November 28, 2012

Cornell Alumnus Explains How 2010 Suicides Influenced His ‘Kinetics’ Hit

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Cornell alumni Kinetics and One Love, aka Jeremy Dussolliet ’09 and Tim Sommers ’10, recently released a video for their song “Sign Language” — a tearjerker inspired by the suicides at Cornell in 2010. While the duo is best known for penning the chorus of B.o.B’s “Airplanes,” their music has evolved post-Cornell and has lead to performances all over the world. The Sun spoke with Dussolliet to discuss this new direction and the experiences that continue to resonate and inspire him even after graduation.

The Sun: Where did the idea for your song “Sign Language” come from?

Jeremy Dussolliet: “Sign Language” was actually the reworking of an older song I had written years before. In the original version, the concept was the same: A teenage boy feels rejected by the girl he’s loved from afar and commits suicide, not knowing that she secretly had feelings for him the whole time. But the production was amateur, the recording quality poor and the lyrics basic, so that version never really went anywhere. Then, during the string of suicides that shook Cornell campus in 2010, I felt the need to readdress the issue in a song. It made sense to resurrect the original version of “Sign Language,” this time with improved vocal performances and cleaner production.

Sun: The song — and video — are certainly tearjerkers. How does the story of Amy and Billy resonate with you personally?

J.D.: A lot of people ask me if the story of Amy and Billy is based on truth or on a personal experience in any way. Thankfully, it’s not. For me, at its core, “Sign Language” is a song about someone who wants someone or something to the point of unhealthy obsession. I think we can all relate to that theme: the feeling of wanting something — whether it’s another person or a lifelong dream or goal — so bad that you want it to death, even if you’re not necessarily suicidal.

Sun: What is the moral of the song to you? What do you want listeners to take away?

J.D.: In the song, Billy is obsessed with Amy, so much so that the slightest sign of rejection sends him spiraling out of control. She may have been deaf, but Billy is equally as disabled — blind to the poems and confessions of love Amy had been leaving him all along. We can become completely consumed by our obsessions that we beat ourselves up at the first hint of rejection or failure. We lose sight of all the signs around us that may be confirming that we’re actually doing the right thing. That’s why the last line in Amy’s final poem is, “No matter what I do, you can’t see the signs.” Hence, the song’s title.

Sun: How was working with Wynter Gordon?

J.D.: I had been a fan of Wynter’s ever since I first heard her dance hit “Dirty Talk” in ‘09. So, naturally, I was super excited when Atlantic linked us up. Working with her is always incredible. That’s our girl. When One Love and I first signed our pub deal with Warner/Chappell in 2010, Wynter was the first singer-songwriter we were thrown into a session with, our intro to the world of songwriting for a major label. I was immediately impressed. In that first session, in one night, she cut hooks for both “Sign Language” and the Cornell “Graduation Song.”

Sun: How has the video been received thus far?

J.D.: The reception has been great. We got favorable reviews on some hip-hop sites like The Source as well as placement on a bunch of music blogs. MTV loves it too and will be airing it soon.

Sun: What was it like for you being at Cornell during the string of suicides — personally and for the attitude of campus in general?

J.D.: I didn’t know any of the victims personally. But Cornell has always had such a strong sense of community, at least for me, that you can’t help but feel connected to a tragedy like that. Those events put a dark pall on the entire campus that everyone felt. “I walked that same bridge everyday, I took those classes.” It was hard to feel removed from the situation, even if you didn’t know the victims personally.

Sun: The last time you were interviewed by The Sun was 2010 when “Airplanes” was released. Where is your music going now? How have you changed since your time at Cornell? How is that reflected in your music?

J.D.: Since graduating, One Love and I have released three mixtapes and one full-length album, a project entitled You Are Not Alone that we released earlier this year. We’ve also written for a variety of artists across multiple genres, from commercial pop to urban, country, dance and indie synth pop. And we’ve toured both coasts, playing shows and doing sessions in cities I hadn’t seen until now. We even played a show and shot a music video in China. Those experiences alone have really shaped my perspectives on the world and influenced my writing style. Of course, I’m grateful for the influence Cornell had on my songwriting, learning about such a broad range of issues and having a well of stimulating topics to address rather than making the same brainless references on every track. But, to be honest, it was only after graduating and moving back to New York, writing with so many different people and visiting so many different places, that my music really started to improve. I needed to be in both environments before my perspective could come full circle and I could write with a level of maturity I’m now comfortable with.

Sun: Do you still draw inspiration from your time at Cornell?

J.D.: Of course. This school made me the writer I am today. Drawing from everything I’ve learned at Cornell, both socially and academically, I wrote my first few socially conscious songs that have set the tone for the rest of my career, up until today. I wrote one of the biggest songs of my career at Cornell, and that was inspired by the experiences of two confused freshmen wandering around Collegetown at 3:00 a.m. in the snow. A song that went six times platinum around the world. I’d be stupid not to return to that place of inspiration.

Original Author: Liz Camuti