Music

Interview: Jay Wile Talks EP, “Better Times,” Influences And Success In Music

Self-taught singer and songwriter, Jay Wile releases new EP, "Better Times" and shares details on his journey through music.

Jay Wile is San Antonio born, but currently resides in Austin, Texas. Early on, the self-taught musician envisioned himself as a rapper since he grew up looking up to one of the greatest rappers and influencers: Lil Wayne. Along his path, he realized that rapping was not his calling and instead crafted himself into a singer.

Jay Wile’s focus was using his voice in intricate ways to tell stories. In the process of teaching himself to sing and experimenting with his sound, he closely studied the likes of John Legend, Frank Ocean and John Mayer. Now, as an established musician he has found his footing in the industry. His hard work has continued to pay off and has had a plethora of opportunities come his way such as: traveling the country, opening for Mac Ayres in New York, being featured on Ebro Darden’s Beats One Radio, and performing at SXSW in Austin—all helping him build impactful relationships in the music industry.

In his latest release, Better Times EP, Jay Wile dabbles with the concept of time, and explains, “My mind shifted into making this project and I think about the way it captures what I was feeling during Covid-19 and being in that space…that’s really what the project is all about, processing that time and going through those emotions.”

I’m interested in knowing a little about your background, so where are you from? Where did you grow up?

So, I’m from San Antonio, born and raised, and lived there most of my life. Then, I went to school for a little bit at A&M in College Station, and now live in Austin.

Born and raised in San Antonio. How long have you been in Austin?

It’ll be two years coming up at the end of this year. It’s about a year and a half right now. I’m still really enjoying it, but with everything happening with Covid, it’s kind of stunted that time. But definitely in the time before Covid, I got a chance to start getting used to it and was meeting and making those connections with people. And I’m still trying to see who I can connect with and get my foot in there, so it’d be nice to spend more time there and be able to make more connections and friends after all this blows over.

I’m familiar with your sound. I was able to see you perform and listen to your music and whatnot, but when did you get your start in music?

It was a while ago in high school. My friends and I we all grew up listening to Lil Wayne and Drake and all the big names at the time in ’09. I wanted to be like Lil Wayne, so I grew my hair out, grew dreads, and we would all go to my house. I was the one that had the setup. I had the mic and had all that so we would start rapping, but then I realized I couldn’t cuss in my Mom’s house. I grew up in a very religious household, so I couldn’t cuss or talk about anything Lil Wayne talked about.

I looked around and saw everyone else doing just fine and doing what they were doing and I was like, I have to do something or I’m going to be obsolete. So, I started teaching myself how to sing, record, and do all that other stuff that way I was useful, especially when it came to mixing and arranging. I wanted to actually be able to sing and figure things out. That was the start of it, and from there I started exploring and figuring out what I enjoyed about it. Then, I just fell in love with music along the way.

Would you say that music has or has not always been a part of your life?

I think at fifteen is when music started being more of an impactful part, but even before that, I grew up in a household where my parents would play gospel music. My dad is a big Prince fan and Alicia Keys and Marvin Gaye—and just a whole bunch of ’80’s disco. Just grew up hearing a lot of music that was always in the house, so when I got to be that vulnerable age of middle school and high school is when I found my own desire for music and learned that I loved the sounds of love. So, I would say yes, music has always been there!

You said that you kind of started off rapping, but how did you teach yourself how did you figure out that you could sing?

I really couldn’t sing. There’s video proof of it and if you ask any of my friends and my parents, I was the worst. I didn’t know how to train my voice. I would just listen to a lot of artists, like a lot of John Legend’s first three albums—which I know from front to back. I know every single word, every single melody, every single detail…like any nuance he did in the music I copied just to study what he was doing. I listened to a lot of early Frank Ocean and John Mayer as well.

I followed those three artists and just studied how they crafted their melodies and how they sang. They’re in the same vocal range and they talk about the same things that I want to talk about. So, it was just those experiences that really pushed me. From there, I started trying to figure my own sound out. During the last eight years, I was especially trying to figure out what I wanted to do vocally. But definitely just singing and trying to copy what they were doing was the first iteration of my singing.

The most impactful music happens when people speak from their own voice, so I try to do that.

I wouldn’t have guessed that you weren’t able to sing at one point, that’s wild! And you looked up to some greats, so that leads to my next question. What does your music represent?

I will say that it took me some time to try and figure that out. In the most current form, my music is just a representation of my experiences, real-life things that I’ve went through or have seen friends experience. Also through reading, watching tv, and just trying to figure out how to tell stories—but using my own voice has been the biggest priority. The most impactful music happens when people speak from their own voice, so I try to do that.

I agree. I feel like the music that I have listened to of yours is very personal and relatable, too. Your experiences make the listening experience authentic. 

Right! And that’s the key word in my head. It’s like, how can you be authentic in everything you do? Whether it’s through. music or it’s through the brand.

How do you get in the creative or mental space to write?

It depends on situations. I like to try and let the music come to me. I know with a lot of my songs there’s a moment where I was just in the writing space versus when I force myself to write a song and it almost never happens. So, I have to just wait whenever the mode happens. I do set it up and make sure that I’m eating healthy and I’m getting sleep because I know those things help the musical process happen, but I try not to force it. I’m not really sure— when it does strike, I try to be prepared.

I do like to be a heavy part of the process because I know what I want.

How involved are you in the music making process?

I pretty much touch everything at this point. Like I was saying form the very beginning, I learned how to record and I used the software called MixCraft and learned how to record, edit and put the vocals in the right place. Make sure the beats lined up right. I enjoyed doing it myself and figuring out what happens. Even today, on this most recent project I did all the mixing on it. I mastered it. I did all the writing and half the production and there was a part of the production on most of the other songs, just kind of overseeing what happens. I do like to be a heavy part of the process because I know what I want.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed at times handling it all?

I try to put everything in context, so if I feel like there’s too much going on, I do reach out for help. When it comes to production, I have my friends that I reach out to and say, can you take a look at this? Or I say hey, revisit this for me. I try not to do everything because I want to and instead do things that I know I’m good at and things that I like. Wherever I don’t have the ability to, or if I don’t want to—I know I can reach out to those people.

For example, with merch even though I did a lot of stuff along the way I made sure that I’m wasn’t the person doing merch. I don’t have that vision. I went and found someone that I know is going to bring that to life. I know my boundaries of where I can do stuff and relinquish those other times when I can’t.

I say all that and I still get stressed out. I still get flustered trying to get everything figured out. So, it’s a work in progress.

I would want to have control of it too, but trying to figure out what little tasks I can give to someone else. How has it been creating your team and building those relationships?

It’s been fun trying to learn with trial and error of what works and what doesn’t work. I have my management; they’ve been there pretty much from the beginning. Shortly after, one reached out to me through SoundCloud and we started building a conversation there that built into a relationship.

My other manager, they went to the same school and kind of knew each other and I reached out through a playlist he was doing. He works over in New York at Genius, and so we built those relationships with them. That’s always worked, and along the way there’s been people who have come and gone, whether it’s songwriters, producers or publicists, whomever. Either those relationships worked out and just kind of fizzled, or some didn’t work. So, it’s always a work in progress trying to figure out what does work. But I feel like the solid team of my management and I have been the core of things and just trying to branch out and see who else is out there.

I’m really just trying to take my time and make sure that whoever I’m working with is the right fit and can be a permanent fit.

I’m sure a lot of artists go through that, but like you said people come and go and that’s a part of the process of figuring it all out, so it’s bound to happen. 

I feel that’s like life as well. Whether it’s like a relationship, you’re looking for a partner or looking for the right job in your career. It’s like you’re never going to find the first job and it’s not always going to be your best fit. Or, if you’re dating someone that person may not be the person you end up marrying, so it is a trial and error and growth that you’re going to end up having. I try to think about it that way and not be so pressured to make things work when it doesn’t connect.

You said that you taught yourself how to sing, which is still shocking to me. When did you begin performing live and what is that experience like for you? 

Pretty much since I started singing, I always wanted to get out there. In high school I was in the talent show. I put out my second project in 2011, entered the talent show, and ended up getting in and I got second place. I did an original song and to do that in front of a crowd of my peers of like four hundred students was nerve-racking, but then for them to receive it well and people wanted the song—it was the time when we had digital ringtones that you could download and people were buying the ringtone and I’m like okay cool, cool. I enjoy what I’m doing and I can just get better at it.

I made a band in 2013 and that was with a couple of guys from high school that had all gone to college at that time and we were doing shows around San Antonio as a band. Doing that really gave me the confidence because I didn’t have to do it all. I could get people that were better than me at playing keys or playing drums and guitar. And so, doing that gave the courage to perform.

As Jay Wile I didn’t do too many shows until recently, about two years ago. When I started putting out the new wave of music and that was the first time where I was like, this is me, the solo artist under a new context. That was scary at first, but ever since then it’s been a matter of just getting out there and doing it.

I’ve been in San Antonio for two years now and all this time I haven’t been in tune with the music scene here, really not even knowing if there is one, so can you tell me what the music scene is like in San Antonio and how have you navigated that space?

I feel like I didn’t get a chance to fully be a part of the industry or the scene in San Antonio because I was away at college. I went back home for a year, but I was at home with my parents and doing a lot of traveling, going to New York and all that. So, I didn’t get a chance to really get a footing in San Antonio, but since coming to Austin I’ve been seeing how much of an interaction there is between Austin and San Antonio. I feel like those two markets have almost combined because they’re so close.

I have a lot of producers I’ve been working with that are from San Antonio, so it’s nice to go back and be a part of those communities. I feel like the scene is growing, especially in r&b. Whether it’s the venues that are having the issues or lack the city’s support, there’s not too many opportunities. But I know there is a lot of talent there and a lot of creatives who are doing stuff. Paper Tiger is one of the venues that I’ve done a couple shows at and I know they are more interested in bringing in more scenes of music.

What are some challenges and successes that you’ve experienced throughout your music career so far?

Some challenges are just trying to find the right people to work with. And not just on the creative aspect, but getting along with people and making sure that everyone is on the same page. Whether egos are involved or if it’s just making sure everything is being taken care of as well. So, that’s been a challenge of balancing the interactions with people.

I’d say, successes are just being able to travel, do stuff and try different things. One of my first shows as Jay Wile I went to New York and got to perform— it actually happened two years ago, like yesterday— I got flown out to New York and opened for Mac Ayres, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with him, he’s an r&b act. The Bowery Ballroom that holds like six hundred people and we sold it out. That was my first time doing a big show like that, sold out standing in front of people just singing and playing is just like so nerve-racking, but as soon as I started playing it was natural. Seeing moments like that and seeing the different shows I’ve done along the way are so much fun, especially seeing the crowd interaction and seeing them genuinely enjoying it. Fans in the front row are singing along and it’s like cool, this is bigger than me at this point. This is someone who has made an attachment to the music beyond just me. I feel like those moments make everything worth it. The ups are so up that the downs don’t even matter.

Let’s shift right into the music because that’s right on point! You released a series of projects throughout the years, which one resonates with you the most? 

Besides the new one, because I feel that’s the most honest version. The most transparent of who I am as an artist at this point. I would say Blue Patio, the very first one I put out as Jay Wile. It’s the one that I resonate the most with and I think this came from such an honest place. I was finishing up school at the time and in my last semester I knew I didn’t really want to work in the field I was getting my degree in. It was in Environmental Science. I love the environment and I loved what I was studying, but I knew the jobs I would be offered were going to be like… not fulfilling. I knew there was something else I wanted to do, so me putting this project together I figured my friends and their friends would get to hear it. I feel like that project was the most— there was no extra agenda involved. It was like hey I just want to make music and I want to do it how I want to do it. People’s reactions to it was the most rewarding thing to me in that moment.

Now, let’s talk your latest release, Better Times EP. What was the inspiration behind this project?

I finished up an album in the spring and when everything hit with Covid it kind of ruled everything out. I wasn’t done shooting the album cover, there was a lot of projects I hadn’t finished, but the music was done. I felt like I couldn’t put the music out in its current form. I felt like it wouldn’t do it justice. It just didn’t feel right trying to force things, especially in that moment.

I stopped and while we were all quarantining, I was at my house and started making beats. I was pulling samples and studying what goes into making songs to really learn. And so, that turned into me just making beats to— okay, cool I have ten ideas let me actually go back and write to these. So, it kind of just happened by itself. My mind shifted into making this project and I think on the way it captures what I was feeling like during Covid-19 and being in that space. We’re all kind of isolated and family members are away, my girlfriend was in a whole different city, so just being away from all the people you love while still having to continue on and like, life doesn’t stop. That’s really what the project is all about, processing that time and going through those emotions.

And then, being twenty-six and being Black in this time, like, especially with everything happening it feels even more timely to be expressing these moments as a Black person in America and expressing vulnerability and the things that I talk about on the project are all relevant to this time.

Now, it’s time for a quick track play-by-play. Just a quick rundown. A little bit about each track on the project.

I guess we’ll start with “Don’t Be Late”. That was one of the first tracks when I changed that mindset that I wanted to make this a project. And umm, this guy his name’s Oscar, he produces a lot for Omar Apollo, another big r&b act. We had been connecting through Instagram, but he had come to the house right before everything had happened with Covid-19. We sat there and started making the song and I was so nervous because he was like, “Yeah just start making the drums,” and I was like me? Like, you make the drums [laughing] and so it forced me out of my zone. I was trying to sit back and let him do all the work, but instead making the beat happened together.  That song just talks about what I was saying earlier, just processing the time and realizing that there’s not a whole of time, so to not be late for whatever it might be. Being late for being wherever you need to be in your life, career or love life. You never want to feel like you’re missing out.

The next one is “Real Bad”. That one’s is really just talking about the idea of where I’m at right now. Coming off of the project that I put out last fall and everything that’s happened since. I lost a lot of really close friendships since then, so being able to express where I’m at mentally, physically and socially in that song was most important. I talk about having money problems and how I’m managing or not managing it. The different issues that I now have whether it’s increased exposure and being where I’m at in the industry now people know my name and I’m having these connections, but I’m still Justin. I’m still the kid from Converse who’s fifteen making music out of his bedroom, so it’s that juxtaposition of being known in the industry, known by fans, and having fans, but also still being me and how those two worlds collide.

The next one is “Anyway”. It actually got sent to me by my friend Akshara, who’s featured on the song. She had sent me her demo with the beat already done. She was like, I want you to write your verse to it and help me finish the hook. It was such an easy song to do since she had a brilliant idea for it already. The song just talks about having a love for music and having a love for your passion and how that might hinder other parts of your life, whether it’s a love life and what you prioritize.

And then the next one, “Can’t Wait”. That was a fun one because that was one of the ones I produced from scratch. It’s one of the songs that I did entirely by myself. I ended up getting my bass player from my band, her name is Kenzie, she really gave it a groove that— I can’t play the bass. That was what we were just talking about again, can’t wait, timing, and wanting it all. Wanting to have everything you want and all the likes of the world and not being able to control situations and what other people feel and want in life and just how there are problems that arise because of that.

The next song is “Right Soon”. That was sent to me, the guitar. There was a whole pack of folders with loops from my friend Sam, he’s based in Nashville. I went out there last year and sat with him and we went through a lot of songs. Nothing came of the sessions, but we built that relationship, so he just sent me that pack and was like whatever you do with these let me know. And that was the very first one in the folder, I was like oh, this is beautiful. I started humming to it and it ended up being a song. I sent the demo back to him that night and he called me, he was just like this is exactly what I’m going through as well. It’s just the idea that maybe you’re in a relationship and you love someone and everything might be great, but it might not be the right time. So, it’s like— and again, going back to time— to be able to say or be able to recognize that you have love for someone but it might not be in the right moment, but you be there right soon. You’re letting them know that you will be there even if you both know it’s not true, but it sounds good and feels good in that moment. Everyone has that experience with a loved one where it’s just not the right time, right place, but it’s the right person.

The last one is “Lifetime”. My friend Charles sent me the drum loop for it. It was very bare drums to it and I was like cool. I got on my keys and started playing some sounds on it and started writing the first verse and hook to it. I was like this needs more, so I sent it to my friend Larce who had done some tracks on the album as well. When he sent it back, I knew exactly how to finish the song. I feel like that one is just kind of the final stamp on the project. Just really setting the tone of where I’m at in life right now and really connecting to the environment. Different parts of the elements, whether it’s thunder or if it’s lighting or if it’s rain and clouds. I’m really interested in weather themes. So just talking about what those themes can do in your life. Talking about rain, when things are raining down on you… evoking that emotion. It’s encouragement for myself. I wrote that trying to encourage myself to keep going and to not be so discouraged even if it’s raining, even if there is thunder out there. I know my purpose and I know what I want to be, so I have to continue going. It’s a self-encouragement song and it’s very abstract as well, so I really enjoy those two parts.

Those were some really good elaborate responses. I listened to the project like two or three times, it’s really beautiful. What did you enjoy most about creating Better Times?

I think it was just the fact that there were no rules or expectations. With me already having the album done and over to the side it’s like this is just for fun. And then treating it like it was fun from the beginning made the whole process fun, whether it was the writing, recording or producing it. Every part was just exciting for me. I was like, I get to do this how I want it and there’s no expectation, no one’s expecting this and it can be whatever it can be. That was the most fun part and if I had to specifically say one thing, it would probably just be the mixing and putting all the sounds together. I know that sounds like a nerdy thing to say [laughing].

I know a lot of artists make the music and then send it off, but I really enjoy mixing and getting all the elements put together. It’s like, that’s the part that’s magical. Getting the bass to sync just right with the kick or if it’s getting the guitar and keys to coexist in the song and not clash. To make those things and adding effects to the vocals, making those flow with whatever I’m trying to make in the song. I like that part and doing it on this project was so fun. Asking myself questions like: how can I make this so simple, yet so intricate that people can hear every part?

That’s a really interesting part of it. Like you said, some artists they just want to make it and send it, but you’re so involved in it. It’s like you want to be a part of creating that experience from each little aspect.

I want people to walk away from this project and just get a sense of who I am in this moment. I just put out a video for “Honest,” one of my first songs as Jay Wile and for people to react to it and be impacted by it… I’ve had to really sit down and step into those people’s shoes because that was four years ago at this point now. I’m in a totally different headspace, but I know for people it’s still touching them in a way that’s impactful. I want this project to have the same impact on others and for the to feel where I’m at currently. And not that I don’t enjoy “Honest,” but to enjoy this current space at twenty-six and being in this climate. This feels much more of a representation of who I am in this moment.

Growth. That’s growth! What can we expect from you in the future?

I’m still going to finish the album. Just going to get it all together once it all makes sense and life is clearer on what I should do. I have that and I have a lot of visuals coming for this current project as well that I’m excited to put together.

I have two videos that I directed and edited myself. I made the album cover, so it’s like I can see the visual part of things. I am figuring out how to do that in the same way I wanted to learn how to produce and learn how to write and do all those parts. I was always so scared to do the visual side of things, but now to have that to share as well is really cool.

And then like I said, just getting the next project out. Doing more visuals and when we’re able to do shows again, do those. So, I’m excited! I’m here and I’m active and I just want to be a part.

How can we stay connected with you?

I’m on all of the platforms, except for TikTok, for now… for now. But I’m on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I’m usually on Twitter just talking sh*t, so if anybody wants to hang out, I love just interacting on Twitter and then I’m on Instagram occasionally.

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