Welcome to BuzzMusic! What’s the story behind J Sidney?
I was born and raised in the suburban shadows of the live music capital of the world: Austin, TX. Growing up, I took piano lessons and played saxophone in the band, but I often felt like I was just going through the motions. I never felt completely fulfilled playing music someone else wrote, and I knew deep down that my voice was at the core of musical identity. I fell in love with singing and creating my own music after writing my first song as a tribute to my grandmother when she passed away in 2007. When I started combining my lyrics with piano arrangements, something clicked, and my voice and piano playing became inextricably linked. Even though I used to only write songs that no one else ever heard and sang only when no one was around, I felt so at peace with and in tune with myself every chance I had to sing and play my music. And at the time, that was more than enough. After graduating from Baylor University with a business degree and moving to Dallas, I decided to finally try something I’d been thinking about doing for years: take vocal lessons. This sparked a creative renaissance, and I began writing new songs that seemed more personal, more candid, and more insightful than anything I had ever written before. This opened a door in my life, allowing me to see the possibilities of going beyond being a lifelong musical hobbyist by pursuing music professionally. But at the same time, I was becoming increasingly bogged down by the demands of my job, and the creative energy I thrived on was getting buried by stress and dread. I knew something needed to change.
On June 9th, 2019, an intense storm toppled a crane onto my apartment building, forcing me to evacuate and leave behind most of my belongings. I was lucky to walk away physically unharmed. My apartment was not in the impact zone, but I had just been driving up the parking garage minutes before the crane fell and sliced through the parking garage and part of the apartment building like a knife through butter. The whole experience was traumatizing and felt like a huge setback, but I was determined to use what I had gone through as a catalyst for positive change. Being separated from almost all my belongings for more than two months helped me cut out the white noise in my life and focus on what was most important to me. Getting through this experience gave me the strength and courage I needed to make a leap of faith and pursue my dreams. I decided to make a career change that helped me balance having a day job while pursuing my musical aspirations. Debuting my original music at open mics and giving myself a stage name helped me transition into the mindset of not just being a singer-songwriter but being a performer and storyteller as well. I recorded at a studio for the first time in November 2019 and started releasing music in January 2020. My debut demo, The January Project, includes four songs that capture the essence of who I am and the messages I want to convey as an artist.
We really enjoyed your single “Emotional Hues”. How would you describe your creative process behind this record? To put myself into the creative mindset to write “Emotional Hues”, I recalled memories of sitting out on the balcony of my first apartment at night. I was new to Dallas at the time, and I envisioned myself as a nameless, faceless stranger obscured by darkness and anonymity. Feeling isolated while surrounded by millions of people was as surreal as it was depressing. While memories may fade over time, the way something made you feel never does. And I’ll never forget that otherworldly feeling of profound loneliness I felt back then. I wasn’t exactly sure what direction the song was going in at first, but once I came up with the line “Embrace the bruising from emotional hues,” I knew I had found the thematic compass for the song. I wanted to convey that the “foggy disguises” we wear in front of society prevent us from finding our purpose, connecting with others in meaningful ways, and experiencing the full richness of being alive. It’s easy to become dehumanized by the shallow illusions of social media and the soul-crushing machinery of the corporate world, but there’s an inner spirit within all of us yearning to be freed. By embracing the complexity of our emotions, we can choose not to become numb to the world around us.
How would you detail your songwriting approach to “Emotional Hues”? What inspired you to write this single? “Emotional Hues” was written over the course of a year. It started as a poem that I wrote while visiting my dad in Maryland back in November 2018. While observing vibrant autumn colors during a long car ride through tree-lined streets, the phrase “emotional hues” became etched into my mind, and I decided I needed to write about it. Writing so many songs over the years has developed a cadence within me that gives me the ability, to begin with just one phrase—often a phrase that pops into my mind out of the blue—and write an entire song around it. Instead of following a specific songwriting formula for “Emotional Hues”, I simply wrote whatever came to mind and tried to make it flow together as I went along.
I finished a rough draft of the lyrics during a quiet afternoon and put it aside for a while. The opening melody popped into my mind while looking back at the lyrics the following month, which gave me the musical foundation for the song. However, I had a difficult time deciding on the music beyond the first four lines, and the song was stuck in a perpetual state of incompleteness for months. One of the issues was that I hadn’t written a chorus during the first draft of writing. To transform "Emotional Hues" into a complete song, I eventually had to force myself to decide on a chorus and reconfigure the song structure, which was painstaking but necessary. The melody continued to evolve over time until it felt right all the way through. I’ve put more work into “Emotional Hues” than any other song I’ve ever written, and once everything finally fell into place, I knew I wanted it to be the first song I ever released. If you could collaborate with any artist on your next project, who would it be? Why? Collaborating with John Mayer would be a dream come true. No one has been more formative in my development as a singer-songwriter than him. Ever since I watched a video of him performing a cover of “Free Fallin’” back in 2008, he has been my favorite musician. I find his songs to be emotionally honest and thought-provoking, and the way he has redefined his sound and transcended genres over the years is awe-inspiring. I also admire his sense of humor and introspection during media appearances. My favorite cover song to play live is his song “Stop This Train”, which so beautifully encapsulates the melancholy of getting older and leaving your past behind you. I think our voices and musical styles would blend well if we wrote a song together. John, if by some miracle you’re reading this, the invite to collaborate is always open! What are you looking forward to the most out of this year in 2020? My primary goal for 2020 is to improve my performance skills while building momentum locally and elsewhere. Performing as a singer-songwriter is still new for me, so I’m looking to get plenty of practice and work on my stage presence this year. It’s exciting to think about where I could end up performing, and I’m hoping to share my music with as many people as possible. Through music, I also want to continue overcoming my own internal obstacles. I know that I can be my own worst enemy. Getting past the shyness that has kept me from singing in front of others for much of my life has involved overcoming self-doubt, coping with my limitations and imperfections, and finding the courage to be vulnerable enough to share something I put my heart and soul into. Now that I’ve started on this path, there’s no going back to the days of hiding my voice from the world. It’s time to be heard.
Listen to J Sidney here.