First Look Friday: Jon Vinyl
First Look Friday: Jon Vinyl
Photo Credit: WIL Studios

First Look Friday: Toronto R&B Singer Jon Vinyl is Trying to Stay Sane in a Social Media-Obsessed World

First Look Friday: Jon Vinyl Photo Credit: WIL Studios

On the first Friday of every month we take a close look at one up-and-coming artist; for this month's First Look Fridaywe 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 mothers morning cleaning playlist. The 21-year-old singer/songwriter wasnt 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.)

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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.

Vinyls 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.

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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 Fridayseries, 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 thats 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 youre 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 Oceans Nostalgia Ultra or Miguels Kaleidoscope Dream. Those are top two for me. Its mainly just because, when I first started, those are what I heavily listened to and that inspired me. Thats why I created music. I think Frank Ocean just has this thing where you can listen to his songs and totally relate. Its like you fully relate to everything hes saying. And then, on top of that, hes like a creative genius. He can really express how hes feeling in such an unorthodox way but you still love it and understand it. I think hes 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 thats a big figure. I think it was Quavo who said A lot of people like to "bite" other "peoples 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 thats what I would love to try to do.

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 doesnt 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, thats probably the hardest thing.

When youre in the process of creating, do you normally start with a concept or general idea, or the melody? Whats that process like for you?

First off well listen to the beat, and [ask] How does it make you feel? We talk about it and from there were like, "OK lets write about this." And thats when it becomes this concept and you just start writing around the concept. Maybe youll pull up a Netflix show or TV and watch it while youre 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 youre 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 youre 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 Im hearing a song that Ive 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 Ive said before Miguel, Frank Ocean would be unbelievable. Recently Ive been listening to a lot of Anderson .Paak. Hes 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 didnt 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 peoples attention?

I think everybody on social media can be themselves and show who they really are through videos and even on Twitter. Its a platform for you to show yourself and be yourself. Some people dont 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. Hes hilarious. And its like I love the music even more. I think thats a big thing for a lot of artists. If you can just show who you are and honestly be natural about who you are its like a platform and people will love you even more.

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. Its a mix of both. People put down their phones just because they dont 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 thats what youre going to get back?

I one hundred percent believe that. If youre going through your everyday life being a part of a lot of bullshit, youre going to be around a lot of bullshit, and therefore bullshits going to happen. Its 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 youll be around more positive things and it will make you do more positive things. I think thats the energy.

Whats 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 its 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. Theres 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 theres a lot of people depending on you, in terms of pressure. Its 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 youre deep into a song it can be really relaxing and make you feel really good. Maybe theres 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 thats 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 thats 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.

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


Larisha Paul is a writer from New York City. She has written for MTV and Earmilk. You can follow her @sincesuburbia.