No song performed live is ever going to sound the same way twice. Even for the most detail-oriented artists, so many factors both internal and external lead to tiny variations in a performance. There are obvious factors, like a band deciding an instrumental break should be longer this time around or some impromptu ad-libbing in the lyrics. Some factors are much more subtle, like the acoustics of a venue or the mood of a crowd or even the performers affecting how they play and sing. Some artists more than others embrace these intricacies and controlled chaos of live performance, and even take it into the studio with them. Berlin’s James Hersey is one of those artists. Thriving off of a live environment and blending sounds to create what he calls “watercolor music,” Hersey is on a quest to bring the joys of live musical performance to everyone.

Hersey has spent the fall touring as the opener with Canadian band Metric, and I caught him during a dinner break between his sound check and one of his performances. Despite the relentless pace of the tour and the face I’m interrupting his meal, he’s already looking forward to the next time he hits the road. After describing how he spent the early part of 2018 on the recent singles he’s put out, he says “now this fall we’re on tour. And I think we’re on tour again in January, so it’s gonna be crazy.” There’s an eagerness in his voice when he says this and throughout our interview, especially on the topic of live shows. If nothing else, James Hersey loves to tour.

This tour has been especially exciting for Hersey, as it’s the first time many people have had a chance to hear the aforementioned singles–”Real For You” and “Let Go”–for the first time in a live show environment. He’s been especially pleased because as an opener, he gets to showcase his talent to people who don’t normally listen to him, and the results have been positive. He explains “it’s not my direct target audience, so it’s great to see people come up afterwards and appreciate the musicianship and the songwriting.” He further explains with a chuckle that he has to go out and deliver from the opening seconds, because if he doesn’t the audience “are just going to go get a beer.” He describes the fact people are connecting with his music on these stops as “the best feeling” and clearly appreciates the challenge and opportunity.

Even just touring with Metric has changed how Hersey plays during these recent round of live shows. We talked a bit about the more technical aspects of the acoustics of a venue before he turned to the fact that his emotional mood can change how he plays. He says “We’re literally sleeping in a tiny bus with six people so whatever you need to get rid of that day comes out on stage and it’s allowed to come out on stage.” Hersey laughs while saying that because Metric is a rock band, he can strum hard and play his tracks “heavy” and people on this tour have been especially attracted to that sound.

Taking care of yourself is more than just playing hard to get your emotions out, though. Hersey follows a pretty strict routine to keep himself going. He reveals “We eat extremely healthy. I think more than half of us are vegan. I mean I eat vegetarian, but it’s all just like drinking water and staying away from alcohol, staying away from cigarettes, those are really important.” He also meditates and carries a few small comforts with him. One of those comforts is the pillow from his home in Berlin, which he takes with him on all his tours.

When he is home, the creative endeavors don’t stop. Hersey is part of the Baketown Collective in Berlin, which is an artist collective of many artists and musicians from all genres and walks of life. He says “it’s exciting, it’s a place to go just to hang out and find inspiration from other artists and spend time,” and says it’s not uncommon for artists to gather at the house that belongs to the collective in order to swap ideas and sounds. To give an idea of the diversity of music in Baketown, he says “There’s a huge range of artists, everything from really heavy London hip-hop to hippy folk girls with guitars.” It’s this exchange of ideas and blending of sounds that Hersey is going for in his music, which is something he calls “watercolor music.” It begins with the artwork for “Real For You” and “Let Go,” which quite literally feature watercolor paintings. In terms of music, he says “there’s very mixed influences and it all flows freely into one another.” This idea is very important to the as-of-yet untitled upcoming EP that the singles come from, he explains.

Take “Let Go” as an example. The song was written alongside and features producer filous, who may seem like an odd fit alongside Hersey at first. At one point years ago, Hersey actually thought so as well, revealing he was “skeptical because [filous had] come from a completely different background.” It wasn’t until the two artists met and got into a room together that the possibilities began to bloom, which is also why Hersey keeps such an open mind now. Working with filous is now an experience Hersey treasures. Speaking on how the sounds of “Let Go” came together, he says ” What really was nice was that [filous] was able to take the simplicity of what I did in the guitar and make it sound special right away. I can’t even describe how, so that I felt like I was writing on almost a finished piece of music right at the beginning of the day.” Hersey says that this upcoming EP and the singles we’ve heard so far are closer to the voice and sound he wants going forward, and also explains that when his debut album comes further down the road, you’ll be able to hear the evolution from this EP and 2017’s Pages EP to the project.

If you read all of this and think you’d like to see where Hersey and Baketown Collective make all this music happen, you’re in luck. If you’ve seen the live music videos Hersey has released, you’ve seen parts of the Baketown house. He thrives on live performances, so these live videos are hugely important to him. He explains “I just want people to experience and see us in our element and not just typical music video environment. I think it’s neat to see people play their instruments, especially because my band, we all spend a lot of time working on our craft and I think that’s a unique experience that’s different from the records.” He describes the feeling that fills a room during a live performance as a “vibe,” and says not even the live videos can fully capture. The ultimate goal for Hersey is to have these live videos bring people out to a show.

Whether he’s playing songs from Pages, his new singles, or anything else, James Hersey gives his all for live music. No matter the sound, location, or mood, he’ll work hard to bring audiences the best show he can. When a person steps into a James Hersey show, they’ll be greeted by an artist with a tireless work ethic, a unique “watercolor music” philosophy, and some serious musical chops. They won’t leave the venue disappointed.