Following the release of his debut album The Safeway, the musician tells us why he doesn’t read comments about his music, and how hate should spur creativity
“I want to create art for myself,” declares Jimothy Lacoste, the air conditioner in his north London bedroom whirring in the background. “I’m not going to lie, I don’t even do it for the fans. I’d rather have an album that no one likes and I love, than an album that everyone likes but I hate.”
Luckily for the 21-year-old musician, real name Timothy Gonzalez, he appears to have achieved the best of both worlds. His newly-released album, The Safeway, is a candid bedroom pop debut that takes listeners on a journey through Jimothy’s life. It’s distinctive in just how ordinary it is: as he “sips on a bottle of Grey Goose” in “Getting Greygoose”, goes on dates in “Getting Dates”, and shares a personal ode to the 70s in “Getting to the 70s” (spot the trend?).
It’s 17 tracks of pure sincerity, which flourishes in motivational lyrics like, “Prepare your dreams and your special goals / Start planning now and you’ll do well”, and whimsical comparisons including, “I am like an acid trip, LSD / Listen to my music and experience Jimothy”.
It’s been three years since Jimothy shot to viral fame with his single “Getting Busy”, which saw him become notorious for his eclectic fashion sense, idiosyncratic dance moves, and provocative videos – not to mention his truly original sound, where shimmering synths are overlaid with his unmistakable sing-speak vocals, which drip with razor sharp wit.
Since then, Jimothy has released a seemingly never-ending string of beguiling tracks – many of which are peppered throughout The Safeway – performed at Glastonbury, collaborated with Mike Skinner, and fronted an adidas campaign. As his self-designated slogan asserts: Life is getting quite exciting.
“It feels so good,” he says, reflecting on The Safeway’s release last month. “Life feels complete.” The album’s title, Jimothy explains, refers to his choices in life, and how they’ve led him to where he is now. “So, I chose the safe way,” he proclaims, “with friends, places I went to. Mum always chose the safe way. I was like, ‘This ain’t good’, but actually it made me do good music.”
Though his album is clearly not named after the former supermarket chain, as I had presumed, Jimothy says being “lazy” and choosing the so-called ‘safe way’ is how everything fell into place. “It’s like, ‘hang on, maybe the safe way is the hard way’.”
“As soon as I put out my first song, I was like, ‘I’m not going to click back on this video until next year’. If I did, I might never have made music” – Jimothy Lacoste
Jimothy grew up in Camden, and was raised by his mum, who worked as a cleaner and upholsterer before becoming his younger brother’s full-time carer. Struggling with severe dyslexia, Jimothy attended a special educational needs school, which he’s previously attributed to keeping him on the ‘straight-and-narrow’. After temporarily training to be a masseuse – “I’m really good,” he laughs – Jimothy decided to give music-making a go, creating accompanying videos to share with his friends. The rest, as they say, is history.
Speaking over the phone for almost an hour, it becomes clear that Jimothy’s idiosyncrasies are not part of a performance. Dead set on the idea that everything happens for a reason, he’s established a handful of unique methods to ensure his journey on the ‘safe way’ doesn’t go off track. One of these is to steer clear of any kind of feedback on his work. “As soon as I put out my first song, I was like, ‘I’m not going to click back on this video until next year’. If I did, I might never have made music.”
Jimothy believes that reading comments and reviews – both positive and negative – can have a detrimental impact on an artist’s sound, ego, and success. “If someone’s like, ‘This song’s really good’, that can damage an artist’s mind,” he explains, “because you might be like, ‘This is what they like. I’m going to give them more’, and that’s when you sabotage your career.” But if the reviews are negative? “Then you stop experimenting, which means you don’t make that hit.”
This life advice was affirmed by Mike Skinner, when the pair collaborated on The Streets’ track “Same Direction”, which appeared on Skinner’s recent mixtape, None of Us Are Getting Out of This Life Alive. Jimothy, whose music has frequently been likened to The Streets, says working with Skinner “gave me a lot of confidence because the way he’s on the mic is how I’m on the mic. I thought I was being a noob, or not skillful, but then I realised that Mike is a legend and he also makes normal mistakes”.
“If people are hating you for something, you should do more of it” – Jimothy Lacoste
When I ask if he’s drawn inspiration from The Streets for his own music, Jimothy is reluctant to answer. “I’m always careful with this question,” he says, slowly gathering his words. “It’s more complex than me just saying yes – he’s definitely been a part of it, but him and thousands of others. My generation listens to every genre. You can tell the musicians who are actually music lovers (because their influences are so diverse). It takes a lot of guts to take inspiration from 20 different artists.”
So, who else has inspired Jimothy Lacoste? “There’s so many people that it’s all muddled in my head.” He pauses, before admitting defeat. “I can’t even pick out where the inspiration is coming from. I was always just in my room like, ‘Why is hardly anyone using their natural voice to sing? I’m going to do it because I want to hear myself’.”
Aware that he’s one-of-a-kind, Jimothy has an ostensibly impenetrable sense of self-assurance – seen in tracks like “Getting to Fly in the Sky” (“I did this on my own at first with no record deals / No piano lessons, no music lessons”) and previous single, “Always Improving” (“I’m like Donald Trump, love it when they hate”). Of course, it’s not just his music that exudes confidence. Jimothy’s self-directed videos have seen him cling onto the back of a moving train, dance with scantily dressed elderly women, and perform his signature dance moves, well, basically everywhere.
Though he started his career as a meme-able artist, Jimothy doesn’t seem to have any worries about leaving this persona behind. “Insecurities that sometimes come in can really damage everything,” he tells me, “so I always ignore any paranoia I sense. If people are hating you for something, you should do more of it.”
Jimothy’s ability to stay clear-headed and true to himself is undoubtedly central to his popularity among his devoted followers. As well as ignoring outside influence, he asserts that you must live in the present to maintain positivity, particularly in the face of an uncertain future post-pandemic. “We all get down, but when we do, it’s important not to dwell on the past. Dwelling on the past can cause sadness, but constantly thinking about the future can cause anxiety. You just have to remember what you’re grateful for.”
For Jimothy, that’s the prospect of touring again soon. “In a few months or a year, people will be more used to the album, so the tour will be more fun for everyone,” he says of having to reschedule his planned album tour, which will now go ahead in April next year. “When I’m up there looking at the fans, all the fear has completely gone. Just seeing everyone dancing, vibing, smiling. It’s the most blissful feeling.”
Until then, he’s content at home, cooking “chorizo chicken rice”, watching YouTube videos, and ignoring his Instagram comments. “If there’s a really good compliment,” he concludes, “it’ll find me.”
The Safeway is out now