Don't Typecast Paris Jackson

Don't Typecast Paris Jackson

by Ilana Kaplan

Even when she wasn't in the center of the spotlight, Paris Jackson was always near it. For the past decade, she has paved her own lane as a model and actress. She's starred on-screen in the TV series Star and crime comedy Gringo and has accumulated more than 3.6 million Instagram followers along the way. And as the daughter of pop icon Michael Jackson, a music career was never far out of sight.

In November, the 22-year-old shared her debut solo album Wilted — an album mined from heartache and meditations on pain. "It's mainly just a story of heartbreak and love, in general, and the thoughts and feelings that come after it doesn't work out," Jackson says over the phone. She might technically be following in her father's footsteps, but Wilted is not an album full of R&B-tinged pop anthems. Instead, it's evocative indie-folk that she made in collaboration with Manchester Orchestra's singer-songwriter Andy Hull and engineer Robert McDowell.

From her publicist's house in California, Paris spoke to PAPER about working with Manchester Orchestra, the influence of her father and her career aspirations.

What prompted you to make your new record?

Pain [laughs]. No, I'm always creating and making music, and it just happened the way it did with Wilted. I just had been writing all year-round, and then finally when it came to getting into the studio to record some demos, I already had enough for an album. I [was] just picking the ones that would tell a congruent story the way I wanted it to. It was kind of a situation with the stars just aligned.

When did you start writing, and when did you realize it would become Wilted?

The first song that I wrote for the record, I wrote around January 2020. And then just throughout the next six months of 2020, I just was writing and writing as I was going through life, and the songs basically wrote themselves. Then around that summer I found a solid engineer to get the demos recorded and I didn't realize it was going to be a concept record until a few nights before I was set to go into the studio. I ended up picking the 11 songs that are on the record. Well, 12, and one didn't make it on the record.

Were people surprised by how rooted in indie-folk your project was?

I don't know. I haven't really read many reviews, so I would assume so. I'm sure half of the people that heard it were surprised, and the other half weren't surprised. I don't really know. When I create things, I do it because I love creating it, and then I just release it — metaphorically and literally— and let the universe take care of the rest. It's not really up to me how people receive it.

What is the story you were trying to tell and the themes that you're trying to evoke with the 11 songs?

It's a story of heartbreak and betrayal. While it is autobiographical considering it came from my pen and my guitar, I feel like it's written in a way that's vague in a sense that anyone can relate to it because the themes are pretty all-inclusive. The emotions that I went through that I wrote in that music are not specific to just me and my experience.

You released an EP last year as The Soundflowers with your ex-boyfriend Gabriel Glenn. How did that project influence your solo work?

I've been lucky enough to experience what it's like to create with a bunch of artists in my life, because obviously I come from a musical background. I've had a lot of musicians in my life, whether it was being around the studio when my father was recording and being able to see that kind of mastery and genius up-close-and-personal, singing backup vocals for Butch Walker on his operetta or being able to jam with some of my cousins. So any kind of creativity that I've experienced with another musician, that's always going to somehow influence my writing. I try and learn as much as I possibly can from as many musicians as I can and take what resonates and leave the rest.

Was making Wilted something that helped your mental health?

I feel like it helps me in the sense that anyone's outlet that they choose helps. I've got some friends that find a lot of therapy in painting, so they do that. I find a lot of therapy through music, and it's a healing process to be able to create. It's just like any outlet… it just works best for me.

As you said, you grew up with a very musical background. Who are the artists you've grown up with or collaborated with that have influenced you the most?

The guys from Manchester Orchestra obviously are the first ones to come to mind because it was a full collaboration with Wilted, and that was the greatest experience I've ever had. They're just incredible human beings. On top of the amazing musical connection that we shared, there was a friendship there. They treated me like their little sister, and continued to do so even after the project wrapped. Day-to-day, if I need help with something, I can call them and they're always there. And we've maintained this amazing brother-sister kind of relationship. Butch Walker was an amazing person to work with, as well. I did a song with him where I sang on the credits song ["Running for So Long (House A Home)"] at the end of The Peanut Butter Falcon. And that wasn't the first time we'd worked together, either, I sang backup vocals on a few of his songs that he did for one of his latest albums. There's a few more that I can't list yet because it hasn't been released. Anytime I can get my hands on another creative mind to connect with and walk that path of music together, it's always so much fun spending time with another creative mind that understands. It's a rare connection, and I never take it for granted.

What was your process for working with Andy [Hull] from Manchester Orchestra on the LP?

What's crazy about that is there was really no process. I came to him with a bunch of demos, and some of the songs we kept exactly the same and just added some solid production value. Some of the songs, he added his own stuff to it. [With], "Eyelids," for example, which the music video just came out last week, I wrote my verse and then he completely wrote his whole verse. I had nothing to do with his verse. We worked on the harmonies together, and that was a very effortless, weightless experience. "Dead Sea" was one that we completely rewrote together, where he would write one line of the verse, I'd write another, and we created the melodies together. It was all just energy. Connecting two energies and two nervous systems to create together.

You recently released a video for "Eyelids." Tell me the story behind it.

"Let Down," which came out two or three months ago was very cinematic. I've always been a massive fan of horror and gore, and I was super lucky enough to get Eli Roth to collaborate with us on that. That was an incredible experience, but with "Eyelids," because it's one of the main songs on the record that is stripped, I wanted to focus more on the melody and the lyrics. The song is really just a true description of what heartbreak feels like for me. I'm sure plenty of other people feel the same way — they've had their heart ripped out. With the video, I was the creative director, and I just wanted to keep it very stripped and raw. I used to love doing amateur photography, so I loved playing with lighting.

Obviously your father's been an influence in your life. Were there any songs or records from him that helped inform Wilted?

Because that is so deep-rooted in me, literally from birth, I think that's always going to have an influence and help me create. I grew up listening to the Motown kind of stuff, as well as R&B and soul, but my father also raised us listening to old school jazz, classical music, symphonies, movie soundtracks and old soft rock. We really listened to everything, growing up. So, I feel like that's always going to influence me in some form or another, whether it's a little bit or a lot of it.

At this juncture in your life, what are your career goals?

To be happy, to put food on the table for my dog and my cat and to keep doing what I'm doing, because what I'm doing is making me happy. That's the main thing. I'm definitely going and doing auditions, but it's like, whatever happens, happens. I'd love to continue acting, I'd love to continue modeling. I have a passion for both fashion and film. Music makes me the happiest, that will always be a main focus of mine, but I love doing anything creative, anything artistic. I don't have a golden statue in mind. It'd be cool, but it's not my goal.

If you were to do another record, what shape do you think it would take?

I don't really know, because I haven't thought about it that much. I just like to go with the flow and just see whatever comes to me and let the song create itself. But I'd love to keep doing indie, alternative folk stuff, and then I'd also love to explore other genres. What I can tell you, based on the two latest projects that I'm working on, is they are very, very different from Wilted. That's all I can really say about them, but I definitely don't plan on being typecast into one genre. I want to explore everything.

Photography: Janell Shirtcliff