The idea was to figure out how a French collective could bring together musicians from around the world to release an album and its corresponding videos without ever having met before. About thirty people make up this 2019-founded collective called DAMde8, which is based in Bordeaux, France.
Instilling the values of cooperation that DAMde8 taught them, fifteen of these people have put these values into practice. Sarah Jay Hawley from Massive Attack is their special guest as they present the album MAJOR JONES, sung by Major Kami.
To talk about David Bowie’s life without mentioning his name once in the lyrics was the challenge they set for this electropop album, which was inspired by the late singer.
With a mini master keyboard and a corner of his dining room table as his canvas, Denis Expert started the compositions in 2020. He also composed the melodies he hummed in “yoghurt,” recording everything on his computer.
For the sound and harmonic production, his friend Dan Burkhart, a composer, arranger, and sound engineer, came in. Locating a singer was the only thing left to do. He eventually hears the voice of a Canadian singer who lives in Singapore after making a number of unsuccessful attempts and abandonments. He advised her to listen to the yoghurt-infused songs despite not knowing her. Camille Miller, who goes by the name Major Kami. Check out the exclusive interview and the EP below:
1. Can you tell us a bit about where you come from and how it all got started?
MAJOR KAMI: I am a Canadian born in Germany on a Canadian Military base.At The age of three we were posted to The East Coast of Canada and over the years we were moved west, ending up on Vancouver Island in Canada.
2. Did you have any formal training or are you self-taught?
MAJOR KAMI: When I was very young, I had a guitar teacher for a short time.I had just started to write songs, and after showing him one of my songs, he told my parents that the songs I was writing were too old for me…This confused and devestated me and added to the fact that he wore wool socks with sandals in the summer…Needless to say, I did not have him for very long! I also lost interest in guitar until I was in my late teens…Throughout school I played recorder, then moved on to clarinet which I stuck with for 10 years.
3. Who were your first and strongest musical influences and why the name ‘MAJOR KAMI’?
MAJOR KAMI: My firsts and strongest musical influences came from classic singers and bands like Barbara Striesand,Aretha Franklin,Crystal Gayle,Stevie Wonder,Neil Diamond, Neil Young…My mother, also a military child had been a Radio DJ as a young woman on Military bases in Germany…She use to DJ a radio show of soul music and she had a huge Vinyl selection when I was a kid…I have memories of classic and important albums from Carole King,Mamas and The Papas,The Beatles,John Lennon sitting on our Shag carpet in the living room…Later, my mom was an Aerobics Instructor and she would sit up the night before creating her playlist for her class…I still remember doing some of her classes as a kid, and remember the hits that went with the exercises… As far as the Name ‘Major Kami’ goes, we started with Kami, which is close to my name Camille.After doing our online homework (as one must do these days) we discovered there are THOUSANDS of Kamis and we needed to look deeper. While shooting our video for Major Jones in Singapore, Denis had made a badge for my Space suit with the name ‘Major Kami’. This nod of respect to David Bowie’s Major Tom carried through as one of the names proposed to the Damede8 collective when trying to decide a meaningful artist name. When the results of the poll came back,MAJOR KAMI won by a landslide.
4. What do you feel are the key elements in your music that should resonate with listeners, and how would you personally describe your sound?
MAJOR KAMI: I feel the key elements that we can resonate with our listeners are the elements of hope and change that emanate from this music. In spite of fear, uncertainty,manic-panic and despite feeling like an outsider or a misfit sometimes, music awakens feelings of inspiration,positivity and clears our minds, giving us a clean slate to work with…If we all can allow this feeling to empower us, we can stand up and make ‘A Better Future’ for our children.
5. For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and music maker, and the transition towards your own style, which is known as POP?
MAJOR KAMI: From the time I was little, I was emulating the artists I loved…I remember sitting in my room (yeaaaars before the internet…haahaa) as a kid with my little record player and the 45 record “ A woman in Love” By Barbara Streisand was my favorite at that moment…I used to put tights on my head (3 pairs of brown tights) and braid them (I always had short hair and envied girl with long, braidable hair), I had a hairbrush as a microphone, and when I removed the lampshade from my bedroom lamp, my head was in perfect shadows on my wall…It looked as though I had the most glorious long hair and held a powerful microphone and was on a magnificent stage…I would sing over and over to that record until I nailed it..Haaahaaa, I did lots of this. I started writing songs at a very young age, but it wasn’t until I joined cover bands that I truly learned how to dissect a pop song. Learning OTHER artists’ work has ALWAYS inspired me to improve and change my own writing…For some artists this doesn’t work, but for me, I love it.I need to learn other ways to express myself, and learning from the current hits of the time, is a valuable education for me. As far as arriving at my own style, I think this too is always evolving…I am whatever I am as long as I am singing from my heart… At this time I am Major Kami, and I am part of a vehicle that is delivering some powerful emotions and messages…I am proud of having helped create this album, and ALL of the years of doing whatever it is that I have done, have led me to this point an enabled me to help create…I am grateful for this.
6. What’s your view on the role and function of music as political, cultural, spiritual, and/or social vehicles – and do you try and affront any of these themes in your work, or are you purely interested in music as an expression of technical artistry, personal narrative, and entertainment?
MAJOR KAMI: Again, I need to say that Major Kami is a collective. So I can answer how I feel about this, and I think we can add Denis’s opinion as well since this is his original project.I am not one for jumping into political or social vehicles…I don’t really do well in this area, I try to sing about things that affect me or affect my family and loved ones, I try to make everything personable and more intimate…I do not have the personality to be so bold and make statements for a large group of people. I sing and write because It makes me feel better, and I hope by doing this, I can share that feeling…However, I understand this project has a very big environmental meaning, and I can definitely get behind this and contribute…I think Denis should speak more on this!!! I have written to Denis and he has given us some thoughts from his perspective on this very wonderful question. “Art,whatever it is, must bring dreamland emotion.Even if the lyrics of Major Kami linked to David Bowie at the base, give a sense of deep values, they have no political pretensions but on the contrary leave room for the imagination in a music that wants to be open to all.” Denis Expert
7. Do you feel that your music is giving you back just as much fulfillment as the amount of work you are putting into it or are you expecting something more, or different in the future?
MAJOR KAMI: The satisfaction of not giving up on something, and putting your heart into it and seeing/hearing it in its completion, gives me SUCH a huge sense of accomplishment. Knowing that everyone involved put their own personal heart, sweat and tears into every track IS the prize at the end…But, I would be lying if I didn’t say I would LOVE it for thousands of people to also embrace and love this musical baby! We will see…We have done our best, and let this into the world, we just have to wait and be ready.
8. Could you describe your creative processes? How do usually start, and go about shaping ideas into a completed song? Do you usually start with a tune, a beat, or a narrative in your head? And do you collaborate with others in this process?
MAJOR KAMI: For this album the process was very interesting. All of the tracks started from Denis as keyboard ideas, some of the tracks had then been roughly produced/edited by Dan and then sent to me to either write lyrics and/or melodies OR interpret a vision that Denis had, maybe he had the exact melody and rhythmic placement of words, but had no words…Or for the case of Major Jones and Coco Dancing, he had the song and lyrics and needed me to interpret and maybe help in some of the phrasing/ or removing lyrics…In these cases, Denis had written lyrics first in French and had them translated to English…This is the part that I have found most interesting because when a language is translated it doesn’t always work in the second language…In this case, I think the translation makes the text more interesting, also a lot of the phrasing in the songs, is me copying how Denis has sung some English words…All of these layers, make it more interesting in my opinion. Once I had given the track a few tries, I would send the track back to Denis, who would pick it apart and find things he liked…Often he would send the track back edited, and I would redo my vocal, with the new edits…We would send the final vocal tracks to Dan who would then polish everything up, add more instruments, beats, effects on my vocal, all of the cool sounds that you hear on this record. I do have COVID to thank for all of this, because PRIOR to being in lockdown, I had no idea how to record my own vocals and edit and send them halfway around the world…So this too was another learning curve.
For this album, each track came to me as a beat, with some simple chord structures to start.I also mentioned that often a melody would be hummed, or some rhythmic phrasing would be given as a roadmap.On many of the songs I was invited to write, and each track was a different theme based off of something from David Bowie’s Life.For these tracks where the text had not already been written by Denis,I did a lot of research online.I was a fan of David Bowie, but only a young fan, and not very knowledgeable. Denis would send me a very beautiful ‘theme’, also maybe with some key topics or phrases that he would like the track to be about…I LOVED this part, it was a super challenge for me, and I appreciated the skeleton and the guidelines. Our track Burns in The Barns, although based on the tragedies of Terry Burns, quickly drew upon pain and suffering within my own experiences as well as studying online some of the experiences people have documented when dealing with paranoia and depression,manic episodes and bi-polar.This album is guided by the life of David Bowie, but relates and mirrors our lives to this current day.
9. What has been the most difficult thing you’ve had to endure in your life or music career so far?
MAJOR KAMI: Haaahaaaa, well this is a deep question? How long do you want me to type for? Haaahaa I think the toughest thing I have continued to endure in my musical life is just the fact that I have moved around so much in the past 14 years. Maybe that has made it difficult for me to gain a true following and gain a sense of where I am from? I also sometimes look at it as a blessing, because I have made so many wonderful musical relationships and have made albums in a few countries now…Every album since 1994 for me, tells an incredible story all the way up to this amazing project MAJOR KAMI…This album has possibly the best story of all…So even my difficulties in life, can be turned into positives…I think it all depends on my MOOD…haaahaaa
10. On the contrary, what would you consider a successful, proud or significant point in your life or music career so far?
MAJOR KAMI: I truly believe “ Last man standing wins.” I say this all of the time, it’s a mantra for me and a powerful one. It does not matter at ALL how many times you fail, or fall short or fall down…What matters is how you get up, recover and move forward. I believe I have that ability and I believe I grow from my faults…I have many little successes that I am proud of in this music industry. Creating amazing bands in each country we move to, is one success I am extremely proud of as well as getting to be a part of this journey with MAJOR Kami and Damde8. The biggest moment of pride in my life, on top of music, is my family.I wake up every morning ( moaning because things hurt that never did before… grrrr)thankful for the relationship I have with my husband and children… These three people keep my focussed and make me want to succeed… These three people are who I want to impress.Who knows what will happen next…I am up for it!
11. With social media having a heavy impact on our lives and the music business in general, how do you handle criticism, haters, and/or naysayers in general? Is it something you pay attention to, or simply ignore?
MAJOR KAMI: Answered by Denis Expert: Journalists, media and influencers from the web and elsewhere are indispensable these days. We go through the specific programmes to offer them to discover this universe. We are currently playlisted thanks to them on spotify…great! The most appreciable and surprising thing is that the critics are still very positive towards Major Kami, so we have nothing to reproach in particular. I hope it lasts and that the fans hear me !
12. Creative work in a studio or home environment, or interaction with a live audience? Which of these two options excites you most, and why?
MAJOR KAMI: I am ALWAYS in favour of a live performance. This is what I am most comfortable with and where I feel I can express myself clearly.I feel it keeps me feeling young and it’s a healthy release, screaming into a microphone night after night! Haaaha
13. Do you think is it important for fans of your music to understand the real story and message driving each of your songs, or do you think everyone should be free to interpret your songs in their own personal way?
MAJOR KAMI: I feel there MUST be room for the listener to find their own meaning…This is what creates the bond between the listener and the track,its how memories are formed…Music is so objective and it needs to mean something different to each listener…I think Denis is very good at creating a ‘rough guide’ to what the track is about…He leaves it vague enough, that one could make it their own. Thanks for all of these thoughtful questions…
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Photo credits: Tricolore logo, typo “Opo”