Class of 2020: I M U R's Dark R&B Is Genre-Bending Makeout Music

Class of 2020: I M U R's Dark R&B Is Genre-Bending Makeout Music
Photo: Laura Harvey
Experiment. Explore. Refine. It's a simple process, but one that's produced tangible results for the members of Vancouver electro-R&B trio I M U R (pronounced "I am, you are"). Formed in 2015 by producer Mikey J Blige and singer Jenny Lea, they became a trio with the addition of bass player, violinist and co-producer Amine Bouzaher; each brings a separate, and very different, songwriting background.
Leaning into disparate influences — jazz, hip-hop, folk, electronic music — they landed on a dark R&B sound on their 2017 debut LP. Little Death, that their Facebook profile cheekily (and not inaccurately) describes as "genre-bending makeout music." Their two LPs and a handful of EPs and singles have racked up over a million streams and a series of song placements. That's a lot of snogging.
Still, even with the addition of a Western Canadian Music Award for Electronic/Dance Artist of the Year this past fall, the members of I M U R aren't about to let their relative success go to their heads.
"Nobody outside of Western Canada will understand what this award is," Lea jokes to Exclaim!
"We appreciate it," says Bouzaher laughing. "But like everything, it's always just on paper."
Always on the grind, our interview has interrupted work on a track in the band's new studio, in the downstairs of Blige's place in North Vancouver.
The song in question is one of over 30 sketches that began life in Mexico City, where Blige retreated on a songwriting trip, isolating himself by day while taking in the city's music scene by night. When he returned to Vancouver the trio went to work, applying their collaborative process to the new batch of tunes.
"Jenny had written this really beautiful piano progression with a catchy line over top," explains Bouzaher. "Mikey was inspired by that, took her voice memo and fleshed that out into more of a complete verse. We all came together and put a chorus to it. Jenny and I worked on it a bunch, and took it [to] a weird or darker place. Now we're all working on it again, adding the cherry on top."
The back and forth ensures that everyone is satisfied with the final product, but  it's a far cry from the band's early days. "I think back to 2015, when Jenny and I were just barfing into Ableton and putting it on Soundcloud," says Blige. The track is one of many the band hope to release this year, continuing the musical evolution heard on recent tracks like "Lips Tongue and Teeth," with an EP or album to follow in 2021.
"As you get further along in your career, it tends to take a little bit longer to release things because you spend more time making sure it makes sense," says Bouzaher. "It's fitting in with your sound and it's also your quality level."
I M U R are a full-time gig. Neither Blige, Lea nor Bouzaher maintain any sort of regular employment, though each works their own respective side-hustle, the price of living in a big city. "We live here because its a very inspiring place," says Lea. And while the ever-increasing cost of living may force some artists and venues out, for those that remain, Vancouver's small but growing electronic and R&B communities can be just as inspiring as it's natural beauty.
"Everybody's down to work because we have to do a lot of work," says Blige. "It has to be a community based thing," adds Bouzaher. "It doesn't have to be an 'everybody's out for themselves' kind of situation. You can all come up together and help each other out."
I M U R play Exclaim!'s Class of 2020 concert series, co-presented by Collective Arts, on Thursday, January 16 at the Fortune Sound Club in Vancouver with Evan Konrad and Necking.