With acclaim from the likes of Afropunk and The Times already under their belts, New York’s Dakota Jones have just released their debut album Black Light. Priding themselves on their distinctive fusion of soul, rock and blues as they share their message of proud black heritage and triumphant queerness, the album touches on an eclectic mix of themes, ranging from sex and love to “the pleasure and pain of truly finding yourself“. Fronted by vocal powerhouse Tristan Carter-Jones, they create uplifting soundscapes, oozing a unique, empowering energy and infectious, vibrant groove.
We caught up with Tristan to find out more about the new album, how they’ve been connecting with their fans during the last couple of years and her feelings on being a queer, black woman in music at the moment. Have a read!
Hi Tristan, welcome to Get In Her Ears! Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Thank you for having me! I’ve always been drawn to the creative side of life – I’ve been making music seemingly forever on my own, and singing and writing has always been a part of my life. I actually studied playwriting in school, but singing in public was my greatest fear for the longest time. So I very much kept it to myself. It wasn’t really until the band formed that I felt the desperate urge to share our music, and put ourselves out there.
How did Dakota Jones initially get together and start creating music?
We’ve been playing together since 2015. I’ve known our drummer, Steve, since 1999 actually – we were in elementary school together! In 2016, Steve and our former guitarist started jamming for fun, and they asked me to come around and sing with them some time, and I said absolutely not – I was terrified of singing in public, even just in front of the two of them. Eventually, Steve convinced me to come along, and we would just play covers of songs. It was a nerve wracking process for me, but I kept showing up. Scott, our bassist, was a friend of our guitarist and was pulled in to round out the sound and make a proper four piece. One day, just messing around, we ended up writing a song, a song called ‘Leave Me Alone’ from our first EP. We knew pretty immediately after that that this was what we should be doing, and we haven’t stopped since.
We love your feisty, soulful sounds and the message conveyed through your music of proud black heritage, but who would you say are your main musical influences?
I think the sound of Dakota Jones is an amalgamation of our influences, with a modern edge to it. We’re rock, soul, the blues, R’n’B, sometimes hip-hop. Most people find it hard to put us in a box. I grew up on Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, Chaka Khan, Rakim – classic soul and rock – and a lot of old school rap. Scott grew up on rock and roll and soul music, you can’t get him in a room without him mentioning Stevie Wonder at least once. And Steve is an alternative rock and rap kind of guy. Our music blends what we love, and we all come from different musical backgrounds and tastes. So, I think we know we have a solid song when we can all get equally excited about it.
You’ve just released your debut album Black Light – are you able to tell us a bit about this? Are there any particular themes running throughout the album?
The whole album is a throwback to a different time, and is very centred in funk and soul sensibilities. We’ve always had a blues rock, soul lean to us, but this album, Black Light, really dives into a place of funk soul and everything that comes with it. There’s joy and dancing, sleek guitar licks and funky bass slaps. There’s pain and longing, and there’s the feeling of relief when you come out of that place and find your joy and purpose again. Black Light is my story. The pain of where I’ve been, and the joy of where I’m going.
And how have you found recording and promoting an album during these strange times?
It’s been a trip. Earlier on during the pandemic, creating was very hard for me. I felt very bogged down by everything that was going on in the world, and didn’t know how to focus. But eventually the music started to pour out. Self promotion, I’ll admit, feels odd from time to time, but I pushed past that feeling because I think that, no matter what, music is a way to help people heal and get through their strange and dark times. And what I want most is to find a way to continue to connect with people, to continue to heal together, and get through this together. Sharing my music is the best way – and the only real way – that I know how to do that.
How have you been connecting with your audience and other musicians during the pandemic?
Instagram definitely helps, and social media has been a great way to stay connected to our audience and other musicians. Continually creating and sharing our work has been an amazing way to hear people’s thoughts about what’s going on right now, and how music has helped them to get through it. We’ve also been fortunate enough to play a few live shows since June of this year, so we’re able to actually get out there and be with our fans and other musicians during this time, and really share our experiences.
And has there been anything/anyone specific that has been inspiring you, or helping to motivate you, over the last couple of years?
Every time someone reaches out to me and shares what our music has meant to them, that keeps me going. That keeps me pushing forward, and makes me feel like I’m a part of something bigger than myself.
As a queer black woman in music, how do you feel the industry is for new artists at the moment? Do you feel much has changed over the last few years?
I think that a lot has changed over the past few years, specifically with black and queer artists who are putting themselves out there, and creating a space for people like ourselves to make noise, and to be heard. I think that breaking through is always challenging, but it’s simpler than ever for artists to put their music out. That in and of itself helps to create these spaces for artists to listen to each other – find inspiration amongst their communities, and feel empowered.
And, as we’re a new music focused site, are there any other upcoming artists or bands that you’d recommend we check out?
I’m lucky enough to be able to call some wonderful independent artists my friends: Blood Cultures, Darlin! The Band, Freakquencee, Lily Mao, Golden Alphabet – all wonderful artists with something to say, and very lovely people at that.
Finally, in addition to the release of your album, what does the rest of 2021 have in store for Dakota Jones?
We have a few more music videos in the pipeline that will be coming out shortly, but our main focus is to continue to play live music, tour, and meet the wonderful audiences that continue to support us through this time. We’re hoping to get over to the UK as soon as possible to play some regional shows, and hopefully we’ll see you there when the time comes!
Massive thanks to Tristan for answering our questions! Watch the band’s latest video for ‘Lord Please’ here:
Black Light, the debut album from Dakota Jones, is out now – order/listen here.