Detroit-raised producer and urban singer-songwriter JMSN isn’t who you’d picture crooning over a slow bluesy groove, leading an uplifting old-school Stevie Wonder-style singalong against a disco bassline. Or spouting spoken-word advice to would-be music stars against a jazzy backdrop.
It’s not that he’s white. It’s that up until last summer the Albanian-American looked more like a hippie cult leader, with a burly beard and stringy long hair tucked in a bun, than an up-and-coming artist in league with the Weeknd, with whom he’s often compared.
“It was time for a change,” says JMSN (aka Christian Berishaj), who cut his hair a year ago. “I was incognito – not posting any pictures.”
That old JMSN might have been expected to launch into reggae akin to Matisyahu – and given his background and willingness to experiment, that may someday be the case. But JMSN’s new sleeker look – while not as eye-catching as his old one – is more in line with the material on his latest album “It is.”
He and his six-piece band stop at Neighborhood Theatre Tuesday.
“It is.” isn’t a typical R&B album. Instead of focusing on hitting the streets or the sheets, it shares JMSN’s experience in the music industry. There are dark turns – about an overzealous A&R rep or a spoken-word riff on career decisions – but the album is fairly uplifting. A sort of lesson learned.
“It’s cool to be honest about things like that, write about and explore them in a way that would make sense to people who aren’t in the music industry. This is my life, but somebody might be trying to do something and find that someone is holding them back,” he says, calling from his home in Los Angeles.
JMSN’s story includes false starts at major labels under various band and stage names. He toured with Pete Wentz and performed on “So You Think You Can Dance” under the moniker Christian TV. But real buzz began to build when he released “Priscilla,” his first album as JMSN, on his own label in 2012.
“I couldn’t explain what it was that pushed it over the edge,” he says of abandoning his label-approved sound and exploring alternative R&B. “There were so many different factors: trapped by labels, broke, broke over my girlfriend. I think it was doing what I always wanted to do (that drove me). To make the music I wanted to make, work to get it out there and count on the fact that it’s good and people will be drawn to it for its honesty and realness.”
“I feel like I’m still trying to figure out my sound, like I’m still exploring,” he adds. His many music videos indicate that his creative journey certainly won’t be easy to predict. “You never know what to expect. Always liked when artists did that when I was growing up.”
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Neighborhood Theatre, 511 E. 36th St.
Details: 704-942-7997; www.neighborhoodtheatre.com