It’s 5:01PM on a Monday. It’s an ever-drizzled and grey Vancouver day as I walk into the newly lacquered JJ Bean cafe on Main and 14th. Industrial rusted steel beams and cedar posts coat the cafe in a composite of torrential indifference; I take a high seat somewhere between the campers and casuals, close enough to the exit but far from the cold windows. Shortly Stellan Nundoo, drummer and one half of Jackson Ramsey, strolls in with his curly gold locks and a grin from cheek to cheek. I’m met with a vivacious “how ya doing pal?” and a handshake which turns to a welcome hug as Nundoo and I settle into our leather-bound high chairs. While we wait for Maarten Bayliss, vocalist and other half, Nundoo whisks away to order a tea. Nundoo and I catch up on our days while we wait for Bayliss — who shows up shortly thereafter in a long parka, donning a very noughties Thom Yorke mystique, Britpop haircut and all.
The duo seemed like long-time friends, which coincidentally is true — the pair inform me they’ve been friends for about fifteen years dating back to high school. The conversation rolls effortlessly as Nundoo takes the lead, discussing how they were “at a friend’s wedding in Mexico [and] we simply just said to each other “we should start a band.” And then we did. We’d been on-and-off jamming for fifteen years, Maarten pretty much had an album already written so we just went, let’s make this a Jackson Ramsey one.” The duo talked about their multifaceted friendship dating back to when they ran a lighting company which supported local bands in Nanaimo, to periods when they would just jam with the lights off, lava lamps boiling away, trading instruments every so often.
Their first album, Identity Thief, was compiled of the demos Bayliss originally put forth to workshop. Bayliss details, “After the city (and venues) started opening up again I was writing in a new way, pretty much just using a sampler and a synth with one rule — NO guitar. It wasn’t a hard rule, but having that restriction and not having to deal with another instrument on stage was really great.” That being said, Nundoo goes on to say “there’s a guitar I played which was then sampled and manipulated — so it’s there every once and a while.” Nundoo continues, “It wasn’t until August 2021 when we actually started writing then recording. Maarten would show me the scratch tracks after and I would hear things that I hadn’t heard while writing them, so my parts would adapt to that. We would experiment with mixes back and forth a lot, to create something we were both excited about.” Nundoo details that Bayliss frequently writes the “skeleton of a song” and that Nundoo will “usually start playing [along] and that feel of that first take will end up being [what drives] the progression of the song. Maarten’s good at writing the individual parts, and I am more focused on how they transition. We play off each other like that.”
Discussing their musical past, Nundoo reflects on their youth — “Sometimes we’re like an old married couple in that way — someone will be playing something, and the other will just say, “STOP it, I don’t like that.” We’re very open when we write, nothing is concrete — ego is definitely dead in that room. Sometimes we start a sound or song we like and see where it takes us.”
In light of their recent release Youngness, the duo shift gears into how the focus and production of their sophomore album is different for them as a band. Bayliss explains that “Youngness was written song by song, in terms of sonics and structure, it wasn’t approached as a theme to begin with. Youngness came from lyrics I wrote when I was younger, and I adapted it from there. We didn’t find [the tracks] were closely related when we first wrote them,” Nundoo finishes Bayliss’ thought by adding, “they ended up being cohesive based on how we both play. A lot of it was written like, ‘I want to play drums as if they were programmed,’ where the parts aren’t altered much. Similar to musicians like Four Tet, when a drum change does occur, it’s so impactful. It alters the whole energy.” The two trade back-and-forth like life long friends do when sharing memories, almost omniscient and rolling in nature.
Upon the heels of their sophomore release, Jackson Ramsey is starting to garner attention for their raucous and energetic live shows as much as their recordings. “It’s really something when you see two people on stage and you hear this massive sound coming from just the two hands of one person and live drums,” Nundoo tells me, “I think it’s so cool when a drummer evolves into something else, like Orville Peck did.” Nundoo is speaking of Bayliss’ switch from being a drummer to fronting the electronic duo. Being from Nanaimo, they spoke about how musicians outside of a big city like Vancouver have a chance to refine their craft and master their skills, “because they often have the freedom to explore their passions more, like us — we never felt restricted, and our parents were supportive of our musical interests. Whereas in a bigger city, you typically have to get out of the house to make noise. Rent a space, rent gear, have a car to get there.” Bayliss tags in, “I’m still getting into the Vancouver music scene, I haven’t really discovered my footing here yet.”
The conversation moves to the voracious appetite the city currently has for arts and culture, young and seminal artists alike are hungry to showcase and explore what the city has to offer. Nundoo narrates that “when I first moved here there was so much repetition, like every punk band wanted to be D.O.A., and I’m not discounting that sound, but if everyone wants to do it there’s no variety. Right now there’s so many illegal — or partially illegal — events going on that are full of life, and things are really accelerating beyond the “No fun Vancouver” title [which has been] so fondly tagged on things. It reminds me of going back to hall and legion shows, where kids just went nuts for anything and everything.”
Touching on their writing influences and format, Nundoo states — “I’m a very visual writer. I’ll see scenes of something in my head and then play along to them. I can kind of see my part before it happens and I’m often influenced by big visual cinematics — how a large scene might just be how airy and blue the sky is, that’s how the drums should sound. One thing we decided was that Maarten plays robot parts as if he were a human, and I will play human parts as if I were a robot.”
The duo discuss how they want Jackson Ramsey to become an all encompassing art collective project. Inspired by the origins of Hip Hop, Nundoo talks about all the components which contributed to a project stating, “there were samples, graffiti, break dancers, rapping, battles, lights, projections — I want this to become a collective like that.” Winding down, the duo detail how they’ve been working towards the next release by writing a large amount of songs which they can later pair down. Testing new songs through audience reactions in order to form new writing habits has proven positive so far. Youngness is an album which reflects on youth, how time has altered those perceptions and how their inner child now shines through their work. The album is bursting with raw yet calculated magnetism, ripe and animate in its dynamic arrangements. It leaves moments of solitude for reflection, as in ‘Doomin’ and Gloomin’, before transitioning into synth-lathen break beats. Occasionally the duo dial down their symphonic discord and repent to the idols of ethereal synth piety comparable to the likeness of Alessandro Cortini, such as on ‘Carpenter’. Youngness is a superb journey through synthesis, reflections of adolescence, and unadulterated creativity. Watch out for Jackson Ramsey’s live shows and future releases as they’re primed to continue their upward trajectory and become an artistic collective Vancouver has yet to witness.