Last week, Robert J. Kemp released his debut album “Warmer now”. The writing and recording process took about two years to finish, in between jobs and in his spare time. Ever since we became fans of his ambient pop sound, we wanted to know more about him. So we asked him how he started out and where his inspiration comes from. This is the story about his love for music and the emotional response it evokes from people.
Robert J. Kemp is a musician from Hamilton, Ontario in Canada, and has been making music ever since he remembers. When asked if he would tell his story, he once again realized how important music is in his life. He admits that he listens to music up to about 7 hours a day. Something we can definitely relate to! “I think I’ve just always had such a strong emotional response to certain songs and artists when I was a kid”, he continues, “I don’t think there’s any way I could have avoided becoming involved in making music. I started a band when I was in grade 8 with my brother, and ever since then it’s carried on…”
“…and now it’s evolved into this. I truly couldn’t live without music.
A true love of mine.”
After high school he had to choose between his two loves: Film and Music. His decision for film school instead of music production was made after a meeting with a sound engineer. He said: “You have to really want to record bands and find pleasure in it.” And that’s what made his decision: wanting to record his own music, not another band’s. So film school it was. And he hasn’t regretted it. He learned that he didn’t have to choose at all! And he made some friends with whom he started a business called Black Lake Media for creating music, visuals and short films for commercial purposes. Robert has made some film scores and he would love to continue to do so. You can find his credits as RJ Kemp in the Internet Movie Database (IMDb).
His first songs were deep ambient soundscapes. With intertwining melodies and sounds fading in and out, these are haunting and mesmerizing. We were introduced to his music by “Summerhaze”, which became one of Indie Pop-Ups’ favourites of 2015. This song was different: it was a real pop song, combined with that ambient sound. “I also try to incorporate a more approachable pop style in the music, in the vein of some classic 80’s melodies”, Robert explains.
You can clearly hear his other influences, being post-rock, ambient and shoegaze. He loves the beautifully haunting environments they create. “They’re visual and really make you think about things”, he adds. He sites Explosions in the Sky and shoegazers like My Bloody Valentine as inspirations for his guitar style. He loves how “the guitars hit you like a wall of sound… it’s immediately compelling”. His lyrical inspiration varies from realism to metaphors, from The Smiths to The National.
“My single goal as an artist is to make you feel something when you’re listening. That for me is my idea of success.”
The best reward for Robert is when his music evokes emotions and thoughts about the listener’s life. “One of the best moments in my life as an artist happened when I was at a bar. It was late, loud music was playing, people were drinking. An acquaintance of mine looked at me seriously and said, “I had an experience with the music. It made me think about my life. The good and the bad. Nostalgia and my future. Thank you for that”. To this day, his comment has inspired me to continue to make music.”
And now there is finally his debut album “Warmer Now”, which will definitely spark emotions and personal reflection! Through both music and lyrics. The album starts with “Sun Hands”, a calm reflective song about not recognizing someone’s reaching for you. The second song “Two Bodies” is a wall of guitars, subdued by ambient noise and drums. It’s loudness contradicts it’s positive love message. Our favourite song “Summerhaze” gives a breath of air as it is calmer and has a brighter sound. The song is the perfect combination of Aphex Twin‘s ambient and Joy Division‘s post-punk: light and dark, hopeful and melancholic at the same time. Basically we consider this gem a masterpiece. “Touch/Kiss” is an ethereal interlude, and sounds almost orchestral. On “Nepenthe” you can hear the despair in Kemp’s voice singing about the realization that a distance will be inevitable. “You, Always” is a beautiful ode to the Other One, followed by the dark and slow synth-heavy “Midnight Oceans”. The last song “The Youngest We’ll Ever Be” is an instrumental one. It’s both epic in length and sound; to give you time and pace to rethink all the emotions and thoughts triggered by the previous songs. It’s a beautiful song for both closing and closure.
The overall theme seems to be the difficulties in relating to people, while keeping true to oneself. But the album is also about the joy and celebration when there is a true (love) connection. The title “Warmer Now” indicates growth and self-acceptance. Using well-known metaphors in unexpected ways, Kemp’s lyrics will make you think and wonder. Just as the music will: within a song the sounds and melodies can contradict each other creating intriguing, haunting pieces of music. In combination with the lyrics, this adds a whole new layer to the album. An album that will ultimately give you goosebumps on your body, mind ánd soul.