BY MADDEN LEVIN
This next artist is someone who is going to be so important to this new generation of music being released. Jay Johnson is that young man who is going above and beyond the norm with his all-around musical talent and amazing heart. Below is our exclusive interview with Jay as he discusses the most important topics! In addition to this, we had first word of his new single being released on September 8th! Until then, open up your eyes and ears for this great aptitude.
For those who don’t know you, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
JAY: "I’m a musician and songwriter from South East London. I just started a campaign with Gibson Guitars, I organise, host, and perform at intimate live concerts for AirBnB, and I also produce a radio show in East London."
Being just 19 years old, do you find it difficult to make it in any aspect of the music industry? Do you feel there are any misconceptions for you and your music just because you’re younger?
JAY: "It’s difficult when you don’t look like someone’s idea of a perfect candidate, because you end up having to work twice as hard to prove to them that you’ve got the right mentality. I did find it difficult at first, but my work ethic and proactive mindset are what made people take me seriously. I get stereotyped as a rapper a lot. People are also usually surprised when they listen to my lyrics, I constantly get told that I’m very mature for my age, especially from people I’ve just met. I don’t really know why I turned out this way. The funny thing is it took me a while to become fully self-aware, and I’ve never really cared about things most people my age cared about, and that’s true up until now."
Can you tell us a little bit about the project with Air BnB that you mentioned? What was the experience like on the first day of the gig?
JAY: "They approached me with the idea of putting on intimate gigs in London. The aim was for me to have nights where I host and perform. I thought it was a good idea so I ran with it and it’s going pretty well at the moment. I had my second night last week and tickets sold out a week before the gig. I’ve got another date later this month, and a few in September. I like these nights a lot because they’re run with the idea that everyone benefits. The artists are paid well, the audience has a great time, and the acts I organise are all are amazing. The venue I host my nights in is also really sweet. It’s called Merchant House, they’ve got a couple of bars in Bank. I’ve never seen decor like theirs anywhere, and their drinks are the best I’ve had in London. The first gig was pretty nerve-wracking. I’m not a big talker so hosting was definitely a step outside my comfort-zone. I’m glad I did it though. The audience was filled with some friends which made it easier."
Could you expand on the Gibson Guitar campaign? What is it like working with such a prestigious company?
JAY: "I was in a busking competition last year being run by the mayor of London. This year it’s being sponsored by Gibson Guitars. For the campaign they decided to get a couple of London buses wrapped. I got asked to model for the buses and that’s how I ended up on a bus for their campaign. I did the shoot at their private offices near Oxford Street and it went really well. It’s kind of surreal to be doing this campaign with Gibson. The people working at their office were really chill too. They turned down the office music, and let me have a jam on their guitars for what felt like 10 minutes but was actually a couple of hours."
What makes your music unique compared to others?
JAY: "I guess it’s the fact that I spend a lot of time on my lyrics, and I try to actively unfilter my thoughts when I write songs. I’ve also had a lot of strange and out-of-this-world experiences which I don’t talk about so virtually no one knows about them, they’re always great stimuli for any artistic work I do. I come up with my best lyrics after extended periods of solitude. I think it’s important to spend a lot of time on your own because that’s the only time people are truly themselves, so a lot of my music comes from thoughts and ideas I’ve come up with on my own. I think that makes me unique because nowadays it seems like the ‘cool’ thing is to hang out with a lot of people, but being in social situations with a lot of people is one of the things I hate the most."
Do you feel that growing up where you did played a big part in who you became musically and personally?
JAY: "Yeah, definitely. Anyone who doesn’t know about South East London, is missing out majorly. I’m glad I grew up there. It’s definitely shaped the way I see music and everything else. There are also some really talented artists coming out of there. For anyone who’s not familiar with the area, I’d highly recommend that you visit. Just don’t gentrify innit."
What was the process like creating your debut EP?
JAY: "Not gonna lie, it was pretty long. The EP took a year to get together because Jamie (my producer) and I were both really busy. Towards the start of this year both of us managed to find time and we finished it off. It took a while getting people together, but it was always a good time. I’ve got an amazing cellist called Sya who played the cello parts on the EP. I started playing the cello when I was 8 and now I can’t get enough of its sound. I’m glad it’s come together the way it has though. I’m really happy with the EP."
Many of your songs have very deep lyrics that I am sure many people can relate to. Where did you get the inspiration for these songs?
JAY: "My inspiration comes from experiences I’ve been through, which are somehow more universal than I thought. I started out writing poems when I was young. I ended up writing hundreds of poems and won some competitions with some of them. My inspiration also comes from other people and the stories they have. Like I said I’m not a big fan of being around a lot of people. I prefer to speak to someone one-on-one, when there are fewer egos and fewer people to please."
Finally, what can we expect from you in the near future?
JAY: "I’m releasing the single from the EP on the 8th of September. Working on quite a few things in and out of music. I recently started managing a rapper who plays the double-bass. I’m producing music as well, some slightly electronic and experimental stuff. I don’t know where a lot of the things I’m doing will take me. but I guess it’s still better than being lazy and waiting for things to happen."