Jeron Braxton lives to create. With visual and recording arts virtually coursing through his veins, Braxton comes from a pedigree of style, innovation, and funk that stands up, walks across the room, and slaps you in the face. You can’t miss him. He’s put in work with the eight-man, creative collective Ultra here in Indianapolis, toured with his band the Jeron Braxton + The Tomogotchis, and showcased his animation projects in New York City and on Adult Swim. The scary part — he’s just getting started. PATTERN sat down with Jeron to discuss his music, his animation, and his love for Indy.
Darren Hartley: So tell me a little bit about yourself.
Jeron Braxton: I am 22 years old and originally from Cleveland, Ohio. East Cleveland to be exact. Moved around a lot in elementary school around Ohio and Indiana, and then settled down in the suburbs of Indianapolis. That’s where I went to high school, and I’m currently a senior at IU Bloomington.
DH: What got you interested in art, music, and animation?
JB: Well when I was younger, my mom was really into photography, so I kind of got the visual background from her. She’d give me her old cameras. She didn’t let me go to the darkroom a lot. But when I did, I’d get to see how images were created. That was cool. She’d bring me on photoshoots with her. My dad is also a musician. He has production on KC and JoJo. So he has a gold record.
DH: Big Jodeci fan…I’m a huge Jodeci fan.
JB: Yo then you would love my Dad and his music. His music is really great. He’s the best pianist I know. On my first album Shade, he actually laid down all that jazz first try. He just went and laid down piano, laid down bass, laid down all of it. Actually, that’s what we’re probably gonna do later on today.
DH: Sounds similar to Mathaius Young in terms of having those family influences. What’s your earliest memory musically of wanting to be an artist?
JB: I was like five years old at the time. “A Bug’s Life” came out in ’98. I wrote a song framed in the “Bug’s Life” universe about being a bug but one day growing up to be big. That was my first song. But also seeing my dad jamming and playing. He had an Akai drum pad. So I played around on that as a kid. From there I played orchestra — double bass. Was in a couple of bands in middle school and high school. But yeah, it all started with that “Bug’s Life” song.
DH: I read an earlier interview on you saying, ‘I just need to create. It’s not an option for me.’ Can you expand on that? Why’s it so important?
JB: It’s something I need to do every day to feel satisfied. You sleep, you eat, you drink, you moisturize your skin. You clean. It’s just part of the routine of who I am. I would feel like I was deprived if I didn’t. It would feel like I was living in a world of darkness.
Even on the way here I was just filming with my camera and taking pictures. Everyday. Just creating. Pretty much I just have to create whether I know what I’m doing conceptually or it’s just a very vague idea.
DH: I’m always interested in hearing about an artist’s creative process. As an artist who creates both visually and musically, what comes first for you?
JB: Well now everything comes mixed and mingled. But usually, it’s the music that comes first. And usually, when I’m making a visual I’m listening to music. So even if it isn’t my music, it’s some sort of music that comes first.
Sometimes I’ll draw a real cool character or really cool situation and then I’ll attach music to it. Because like I said, I just have to create. I have tons and tons of beats I’ve made. I have ideas of music that I’ve played and haven’t recorded yet. So sometimes when I make something I’m like “Oh yeah, this will fit with that.” But usually, it’s the music first.
DH: Keeping it local is an important theme these days, and the creative voice of Indianapolis seems to be getting louder and louder. What do you think is driving that?
JB: I think just lack of artistic stimulation and creative stimulation. As opposed to a place like New York City where you literally have everything. Everybody goes there. Every culture. Out here things are very homogenous, so people are very thirsty for something different. Something creative, fresh, and different. A lot of big artists will fly over Indiana and things of that sort, but there are a lot of very talented people here. So if you’re not gonna show us love and take our money, we’ll just create our own scene and create things we wanna see. People are bored and they want something so… I’m here to provide.
DH: What are some of your musical influences?
JB: Definitely my dad Andrew Braxton. I guess right now contemporary artists I’m really into are Pharrell. The Delphonics. Al Green… Andy Stott. I’m really inspired by him as well. Inspired by Arca. And Kendrick Lamar definitely with the flows and the subject matter – really next level. I want my own stuff to be very cutting edge like very futuristic, next level sounding like stuff you would hear if you were driving a spaceship or a Ferrari. Really anybody can resonate with it.
But I definitely like looking back as well because nowadays there’s just so much. Stuff is moving so fast right now. People aren’t even hip to what’s going on right now… there’s just so much. So I just try to absorb as much as I can, stuff that I really like and can make my own.
DH: And what about visually? Who inspires you in that regard?
JB: Kubrick is definitely a big inspiration to the cinematography. With animation, I like the animation I watched growing up like “Ed, Edd and Eddy,” the “Powerpuff Girls” and stuff on Cartoon Network like in the 90’s. And I really like early American animation like the Mickey Mouse stuff. I like that aesthetic. It’s really classic looking animation. I just want to bring that into a new light. But then probably the biggest for me is Anime. In terms of the art form, animation is still relatively new. But in terms of Anime, I am definitely inspired by Katsuhiro Otomo who made “Akira.”
My biggest influence in animation is probably Masaaki Yuasa and he made “Mind Game,” “Catsoup,” and a bunch of other stuff. His stuff is technically really simple and because of that, he can be really creative. He doesn’t have to worry about working with a big producer and adhering to their guidelines. He can just do whatever he wants. That’s something I try to achieve that he does very well. I draw a picture and then I will take it to my computer and 3-D model it. I try to make it and add the least amount of details to it to a point where if I add any less, you wouldn’t be able to tell what it is. But it’s just right at that point where you say ‘Oh that’s a hand. That’s a car.’ Just enough. That’s where I try to settle my stuff. Just on the edge of perception.
DH: Tell me about Ultra. What is Ultra? Is it like Wu-Tang? Is it like the Temptations? Let’s talk about Ultra.
JB: At its core it’s just a group of friends. Just our clique. I honestly can’t see any other comparison creatively to what we are. Maybe sort of like Our Future except everybody in Ultra for the most part has different strengths. Like you talk to Christian he’s just totally music. That’s what he does. I do animation and music as well and Juan (MC Lito) he’s our DJ. He also has a clothing line that he’s been working on and it’s really starting to snap now. It’s just a collective of artists.
DH: What are some of the projects you guys are working on together right now?
JB: We just released the Ultra Radio podcast. We picked a couple of songs that we been fuckin’ with. Lito DJ’d them all, then we had a brief intermission where we all just talked about all the stuff we’re all doin’. Yeah it was really fun.
DH: That’s wassup. Is that something you guys are gonna keep up with?
JB: Oh definitely that was just the first one. People really liked it. We’re just gonna keep the ball rolling with it. I think that it’s something where we all can highlight our skills. Right now there’s just audio and a cover. I feel like every artist wants to do everything. Wants to be a rock star, wants to have a dope film, have a fashion. Everybody wants to do it all. I think they can and we can at some point. But we just trying to focus on what we’re the strongest on now. Then go and branch out everywhere when we’re on top. But I feel like as a collective we’re still sort of finding our wings. We’re all really young still and still figuring out who we are. So Ultra as a collective is still sort of growing and evolving and still understanding what it is.
DH: So it’s just the three of you?
JB: Nah there’s me, Mathaius Young, Nagasaki Dirt, fa9, MC Lito, Golden Sabers, Evan L, and Lee. Lee and fa9 live in LA. That’s probably where I’m gonna go this summer once I graduate. I’m definitely going there over the summer, but we’ll see what happens.
DH: What’s the one thing you love about being an artist in Indiana?
JB: People show love out here in a really big way. For artists of any kind but especially local artists. My cousin came here from Cleveland. I played a show out there and it was very depressing. But Indiana people show love they’ll come to your show, buy your EP, buy your clothes, and push your shit. And if your shit is really cool, then you know they see them. They see themselves in you.
DH: I heard you got a lot of love shown at an event in New York last summer.
JB: Yeah, I did a show in New York, and I was kind of hesitant. I was like, ‘man it’s New York, I mean who’s to say.’ We rented out gallery space – the same spot where Kanye did Yeezus way back. We had a pop up space in the same gallery. Me and this brand from China called Sounds Good were doing a pop up shop together. So we rented this gallery and really didn’t know anybody in New York. But we played a couple of shows before that and we met a lot of people and it really boiled down to something my mom told me. “People will believe in you before they will believe in your vision.” I met a bunch of people down there and they were like “Oh cool you doing a show? Oh cool I’m gonna try to come through.” And I’m thinking in New York everybody’s grindin’ and stuff but man people really came through.
That was really empowering for me as an artist to have like this gallery and nobody really knows who I am and the place is packed. We had wine and beer. It was wonderful. We had stickers and a bunch of shit. I’m just giving and that’s what I wanted to do.
DH: How would you respond hearing someone saying your work is too intense?
JB: I guess I would mark it in my head and take mental note of it but then I’d be like yeah that’s good. I’d feel like I was doin’ the right thing. For it to be intense, you have to be feeling something. That’s what I want people to do. I want people to feel. I don’t know who said it. It’s been said that great art is really polarizing. Either you really love it or you really hate it. Everybody’s different. I’d like to make art that’s very universal, but there are just some people out there that just aren’t gonna get it. But hopefully they will perhaps understand me and people who do like it a bit more.
Photos by Edrece Stansberry.