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Writing about love is both the easiest and hardest thing to do. The feeling itself is a tangled jumble of conflicting emotions that can cause ecstatic highs and soul-crushing lows. Despite the flood of feelings the emotion triggers, though, it's daunting to think about where to begin, and given the enormity of the subject and the innumerable people that have tackled it before you, you'd be forgiven for not even starting.
At his age, Jaymes Young, the 23-year-old Los Angeles singer-songwriter born and raised in Seattle, shouldn't know so much about the topic. But in his music, one hears a Poet Laureate of exhilaration and heartbreak. Young possesses that often attempted—yet rarely achieved—ability to make the personal universal and universal personal; discussing past relationships with frank candor and insight.
"I've been cheated on several times; I've done it to people too, so touché," says Young. "It's made me who I am. I don't see myself as one of those sad romantics, but love is the most important thing in the world and the only way we get anything done, so I see it as a pretty important topic to write about. My lyrics aren't about specific relationships, but specific things I've learned about relationships over time."
Dark Star, the singer's debut mixtape, channels elation, heartache, joyousness and bitterness through the guitarist's blend of indie pop and R&B. It's as if James Blake, Active Child and the Weeknd all wrote down and blended their best and worst memories of past relationships and hit Record.
"For me, my lyrics represent questions like, 'What's all this about? Do I just try this again? Do other people try this again?'," Young says. "I wanted to bring something out of the listener that they didn't know existed before or that they didn't touch on before. I wanted to help people get to know themselves and be honest with themselves." Far from your typical treacly pop lyrics, Young's music touches on every stage of love and loss, with his tone ranging from defiant to conciliatory.
There's a haunting quality that underlies Dark Star and Young's upcoming 5-song EP, though the music veers from wobbly synths ("Dark Star") to loping pianos ("Parachute") to gentle acoustic guitar ("One Last Time"). The pop hooks of "Hold You Down" and "Moondust" will stay in your head for days, while "Running on Fumes" could be a lost Justin Timberlake b-side. Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, is Young's unexpectedly earnest, gorgeous cover of Haddaway's cheesy Eurodance hit "What Is Love," disassembled and slowed down to re-imagine the track as a mournful romantic elegy.
It's the opening salvo in a career formed by Young's personal experiences growing up in Seattle. While his two older brothers were playing football, you could find Young studying science and philosophy, two subjects that still interest him today. One day, the fledgling biologist, obsessed with music, picked up his parent's classical guitar and realized his new interest: songwriting. "It sounded like shit, but it was still the best sound I'd ever heard," recalls Young. Seattle didn't offer the songwriter much besides rain, and while Young had already been writing poems, the autodidactic guitarist would stay in and record hundreds of songs.
Fast forward to 2012, and Young has moved to Los Angeles to record and mix Dark Star in his apartment, in between watching countless documentaries and studying quantum physics. Released in September 2013, Dark Star received immediate label interest and blog acclaim upon its release.
"The music is bigger than myself," says Young. "I'm not making it to serve myself. I'm really making it for people who are hurting and need to know that there is something that they can relate to and hold on to; people that need something that can get them through the day; people who don't really have a lot of luxuries."