Lyricist. North Carolinian. Martial artist. We kick off the day in Brooklyn with the bicoastal eavesdropper.
“I like to literally just hole up in a spot for hours and listen to people – maybe I overhear something and end up stealing it for a song.”
We’re on our way to Jimmy Jolliff’s house on the kind of rainy morning where a $5 umbrella from the bodega is looking like our only option. When we arrive at the apartment, the kitchen is tepid and Jimmy is sitting at the table with a mug of coffee. He’s soft spoken, and his greeting is warm: “Hi y’all.”
Jimmy is originally from North Carolina. He left the east coast in the early 2000s, in what he calls “a kind of exodus of creative Carolina people” and headed for LA. “We all shared a house – 10 of us,” Jimmy says – he’s soft-spoken, but prone to bouts of passion. “And almost everyone in that circle ended up doing something interesting.” Evidence of Jimmy’s early years in LA can be found in photographer RJ Shaughnessy’s book, Deathcamp. In one photo, a young, shirtless Jimmy stands at a ping-pong table, talking on a cellphone. Jimmy always wanted to make music, and now songwriting is what pays the bills – he splits his time between New York and LA, writing lyrics for various pop and rap acts and consulting for indie film scores.
Because of his unique day job, Jimmy has to build framework into his life. “I usually wake up around 9:00 or 10:00,” he says. “If you work for yourself, and your output is up to you, you need some structure.” On a regular morning, he’ll cook breakfast and make coffee in his AeroPress – “People whip up some bad coffee at home, man, they don’t realize its not more expensive to make good stuff – you just need the right tools.” Then he sets up his Blue Snowball portable microphone (“it’s so easy to record a track now”) to work a little before heading off to his Jiu jitsu class.
He explains – “Jiu jitsu is a classic martial art done while wearing a gi. It’s like Judo, except the match isn’t over until your opponent submits – you’re on the mat a lot.” He smiles. Jimmy never does less than four Jiu jitsu classes a week at a studio in downtown Manhattan. The day before we showed up, he did two classes in one day. He also had a scary moment: “I choked one of my training partners unconscious for a moment… I can’t even pretend to act macho, either – it was terrifying!”
Jimmy showers and changes out of his hunting camouflage lounge pants – a nod to his North Carolina roots – and Birkenstock clogs. He brushes his teeth with JĀSÖN Powersmile natural toothpaste – “If you go back to Crest or Colgate after this stuff, you’re like woah, this is a bleach bomb – it’s gotta be poison.” He laughs. Jimmy then puts on a record and rolls up his gi – he’ll typically pack for class and head into the city for the day.
“We all want lightning to strike, and be able to bottle it. But you need to have stuff to do… a routine to keep you sharp.”
“I feel like I need to be out during the day a lot,” he turns away from the record player. “I like to literally just hole up in a spot and listen to people – maybe I overhear something and end up stealing it for a song.” As to whether he’d rather make his own music, or music for others, Jimmy has been liking the latter as of late – “When you write for someone else you get to occupy a character for a bit. That’s kind of thrilling.” It is those spikes of imagination, like ghostwriting or squaring off against an opponent in Jiu jitsu, that keep Jimmy excited about waking up. But as he grabs his bag and heads for the door, he makes a solid argument for regimen: “We all want lightening to strike, and be able to bottle it,” he says. “But you need to have stuff to do, even if you aren’t feeling creative. You need to stay sharp.”