New musician on the scene, John.k, talks all things music related, including the exciting release of four new songs in the EP “If We Never Met,” as well as upcoming plans. Through the conversation with the pop vocalist, there’s one thing he wants his fans to know: he couldn’t have done it without his team. The humble artist attributes his successes, as well as the inspiration behind his new EP to the incredible people he has met along the way, citing his label, collaborations with other songwriters, and band as the catalyst for his newfound confidence in himself not only a musician but also as an artist.
With tastes ranging from old-school soul and classic rock to modern pop music, John.k is nothing if not eclectic. Providing insights into his past musical inspirations, as well as his growth as a singer/ songwriter, John takes us on a tour of his musical library, dating back to his early high school days, when he was just starting to experiment with music. Although the musician refers to himself as “green” and a “late-bloomer” in the music world, his impressive array of musical influences and talent render this inexperience undetectable. Read our exclusive interview below for further insight into the background of John.k.
What is the inspiration behind your music?
What inspires me is my team: people that keep me going, that challenge me to be on the edge of my creativity. The inspiration for the music is the team. If it's not directly my story you can guarantee that it's from one of the songwriters or somebody in that room that felt the emotion behind each song. The goal is to be completely transparent and honest and vulnerable in this music and the goal is to make sure that nothing is fake. If we connect to people, we want to connect to people that have gone through the same stuff that we have and in order to truly connect, I feel like you would have had to go through those things. I really try to pull from real things that have really happened to me or somebody else that I'm writing with and the inspiration behind all of that is to be honest and transparent.
What about your newest songs are you most excited about?
I'm really excited to release the music. It's been a full year since I've been able to release music, so I kind of forgot this feeling of just how exciting it is to be the week of the release. I'm excited about all of them for very different reasons. We kind of take you through a little journey and a picture of where the project is and where it can go. We get a little experimental in some tracks and some are a little more acoustic driven. The EP has a lot of range, even within four songs, but I'm excited that it’s real. That we were able to put together a cohesive body of work and I'm excited that it's not just a single. I'm excited that it's four songs that we're going to let people hear instead of just two to three minutes of music, they're going to get ten to twelve minutes of music. It doesn't sound like much, but it's a big difference and I want people to know that I'm here. I feel like this music is really strong and I feel like the most exciting part of the release is how much music we have to come.
Were you always interested in music?
Music has been a huge part of my life since I was young. Very young. I don't think I truly believed that I was capable of making music and releasing music and EPs until probably four or five years ago. The birth of the John.k project. It had a name, it had a sound, it had kind of everything. It wasn't just 'Lets jump on a stage and sing.' It was 'Let's create a brand. Let's create a sound.' The sound is what really got me hooked on making something new that hasn't been done before. We just kind of got addicted to (and when I say we, I just mean me and Rob and Dante and the team), we got really excited about creating something new and that became our addiction to keep going down that road and to keep creating and getting in more rooms and writing more and developing a sound and we had an opportunity to do that. And I think that's what every artist dreams of, just having the right people around them that can bring out the best in them and use my talent and ability to the best that I can to create something that's new. I mean, it's awesome.
Who were your early influences? Who are your influences now?
I have a super eclectic taste. I'm all over the place. Now, it's from Mac Miller to Otis Redding. I love what Sia and Labyrinth are doing now with their side project. I think it's incredible. Vocally, I really like Miguel. It's hard not to respect Charlie Puth and Bruno Mars. If Charlie, Bruno, or John Mayer release anything, I'm going to listen to it on the first day, but I have to give props to Chelsea Cutler and Jeremy Zucker. I think they're crushing it right now. I love the path that they're on and the way that they release music and the sound that they're creating. I really like Daniel Caesar. If I go on a long drive I'll probably put Sgt. Pepper's on from The Beatles. I can listen to almost any Beatles record all the way through. I pull from a little bit of everything. I love Otis Redding. I love "(Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay". I love all those throwbacks, but if I'm just chilling, you know Mac Miller, Drake. Music is cool. Music is really cool. There's so much good stuff out there.
Is there an experience from your past that influenced who you are today?
I think everything you experience makes you who you are. I think every single experience you have shapes you. I'm trying to think musically when I truly dove in. For me, it was always something I loved to do. It was kind of like I was always unsure or a little afraid to commit. I think the moment when one of my best friends and my now-manager, Rob Zarili, basically said like 'You're the best singer I've ever heard. If you can't make it, then nobody can. You have what it takes' and believing him it really just turned me from a singer into an artist. For me, it was that moment that everything became clear that it was okay to pursue an artist thing and it was okay to try to risk a little bit and just to give every part of yourself to this project to create the best music that you're capable of creating. And just putting it out there with no expectation. I think a lot of times that we kind of freak ourselves out in thinking we're not good enough or one dimensional. I'm a great singer but am I an artist? The belief is everything. That moment when you just know that it's okay to do whatever you want to do and to create music that if you like it, it's good enough. And you take that pressure of what everybody's going to say or think or react away from it and you just have fun with it and keep it light, you can't lose. You're in a much better place. But I think it was Rob's belief in me that made me start to believe in myself.
How would you describe your music?
I would describe my music as pop. It touches on a lot of things. People have said it has some R&B and soul elements in the vocal and I think that's amazing, but I don't think the songwriting or some other elements of the production lend itself to that genre. I think the only genre really capable of holding all of it together is pop, but at the same time, my team is so eclectic. Dante, the guitarist and writer, he's very pop, pop rock, and R&B driven. My manager listens exclusively to rap. I lean towards obviously being eclectic, but I like old school soul. When you put that all together, I think we end up with something that's a little different. It pulls from everywhere.
What about “If We Never Met” is so significant to you?
"If We Never Met" is obviously a love song about a very special person in my life, but it is so much more than that. And that alone is enough, but it also encompasses me and my relationships with the people that I've met along the way on this journey. If I never met Rob, if I never met Dante, if I never met Adam, if I never met Ian, if I never met every single person that's been a part of this project and has made this music with me. It's such an integral part of it and the music wouldn't be the same if I had never met all these people and kept them close and kept the team tight. I just can't think of a better way to kick off releasing music than the statement of saying even if I had never met Joey Arbagey if I had never met Epic Records. All of those things played such a huge roll in all of this and I just wanted to do a nod to everybody that's in my team right now, that's in my life right now and it's almost like a huge thank you to everybody that has made this music possible.
Do you remember the first song you wrote? How old were you/ what was it about?
When I first really dove into songwriting it was around my late teens. I mean I was kind of a late bloomer with songwriting and singing. It was a song called "From Where I Stand," the first song I wrote by myself. It was very soulful. Very Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. I moved to Nashville to explore songwriting and to try to figure out a little bit of my artistry. I was super green and it almost had essences of what's that Sam Cooke song? "Change is Gonna Come." It's one of his most popular songs and that was one of my favorites, so that was the inspiration behind it, but just kind of writing that old school kind of soul ballad. It was okay. It wasn't that good. I definitely had a long way to develop, but yeah that was just the roots when I would sit down at the piano and try to figure it out on my own and then I realized I'm a lot better writer with other people in the room that can help me push through some road blocks. I remember it took me forever to finish the song. It took me like a couple of months. It's just a testament to that you can't do it all on your own sometimes.
Do you feel your sound has evolved over time?
Oh man. I can't even describe in words how much it's changed. I think a big focus for us was tempo and groove and just making things that are upbeat that lyrically connect, but that people can just kind of put on and chill and relax and it can sit in the background or you can blast it through the speakers. We're trying to give people just the opportunity to be a passive listener if they want to be or really really connect on a deeper level. I want people to have a good time when they listen to it. I want people to connect with it on a level that it takes them back to a place and gets tied into their memory and they have an experience with these songs. We've totally created something new with this sound and I can't even measure how much the writing style has changed because it's completely different. It's challenged me in ways I never thought were possible and it has brought the best out of everybody on the team. It's a very cohesive, well thought out body of work that I'm incredibly proud to release.
How do you determine when a song is finished? Do you think that songs are ever really finished?
We've done some things well and some terribly. You can tweak a song forever and at some point, you just have to let go and rely on the feeling the song gives you rather than meticulously driving yourself crazy over every bit of sonic thing that’s in the song. Like 'Oh let's bring the high hats down a touch. Let's boost up the snare.' You can do that forever. You know when the feeling is there, but at some point, you just have to let it go and that's the best feeling ever. Releasing music is great because it allows you not to overthink the song anymore.
What’s next for you? Do you have any future projects that you’re working on?
Yeah. The most exciting part of the EP is that we know there's so much music behind it. We've already got the next one ready to go, so it's just a matter of time. That's the best part. It's not like 'Oh, we finally finished four songs and here they are. We've been working non stop and we're only creating more and more and more, so this is the first of just a whole new wave of music that's going to continue to roll out and we're always going to stay ahead of ourselves and continue to challenge ourselves and innovate and create and push ourselves to new limits. We're writing all the time, so it's a really good balance of enjoying the music that is out, polishing some up, while challenging ourselves to create new things and keeping the momentum going. So, yes. There's a lot more music behind this.