Posted April 6, 2020 by Jeff in Tunes

How Writing Her Latest EP Led JJ Wilde Out of a Particularly Dark Period

JJ Wilde
JJ Wilde

Canadian singer JJ Wilde had a busy 2019. She hit the road in support of the Struts, the Glorious Sons, Reignwolf and Incubus. She also released her debut single, “Wired,” and embarked on her first headlining U.S. tour supporting her debut EP, Wilde Eyes, Steady Hands.

This winter, she opened for the Blue Stones on their Hidden Gems Tour. She also just released a new music video for the song “Funeral for a Lover,” a bluesy piano ballad that addresses mental health issues. 

In a recent phone interview conducted before COVID-19 put her 2020 tour plans on hold, she talks about her career. 

You write lots and lots of songs. When did you start? What inspired you back then?

I’ve always loved music. Before I learned to play an instrument, I was writing poems. At the time, I was really young, and I didn’t know what I was writing. My older brother was a big inspiration. He played the guitar and a bunch of other instruments. He introduced me to playing. He taught me how to play guitar. All of a sudden, I could put music to the stuff I had written. From there, I just fell in love with it. It was a self-expressive thing that just consumed me. 

What kind of music did you listen to when you started writing songs? 

A little bit of everything. I grew up on classic rock — things like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen. Then, I went more into the singer-songwriter and Damien Rice and Bob Dylan more quiet stuff. The lyrics caught my attention. I fell in love with that softer side. It’s never been one specific genre. I go through phases and I feel like most people do. If it’s gray outside, I might put on folk or classical. It’s dependent on different things. 

Talk about the crossroads you came to in 2018.

I was working four jobs. They were part-time jobs. None of them were what I wanted to do. I had broken up from the band I was with and went into the solo world. I didn’t know how to navigate that very well because I just had an acoustic guitar. It was a whole different experience. I had to work multiple jobs to pay rent but was still trying to do music on the side. There was some self-reflection. I even thought about going back to school. Those thoughts crossed my mind. I went to a career counseling appointment at a local college to see what my options were and if there was something else I would like. It was very eye-opening because this woman was telling me about all these programs that I should have been excited about. I just had this sinking feeling. I didn’t want to do any of it. Nothing caught my eye. It was a bittersweet thing. It finalized the decision. Even though I was unhappy, I was happier doing this than I ever would be pursuing any of those other options. I had to bite the bullet and see what happened. It wasn’t long after that that my manager stumbled upon me and things started developing. It’s very strange how that works. It’s very serendipitous. 

Did your manager see you perform somewhere?

He did. There was a video I did with a band that he signed already. We were doing a practice video just for fun. He saw the video and thought I sounded pretty good. We had a meeting, and he came to a show. I didn’t hear from him for almost two years after that. I thought that was my last chance. Two years later, he sent me a message. I sent him another song and didn’t hear back for three months. He said he never got the song. I had to tell him to check his email. Then, I sent him 500 voice notes after that. After that, we quickly started working on things. That’s how I got connected with my producer. We took a bunch of those songs that I had written over the past I-don’t-know-how-many-years. Frederik [Thaae] and I locked ourselves in a week and did it all. It was an incredible experience. I had never been that hands-on with all the instrumentation. It was really great. Frederik has this awesome little spot in L.A. right in Studio City. It’s very chill and it’s a great writing space. We did the demo in the studio to get the right live drums and tones. We went to New Monkey Studio in Van Nuys. That was an amazing experience as well. The whole thing was just great. 

That first tune, “Wired,” is pretty rocking. Did something in particular inspire it?

Honestly, it’s inspired by living in that shitty apartment and working those four jobs. That’s all real stuff. It got pretty dark. There were times when I came home from work, and I’d be crying in the shower. I thought, “What the fuck? This can’t be it.” It was almost like hitting my head against the wall. It seemed like an impossible hamster wheel that kept going and going. It’s all that pent-up frustration. 

Is it about doing drugs?

There’s a little bit of that in there. How else are you supposed to work four jobs? 

I like “The Rush.” It has a glam rock feel to it with the drums and what sounds like handclaps. 

There are handclaps. Working with Fred, we would get all the work done and on the last day when we had the song done, we would pick apart little things. We would do snaps and claps. There was random and stupid stuff that was so much fun, creating sounds. That was a fun song to write. It came about from an old voice note. I was working at a brewery in Waterloo. The employees would close down the bar and then just stay until four in the morning hanging out and drinking the beer. The owner was not happy about it when we got caught. I woke up from one of those nights and I started writing when I was half drunk.

“Gave It All” is much quieter tune. Talk about that track. 

It’s one of the oldest from that crop. I wrote it when I was 17. It was after a breakup. It was this moment of realizing that some things just don’t work. It’s about forgetting a part of yourself to please somebody else and getting caught up in that. That happens in a lot of relationships, usually toward the end. You hold on to the beginning of the relationship and all the good times. You try to get back to that point, but you forget yourself. I remember that towards the end of some bad relationships, I’ll realize it’s terrible because I haven’t written any music. I’ve been so caught up in it that I’m forgetting the creative part of my life. That’s just one example. 

Talk about the music video for “Funeral for a Lover.” 

The big message that I want out to people is about mental health. That’s what that whole song is about. I was with someone who struggled terribly with depression and was bi-polar. They were having a rough go, and I was trying to help them navigate that. It’s about the toll that can take on a person and also how watching that happen takes a toll on you as well. I felt like it needs to be said that it’s okay to break down and admit you can only be so strong for somebody. There are people who are much stronger than me who don’t have to walk away. Every situation is different. I wanted to get the message out there that we need to talk about it. People are struggling through this and so deep in it that they can’t see the whole picture. Having a song where I express what I feel is important. People have come up to me after shows and talked to me about it. That’s the most important thing. That’s why I wanted the video to be so uncomfortable. Sitting in a tub naked in front of people isn’t comfortable. I never felt so vulnerable and raw and exposed but I wanted that. That’s what the feeling is. I wanted people to know they’re not alone when they feel that.

Have you started thinking about the next album yet?

Oh buddy, I’m always writing. I had some time off over the holidays and that was a great time for writing. I’ve been adding to the voice notes and that big file of songs.

Photo: Shore Fire Media



Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at jeff@whopperjaw.net.