Exclusive Interview with John West
John West is the latest and greatest singer/songwriter to hit the R&B/Pop scene with his eclectically soulful musical stylings. Upon first listen to his music most will label him as a hybrid between Robin Thicke and Jon B, with a strong Stevie Wonder influence—however, after really delving deep into his music you’ll discovery his brand of artistry is genuine and unique.
After grinding on his own for years, West was signed to Mercury/Island Def Jam records where he released his critically acclaimed self-titled EP in 2011 featuring the tracks ‘Lovely (Feat. Pusha T)’ and ‘Right Now’. Now, as an officially signed artist, West is in the process of crafting his debut LP of urban blue-eyed soul which he hopes to release by the end of 2012.
Our Music Editor Mikey Brooks recently caught up with LA-based crooner John West who just released his a video for his latest single ‘Nobody’ from his forthcoming debut album via Def Jam. Read below for a peek into the newcomer’s life behind the music:
Mikey Brooks: In college you majored in English, so what made you want to pursue a career in entertainment?
JW: I’ve always been a performer and in the arts from a kid all the way up to college. In high school I use to draw, even in college I was always doing music on the side. I went to Columbia College in Chicago, so I did some demos and submitted them for some festivals… I didn’t really have a band so I put a band together and started playing some shows in Chicago for about a year until I made my move to L.A. I found myself on the 3rd Street promenade and things fell into place. I’ve always been a singer back in the church choir, even in high school I did musical theater at one point…I was even in a barber shop quartet while living in Baton Rouge!
MB: As an artist, do you think songwriting and producing is an important part of one’s act—particularly for you?
JW: For me, I think it’s super important! Not even [just] songwriting but production too. A lot of times I’ll write a song on a guitar, and I’ll play it for ten different producers who all want to produce it ten different ways so you have to be careful what you attach your name too. You must have an understanding of production since there are different types of artists… Rihanna is amazing but she doesn’t really write her stuff, but she pulls it off because she’s amazing at what she does. I think it’s great when you can be a double or triple threat when it comes to writing and producing your own material. I strive to build my production chops so I can put out the most honest version of the music I want to make.
MB: What can fans expect from your upcoming album, both musically and lyrically?
JW: Let’s see…a couple songs like ‘Lovely’, ‘Lovely’ is an older song that I re-did for the album. ‘Love You Tonight’ is another vibe, so there’s some of that. There’s also a good amount of slow jams with that Robin Thicke vibe. But there’s also a darker urban vibe like one record that’s been getting played call ‘Beautiful Faces’. I do a little bit of sing rap, I do some crooning, there’s some nice summer pop songs; it’s a mix but at the same time I tried to explore and work with a lot of different producers and get some Hip-Hop collaboration. I plan on calling the album ‘The Humble Hustle’ to coin what I’ve been through on the 3rd Street Promenade. I also have a side project called “Art of Conversation” that’s on the spacey/indie sort of tip…the vocals are filtered out and I’m exited to put that out as maybe a free download. Keep an eye out for that!
MB: Who are some of your musical influences?
JW: I grew up on a lot of jazz coming out of Baton Rouge and Chicago with blues and that whole scene. Louisiana is great because it’s not just the commercial jazz. I grew up on Cat Stevens, Carol King…as the youngest in my family in late 80s I was 5 or 6 when my sister got me Lenny Kravitz’s first CD. At that time I hadn’t heard a lot of Stevie Wonder or artists like that so it was a joint combo to putting those sounds together that Lenny did. In high school the Neo Soul thing popped off with Erykah Badu’s and Lauryn Hill’s solo record. Recently though, good music…vibey, spacey stuff. I listen to as much music as I can.
MB: Elephant in the room: there are obvious similarities to yourself and Robin Thicke, how do you feel being compared to him?
JW: I’m all good with it. At the end of the day it’s probably a little tough being a white dude doing soul music. I’m sure Robin was told he sounded like Jon B. when he came out (laughs). I was lucky enough to meet Robin at the last American Music Awards, he was a really nice guy; I think we have some similar styles. I think vocally, we are pretty different as far as texture. I explore other territories outside of Soul and R&B, like some Urban Pop, and Acoustic based stuff. A lot of stuff I’ve put out I understand the comparison but hopefully people will get o see a little more depth to the music I make.
MB: Your melodies are so infectious! I listen once and they’re already stuck in my head. I’ve noticed your music relies on vocal melodies and organic production—how do you feel your music will stack up compared to the overproduced Electro-Pop that currently dominates radio? Is that a concern of yours?
JW: No, not really. At the end of the day you have to do you and just hope people will respond to that—coming from a real place. At the same time, being signed to a major label, you are trying to have stuff fit the radio. Sometimes I’ll hear the stuff on repeat on the Pop stations and hope my stuff fits in the mix, but at the end of the day I do my thing regardless of whether or not it has some Electro-Pop pulse behind it and hopefully people will respond that that. I want to make great music that resonates with people. Adele is a great example!
MB: What can you tell me about your latest single?
JW: Last week Vevo premiered a new video, it’s a really cool slow jam called ‘Nobody’ and that’s the newest thing I’ve put out. It’s cool when you do these urban collabs, because you get a lot of blog love because an urban rapper is attached to it. It’s great to put out a song like ‘Nobody’ and then have WWSHH picking it up, you know, those types of blogs, it makes you feel like you’re making some progress in a certain scene. The video came out nice; Calvin Williams directed it and my manager put it together. The next thing we’re putting out will be ‘Love You Tonight’. We’ve put out about four or five songs, almost half of the album has been slowing leaking, so I’m very excited to put out the whole thing. Definitely check out ‘Nobody’!
MB: Now let’s have some fun! If you could, name 3 artists you would love to collaborate with dead or alive…
JW: Let’s see…somebody dead first (laughs). I’m trying to think of someone on the urban side…you know, within the music I like to listen to a lot. Nick Drake would be one; he’s a super mellow singer/songwriter from back in the day. In high school I listened to him so much, he’s one of those guys who got popular after he passed away. Even if I just got to meet him, tell him his life had a lot of purpose even if he didn’t feel the shine in the moment. It’s tough living for these dreams and not realizing the positive impact your having on someone’s life, it sucks Nick didn’t get to experience that. My cousin Kayne would be a good look (laughs)! There’s a really cool group I’m going to see live that goes by Washed Out. Their stuff is supper trippy, spacey stuff—they’re really great, my girl is going to put me on to him so I’ve been meaning for a while to reach out. As far as the urban side: Rihanna or J. Cole, I’m definitely down! I’ve got so much respect for those two with everything going in the Hip-Hop game. So we’ll see what’s next around the corner when it comes to collabs, but that would be fun.
MB: How do you feel about Britney Spears joining ‘X Factor’?
JW: I mean…[awkward silence]…she definitely knows what it means to be a Pop Star. People have to remember ‘X Factor’ is not just a singing competition; it’s a star competition so I think she’s got something to say. And she’s from Louisiana so I got respect for that! As far as vocal tips, I don’t know, I’ve never seen her live but I think she’s awesome (laughs)!
MB: Lastly, what are your thoughts on auto-tune and your use of it in your music?
JW: I use it sometimes…listen, I don’t know if you’ve messed with the actual application but you can adjust it so it’s more of a correction tool opposed to a vocal effect. A lot of times people listen to the radio and know the sound—so the auto-tune makes [the song] sound more “radio”. I can appreciate the texture of it, I like that. Sometimes it can be used artistically… I did some shows with T-Pain, the Godfather of auto-tune, and he doesn’t use auto-tune live, at all. Dude can sing! It goes to show the person who most popularized auto-tune, in my opinion, can sing. That’s not saying people can use it who can’t sing… It’s funny for me because I sing pretty much in tune so when I use auto-tune it’s not an obvious effect. At the end of the day it’s about making something fresh, and too much auto-tune can make a song sound stale. But if you use it in a creative way, I don’t care. Make your music. At the end of the day a couple vocal lessons never hurt anybody (laughs)! Even on ‘Art of Conversation’ there’s stuff on there that can sound like a robot voice to where it’s only on one note and I can mess with it to make artificial melodies. I was creating a couple tracks and putting certain “notes” on certain and it’s cool because sometimes I create a melody that I wouldn’t even think of [on my own]. Running through a vocal transmitter you hear some cool stuff. There’s so much technology at our finger tips all you anyone really needs is a Mac computer, garage band, and you can make some hits!
MB: John, thank you so much for your time. This interview was great. I cannot wait til the world has the opportunity to hear your music!
JW: Anytime man, it was my pleasure!