First Look Friday: SPZRKT Interview
First Look Friday: SPZRKT Interview
Photo by Johnny Fan for Okayplayer.

First Look Friday: Witness The Blossoming Success Of SPZRKT

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

The man known increasingly around the world as SPZRKT (pronounced as Spazzy Rocket) is not known for his availability. Notoriously aloof when it comes to press, the Georgia-bred artist has captured lovelorn audiophiles attention with "Blind Man," which features J-Louis on production. The talented twentysomething-year-old has already had great success in the past few years, as his debut album Bonfire hit earholes to rave reviews.

Since then, his allegiance to STRT_TRBL (pronounced Straight Terrible) has been wonderful for music fans. Crafting honest and mature tracks, SPZRKT proved his singing and songwriting talents on cuts with fellow rising talent such as Sango ("Hipster Girl"), Sam Baker ("Honest") and Soulection's Esta ("Can't Wait"). With the motto of "It's all love over here," SPZRKT has become the game's new-age cupid, slinging arrows of tenderness and vulnerability into the staunchest screwface's mean mug.

Because it isn't every day that we get a chance to speak with the singer-songwriter, we were happy to get SPZRKT during some downtime in Chicago before heading overseas. Armed with a debonaire grace that beguiles his age, SPZRKT talks about how past failures lit a fire that blossomed into success; the importance of his relationship with Sango; what his artistic narrative is and why you should hear his music as soon as possible.

>>> Who influenced SPZRKT when he first got his start in the music industry? Read about it on Pg. 2...

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

Okayplayer: To music snobs the world over, you are making an impact all over globe with your music. What is it that those who follow SPZRKT and STRT_TRBL are seeing and hearing that the world has yet to discover?

SPZRKT: I think they're hearing a difference, and today it's not often that you hear one.

OKP: For those who have a passion for music, they hone their skills and practice their craft. Who are your most cherished influences in music and why?

SPZRKT:James Blake, Chris Martin, Kanye West, Cee-Lo Green and Pharrell Williams.

Each of these guys did something that previously wasn't being done and in ways that came off as if they always had their mind made up about it. James with songs that don't fit the typical mold like "We Might Feel Unsound," Chris with all the sonic transitions Coldplay has made but still feel very much like Coldplay, Kanye first with the violins, then with 808s and Heartbreaks, Cee-Lo for his Gnarls Barkley venture with Danger Mouse (I don't exist as I am without those albums) and Pharrell with his signature production, electronic/soul/hip hop/rock venture of N*E*R*D, and his pop album Girl.

These guys are trailblazers and it's inspirational to see what they've done. I just hope to have half the impact that they've had.

OKP: A song like “Blind Man,” which is fueled by some deep-seeded romanticism has placed you on the radar of music snobs who have a heavy presence in the industry. Can you talk about how life was for you while developing as an artist? How did you react to your first bits of press?

SPZRKT: I feel like I'm still a developing artist and hope to always find the next thing that I can develop. Life for me is very mental. I have R&B roots, Pop capabilities, Alternative capabilities and so on. So while all of that makes for good writing, it makes for a possibly confusing artist if it's not used at the right times. I had a stage of development where I really focused on making people feel, and now I'm in a stage where I'm focused on being a more well-balanced artist. In the past, I had a bad habit of mercilessly jumping from genre to genre on one song to the next. Now, the focus is having bits of those ways and feelings appear in each record, so that if I do switch a genre on the next song, it won't sound so far left.

I always felt awkward about my first bits of press because since I hate taking pictures I had no true press shots. And because they would always get basic facts wrong in my interviews, I didn't feel like I said anything worth reading. [Laughs] I'll try to change that here.

OKP: You auditioned for American Idol, The Voice and America’s Got Talent all to no avail. What did you take away from the experience that led you in the direction of STRT_TRBL?

SPZRKT: Those experiences just lit a fire, especially American Idol. I was so pissed. I didn't take those experiences as "you're not what we're looking for," I took them as "you don't have the talent." So I've worked hard to get better, not just to prove them wrong, but to make the best music possible because it's what I love to do. I think having that drive and determination is what made people hear the potential in the music, and I think that's why STRT_TRBL believed in me enough to reach out and make a deal happen. If you're gonna start from the ground up, the artist(s) you sign need to have a ridiculous drive that will not just build them but establish the label as well. I think they saw that "nothing to everything" type of desire in me.

OKP: Can you also talk about the importance of your musical relationships with Sango, Soulection and how you see it evolving in the next few years?

SPZRKT: Man, if I don't meet Sango, I honestly don't know where my career will be. He was the first to give me a chance on this side of music and he introduced me to Joe Kay, which began my relationship with Soulection. It really is like Sango intentionally and purposely wants to see my career grow, so whether it's cover art or a new contact, he's been there to help me though every step since 2012.

Soulection is family and I want to continue in partnership with them not just to ride their popularity but to also help grow it in the same way that they did for me. So, I'm not exactly sure what the evolution looks like but I want to help it happen.

>>> How does "Hipster Girl" and "The Motive" fit into SPZRKT's musical narrative? Read about it on Pg. 3...

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

OKP: Songs like “Hipster Girl” and “The Motive / Used To The Melody” are funky, adventurous and very melodious, so how do they fit into your overall artistic narrative? What has been the best experience so far as a professional recording artist?

SPZRKT: Artistically, those songs fit my narrative of respect, which I don't know that I like the word "narrative" here because it comes off as fictitious. The story is very true for me. A lot of people talk about what's missing in R&B and how it used to make you want to fall in love. I think that's because back in the glory days, men were singing to women about all the feelings they had for her, and the men today widely sing about having no feelings at all. Or, if it was "I messed up, I'm begging you to stay," now it's "I don't give a fuck, I'll get her friend next." So, in the songs you've mentioned, my story is about bringing respect back to the forefront of our minds.

The best experience I've had as an artist has a lot more to do with others than it does myself. Back in July 2015, Soulection had a show during Fig At 7th in Los Angeles. It was my first outdoor performance and it felt like the fans sang every word. They were giving me so much energy, but before and after the show was the true experience. Before my set, I got a chance to meet Jessie Boykins III who I highly respect. I met Kilo Kish and froze dead in my tracks. Though he wasn't there in the building, I got a message from Scott Vener who does OTHERtone radio with Pharrell. Then I go perform and end it with all of Soulection on stage with me just having a good time. The night ends with fans telling me their stories related to my music, which is my favorite part of all of this, and SuperDuperKyle tweets my lyrics later that night. This is before we become buds and I freaked out because I was and still am a huge fan.

OKP: What are some things that you’ve learned about yourself that comes out in the music?

SPZRKT: I'm very competitive, so whether we're outside playing a sport, or we're in-doors playing 2K, I have a burning desire to win. So, that takes some passion, but I didn't realize just how passionate I was until I started making music. The things that I expressed when I used to rap and the way I sing particular phrases now showed me a lot about myself. That passion made me way more aware of what I'm doing and who I'm using it on.

OKP: When did you lose your songwriting virginity? Can you talk about the first song you wrote and what it was about?

SPZRKT: Never heard it put that way [laughs]. I was 12-years-old the first time I wrote a song. It took me quite a while because I had no idea what I was talking about. The song was called "Cars" and I couldn't even drive back then [laughs]. I was super immersed in the early 2000's hip-hop culture. Although I don't remember any of the song, I'm sure it was definitely trash [laughs].

OKP: How can your music speak truth to power in an age where people are so quickly digesting sounds and disposing of artists in a nanosecond?

SPZRKT: I think about this a lot. As an artist, how much do I really matter to people? Am I just another cool song on their phone or do I mean something to them? I've come to understand that there's truly nothing I can do to control that. I have to trust that if I am giving my maximum effort and working my craft, the gift I was given will serve its purpose to its full potential. I'm not gonna act important or stress myself out in the studio to drop quantities of songs that I don't believe in. I just make music from what's within me and trust that it's making waves in the hearts of the ones who need it.

OKP: Collaboration is uniquely a key to the success of certain creative individuals who wish to change the game. Who would you want to work with in the new year (2016) and why?

SPZRKT: Man! I don't know how much of this is possible but they are so many I'd like to just vibe with. From homies like Smino, Monte Booker, Ravyn Lenae, JMSN, Mick Jenkins, and KYLE, to artists I dream of meeting. Artists like SZA, Chance The Rapper, Erykah Badu, Pharrell, James Blake, Kanye West and Chris Martin. I'm not sure that list has an actual end.

I think all of these artists and their differences can mesh very well with me and mine. I see each of them as innovators of a lane, vibe, or a culture and those are all things that I strive to be.

>>> What is the message that SPZRKT is trying to present in his music? Find out the answer on Pg. 4...

Lenny Kravitz, Grace Jones, Lauryn Hill, Lion Babe, Thundercat, SZA & More Rock The Afropunk Festival 2015 in Brooklyn, NY.

OKP: Last year, you wrote an impassioned letter to the Christian hip-hop community essentially “breaking up” with them. In another interview, you made sure to declare that you “are not hip-hop”. With that said, can you break down who the “Dreamers” are and how you remain independent of people’s want to “claim” or “hold onto” an artist such as yourself?

SPZRKT: To fully understand why I did that, you have to understand the mindset. It's a community that shares one of the top two criticized faiths in the world. A part of that is not just misrepresentation by hateful people who claim the faith, but also a vast amount of embarrassing shirts, slogans, movies and so on. So, when the Christian community gets anything cool, they like to stamp it and make sure people know it came from their side of things. For example, I've seen my songs "Middle Of Things," "Blind Man" and "Honest" tagged as Christian R&B. When the song is about God, I get it, but when it's not, I don't.

I tried to make the transition in the music, but when I realized it didn't work, I wrote that statement to say, "Allow me to expand my reach." If a Muslim, Agnostic or Atheist ran by my music, I don't want them to skip it because of a genre title. If they're going to skip it, I want them skip it because they didn't like it. This is why "Jesus My King" was released just as "JMK" instead, so that people wouldn't let their previous notions decide for them. I want the music to decide for them.

"Dreamers" was just a name that I was giving to anyone who supported me or was inspired by me because we all have dreams. I was honestly following the fan name fad and I apologize for that [laughs]. Now, it's no name... it's just all about the people I love.

OKP: What is the message that SPZRKT is trying to present in his music?

SPZRKT: What you'll notice, especially in my sadder songs, is that you can't say the things that I'm saying if you don't know who you are. What do you hold on to when the applause is gone or when the criticism comes? When the relationship is over and they talk you down, what do you hold on to?

My personal belief is that you can't truly know who you are without knowing your Creator. It matters a lot less what your ex says you are when you know who Jesus says you are. If you know the one who created your purpose, you can know who you are. So at the core of my music, there's a double message, but it's actually one.

OKP: Can you break down the inspiration behind the “Soon Enough” with Sango? Speak about the inspiration behind the creation of the song, the production and the song’s lyrics.

SPZRKT: The entire Hours Spent Loving You project was written during different levels of my last relationship. "Soon Enough" is a thought that I know many people will be split on. The idea is that when you've finally found that RIGHT person, there's no such thing as falling in love too fast, because that's who you were supposed to love all along. I felt that way about her very strongly. Some of her single friends felt she was moving fast. We would hang with a talented married couple who were similar to us but with years behind their relationship, and their advice was the old "you just know" cliché. The lyrics flowed quite easily from that experience.

Believe it or not, I wasn't a part of the production process for any of the project. Sango had sent over a beat folder, I chose the ones I liked and the only thing I asked him to change was the tempo on "The Motive". The production was perfect. I felt like that beat told the story of anxiousness in the verses, then a full blown break out of passion in the chorus. It was my job to match that in lyric and in vocal.

OKP: How do you see yourself changing the music industry for the better versus all of the bad stuff that goes on within it

SPZRKT: I honestly don't think I'm going to change the music industry, not alone I won't. I can come in and make an impact with what I do and how I do it, but the things that sell will still sell and I can't change that. I have to be as consistent as I can with what I do, and believe that it will make the impact that it's supposed to because I've put in the work and God is leading it.

OKP: If the reader’s learned one thing from this First Look Friday chat with SPZRKT — what would it be and in what octave would it sound like?

SPZRKT: I think they learned that all of these invisible rules do not apply to them. They weren't made to be broken, but they have to be. I'd say it sounds like a thunderstorm. I think rain is visual sympathy. For some, the rain visually connects to their hurt or gloom. For others, hearing the rain means peace and sleeping weather. After the rain, the land is replenished and it grows. I relate the sound of thunder to power. So, I just hope the music is sympathetic, helps you grow, and is powerful.

A good thunderstorm might even knock some power out. Hopefully mine will knock the power out of any negative thoughts against yourself. This may read fake deep but I mean it [laughs].

Be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for more from SPZRKT (and us!) by following him on Twitter @SPZRKT.