Interview: A Conversation With JGrrey
JGrrey is a unique and unorthodox voice that needs to be heard in neo-soul. She sings in a soft and sultry style which is almost paradoxical as her content has deeper and darker layers, drawing on personal experiences. She fetters these images with characters that she is able to conjure up which are relatable to her listener, mainly revolving around the different emotions experienced in a relationship. The different directions of her songs forces the listener to think hard about her message, and whether intentional or not on JGrrey’s part, it makes for a more thoughtful listening journey. She admits that her best work comes from her freestyling, and it’s fitting that her music feels as organic as its construction.
Bursting on to the music scene following her performance on Berlin based music channel, COLORS, she received validation not only from the plethora of musicians that wanted to work with her, but also herself. Many doors open for artists who go viral, yet few take the opportunity to walk through them. JGrrey on the other hand has strode through, recording with accomplished songwriter Ed Thomas on ‘Growing’, working in the studio with Lily Allen, and also combining with a number of talented artists including Kadiata, Jarreau Vandal and more.
Her hard work over the last couple of years has culminated in the release of her excellent debut EP, ‘Grreydaze’, a project that gets better with every listen. It consists of five songs which diverge in meaning yet also maintain similar themes of love, faith and death, maintaining the ambiguity that is beginning to become a feature in JGrrey’s music. On the back of her debut headline show, I had the chance to sit down with her and talk about her start in the music world, building a home studio with the assistance of Nana Rogues, her Grreydaze EP, death and more:
Tashan: How long are you doing sobriety for?
JGrrey: I don’t know to be honest, as long as it lasts… I mean it’s not even sobriety, I just haven’t had a drink for four days.
Oh four days, I thought it was four months or something…
No, no, that’s the goal
That would be sick though
Yeah – I’m trying to stop drinking, smoking, smoking weed… be at one with my thoughts…
How are the plants?
That’s the best lead question ever! The plants are really good, I took them to my headline show the other day, I was really worried I wouldn’t get them back, but I got them all back yesterday, and they’re all very healthy, and happy.
You put them on stage?
Yeah I took them for the stage, and one for the table my drinks were on, but yeah they’re all good.
How was the headline show? First one right?
Yeah it’s my first headline show, and it went really, really well. My band smashed it and I think the audience enjoyed it, so I’m really happy with it.
When you do a live show, and you’re preparing for it, are you mainly focusing on how the fans are going to react or how you feel on stage?
Me personally, I’m focusing on making sure I get the words right, and making sure I’m singing what I’m meant to be singing, in the way I’m meant to be singing it. And anything else that comes with regards to the audience and the band is just a bonus. I really just concentrate on myself… and just getting the words right, because true say I wrote these songs, but more time I’m just getting them wrong… fucking up my own lyrics, so yeah.
(Laughs) fair enough, I’m hearing your London side coming out, you grew up in Edgware right?
Yeah, I’ve grown up all over the place to be honest. I was born in South London, and then I was in foster homes for the first six years of my life. Then when I got adopted I lived in Edgware for a very long time, and then my parents moved me from there to Hertfordshire. I really like it there, but I’ve grown up all over the place, I grew up in Manchester for a while, so…
How do you think moving around so much has moulded you?
I think it’s helped me in adapting to new situations. I’m very good at adapting to situations I’m not usually in, or meeting someone I haven’t met before… or even producing or writing with people I’ve never met before. It’s just a lot easier, because I’ve always been in new situations with new people.
You initially got into music through Manga, Bonkaz and Nana Rogues – how did you all connect?
(Laughs) the internet really, the first connection I made was Manga…. actually, tell a lie, the first connection I made was Jamal Edwards (SBTV), and that was through YouTube, because I used to do these stupid YouTube videos when I was younger. He invited me down to the office, and I met him and all these different people. After that, I moved to Manchester, and Manga must have followed me on Tumblr, and he reached out to me, and he was like “oh you can sing”, or whatever, but these times I was just playing around and not taking it too serious. And I was just like “cool, my man from Roll Deep has just hollered me”. I told my brothers and they were like “what Manga, the one with the glasses?!”
So I went studio, I linked up with him, and that was how I met everyone else really. I met Nana, he used to produce with them man… Flowdan, Danny Weed. After that just kept meeting new people, and Bonkaz… he followed me on Instagram, and then told me to come studio.
That time you went studio, was that when you made ‘Complicated’?
Ummm… no! That was another tune… I made ‘Complicated’ at home. I made another tune with Bonkaz, which I don’t think ever has been released. And that’s a cold song – but ‘Complicated’, he was working on his album, and he was like “I want this love song, but I don’t want it to be too glittery and nice”, so I was like “cool” and wrote him four different hooks. Then I let him pick, and he picked the one he wanted and that was it. I wrote it from home and sent over the stems.
Yeah, because Bonkaz normally makes… he’s got deeper tracks but I don’t think I’ve heard him really make tracks about girls until that one.
Yeah shout out Bonkaz, mad lyricist.
Have you worked with Nana Rogues?
I’ve worked with Nana three or four times, but the first time I worked with him was with Manga. And I didn’t actually like the song we made. When I say don’t like the song, I mean the song itself is amazing, I just don’t like myself on there.
What is the song?
It’s called ‘Zoning’, and you won’t have heard it, but it’s out there though… but that was the first time I ever reached studio, so imagine I’m nervous, I don’t know Manga, I don’t know these man, I don’t know anybody. So I remember literally shaking, like when I tell you I’d never been in a studio, I mean I’d never even stepped foot inside one… and yeah when I heard the song back I thought I sounded terrible on it. And that’s what made me want to make music, the fact that I heard myself and thought “naa, I can do so much better”.
I think I read about this, this is what triggered you to make a studio right?
Yeah, so I called Nana, and said “look I want to build a studio”, it was my birthday I think, I can’t remember what I turned, but I remember saying to my mum and dad, “look I want to make a studio, in the yard!”
And they were like “cool, let me know what you need”, so I called up Nana, and I was like “look, I need you to make an eBay basket full of everything for a studio, and I’ll pay for it”, and so he did it. And he drove to my house, set the studio up, and that’s literally how I started making music.
That’s pretty sick, that Nana Rogues helped make your studio
It’s pretty mad init, because now I’m like, big Nana Rogues you know… Nana has been talented from a long time, but obviously now the credentials are a bit mad.
It’s good to see UK artists popping off, and talent getting recognised…
We’ve got so much talent here, it’s so good when people get the recognition they deserve, but it’s just a matter of time for everybody because talent is talent, it’s undeniable really.
How much do you feel the shift to online content has helped the UK scene?
Massively, that’s my whole career! Like if it wasn’t for YouTube, Tumblr, SoundCloud, or Instagram, I wouldn’t have met Manga… wouldn’t have a studio, wouldn’t have done my thing with Bonkaz. So massively. Massively. Even COLORS! COLORS, I always say to people, after COLORS is when I started calling myself a singer. Because other people were coming up to me and telling me I’m a singer, and I was like “ok cool, I’m deeping it now, I’m a singer”.
How did COLORS come about? I thought you have to submit your work, but did they reach out to you?
COLORS reached out to me – but I don’t think it was even COLORS. I think it was a girl who knew someone at COLORS. She told me about the platform, but I’d only just started making music, and only had a couple songs up on SoundCloud. So I thought to myself “ok, cool, I’ll do it” and then a year after they reached out, I flew over there and did it.
It’s in Berlin right?
I’ve always wanted to go to Berlin, I’ve heard it’s a wavy city…
Oh my God, it’s amazing, it’s beautiful, very nice, a lot of culture there…
Did you hit up that twenty four hour club (Berghain)?
Who me?! Nah, listen, I flew in at like four in the morning, I landed, couldn’t check in to the hotel until twelve, I was tired, I needed to shower. I was in no state for a twenty four hour rave, but next time I go, I’ll go. When the sobriety thing is all done and dusted (laughs)
Going a bit further back to ‘Ready 2 Die’, that’s a very classic vibe I felt. What I found interesting, was in the lyrics you spoke about being ready to die but then you were talking about a relationship with someone in the song – how do those two things link together in the song?
Oh my god, I love the fact that you asked me this, no-one’s really ever asked me this… so Ready 2 Die was a freestyle.
I wasn’t trying to make it make sense, it just happened, but now I deep it as, “isn’t it interesting I feel so alive, but at the same time I feel ready to die”, I feel it’s like being in two minds about everything. Like I’m so happy, I’m young, the music ting is working out for me… but there’s always something in the back of my head going “but… i haven’t spoken to my mum in a week”, or “but… the rent ain’t paid”, or “but… I haven’t spoken to my bredrin in a long time”, so I think in a similar vein, it’s like, “isn’t it interesting I’m in love, but I just don’t like the time”, or “I’m in love but… where was you two months ago”. So I think it’s appreciating something but there’s always something to complain about, and that’s very me. Even after my headline show, everyone was like “how do you feel?!, how do you feel?! you done it!” and I was like “I don’t know, you know?” Nothing’s ever enough…
Yeah no matter what stage you’re at in life, there’s always something… so once COLORS happened, that was a massive thing for you… straight after loads of people wanted to work with you, you’re becoming a name at that point… as an artist, how do you stop yourself from being overwhelmed?
I didn’t stop myself from being overwhelmed, I was just overwhelmed. I don’t know how people stop it. I still am to be honest. What you have to deep as well is, three years ago, I was…what was I doing? Fuck all! I wasn’t out here making music, but now I’ve got Lily Allen hollering me saying “do you want to come studio?”, or people who I used to listen to when I was younger wanting to work with me.
What were you thinking to do, if you weren’t going to do music?
Nothing. If the music thing don’t work out, I ain’t got shit. (Laughs) real life… I wouldn’t know what I’d want to do, so I’m just happy as fuck, that it’s working out.
You did a very cool collaboration (‘Down About It’) with Jarreau Vandal – who’s a dope, dope producer-
He’s amazing! Never met anyone like Jarreau, he’s a good guy…
In that song, the song itself is quite an upbeat vibe, but then you were saying “be happy” – were you telling your listeners to be happy or are you talking to yourself?
I was saying it to myself… it’s really funny with that song- so I struggle with mental health a lot, like I’ve got a lot of mental health issues I deal with and a lot of personality disorders. And I don’t like flying. So I had to fly to Amsterdam, as he lives out there. And that don’t sit well with me in my mental state. And I remember being at the AirBNB, and just having a moment, just not in a good place.
I went studio, and we’re working on this other song and I remember thinking like, “ah I don’t know why this guy has even flown me out, this tune is dead”, and he was like “ok cool, we’ve got that, let’s try something else now”, and at the end of the session that I was feeling really shit about, he just starts this “doo, duh-duh doo”, like this reggae ting, and again I just freestyled. I was just like “hopefully, one day I’ll sing about, happy”. Saying how I felt, “but for now, i guess I’m feeling really sad” and then it’s like “and then they say nothing can stop me,” and I was just saying how I felt. And so now when I listen to that song, I get gassed because I’m like “yes Jen!” it’s happy for me because I remember exactly how I felt when I was saying it, so it’s nice.
That’s dope, do you feel your best work comes from when you’re very organic with it, and it’s a freestyle off the top?
Definitely, 100%, I’ve got a song called ‘God’s House’ that’s off my Grreydaze EP, and that was a freestyle I wrote by myself at home without any music, I wasn’t even inside the studio. I think I was watching TV or some shit. I had taken these grills, and I remember doing a SnapChat, and I was smiling, because I wanted people to see this gold in my mouth. And then I just said it, “I put gold in my mouth, just so I can smile”, I voicenoted it on my phone. I then went to link Linden Jay, a producer, and told him, I’ve already made a song without music, can we do something with it? And he was like yeah, and that was just a freestyle I already made.
Even ‘Pretty Insane’ was a freestyle… the first part of COLORS (‘Don’t Fade’) also, where I go “blue, and silver, pink and red”. But I’ve got some good songs which aren’t. ‘Growing’ was like a real writing process, I wrote it with a guy called Ed Thomas, who writes with some crazy people. And he writes with a real structure and that’s one of my favourite songs.
The EP in itself is sick – I read that you started writing about fictional characters in your music – in the EP how much of it is fictional and how much of it is personal?
‘Feelings’ is a mix of both – the first part is personal, the second part, “don’t try to change my mind”, is more just about anyone trying to bring anyone down, and being very centred in yourself. And it’s very uplifting, and I’m not a very uplifting person, that’s not me. ‘Notice’, that’s got nothing to do with me, that’s not a personal song, but it slaps. Again, that was a freestyle! That was one of the maddest freestyles ever, so that was Kadiata-
You know Kadiata?
Yeah so I touched studio- wait do you know him?
He won’t remember me, I met him very, very briefly at a house party…
Trust me he will, he’s a good guy! So I went studio with him, and he touched the keyboard like this (hand motions over the piano), didn’t make no sound, and turned to me and said you’re going to sound sick on this. But no sound come out, and then he started making a song, and I was like “let me try a ting quickly”, and then that’s when I said “you devil baby, thought that you played me”, but I didn’t know why I was saying it, it was just the beat he was making. It’s just what happened. That’s fictional as fuck, “what can I do for you to notice”. I know what it’s about… wanting to be noticed and to be your own person, but I don’t really give a fuck if I’m not noticed (laughs).
(Laughs) it’s mad though, because that one in particular, I would have linked – it almost feels like it links back to “Feelings”, and on “Feelings” you were happy with someone, whereas ‘Notice’ is the opposite.
Interesting, I love that! I love that’s the way you heard it. I was actually writing that from someone else’s point of view.
You said ‘Pretty Insane’ was like a freestyle, and you have a line on there where you say “remember when I said music is an emotion?” That whole song feels like a mood, was that what you meant, when you said that?
Yeah, that’s why I said it! I remember making it, and the guy who produced it is called Trebor Llams, and he doesn’t even know how amazing he is. Trebor sent me a care package of songs, and I was flicking through not feeling the first few ones. On the third one, I heard the first few seconds, and was like boom, didn’t even listen to the rest, put it into Logic and started to record. I’m singing it now, “my mother doesn’t believe”, and I said “remember when music is an emotion, this is what I meant”, at this point now, I’m nearly half way through the track, and I’m like, “Trebor’s mad for this!”, and because I know Trebor. Trebor doesn’t even look at himself as a producer, so in my mind I’m deeping how good the track sounds, and yeah… music is an emotion man.
How important do you feel music is for the world?
Music’s everything for me, I rely on music. I genuinely don’t think I’d be alive today if it wasn’t for music, I rely on music. I rely on music to listen to, you know Spotify coming across new people, listening to an artist, who I’ve never listened to before, saying things I can relate to. I also rely on music to write, like in the way that I’d need to write a poem, or I’d need to write a song. Or for Kadiata to say, “what does this hook sound alright?” Because I’m gassed, I’m happy now! Because I’m gassed that you did that. I don’t know one person that’s gone “what music? Nah not me!”
Like there’s one song you like, surely bruv! There must be one thing you relate to. It could be shit, trash, some underground alternative, but that’s what you connect to, that’s your business. Yeah there’s not one person that doesn’t like music.
It’s interesting that you say that you don’t think you’d be alive without music because that’s one common theme I’ve noticed in your music, that you talk about death a lot-
A lot! (Laughs) I do…
You seem to be very aware of your own mortality, where does that come from?
When I was younger and growing up, a lot of my friends died. When I was about nineteen, I went through this weird battle with religion and spirituality, and thought “what does it all mean?” and “we’re all going to die”, you know, craziness, that no-one should have to go through. After all the passa that I had to go through, I was very comfortable to just talk about where I am right now. I’m very self aware, and I just talk openly about it, even on ‘God’s House’, I reference ‘Ready 2 Die’, and just say it’s a beautiful day to die because… these are just thoughts I have bruv, you just got to write it down, and I think it’s healthy to speak on these things because if I’m not talking about… I don’t know what I’m doing, you know what I’m saying?
I feel like more people should… because I feel that we’re all going to eventually anyway-
It’s the end goal! We’re all living the same life, it’s the one thing that we all have in common, it’s death. Ain’t no-one better than me, I ain’t better than no-one, we’re all living the same life, so yeah.
Do you feel you’re quite an introspective person?
Yeah. Very scared of people. I like being at home, I like being around people I know. People are fucking… especially the music industry man, people are weird. People say some weird shit, people do weird shit, they act in weird ways… I’ve got anxiety as it is, I prefer to be at home. It’s funny because I’m an introvert to the way I am socially, but I guess my music is quite extroverted in terms of what I talk about. It’s like a fine medium.
Musically, you’re very unorthodox with your melodies – when you started singing were you always like that or did you initially mimic other artists?
No, I had no sense of direction when it came to music, and if it works, it works. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got some songs where people are like “that just can’t run”, as a song, and I’m learning but I still don’t really have a clue about what I’m doing. I don’t have a structure, I don’t really have a structure, it’s really me freestyling, whatever happens, happens. I do have control over it to a certain extent… but no, I just kind of make it up as I go along, and if it works, it works.
I read in a previous interview, that you still haven’t found who JGrrey is – do you feel closer to that?
No… if anything I’m further.
Really? Why is that?
Now I’m in a position where I can make whatever I want. I could make some Rock music if I wanted to make some Rock music, there’s no-one really telling me what to do. I think a lot of the time people go into music and write a song, and it gets recognised, and people are like “yeah, make more of that”. There are people who play music with guitars, and the acoustic thing is their whole vibe, but I don’t really know what the fuck I’m doing. If you listen to COLORS, that’s like, lovely and glittery but if you listen to ‘Something’, it’s like the opposite. Then there’s ‘God’s House’ and ‘All For You’, which are also different…
You’ve got a lot of ink, what tattoo means the most to you?
I’ve got “my mother” and “my father” tattooed on me, so probably those. Well, all of them really, I’ve got Wu Tang on my ankle. I’m a big Wu Tang fan. I’ve got “Grey” tattooed on my chest as well so… shout out to me (laughs). Narcissm at its finest.
Why is grey your favourite colour?
Because it’s not a colour it’s a shade. It’s between black and white, it’s the spectrum, it’s never ending until you meet black or white. The darkest shade of grey, is one step away from black, and the lightest shade of grey is one step away from white. And they are polar opposites, it’s just the spectrum between life and death.
(Laughs) I just thought of that, you can have that one for free.
(Laughs)… well it’s been a pleasure getting to chat to you
Thank you very much! It’s been really enjoyable…
Follow JGrrey, @jgrrey to hear more.