. “It is good to have somewhere that I can put my music that people can listen to. But I wish it was easier to get people to listen. I think the internet has changed the way people listen to music entirely. There’s too much choice and it is all too easily accessed. I keep an eye on how many people listen every now and then, and I can see how many people switch off before the end of the song and it is extraordinary how quickly people get bored and move onto the next free album by someone else just like me. It’s mad. I don’t listen to music on the internet for exactly this reason. I like that my choice of what I listen to is limited to how many records I have. It means that I make a choice, and I stick to it. I listen to a whole album because of how a record plays. It cannot be skipped by hitting a button.
“But luckily, I still make music primarily for myself. The only difference now is that I can share it too. If people listen, then that is excellent. But I don’t get upset if no one listens. Having said that, it would be a very nice thing to be signed by a big record company off the back of what I have put up on Bandcamp.”
Jim is also a guitarist and singer in the band Owen & The Eyeballs, made up of four illustrators, who have described their sound as ‘wrong pop’. When I ask him about the differences between making music alone and with the band, he says the decisions get made faster. “[This] can be both a good and bad thing. The control is equally split between the 4 of us when the band writes songs. Decisions get made by talking it out, everyone saying what they think and explaining why. Then we all decide together. But on your own you can just do more what you feel is right, and work from there.”
Clearly, though, Jim has shown he works incredibly alone, and you should totally get listening to ‘On A Flying Frog’ ASAP. You can listen below, but first I asked Jim some random questions to find out a little bit more about this multi-tasking coffee drinker.
What’s your ideal listener like?
Ideal listener is Pharrell Williams.
Sorry to be cringe but do you have any mottos you live by?
Mottos? It’s better to be busy than bored.
My questions have been pretty basic, so… What’s it like to be interviewed? Do you feel exposed? lolz
Yes I feel very exposed indeed. It’s good being interviewed. It’s good to be challenged by questions about things you make.
Listen to all of the albums on Jim’s Bandcamp and see his awesome illustrations here. Thankyou Jim! x