Walking up Leeds high street feels like the road that X Factor built. There are three male acts; all are singing in a heart-felt, pop style and playing acoustic guitars. Standard. I turn up my ipod and make a beeline for North Bar to meet Jeff T. Smith, better known as the loop-pedal-dancing, Michigan-born, Juffage. As Jeff greets me with a smile and a high five, I soon feel like one of his mates. He has a relaxed demeanor and is clearly no stranger to this place. He orders a double espresso and catches up with the bar staff before taking a seat across from me. I wonder where Jeff stands on the busker debate? “You’ll see ’em round Leeds sometimes. There’s buskers with accordions. That’s sorta interesting. Anything busking wise is way better than some douchey white boy with an acoustic guitar. I’ve never seen one of those guys that I’ve liked. How many times can you hear a guy fucking cover Jeff Buckley?” I tell him that one of these ‘douches’ from the high street was covering The Beatles. “There you go. How many times has someone covered The Beatles? Does it need to happen any more? Probably not. Let’s just make some new music guys.”
So begins our Saturday afternoon discussing how technology helps and hinders creativity, how different venues inspire Jeff to perform in different ways, and why the rechristened church, Left Bank, Leeds will sound like a “sonic cauldron” when Juffage graces it’s stage for a one off performance next month. First of all, what can we expect from Jeff’s performance at Left Bank? “When Left Bank approached me and asked me to do a show there, I was like, ‘I’d love to, but if I did my normal show there, it would be ridiculous.’” Jeff explains that the sensitive nature of the acoustics in the church, which is actually bigger than the Sheffield Cathedral in which he performed for Tramlines 2012, mean that his set has to be adapted to suit the venue, “It’s so reverby in there. I’ll make a loop on my guitar, I’ll walk out to where the audience will be and by the time I’m out there, it just turns into an infinite wash of reverb. That’s the thing about using it as a space for that. You really have to be sympathetic to the sound that the space is always producing, right? Which is this insane forty second reverb.” It’s no wonder Jeff is opting for a “pretty minimal” set, but fans of his regular live shows need not despair. If the sneak preview video is anything to go by, Juffage will be equipped with a wealth of musical technology.
As well as a night brimming full of support from Ten, These Men, Steve Lawson and Andy Williamson, you can also expect Katie Harkin (Sky Larkin, Wild Beasts) and Tom Evans (Vessels) to add something to this musical pot of stew, “I’ll be playing the main guts of the songs on guitars or keyboards, and Katie and Tom are going to be filling in this ambient space.” Confirms Jeff. Now take into account that the crowd will be in the centre of this swirling pot, completely surrounded by sound thanks to a number of loudspeakers, and voilà! You’ve got yourself something worthy of the phrase, “sonic cauldron.”
While we are on the subject of sound and technology, I wonder, does the technology Jeff uses influence the type of music he makes? Or does the technology simply assist Jeff in his creative process? “Those two things, and maybe a third thing where it’s actually quite limiting. In some ways, a loop pedal can be great for making a sound that you could never possibly do as one person live. Also, limiting because then you build up this huge sounding thing and then you want to change the song to a bridge or something and you can’t. When I do those shows with just a guitar, it almost seems less restrictive. I can take the song in any speed or direction.”
For an inexperienced musician like me, it feels as though musical technology has a life of its own. But not to fear, it sounds like Jeff, who moved from the US to study Music Technology and Computer Music at The University of Leeds, is more than qualified to protect us from the mechanical uprising, “Technology can become quite frightening. I’m often having to loop things and do like pedal dances for like a million different instruments and if one thing goes wrong, it just spirals out of control […] But it’s all about owning the technology and making the technology work for you. To [make it] be your slave.” The evidence is mounting that Jeff could be the next Neo. When I ask what three words best describe him, Jeff replies, “Only one man”, a phrase befitting of a prophet, as well as a one-man band. The Matrix better beware.
So, why is Juffage doing this ‘one night only’ gig this year? “Basically, because I wanted to do a show in Left Bank when the guy approached me. […] I played my old songs to death, and I’ve got a lot of new ideas and I wanna get ’em out there so this show is forcing me to finish stuff which is great. And once this show is done, its not like I can tour with this totally ridiculous set up of, you know, a spaceship full of technology and synths and guitars.” This tailor-made cauldron may have evolved quickly, but Jeff is in no rush to record his next album. He explains that his last album, Semi-Circle took nearly six years to complete. After talking at length about his creative process, I find that Jeff’s approach to music is that of a patient perfectionist; one who doesn’t fret over time scales but likes to set deadlines; an artist that will embrace interesting and seemingly unpredictable projects, yet has a clear idea of how he wants it to sound in his mind’s ear. This live show isn’t just about the acoustics, Jeff is also responsible for the “spacialisation”, making this an interesting concept both visually and musically, “We were rehearsing a couple of weeks ago and this guy came in […] and he was like, ‘Are you doing an art installation or something?’ It’s just a concert, but it’s kinda like installing into the venue. I definitely want it to be an event, an occasion if you will.” Whatever the outcome, one thing’s for sure, its going to be something out of this world, “Well, I haven’t ever done a show like this before, definitely.”
Juffage will be performing at The Brudenell Social Club Presents: Left Bank, Leeds on the 26th April.