Welcome back to the Label Space feature series. Through the next few months we’ll be featuring some of our friends and collaborative partners on the magazine, interviewing the major players to find out more about the inner workings of their musical brands. First up for February is Will Pugh and Levi David of the spiritually driven JRNI brand. Levi, of course, you might recognise already as he released on our label platform back in December with his ‘breaks-filled’ Lust EP release.
What does JRNI stand for, is it an acronym or something else?
Levi: JRNI (pronounced: juh-nee) for us has many meanings. We are huge advocates for music that takes you on a journey. The best musicians tend to do that, almost naturally just create such a flow from start to finish that you come out the other side thinking – wow. Everything we do and are in this life is one big journey. We’re all on this journey of life together you know? Whether it’s spiritual, physical or mentally we’re all in it together.
Will: Without the way that our journey has mapped out to this point we may never have taken the leap to create and be a part of something that we’ve both loved all our adult lives. I’m a huge believer in the universe having its ways and I’m so grateful to it for putting the two of us on the exact path. Who knows if we hadn’t both lost work because of the pandemic, or we’d both not been through what we’d been through we may not have had that conversation and started the journey together. Everything has led us to this point and we’re really grateful for it doing so.
Levi: We do have other meanings for JRNI but we’ll keep those in house!
Who makes up the brand and what roles do they play?
Will: JRNI is made up of two halves to the same coin, the yin and the yang (We won’t say who’s which as it changes from day to day haha)
Levi David is the face of the label and is more focused on the musical production side of things whereas I work more in the background with the day to day management of the label, its channels and Levi’s career.
Levi: It works really well, to us the fact we’ve been good friends for such a long time now makes it so much easier for us to bounce ideas off one another, we’ve both got an understanding for one another and an ear for it musically so when we do get in the studio together we are able to quickly establish what we are looking for which increases workflow 10 fold compared to me being on my own in the studio, day in and day out.
How are you different from other start-up labels on the net?
Will: We believe we are different due to our ultimate cause. JRNI is focused entirely on building from the ground up, focusing on up and coming talent and taking them along on the journey with us. There are so many undiscovered gems in the scene that our focus is to unearth them, work to their strengths and ultimately giving them the platform to shine as opposed to working with already established stars. Sort of like a conveyor belt for talent!
Our whole inception isn’t built on the everyday label understandings. We take a lot of our influence from every day life, our spiritual findings and make a lot of decisions that way (hence our live stream mix series being called 11:11)
Levi: In a time where so much of main stream labels are based entirely on looks, we want to create an entire package together with the artist and help shape them on a journey through art, music and vision.
Essentially, we believe in creating a platform which will enable artists and creatives to put their music to the world, and at the same time become part of a likeminded community which will share our journey and passion for the sounds we have grown to love.
When talking about music selection, what genre’s or sound do you delve into?
Will: We just love music that takes on a journey throughout, and has seen us across a wide variety of genres pre-JRNI, but when we sit down in the studio together we mainly get that feel from more melodic, symphonic Techno so that is the primary sound that we like to work with.
There is truly nothing better than being in the middle of a crowd, watching an extended set from a selector who has taken the time to truly take you on a journey with them through time, space and back again. We aspire to look at DJs who do this like Solomun, Tale of Us & our personal favourites right now, Mathame.
Levi: Although we are both very diverse with music on a personal level, JRNI is all about awakening those deeper seated emotions within you that you never knew were truly there. That for me is the beauty of music production, and to be able to share this love for it has pushed us to explore the most ambitious and captivating sounds in melodic techno that we hope to share with you through our platform.
I think we would both agree that as current, it would be quite the challenge for new artists within this genre in the UK to find an avenue to progress and we hope with JRNI we can bring exactly that.
Live streaming is a big part of the JRNI brand, what made you start doing this, opposed to releasing tracks straight away?
Will: Having our label born in a worldwide lockdown gave us more challenges than answers initially, at the drop of a hat the UK government were changing the rules and regulations so at times where we had drawn out plans we really had to improvise.
We both quite like a challenge and like to think of ourselves as problem solvers amongst our group of friends, so this underground approach of popping up and playing off the cuff live stream parties as a way of honing our craft just made total sense to us.
We won’t go as far as saying we are grateful for the lockdown but we believe that everything is timing. JRNI was only born because of timing and more so than that the timing just felt right.
Levi: Will & I are both excited to sit down and go through the archive, putting together releases when all this is over. We have so much created for special dance-floor moments that it would be a pity to not give the records exactly that.
The first livestream we did had an amazing response and really showed us that people needed something to take them away from the worlds current affairs. It was nice to be a part of something that got people dancing again, even if it was just in their living rooms.
The label has a strong motive towards raising awareness about Mental Health, which charities do you work with and why?
Levi: Yeah so over the past six months, we’ve been working alongside mental health charity, CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)
We’ve both had our struggles over the years as most 20 somethings finding their way in life do, but just as we were toying with the idea of launching the label, one of Wills close friends, Ryan sadly passed away after a silent internal battle with mental health. Ryan was a beautiful soul who brought joy, love and compassion to everyone who knew him so that itself showed us the true fragility of life.
Will: For me losing Ryan was such a shock, it really hit hard and still does to this day. Without knowing so his loss truly sped the want to help change things for others who are also suffering in silence. The system as is isn’t working and without becoming political we both wanted to do what we could to help become catalysts for real change and encourage others to join us in doing so.
Music is our everything and has come as a comforter for us both through so many beautiful moments, whilst also being a friend in dark and uncertain times, time and time again.
So what better way than to push the two together? Our love for music and want for change. Our aim is to continue to use JRNI and our live streams as a platform to voice our urge for better mental health funding and especially to help end the stigma and fear on Men speaking out through the music.
Levi: We’ve ran 3 live streams now as JRNI Records, 2 of those focused on fundraising for mental health and along the way we’ve had some incredible guests come to play for us. Manchester based ITSHEr, Breaks inspired duo Deliriya and Tommy Farrow, long time friend of the label who is having such great success right now which is beautiful to see!
The beauty with all the artists we’ve worked with so far is that they all have their own tale and reasons behind wanting to fundraise for mental health and it has been a pleasure having them stood alongside us using their talent as campaign for change.
Will: So far we’ve had a great response and have raised almost £1000 in Ryan’s name which is fantastic – but we can’t stop yet. We must make change.
Levi: With the live streams currently in hiatus, we still want to raise funds for CALM through music. We’ve decided today to run the fundraiser alongside our free download series that we’ve just announced last week. We want to encourage you to donate if you enjoy the releases, however big or small it may be – everything matters.
When are you planning to drop your first release and who are you featuring first on the label?
Levi: We’ve just put together the melodic techno inspired free download series, which begins on February 26th with our tribute to Ryan entitled ‘Still Alive’ . The track is really special to us and we hope it will become exactly that to you too.
Will: For me it’s one of those seminal moments in music, I felt and still feel the energy of Ryan stood beside me with his hands in the air feeling the rhythm as I shut my eyes as the track builds each and every time. Just beautiful.
Levi: In terms of our first official release on JRNI, JRNI001 that is in the works, but with the state of the world at the moment, we are just spending what precious home time we have in the studio working on THAT record and when we find it we’ll know.
Will: Levi is forever sending me bits over that I can hear being incredible on the dance-floor and we are just itching as ever to get back to that there, I can’t wait to have the strobe light guide us home again.
Levi: I think it’s really important to build a base first, and this is what we want to do with some of my solo material. I’ve just had a record signed with a huge melodic techno label that I’m super excited to reveal but all in due time. Just like everything with us. Timing is everything.
Which artists have you got your eye on for a follow-up release or who would you like to sign next?
Levi: Honestly we’ve not thought that far ahead, we have so much music of our own to get out there that that has been the real focus so far in 2021 but who knows we may get a V/A out before long.
Will: But in terms of others we are really enjoying what labels such as Steyoyoke (Berlin) , Sequence (Sheffield) and AFTR:HRS (Tiesto’s melodic label) are doing right now. For us it’s all about the full package. The art, the music and most importantly the people and their message behind it.
Will: For actual artists I’m personally really enjoying what Borneo Function are doing right now (A duo based out of Manchester who are doing some really cool work)
Levi: And Macious too.. that guy is really on the rise and about to do big things!