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Jimmy Whispers

Interview — Mohamed Sqalli
Photography — Hélène Tchen Cardenas

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Chicagoan singer-songwriter Jimmy Whispers is what people call an odd duck. Half musician, half comedian, his first release is a paradoxical mixture between affable genuineness and end-of-summer melancholy. We met him in Paris, delighted to be in Europe, in shorts and playing bowls.

Hi Jimmy, how was your summer? Did you finally get the vacation you needed?

I’ve been touring all the time. But I’m happy, this is my vacation. It’s my first time in Europe, ever.

Oh great! And how do you find it? People are strange here…

It’s great. It’s wonderful. But I haven’t spent too much here yet. I just got here 2 hours ago.

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What would be your dream vacation?

Europe (laughs). Always wanted to come, and now I’m here!

What do you know about French music?

Uh… Not enough. Everything’s new to me all the time. Even things back home are new to me all the time.

By asking this question, I was secretly hoping that you’d speak about a French singer called Philippe Katerine… I think that you have a lot in common in your music and he’s also a comedian, just like you. Plus you look a little bit like him.

Oh, okay… Now you said this, you have to show me a picture of him. (ed. I show him Katerine’s picture) Noooo (laughs), you can’t say that.

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Maybe in a few years, you never know! Well, you really seem to be happy when you’re onstage and you interact with the audience. But at the same time, you’re often portrayed as this solitary man who records music on his phone alone in his living room. Don’t you find it slightly paradoxical?

Of course, there’s a contradiction. I do love people but I like to remain by myself too. There’s a lot of contradictions in what I do and I think that’s the most interesting. Just like in my music where the music is very happy and the message is very sad.

Why did you choose Jimmy Whispers as a stage name? Your real name (ed. James Cicero) is really cool already!

I’ve always been called Jimmy. No one has ever called me James. And the Whispers, it’s a nickname I have since I’m 5. And it followed me all my life, from town to town. I think the first time I was called that was in baseball, in little league, I don’t remember why.

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Who would be your absolute role model as an artist? Andy Kauffman, Ariel Pink, Daniel Johnston, or DJ Khaled?

Oh, my God (laughs). All of them are great, and funny. I always think a lot about Andy Kauffman. I’m not sure. But certainly not DJ Khaled, he’s just funny.

But you have a lot in common with DJ Khaled! You like women and you like to treat them well. And he does too!

Right, I really like to treat them well…

You’ve been in the game for some time now, without releasing anything for a long time – just fooling around mainly (doing shows for kids and various funny stuff). Now that you released a first album, should people consider that you finally decided to start a career?

No, I’m not okay with the way things go when bands put out music now. It’s like “ok we’re a band now, here’s a ton of stuff”. Or like when people put out music without playing a show, before anybody knows about them. I wanted to do it the opposite way. I wanted true word of mouth from playing shows and get people excited so when I decide to put something out, they’d be excited for it. Not just like another band existing on the internet before being in the real life.

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Tell me about the comical side of cemeteries.

I don’t think it’s comic. It’s pretty. That one in particular, the one in which we shot the video. In that video, you also see me on a beach. Actually, the beach and the cemetery are side by side. It’s really beautiful.

You played basketball at a serious level before eventually focusing on your music. How do you feel about that? Are you happy of your choice?

When I was a kid, I dreamed about both.

At the same time? Like being that pop star who’s also an NBA champion?

Not both at the same time. Sometimes it was music, and sometimes basketball…

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But Shaquille O’Neal did music…

Yeah, he put out records and stuff (laughs). They’re really bad… I don’t know if I’d have made it as a basketball player. I’m 6 feet tall…

What can you do as a basketball player that you can't do as a musician? What’s the real benefit of being a basketball player compared to being a musician?

Being in shape and healthy all the time. Musician, it’s a hard lifestyle.

How important is the internet in your life?

It’s helpful. It’s practical. But I don’t want to live my life through this lens.

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To end this interview, I wanted to give you a few names and tell me if you'd like to go on vacation with them.

Just yes or no?

No! Don't hesitate to bitch about people a little bit if you feel the need. Michael Jordan?

No! Outside basketball, I think he’s probably crazy right? He has that gambling problem. I don’t know. I think Vegas with Michael Jordan might be crazy (laughs).

Mac Demarco?

It’ll be fun. I’m friends with him so that’ll be fun.

Kanye West?

NO! (Thinking) But he has lots of money. All the people with money have good parties so it might be cool.

Ariel Pink?

I don’t know… I don’t know…

Bill Cosby?

Mh, not now. I’d go on vacations with Dr. Huxtable, but not Bill Cosby. And it would be winter vacations… because of the sweaters.

You can buy Jimmy's album here !

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