Chromatic

In Simonne Jones' past life, she was a scientist. With a degree in biomedicine, she got a job working in an HIV research lab. But she wasn't fulfilled. So she quit her job and moved to Africa on a grant to work on an HIV awareness campaign. It was there that she realized she wasn't supposed to be a scientist at all.

"I’m living in the bush without electricity, running water, and these massive ridiculous bugs that are the size of birds with, like, horns and pinchers and stuff," she told me. "And I just came to this realization: There are a lot of things I could choose to do as a profession, but music is that one thing that I just can’t stop doing."

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Now, Simonne uses her background in scientific theory to write electro-pop songs that lyrically reference complex concepts like relativity and gravity while sounding both otherworldly and like a hymn you've always known. Her debut EP Gravity, out today, soothes listeners with its perfectly crafted beats and Simonne's soaring vocals into a kind of dream state of introspection. It's five songs steeped in relationships: the ones we have with the earth, the ones we have with others, and the ones we have with ourselves.

On Thursday, I video-chatted with Simonne Jones—who was born in Los Angeles, but now calls Berlin home—about her passion for science, her first official release, and the process of learning to produce her own music in an industry where production is so heavily dominated by men.

When did you start creating music?

I started playing piano when I was three. Somebody gave us a piano, so we had one in the house. I don’t really know how it happened. I didn’t have lessons. I was informally trained. But we had, like, "how to teach yourself piano" books in the house. I used to just copy things that I would hear, and then when I was a little bit older, I started evolving and learning. I started playing Beethoven and Chopin and all of these classics.

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Eventually, I started playing other instruments, like guitar, bass, percussion, and clarinet. Whatever I could get my hands on, really, in my teens. My very first songs were actually classical compositions on the piano when I was 10 or 11. And I started writing pop songs when I was in college.

I think a lot of people see a huge distinction between classical and pop music, but there’s definitely some overlap there. How did that early classical training influence what you’re doing today?

Chopin taught me how to write a good pop song, believe it or not. The way he transitions between chords and movements. There’s always this tension that’s built around the root note. He kind of tickles around it, and then eventually comes to it, and then goes away and comes back. There are phrases that repeat at opportune moments, just like pop music.

Which artists have made an impact on how you see yourself and your work?

I really like the work that Peaches is doing today. She’s amazing. I don’t just love the music, but I love the idea behind her music and what she represents.

I think that it’s a really cool thing that she doesn’t ever need to say, like, “I am a feminist.” She just is. Or she doesn’t need to say, "I’m genderfluid," or anything else. She just embodies all of these things. It’s a really beautiful essence of what that could be: It’s not a discussion anymore, people just are. I really like that. She’s been a really great mentor to me in general, in really [encouraging] me to become a producer and understand that [women producers are] a rare breed.

There are very few women producing their own (or any) music right now. How did you end up doing that and why?

It was very tempting in the early stages of my musical development in Berlin, in terms of electronic music, to work with male producers and kind of get pigeon-holed and pushed into just doing the vocals. But it’s funny, because now when I’m in these sessions and I do have these collaborations with other producers, I’ll kick them out of the chair and I’ll engineer the session and add my own plug-ins that I like, and I’ll comp my own vocals, and I’ll make my own beats. It’s more musical chairs as opposed to me sitting on a table saying, “I want to make this beat sound more blah blah.” I don’t need to say that because I can just do it.

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A lot of musicians don’t know how to communicate the technical terms of what they are trying to express. So they will go into a session and be like, "I want this to sound blue," or "I want this to sound spacey," and that’s just a producer’s nightmare. But if you go in there and you’re like, "Okay, I want to add a spring-reverb here, and a valhalla reverb," if you know specifically what you are trying to do, you can make sure your idea is being expressed fully.

I’ve been teaching teenage girls about production and creating little workshops for them. And I just love that. I can’t really imagine preaching through my lyrical content or in my music. For me, it’s about the kind of things I inspire just by doing what I’m doing.

How did you pick the five songs that are on your EP?

Well, they were selected from 200, very painfully. It took a very long time and a lot of listening sessions with a lot of people that I trust, but ultimately I just had to pick them. Twelve of them will probably be on the album. But the rest of them, I don’t know what will happen to them.

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There is a lot of scientific theory on this album, especially on "Spooky." Can you tell me how you became interested in that?

Well, I’m a big nerd, I guess. I have a degree in biomedical research and visual arts, and then I minored in art history and biology. And I worked in a biochemical engineering lab before I became a musician. I was involved in research groups that would talk about cutting-edge scientific work, so it’s part of my daily practice to wake up and look for new things that are happening in technology, physics, neuroscience, and engineering.

I love science. It just gets me. For me, it’s that feeling that I guess every person has experienced—you go outside on a clear night and you look up and there is this dome of stars and you feel really special but also unimportant at the same time, really small and insignificant. It’s this crazy, weird, mysterious thing that you even exist. And the questions surrounding that are why I’m interested in science. It’s also why I’m interested in music: the exploration of the unknown and this limitless universe and just this super-fantastic potential that human beings have.

When people listen to your EP, what kind of feelings do you hope it will evoke?

I guess I would say excitement about possibilities. I hope people listen to it and become really excited to experience their potential in the world—that they wanna get up and move and create something that would change their lives.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity

Simonne Jones's debut EP Gravity is out today via Vertigo Berlin. You can purchase it here or stream it on Spotify. 

Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.