Earlier this summer, Chicago soul artist Christian JaLon released “Getting to Know Vinyled Love,” a short behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of her 2017 EP Vinyled Love. On that EP, she’d tried to convey what love means to her—though it was inspired by a specific relationship, she connected those feelings to her understanding of divine love, which has its roots in her connection to the church. But now that relationship is over, and on her latest EP, If You Let Me (released August 20), JaLon is ready to cleanse her musical mind of love—at least romantic love. It’s the last project she has planned before her debut album, due in 2019.
“The content that I put into If You Let Me are really just residual feelings from Vinyled Love,” she says. “They both came from the same place—I just wanted to get it all out. After this, I really won’t have any more love songs in me for a while.”
Though the two EPs address JaLon’s feelings about the same experiences, in their sound they rarely cross paths. Vinyled Love is dominated by an acoustic soul-jazz feel, but even before she made If You Let Me, she knew she wanted it to have a totally different feeling. The new EP introduces more synths, rawer lyrics, and brighter-sounding vocals that are even more gripping than on Vinyled Love. “What I did with this EP, and what I’m doing with the album, is showing that I can venture into different avenues of music,” JaLon says. “I just don’t want people to put me in a box.”
A grab bag of producers worked on If You Let Me, including Myles August, I.B. Classic, Moses Mode, and Andrew Bearford. Only frequent collaborators Wax Roof and Melvin Knight worked on more than one of the EP’s seven tracks—they have two credits each. JaLon brought together this motley crew on the spur of the moment, just like the project itself.
“I didn’t even begin with this idea until I was scrolling through Melvin’s Soundcloud page and heard the instrumental that would become the title track,” she says. “From there I kind of just called on these people who I’d met earlier through mutual friends or collaborated with in the past. I’m happy we were able to make the record cohesive, especially considering that none of them had heard the songs produced by any of the other guys.”
JaLon is planning a tour around the EP, but first she’ll perform Thursday afternoon at the Chicago Jazz Festival. JaLon is one of four artists performing at a concert presented by Young Chicago Authors and the Jazz Institute at the Cultural Center’s Claudia Cassidy Theater. Also on the bill are Stark and the Law (both of hip-hop collective HUEY Gang) and National Youth Poet Laureate Patricia Frazier, all sharing a three-piece backing band. “For the Jazz Festival show, I’ll be performing some songs from Vinyled Love, but my next shows will be focused on the new EP,” JaLon says.
She plans to celebrate the release of If You Let Me at Subterranean on September 17, with support from Ro Marsalis, Syd Shaw, and Jesse 5000. After that, when she’s not on the road she’ll be focusing on her upcoming album—and she already has specific ideas about what she wants it to be like.
“I’m sort of in album mode,” she says. “When I write a song, it has to feel right for the project I’m working on—otherwise I hold it until the right time. For this album, I want the only mention of love to be self-love or love of God. That’s what I’ve been working on.”