LargeUp Interview: Rolling with Jovi Rockwell

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February 19, 2013

Words by Jesse Serwer, Photos by Martei Korley—

Jovi Rockwell

Jovi Rockwell is one of the most dynamic and intriguing Jamaican vocalists, female or otherwise, to emerge in the last decade. Though she’s impressed us over and over with her scene-stealing cameos on an eclectic set of tracks by everyone from Mr. Vegas and Major Lazer to FloRida and Lil Wayne, (not to mention her 2009 mixtape, Psycho Therapy) she has yet to release an album of her own. And she has kept a particularly low profile over the last two years, emerging for only for a handful of cameos, Internet loosies and shows.

As we found when we caught up with Jovi at Miami’s Hit Factory studio one early afternoon last fall, the singer and songwriter has been at work becoming a musician and producer, skills which she promises to unveil on an eclectic upcoming mixtape she plans to call Frankenstein. She’s also put together an all-girl band called Jovi and the Rockwells to back her up at live shows.

Of course, besides for being a talented artist, Jovi is a beautiful woman capable of switching gears from guitar-toting tomboy to seductive femme fatale in one quick change. We couldn’t resist the opportunity to photograph the Kingston native in some of the most picturesque settings in her adopted hometown of Miami. Read on for the full Jovi Rockwell story, and look out for more Jovi on LargeUp shortly.

LargeUp: Do you normally hit the studio this early?

Jovi Rockwell: No. Bob Marley used to like to record in the morning. So I heard. He liked his voice in the morning and he felt whatever we channel lyrically [in the morning] was really pure. I may have read that, or seen it in a documentary, [but] that was really inspiring to me.

LU: Tell us about what you are working on…

JR: Well, I recently discovered that I am a musician. Last year, I had a revelation. You could say I had a personal low. And I just found comfort in instruments. Every human being goes through this: You try to find the meaning of things, and why they happen. I’m a believer that things happen for a reason. Life is trying to show you something. And I felt it was showing me I needed to push my greatness and become what I felt I wasn’t capable of doing.

When I would work with producers, I would write lyrics without music a lot. I’d always say, “I wish I could play,” and they’d tell me if you can write without music, you can play. I’m always being compared to artists who are out. The comparison doesn’t offend me [but] I wanted to set myself apart. There’s other people who can write, there are beautiful women out there, so I thought what can I do to set myself apart? I decided to become a musician. I started playing the piano. I could always kind of play the bass but I play it better now, and I fell in love with the guitar. [From] doing that, I produced my first track. In a moment of things being unclear, it became clear to me what life was showing me. Ever since then I have found a lot of peace. I don’t need people to make me happy, once I found and built a relationship with music. I taught myself theory as well. I just went down into the rabbit hole, and just kept falling, and I really loved it. While I was teaching myself the practical, I was teaching myself the theory. Now I’m a musician.

Jovi Rockwell

LU: Your piano sounds pretty good. Have you played for a while?

JR: I could just stab around on it before, but I really focused in on it. Because I would read about how to play from books or  the Internet. I started recognizing chord progressions, then started using those chord progressions, and then I would make my own songs. During that time I started listening to a whole lot of rock and roll and it inspired me to play the guitar. I started researching the history of guitar and what guitars other guitarists used. It’s like I discovered a brand-new me. I’m grateful for it. Being from Jamaica, they put you in a box because you can deejay and singjay and do reggae and dancehall music. You get stuck in that zone. I always wanted to have dimension and add dynamics to sounds. I couldn’t find anyone who knew the sounds I was hearing in my head. Being a musician has really changed my perspective on everything. I can truly define my own sound. Now I’m gonna produce records on this upcoming [project]. I’d like for other artists to call me  play the bass on this, or the guitar. That is the idea I have for myself. I want to be appreciated as a musician, and looked at from that perspective, with the other things I’m capable of doing.

LU: You’ve always written your songs, right?

JR: Written and co-written. And for other artists.

LU: Mainly lyrics?

JR: Yeah, but when I work with a producer, I would do a song that came out of my mind and then they would produce it, or I would sit with them and say why don’t you make something that sounds like “awawoaw” and they would encourage, why don’t you learn to play it? You’re hearing sounds in your head…So it was basically writing and doing that kind of interaction.

Read on for Part 2, as Jovi discusses working with Diplo/Major Lazer and Snoop Lion