Photos by Yising Kao
Will Jay is an accomplished singer/songwriter and actor based in Los Angeles. Since launching his solo artist career after parting ways with pop boy band IM5 in 2014 (formed by Simon Cowell), he has released his debut EP and multiple singles such as “Gentleman” and “Leading Man,” followed by his newest single, “Lies.” With genuine lyrics and unique perspectives, Will Jay creates a fresh style that has attracted a loyal fanbase. He spreads powerful messages through his music such as increasing awareness of Asian American representation in the entertainment industry. We had the opportunity to catch up with him before his amazing performance at School Night, a live music showcase held at Bardot Hollywood!
Check out Will's music here! https://www.willjaymusic.com
Congrats on releasing your new single “Lies!” You’ve said it’s about all the lies you’ve told everyone and yourself, such as through the lyrics, “Even when I told you I've "Never Been In Love” I already was / just wanted you all to relate to me.” What influenced you to write this song and be honest to your listeners?
Honestly the melody for the chorus just popped in my head one day, so I thought the word “Lies” would be cool and I was like, what if I wrote a song about being a liar? Because a lot of people in my life told me that I tell little white lies. It was stupid stuff, like I would tell my mom I didn’t brush my teeth, or I would tell somebody that I was running late, but I actually haven’t left the house yet. It started as small things, but I realized that by doing that so often, I was telling myself much bigger lies. And I think the biggest one was that I was “normal,” I guess. The way that I kind of grew up in the industry and being the eldest child, there was always this pressure on me to always be perfect and have nothing wrong with me. So “Lies” was honestly me confronting that I am not.
You’ve mentioned that tonight’s show is your first live show in two years! What is your favorite thing about performing live and do you plan on doing more this year?
My goal is to get a booking agent this year so I can do as many shows as possible. I want to open up for somebody and I’ll perform anywhere they want me. The best part about doing live shows is just seeing in person how your music affects people, like seeing how people sing back your words. Hopefully over this new music, they lose their minds over it. It really is just getting to see people that listen to your music in person. That’s like the best thing for me.
Are you looking to sign to a label?
I mean, labels can hit me up! I’m open to any possibilities but for now, I’m really happy with where I’m at creatively. If anyone wants to hop on the train, by all means.
Throughout the past years, you’ve grown and matured a lot as an artist. What are some things you’ve learned that helped shape you into who you are today and what you want to express through your music?
I think over the course of – I guess I’ve been putting out music myself and then five years with the band. With every year, I feel like I put more of myself into the music and I remove the filters of relatability and wanting everybody to like me, and doing pop music. because I stopped for so long and was just going to do pop music. So, I guess the biggest thing I've learned is to have more fun and to try new things and take risks. I'm having so much fun with this new music that I didn’t necessarily have before. I really thought I needed to make something people will like, so it’s been very liberating for me to do that.
You’ve been making music from a very young age. If you could tell past you anything, what would it be?
Let people in and let people see that you're crazy because that’s how you build meaningful relationships. If you are constantly in your head thinking like, “I have to impress you so I’m not gonna show you all of me,” then you're not going to make good friends and meaningful relationships that way. So just be yourself but actually be yourself.
In your song “By Now” you sing about your insecurities as an artist and how you “should've been somebody by now.” When you feel stuck, how do you motivate yourself to keep creating art even though you may not be earning the kind of recognition you want?
I can’t do anything else so I'm gonna be making music one way or the other for the rest of my life. I just resign myself to the fact that it’s just all a journey and I know that wherever I'm meant to go, I will go. And I just have to consistently put more effort into it every day.
In your song “I Can Only Write My Name,” you talk about the hard truth for many Asian Americans who feel pressured to “fit in” to western culture and society. How have you tried to overcome the battle of gaining back your culture, and how important is it to you as an Asian American in the industry to be a sort of role model, or “superman,” to others?
Well, I started doing lingo, so I’ve been learning Chinese. I mean, its so important and I've always wanted to be a representation for Asian Americans in music. I don't think there's really a lot of us. K-Pop has become an amazing cultural phenomenon and that’s great, but I think for the kids like me who grew up in America and who speak English primarily, I think its important to have role models that look and talk and sound like you. So, its very important for me to represent and I hope I can do that. I want the 11-year-old me to look at someone like me and be inspired to actually do music. Because when I was a kid, I didn’t really have anybody.
All of your music videos visually express your lyrics and feelings really well. What’s your creative process of planning a music video?
It’s different every time, honestly. For “Lies,” the director had the idea with the mirrors and the warehouse, and I was like, “Let’s go with it.” Every video is different. I'm definitely looking for the new ones to kind of show a darker side to me. I think “Lies” is a great representation of me unraveling who everyone thought I was before. So, I'm looking forward to more of that and doing cool interesting shit.
Speaking of music videos, which one of yours has been your favorite to shoot and why? “Lies” was definitely my favorite. All my previous videos were very thought out and choreographed and I knew my dance steps. “Lies” was me taking a step back and losing control a little bit and I think for that reason, watching myself back on camera, I was like, “This is my potential if I just let go.” With the next videos, I like the idea of losing more control with every consecutive song and music video.
We admire how you sing about what’s important to you and topics that a lot of artists don’t sing about. How do you stay true to yourself in this industry and not feel the need to follow what everyone else is doing?
Getting back to what I said earlier, it’s just more fun for me to do weirder more “out there” concepts. I think any artist would say this but, I want to make the music that I need to hear personally. Like, I wrote “By Now” because I was just going through it and feeling like it’s been 1- years and I'm not where I thought I would be. And similarly to “Lies,” I wanted to hear myself singing to myself that I tell lies and I shouldn’t do that anymore.
So, it’s like, your way of venting.
It is. It’s therapeutic and cathartic and it really is my way of expressing myself.
You not only write your own songs, but you help write songs for other artists as well. Is there any artist or songwriter you would love to collaborate with?
There’s so many but at the top of my list is Jon Bellion. I am such a fan of him as an artist but like his ability to also be a songwriter behind the scenes and work with so many amazing artists, his career is my goal. As an artist, what he has done sonically and just how cool and interesting his music is, like, that’s my number one.
What messages do you hope people take from your music?
From the new music, I hope people – someone actually had a show the other day and told me that my music makes them a little more comfortable with their dark side. So, I kind of hope that these new songs, they’re a litte uncomfortable because they're so honest and I just hope that it allows people to get comfortable with the uncomfortable thoughts that are swimming in their brain. And just allow them to be free and be themselves in all aspects, like the whole yin and yang thing – the light and the dark, I hope it encourages them to be fully themselves.
RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS:
Favorite song right now?
To Die For by Sam Smith.
If you could be in any movie/tv show what would it be?
The next Crazy Rich Asians.
If you had your own planet, what would you make the first law be?
Everybody has to have a creative outlet. I feel like it would solve a lot of problems.
What’s a song that you love and wish you wrote?
“Guillotine” by Jon Bellion.
What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s happened to you on stage?
It was in a boy band. I've done many shows with my fly completely undone. And I would see photos and be like, “Oh my God, nobody told me!”
Watch the video for "Lies" here!