Oh, Jams: Brother Reade-cum-Widows MC on the end of an era, start of another

by Ryan Snyder

James Jolliff, AKA Jams F. Kennedy, hard at work. (photo by Jiro Schneider)

The Game stops when you mash pause,” Jams F. Kennedy raps on Danish beatmakers the Works’ track “Live & Direct,” which might explain why the Winston-Salem-born MC, drummer and producer known back home as James Jolliff never stops creating. Despite the late-2009 dissolution of Brother Reade, his acclaimed duo with high school friend Eric Garcia, AKA DJ Bobby Evans, their creative partnership surges forward as Widows, a project that’s more beat collaborative than hip-hop duo. The tracks that Kennedy introduced via his mixtape A Heart-Breaking Work of Swagger and G-Ness than shows more emphasis on grimy beats and digital manipulation of Kennedy’s deliberate Sprechstimme, with more on the way in the form of the pair’s first release in the new incarnation.

Kennedy recently moved to New York after living in Los Angeles, but will return to his hometown of Winston-Salem this weekend for his first show since Brother Reade performed over two years ago.

Y!W: First it was a Brother Reade show this weekend, then it’s a solo Jams F. Kennedy show. What prompted the change?

JFK: Bob’s going to be in France. He’s doing this project with some of our other friends in LA and they’re going to record at the RVCA Studio in southern France. We were originally talking about doing the Brother Reade show and I really wanted to do it, but the dates just didn’t work out. It’s a letdown, but I’m still going to bring my A-game.

Y!W: Where do your solo sets differ from your collaborations with Bobby?

JFK: It’s more focused on my material that I made apart from him.

We’re working on a new thing, but when I do a solo show in New York, I try out new tunes or play the collaborations I do with other people. I’m going to play a bunch of Brother Reade tunes, though. It’s kind of a way of saying goodbye.

Y!W: So Brother Reade is done?

JFK: In a way, yeah. It’s hard to describe without getting into the idiosyncratic artist psychology, but we started out several years ago with a goal in mind and grew with it a long time. It just kind of ran its course, but we still want to collaborate. Now it’s like, “Well, lets just do what we want to do next.” But yeah, Brother Reade as it is known has definitely been punctuated.

Y!W: It’s been more than 18 months since you and Bobby became Widows. What’s on deck?

JFK: We have an EP loaded up for release next year on a label in the UK and we’ve been doing some multimedia stuff with it. We just launched this augmented reality installation in Soho that’s up for two weeks, then it will be up in New York. We’re both finding ourselves caught up in these very robust creative careers apart, but we’ve been playing for so long that we get together and work just because we need to. It’s like coming up for air. The more complicated our solo careers get, the sweeter our collaborations turn out.

For the art installation, it’s a part of a campaign from Beck’s beer that’s put together to provide visual artists, musicians and writers with grants to create digital installations. We were lucky enough to be a part of the first wave of artists to receive the grant. In a way that was a really nice bump for us because in terms of commercial projects, it was one of the best ones we could get involved with. We had the resources to pull off whatever we could imagine. That spawned, not to let the cat out of the bag, some more new material that Bob and I are working on.

Y!W: What became of you collaboration with Nick DeWitt from Pretty Girls Make Graves?

JFK: We had an improvisational drum project called Snarebear, which we aren’t actively working on anything for right now. We did make a ton of recordings and I don’t know if any of those will ever see the light of day, but I love them. They’re in the can and anyone who ever wants to put those out is welcome to.

But Nick is such a brilliant artist and such a creative force. We got to study with him at these improvisational master classes for six months around the time we were reconceptualizing our project, so he was fully instrumental in what we’re doing now.

Y!W: Your mixtape had tracks from some great LA producers. Do you have lot of collaborative material with them that you’re sitting on?

JFK: I have some appearances on other people’s stuff that are in the works. I have friends of friends that I made out here in LA that put me in touch with people in the UK. I don’t have anything that I can really talk about yet because I’m definitely focused on more Widows material before the EP comes out because I want to keep it moving. There’s a lot of energy and a lot of excitement going on.

Jams F. Kennedy will perform at Ziggy’s on Friday with Love Craft, Torch Runner and Uzzard.