On the Road With Jacob Collier

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Earlier this month, we went to Irving Plaza in New York City to get to know Jacob Collier, the 24-year-old hyper-kinetic, preternaturally talented British composer, singer, and multi-instrumentalist.

Collier began releasing YouTube videos in his teens that featured complex arrangements of pop songs and playfully showed off his extraordinary mastery of harmony, music theory and rhythm entirely recorded by himself.

His boundless creative energy caught the attention of Quincy Jones, who signed him to his production company in 2014. In My Room, his debut album, was released in 2016. The record was titled for the sweetly confessional Brian Wilson song he covers therein—not to mention, it was quite literally recorded in his bedroom. The album earned him two Grammys in 2017 for instrumental and vocal arranging.

Collier has ambitious plans for the outward expansion of his musical universe from childhood bedroom to a global stage—he aims to release four albums within a year. The first of these, Djessie (Vol. 1), was recorded with the Dutch ensemble Metropole Orkest and came out in December.

We saw Collier’s unbridled creativity firsthand for the third installment of On The Road, a series of visual essays exploring the creative lives of notable musicians, onstage and off.

On a stage crowded with instruments, Collier works out the kinks during soundcheck. On his world tour for In My Room, Collier performed solo, building up the music layer by layer with the help of sophisticated sampling. For the Djessie tour, Collier expanded the band to a quartet. Guitarist and keyboardist MARO records the proceedings for social media.

Many of Collier’s most passionate fans are fellow musicians who are inspired by his command of advanced music theory. (A good introduction is the series of informal interviews Collier gives with student June Lee.) VIP ticketholders come for a pre-show meet-and-greet where Collier takes questions and then conducts a spirited multi-part sing-a-long. 

At showtime, Collier bursts forth in baggy harem pants and mismatched socks. Constantly in motion, he leaps between piano, basses, and a large percussion setup, often during a single song.

The band features the Portuguese multi-instrumentalist MARO, bassist Robin Mullarkey and drummer Christian Euman.

Collier’s mother, Suzie Collier, a violinist and music educator, came in from London for a special appearance. She is featured on the new album on the song “Once You.”

Collier manipulates his voice using a special keyboard-controlled synthesizer that was developed by Ben Bloomberg, a graduate student at the MIT media lab.

At the encore, Collier sits with his band—plus opener and collaborator Becca Stevens—at the front of the stage to sing a mostly a cappella version of The Beach Boys’ classic song, “In My Room.”

To close the show, Collier engages the audience in another high-energy sing-a-long.