As of press time, a Google search for the phrases “Teen Daze” and “chillwave” returns about 26,000 hits. It’s safe to say that the British Columbia musician—who hails from Abbotsford, close to Vancouver—has become synonymous with the genre that birthed his career back in 2010, when he released the hazy synth-pop debut Four More Years.
In the years since then, the artist also known mononymously as Jamison has gradually expanded his palette, building up a catalogue that touches on twinkling sci-fi, instrumental dance music, and meditative ambience. And still, despite his stylistic explorations throughout the years, Teen Daze’s old “chillwave” tag continues to follow him around.
“I almost just expect it now,” the songwriter wryly comments during a Skype chat while on vacation in Melbourne, Australia. “Whenever I release something, someone will say, ‘Hey, great new chillwave from Teen Daze.’” The musician will finally shake off that old label with the release of his latest album, Morning World, which is a big departure from the electronic arrangements of his output to date. This record boasts richly organic instrumentation, with live drums and bass anchoring chiming guitar arpeggios and lush strings. Jamison’s vocals are no longer hazed by reverb, and his soft synth pads act as a sonic accoutrement, rather than the focus.
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The record begins with the dramatic string overture of “Valley of Gardens,” which gives way to a short instrumental sketch structured around peaceful guitar plucking and drum syncopations. Elsewhere, title cut “Morning World” begins with an electronic intro akin to Teen Daze’s past work, but it quickly turns into a gently jangling pop-rock ditty, while “Pink” and “Infinity” inject crunchy six-string distortion into the otherwise mellow soundscape.
“I think I was calling it ‘soft psychedelic music,’” Jamison says of his overhauled style. “I’ve always had a love for psychedelic pop and 60s pop music.” Morning World was recorded by John Vanderslice at his all-analog Tiny Telephone studio in San Francisco, with sessions taking just six days. This marked the first time Jamison had invited other artists into Teen Daze’s recording process: Co-producer Simon Bridgefoot handled all of the drums, and Nathan Blaz orchestrated his own string parts.
For Jamison, this new sound represents a coming of age, as he has become more interested in playing shows that emphasize songwriting rather than dancing. “I still love dance music and electronic music, but maybe I’m just growing,” he reflects. “Going on tour and being in clubs until 2 AM every night is sort of wearing me down. I think that is probably a thing that happens to everyone once they start getting out of their 20s.”
Is this the first time you’ve written traditionally structured, guitar-based music?
That’s definitely where I got my start. When I was in school, I was writing lots of folk music. And even further back than that, emo and sad Dashboard [Confessional] music. I’ve played a couple of coffee shops in my day. I think it’s kind of funny for people that have known me for that long and have been watching me progress as a musician—even just friends that I went to school with. I think they would probably listen to this record and [say that] this is the most Jamison-sounding record I’ve put out as Teen Daze.
Unlike on your past albums, the vocals are very up-front and it’s easy to hear all the lyrics. What inspired the words?
I had a bit of a concept in mind—not that I would necessarily call it a concept record. I got really fascinated by the Brian Eno concept of writing about the imaginary landscape. That’s a phrase he uses a lot, especially when talking about his ambient records. I’ve always been fascinated by art that can transport you into a seemingly brand new world or experience.
Does the title of Morning World refer to that imagined landscape?
Yeah, definitely. It’s that perfect moment between 5 AM and 7 AM. There’s always something really fresh about really solid morning light. I have this really hilarious moment in my mind that was the perfect summing up of that feeling: I lived in Manitoba when I was in high school, and we lived in a really small town. The summer after I graduated, I worked this job—we were called the Green Team, so it was a lot of landscaping work around town, but all public spaces. So I would water the flowers on Main Street or cut park lawns. It was one of my very last days—it was the last day of summer, I was going off to school in like a week or something. There was this coming-of-age feeling of, ‘What’s my life going to be?’ I show up at our office, this big barn, and my boss is like, ‘Okay, Jamison, you have to take the ATV out and go disinfect all of the garbage bins in town.’ That’s pretty gross, but I was cruising around in this ATV at 7:30 in the morning, there’s no one on the street, and I was standing up on this four-wheeler, cruising through the streets. It was this moment: You have your whole life ahead of you; it’s this incredibly crisp summer morning. That was a moment where I felt very optimistic and free and positive about the future.
On your social media accounts, you post a lot of new age music and imagery. Is that a direction you’re going towards with your own music?
Over the last couple of years, it’s been a music and an aesthetic that I’ve really fallen in love with. That was definitely a large part of what I was listening to while I was making the record. I think in the demos, there was a little bit more of that sound. I was using a lot of flute samples when I was doing the demos, and there’s no flute on the record at all. There’s maybe a synth that sounds like a flute or something like that. I really love the sound of pan flute going through a space echo, which is pretty new age-y.
Alex Hudosn is a writer living in Vancouver. Follow him on Twitter.