First Look Friday: Toronto R&B Singer Jon Vinyl is Trying to Stay Sane in a Social Media-Obsessed World
On the first Friday of every month we take a close look at one up-and-coming artist; for this month’s First Look Friday we kick it with Jon Vinyl, a young singer who is trying to spread a positive message with his music.
Growing up in Toronto, Jon Vinyl was introduced to R&B music in the same manner that many young black boys are: through his mother’s morning cleaning playlist. The 21-year-old singer/songwriter wasn’t brought up going to church. So Sunday mornings in his house were dedicated to cleaning and absorbing the influence of whatever music was being played at the time: Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, Jodeci, and Mariah Carey. (With some P!nk thrown in there as well.)
Vinyl kept these influences in mind while working on his own music. He was also moved by the new wave of R&B music from artists like Frank Ocean and Miguel. It took a while for him to arrive at a sound that was representative of his artistry. So there was a stretch where he would just pen song after song in order to build his skill and confidence as a songwriter.
None of the songs he wrote felt debut-ready. Until one finally did.
Vinyl’s debut single “Nostalgia” arrived in October 2017. It is still his most streamed track. On it, he sings, “Your life is too real to live somebody else’s dream. So hold your head up. Don’t ever let up. Make decisions with precision and hope it all gets better.” It sets the basis for the positive message he wants to use his platform as a musician to spread.
Vinyl has had some scattered releases since “Nostalgia,” including the bright, Shakespearean “Star-Crossed,” and the shadowy “Storm.” In 2019, he released his first-ever collaboration, “Euphemism,” with Australian singer/songwriter Tash, and his latest single “Addicted,” which was paired with an accompanying visual.
With a full-length debut yet to come, we still have so much to discover about Jon Vinyl. As a part of our First Look Friday series, Okayplayer spoke with Jon Vinyl about the process of bringing his creative visions to life and the importance of maintaining your mental health.
If you were introducing your music to someone for the first time, which songs would you play?
I would say the first song I released. I think that’s an accurate representation of who I was as an artist and who I wanted to be. That was just a positive message and positive outlook on whatever trials and tribulations you’re going through in life. I think a lot of the songs that I create are similar to that so I would say the first one I released, “Nostalgia.”
What album would you say has had the biggest impact on your interest in music?
It would be either Frank Ocean’s Nostalgia Ultra or Miguel’s Kaleidoscope Dream. Those are top two for me. It’s mainly just because, when I first started, those are what I heavily listened to and that inspired me. That’s why I created music. I think Frank Ocean just has this thing where you can listen to his songs and totally relate. It’s like you fully relate to everything he’s saying. And then, on top of that, he’s like a creative genius. He can really express how he’s feeling in such an unorthodox way but you still love it and understand it. I think he’s just a pioneer in music, honestly.
Is that sense of relatability something you want to bring into your own music?
Yeah, one hundred percent. Just trying to be as new as I possibly can into the music industry, I think that’s a big figure. I think it was Quavo who said A lot of people like to “bite” other “people’s styles” but you gotta realize that the reason why any artist who is big in this industry is because they brought something new. So, I think that is a big thing to remember as an artist and that’s what I would love to try to do.
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What do you think is the hardest part about coming up with these new concepts to bring into your music?
The execution. You can have your vision of what you want in the song, but it doesn’t always turn out to be the product that you want. I think the hardest part about being an artist is literally just trying to bring the idea to life. From concept to a good song, that’s probably the hardest thing.
When you’re in the process of creating, do you normally start with a concept or general idea, or the melody? What’s that process like for you?
First off we’ll listen to the beat, and [ask] “How does it make you feel?” We talk about it and from there we’re like, “OK let’s write about this.” And that’s when it becomes this concept and you just start writing around the concept. Maybe you’ll pull up a Netflix show or TV and watch it while you’re trying to write it. It all goes back to the concept and little things bring it to life, like watching a series that relates to what you’re talking about, a movie that relates to it. Visuals really help for me when it comes to writing.
I was revisiting the “Star-Crossed” video recently and was wondering what your process of coming up with visual components for your music is like? Do you keep that in mind while you’re creating?
I do. But I would definitely give a lot of credit to people in my team who hear it for themselves as well and they just have their own ideas. Usually, every single time I’m hearing a song that I’ve created I definitely have an idea of the visual and I will say it to the creative team, but I also have to commend a lot of people that I work with for just, honestly, being so understanding of the song and having their own concepts as well.
Who are some of your dream collaborators?
Definitely the people I’ve said before — Miguel, Frank Ocean would be unbelievable. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Anderson .Paak. He’s unbelievable as well. They really try to create something that no one else is really trying to do. I love the idea of that because it makes really creative music.
Tell me about the moment when you realized that music was a plausible career choice for you.
We were making music for about three years without actually releasing anything. After making “Nostalgia” I realized that this could be a real thing for me, because the reception and the response from everybody was unbelievable. I didn’t have that faith in myself when I wrote that song. I just thought I was writing another song. After putting it out it changed everything for me.
How do you think the concept of streaming and digital music consumption has changed the way artists have to present themselves early on in their career in order to capture people’s attention?
I think everybody on social media can be themselves and show who they really are through videos and even on Twitter. It’s a platform for you to show yourself and be yourself. Some people don’t always do that, but I think that really changed it for a lot of people. A recent example of that would be Masego. I love his music, and I thought it was really creative. But then I see him on Instagram and he is so funny. He’s hilarious. And it’s like I love the music even more. I think that’s a big thing for a lot of artists. If you can just show who you are and honestly be natural about who you are it’s like a platform and people will love you even more.
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A lot of artists have to sometimes step back from social media and take breaks. Is the more toxic side of social media something you worry about?
I definitely do think about it. I think a lot of people get taken aback by some of the negativity in the comments, so a lot of people step back. Also, I think we have walked away from a lot of old traditions, like reading books. It’s a mix of both. People put down their phones just because they don’t want to read a bunch of comments, and it might be negative. And, also, people just want to interact with people more in real life and have a connection with someone.
Do you believe that if you put a certain energy out into the world that’s what you’re going to get back?
I one hundred percent believe that. If you’re going through your everyday life being a part of a lot of bullshit, you’re going to be around a lot of bullshit, and therefore bullshit’s going to happen. It’s as simple as that. Surrounding yourself with a lot of people who are successful and actually trying to do something positive, maybe that will change your perspective and you’ll be around more positive things and it will make you do more positive things. I think that’s the energy.
What’s the greatest piece of advice someone in the music industry has given you?
Take care of your mental health. That was number one for me. I think it’s just because you hear a lot of stories about artists and people in the industry kind of going a little looney, I guess. Not taking care of themselves. There’s a lot of pressure in the music industry just in terms of creating, too. Have some fun or relax a little bit. You can really fall into a dark place because there’s a lot of people depending on you, in terms of pressure. It’s important that you have fun and relax every once in a while. I think that was the big one that resonated with me.
Music has always been therapeutic for a lot of people. If you’re deep into a song it can be really relaxing and make you feel really good. Maybe there’s a lyric in the song that relates to you and tells you that everything is going to be okay. I know that sounds a little cliche and corny, but that’s pretty much what it is. A lot of people like a song because of a specific thing in it that maybe relates to them or they just really like the melody that you created. I think that’s the healing part of it. Just being someone that relates to someone, and just saying I went through this, too, and I got through it. And so can you.
Larisha Paul is a writer from New York City. She has written for MTV and Earmilk. You can follow her @sincesuburbia.