“I did a Google search for cool images and a religious article popped up with the words ‘Last Gasp,’” recalls Jay Jackson. “I thought, ‘I could make a cool poster out of this.’”
But Jackson made more than a poster with that phrase — it sparked the name of the Last Gasp Collective, a Kalamazoo-based band founded by Jackson that’s breaking genre conventions and pushing hard to stretch its reach far beyond West Michigan.
The Last Gasp Collective, which released its first album, Agape, last spring, could be described as a hip-hop, soul and jazz group with flourishes of rock and gospel music. On its website, the band compares itself to The Roots and Arrested Development. Its music features lyrics spoken and sung over guitar, keyboard, drums and more.
Most bands, after releasing a first album, start touring and working on a second. Jackson’s vision for the Last Gasp Collective is a little different, he says. Another album isn’t in the works yet — first will be a music video and after that, he hopes, will come nationwide exposure.
Putting the band together
Jackson wants the Last Gasp Collective to be a true collective, with band members coming and going as different projects get underway. He says there was a lot of turnover when the group started two years ago, as musicians realized the vision for the group was wider-reaching than just being a band. Jackson saw Last Gasp as a collective of artists from actors and musicians to videographers.
But first, there would be the band. In the last few months, the roster has become more steady, featuring cellist Jordan Hamilton, vocalists Ashley Hicks and Venezia Jones, keyboardist Jonathan Boyd, bassist Joel Pixley-Fink, saxophonist Xavier Bonner, drummer Terrence Smith, percussionist Nick Baxter and trumpeter Jesse Lemons, along with Jackson on guitar and vocals.
“I’m very content with the lineup,” says Jackson. “It’s a family environment. Even if we didn’t play, we’d still go out and have drinks together. (The group) will grow as long as we have people who have the same goal in mind.”
Jackson, 26, grew up in Kalamazoo listening to church music and hip-hop. His first experiments with music were creating hip-hop beats on computers, uploading them to the music hosting site SoundCloud and publicizing his work among friends via Facebook. He says he realized that to have a career in music he’d have to combine his love for the art with a “business mindset,” and that prompted him to study ways of promoting his music. He’s a fan of popular actors/rappers like Jamie Foxx and Donald Glover and says he wants to be involved in every part of his career, not just performing. That means, for example, making sure everyone in Last Gasp shares his goal of making the group a national success and researching other aspects of the business, such as video production.
“The only way you can follow your passion is by earning a living,” Jackson says, “but you’re not going to make a living doing one thing.”
Jackson’s first gigs were performing as a rapper and guitarist with his brother, singer Andrew Mubita, at small shows at local bars. Mubita now lives in Buchanan, Michigan, but joins the Last Gasp Collective on occasion when the band needs a singer, Jackson says.
The genesis for the Last Gasp Collective came in 2014, during a “Put Up or Shut Up” open-mic show at The Mix, a club near Western Michigan University that closed earlier this year. The show offered musicians a chance to perform whatever they wanted, and it led to Jackson meeting several early members of the Last Gasp Collective. Since then, promotion through media stories, as well as YouTube videos and a consistent series of local performances, has kept the group alive.
‘Small Town’ on a big stage
Now, Jackson says, the group is poised to reach beyond its local boundaries. The band shot a video for its song “Small Town,” from Agape, last March. In it, every member of the Last Gasp Collective plays someone in a nightclub bar — a bartender or a gambler, for example — and performs his or her part of the song as the camera moves past.
Jackson believes the video, which the band plans to release on social media this month, will get the group attention from those outside the Kalamazoo region. It was already highlighted in a Huffington Post article in November, and the group is planning to do a national “press push” for it, with appearances on YouTube, in blogs, and on TV and other national media sites, introducing the band in places it hasn’t yet played.
The group will also be touring. In 2018, the Last Gasp Collective will be performing in Green Bay, Wisconsin, Cleveland, and smaller cities in between in two-week tours. During the winter, as the video is readied for release, Jackson anticipates that the Last Gasp Collective will perform two to three times a month, in Kalamazoo, Jackson and other cities in Michigan, just to stay visible among music fans.
Last Gasp shows haven’t gone beyond music (and the “Small Town” video) yet, but Jackson expects they will. It’s part of his vision for the group to be a true collective of artists, and he is open to adding actors, dancers or other kinds of artists if they add to a Last Gasp Collective performance. He even calls the Kalamazoo-area production studios that put together the “Small Town” video — Roguebotic Media, Three Goats Moving Pictures, and Zac Clark — “part of the group, when needed.”
“The long-term goal is to include drama, include dance, have a Broadway-infused show,” he says. “If you see us in a year, we could have an orchestra or a choir. I like it all. I don’t want to be confined to one thing.”
Jackson says his ultimate plan is to make the Last Gasp Collective not just a musical group but a tool for others. He wants to make music with the group but also operate a record label to manage the work of other musicians. Jackson wants to make sure Kalamazoo-area musicians can create and promote their music following a path Last Gasp blazed for itself.
“There’s always been a goal for something bigger,” Jackson says. “It’s going to be a full (record) label, a media conglomerate. If you come from a small town, there’s just no way you can be heard by the mainstream. I want to give people that opportunity.”