Last Gasp Collective began in 2013 as a band with magnificent aspirations. Now, in 2018, LGC is beginning to see those dreams come into reality. Based in Kalamazoo, MI, you might see Last Gasp Collective as a 10-piece band, a 25-piece orchestra, or you might see one of their solo artists performing under the Last Gasp Label.
JK: Where does Last Gasp Collective come from?
J: We came from me and my brother, I always call him my brother but he’s actually not– just that close best friend– we went to the same church which was actually our school, ???, we were there 6 days a week, and we just started making music together Were very strict so not too many things we can do, sports involvement limited, secular activities limited, so music was one of the few things they’d let us do any time we wanted to so we naturally gravitated to it years later after high school and whatnot we kinda decided we were gonna try and take it serious so Last Gasp was formed.
Okay, and is your brother, as you say, still part of the Collective?
No, he’s not. He’s, ya know, back in school, working, pursuing a different path right now.
You’ve said a little bit just now about not putting a ceiling on it, but “collective”, what does that word mean to you?
Power in numbers. I use the most cliché example all the time, it’s just you know, the power in one finger, but you join five fingers together and you create a fist and the impact of a fist vs the impact of a finger is… a huge difference. That’s been kind of our approach to everything. There’s a much bigger draw and a much bigger reach with multiple people involved. We have people that we feel can forefront the graphic design and the imagery side of things, and we feel confident in the people that can forefront the writing of songs, we feel confident in our people that can engineer, record, and mix these songs so basically everybody plays a different role; everybody is amazing at what they do. If we put them in a place to be successful and everybody comes together we bring all these talents at this one big fine well-oiled working machine that is the goal. We’ll see how it works out, but that’s why “collective”. That’s what collective means to me.
There are 10 active members in Last Gasp Collective. What do each of them contribute?
I (Jay Jackson) produce, I write, I record, play guitar live, and I rap. Then we have Nezi, Venezia Jones, our other lead vocalist, Jessica Ivey, our second lead-vocalist, Jordan Hamilton- our cello player and our accountant, our business man, Eron Lauchie, that’s our keyboardist, Terrence Smith our drummer, Nicholas Baxter our aux percussionist, Xavier Bonner, saxophone player; Jesse Lemons, trumpet player, and Joel Pixley-Flink, our bassist.
You formed five years ago. In your recent facebook post, before you played Lamplight (2018), you mentioned that you expanded from five musicians to a twenty-five piece orchestra. Can you expand on that?
So the reason I said it in that post was because we played Lamplight 3 years ago. The beauty of the growth in those 3 years, where we were just that 5-piece trying figure things out, and now we’re at a place where we can, you know, bring on 15 string players, write and score music for them. We can bring on 7-8 background singers and also have choir arrangements prepared for them, and then bring on our 10-piece band, and still not just sound like utter chaos on stage because the amount of preparation and arrangement that goes into it. That post was just acknowledging that growth, and the potential growth that there still is to come.
You have mentioned re-branding, and we’ll be getting to that, but first, I want to ask you about some of the challenges that you have faced as Last Gasp Collective?
The biggest problems always stem from things that have zero to do with the band, the collective, or the music whatsoever. That’s what I’ve found, trying to get paid in the entertainment industry, the biggest thing that’s gonna hinder you is gonna has nothing to do with the industry. It’s life. It’s being able to keep going during the times when you’re maybe not getting compensated for the amount of time you’re putting in, but still trying to keep the bills paid, keep family happy, try to keep up with normal life while still trying to devote everything to this craft.
To contrast that, let’s talk a little bit about the successes that you’ve had in the past 5 years.
Some of the biggest moments in the band have been the release of our first fully produced album, Agape*, 17 songs, produced and recorded the entire thing in house. We were very proud of it in the sense that it was hip hop, but all live instrumentation, all written by us, all original, and it got received very well. We shot a video for “Small Town” (from Agape).
We’ve won tons of music competitions, at least 4 or 5 since we’ve been together. We’ve been able to tour regionally. Being such a big act, that was a task to handle, but we were able to do it. We wanted to be this big of a band, so it was, let’s see if we can take this big of a band on the road (10 people) because if not, then it’s not sustainable, and we did it. All of these things have been great milestones.
Let’s get onto talking about this rebranding. What’s going on?
We’re just letting people know that we’re trying to separate the band from the label, we really want to define the label as a company, entity in itself, and the band is strictly a band that is signed underneath the umbrella of the label. The label will now be providing marketing, booking, managing, distribution for Nezi Jones, the first artist we’ll be taking on. Myself and Jessica Ivey will be on it, Jordan Hamilton, as a solo act, and Xavier Bonner, a solo saxophonist. These are 4 official artists who will be releasing fully produced music under Last Gasp the Label. We’ll be touring, performing and releasing content under Last Gasp the Label, and that’s kind of the first step in rebranding, just letting people know that they can come here, not just for the band’s product, but for other artists’ content as well.
At this point in the interview, Venezia Jones, styled as Nezi Jones, who is both part of the band and who is also one of LGC’s first solo artists, joined us.
Is there a precedent that you are following, or perhaps one that you want to set?
J: I mean, yeah! Precedents set by all the Greats. If there’s anything I wanna do, I find someone who is successful at it, that I think is good at it, and I just study them, so I think I’m definitely following in the steps of Barry Gordy and Quincy Jones. I think about these guys and what they did- what Barry Gordy was able to do with Motown and Cadillac Records in Chicago. I study these guys because they knew they made good art, but they were able to figure out a way to continue to make good art and pay their bills and make it sustainable. Not only figure it out for themselves, but extend that knowledge to hundreds, countless other artists, and make a way. Not just figure out a path for themselves but blaze a trail that many people can come behind and follow.
How do these releases tie back into the spirit of Last Gasp?
NJ: So the way I see it is, we’re all different, and we all have different personalities. Before it was just a little taste of each person’s personality, but now it’s evolved into something bigger. We can all have our own project, and invest in that, and drive it instead of being a part of someone else’s [project]. It definitely gives a lot more creative autonomy– the way I see it, reaching out to different audiences. There’s room for us to be ourselves, that’s the main thing I take away from it.
I like what you said, about how in the Collective there’s more a flavor of everyone else, just like a dash of it, whereas individually you actually have an idea of the full spectrum that might be part of that creative mind.
J: She [Nezi] hit the nail right on the head.
How will you play as Last Gasp the Band, and also do these other acts?
J: t’s gonna be about time management and delegating. The acts getting the calls are the acts getting the gigs. We’re not there yet, but we’re breeding the spirit. This next year I want to start crunching numbers, start making it make sense in time, money, and effort invested; making the numbers make sense to sustain Last Gasp.
This interview if part of a 3-part series which will examine two solo releases from Last Gasp the label.
* While Agape is the first studio release from Last Gasp Collective, Jay assured me that the sounds of 2016 and what LGC produces now are so vastly different that they don’t push it heavily. However, Agape is available on all streaming services; on YouTube, you can find a spread that Kalamazoo-based visual artist, Law Stout, produced for the album.