In a world defined by genres and factions, Jean Dawson stands in a world of his own, influenced by ’90s rock to modern hip-hop. With the release of his true debut album, Pixel Bath, in 2020, Dawson is quickly taking the music world by storm. Making a myriad of sounds and emotional experiences accessible to all listeners and leaving the door open for experimentation are his main goals. With such hits as “Devilish” and “Clear Bones” gracing playlists of all genres across the globe, it’s clear that Dawson has sonic stigmas to challenge.
You released your new record, Pixel Bath, which received many favorable reviews. Did you anticipate this type of response?
This being my first real album, I really took the time to galvanize everything that I wanted to do in the past years of my music-making career and press forward. I always try not to set expectations for myself, not because I’m afraid to be let down. I just feel like the music is so much more important than the expectation that I’m supposed to have for it. It’s something of a disservice to it. I try to just focus on the importance of what I want to [do], which [is] to make music that makes people feel something.
Was there anything surprising that happened for your career in 2020, even outside of the album?
I would say my partnership with Rick Rubin at American [Recordings]. I think that was super out of left field, something that I didn’t necessarily expect to happen. My dad said he was proud of me, so I think that’s the most important thing that happened to me post-album. I was always the kid that didn’t care about approval, but I secretly did. He told me he was proud of me, and it was one of my proudest moments because we never connected like that.
You also got to work with a dream artist, A$AP Rocky, on “Triple Double.” You started watching him back when you were a teenager. How did that particular track come together, and what made you want to get Rocky to feature on it?
We got connected through somebody that worked on his team [who] had known of my music since my first EP and eventually connected and introduced me to Rocky’s manager. We just got along like we’ve always known each other. It was really cool. I didn’t expect him to be exactly who he was, and we ended up working a lot through quarantine. Eventually, I was like, “I have a song.” And he was like, “I was waiting for you to ask me.” He came over to my best friend’s studio, and we worked on the song, and it was super organic—nothing forced. He was more than happy to be on the project, and that just made me happy.
Many of your tracks feature funky guitar riffs, such as in “Devilish.” You’ve mentioned in the past that you listen to a lot of Kanye West, Smashing Pumpkins and pointed to Warped Tour as a big influence on your sound. Who else do you look up to musically from the ’90s and ’00s?
I’m a ’90s baby, so I grew up in the 2000s. But I got all the trickle-off of the end of the ’90s. I got less of the Fresh Prince and more of MTV. There were several eras of MTV, but the era that I got specifically was one that was super rock-inspired, and it was the peak of pop punk and stuff like that. I remember sitting in front of the TV in Mexico and watching music videos and just soaking up all this stuff that I didn’t know was going to affect me so much later in life.
How do you perceive your own music, and do you think it’s necessary to label artists with one genre? Do you think the days of genre-specific playlists are going to become obsolete?
Categorization helps many things in life because humans like simplicity and accessibility. So for some people, having a genre to define something helps them decipher or [identify] something that they’re looking for specifically. I think that it’s more talked about now that people are making music that is so outside of the concept of genre that it’s become genre-bending. And it’s like, “Well, no, because then you’re giving it another title.” That’s a paradox. I don’t think genres are obsolete, nor do I think they’re not important. I just think that for the people that don’t focus on genres, there is more space for them to gallop outside of the comfort or the constraints of what a genre would have as a pretense to what their music should be.
How do you hope that this blending and creating a sound that doesn’t really fit a specific category transcends and inspires other musicians and fans, whether they’re current fans or fans you’ll gain throughout the next couple of years?
I just hope that it gives them the wherewithal to know that it’s music, and it’s supposed to be something that transcends the person that is making the music. I want it to be bigger than me. So I would hope that more people just make music that supersedes their own existence. So not to be the solution or the absolution of any problem, but I hope that people get the idea that the major constraints upon things that appear to be different are exaggerated because we are super different. We’re all snowflakes, and that’s super OK.
You can read the full interview with Jean Dawson in Alternative Press issue 390 featuring cover star Orville Peck here.