In a world where breaking boundaries and tearing down walls is more prevalent than ever, some musicians seem to prefer to stay in their lanes. They’re coming up with new, fresh ideas, but doing so under invisible restraints, keeping to one general genre, living in similar sounds- but not Johnny Gillespie.
LA artist/musician Johnny Gillespie prides himself, and his music, for always exploring and diving deeper across different genres. As an artist, Gillespie is all about following his own unique sound through the music, wherever it seems to take him. Labeled as a cross-genre artist, Gillespie has built his music through alternative, pop, hip-hop, and rock. But he’s not done exploring.
With his new single “Candy,” Gillespie seems to have developed a serious sweet tooth- for country, that is. “Candy” featuring artist/musician SeeJai and co-produced by Jin Wooh, was released on all major streaming platforms on September 25th. Though the track is steeped in hip hop rhymes and beats, it does maintain a country instrumentation enough to be categorized as “country” in one regard or another. This does not come as a surprise, however, as Gillespie has always been one to bend the boundaries of music and genre. Just looking at his releases this year, Gillespie has shown all different kinds of colors in his art, ranging from introspective to hopeful, and “Candy” is no exception.
While his last release, “Set Me on Fire” was an emotional, yet uplifting, exposé on the artist’s own experiences with bipolar disorder, this new release carries a different weight, though the subject is just as dear to Gillespie as his mental health: his wife. Both SeeJai and Gillespie use this song to express the gratitude and love they feel for their wives: “Girl you know that you’re my favorite with the sugar on top.” These sugar-sweet lyrics coupled with the guitar-twanging-southern-hospitality beat bakes up a decadent record full of fluff with a gooey center. And even though the track is country-based, the pop-alt Gillespie sound is there, letting fans know that at its core, this is still a Gillespie track. This combination of pop, hip-hop, and country while closer to the sounds of Florida Georgia Line, just makes me think of Lil Nas X’s absolute revolution with the release of “Old Town Road.” This combining of that classic country sound with a hip-hop beat is clearly something enticing to the growing public, so it is a natural destination for cross-genre dabbling.
Being his fourth single release this year, Gillespie seems to be just getting started. Given the state of the world, Gillespie is not slowing down. In fact, he’s as fired up about his music production as ever. His light-hearted, yet suddenly reflective lyrics matched with catchy melodies and attractive beats are sure to grace the streaming platforms again in the near future. No matter what, it’s clear that Gillespie’s love for his music and his ability to share it with the world will drive him to keep producing and exploring. With such a unique artist as this, it will be exciting to wait and see what new sounds Gillespie is going to dive into next.
Here at Music Mecca we got a chance to chat with Gillespie about his artistic identity, what his art means to him, what to look forward to, and more.
Can you talk about your background and who or what got you writing and playing music?
I remember when I was younger, my dad would always hold me and play his harmonica, and music was the thing that would calm me down. Years later growing up as a sick child, I found listening to music to be my outlet, and I would practice singing to sublime and Eminem. By the time I was 15, I started to write my own tunes.
What is your creative/songwriting process like? And how does it change when collaborating with another artist, like in your upcoming release, “Candy,” which features artist SeeJai?
I normally start my process of finding sounds that resonate with me by how I’m feeling at the time. When I get the song put together, I ask the music to tell me what it needs, and if I feel it needs someone else to take it to another level. I then out source it to people I feel that will add value to the track. It’s never random- it’s more of an intuitive thought/feeling.
“Life is contagious.” This is your tagline that appears on your website and your Instagram. What does this mean for you and your art?
To me, I believe that what goes around comes around. As you sow, so shall you reap. Meaning that what you put out into the world you get back. Life is contagious. If you’re a positive hard working person, you’ll attract those types of people in your life.
In a world where it’s easier than ever to get your music “out there”, how do you distinguish your music and artistry? How do you make a passing listener click on your track and not someone else’s?
There is a secret ingredient that I put in all my tracks. I like to call it the hook. I understand that you have less than 15 seconds to capture the listeners attention so I make sure I create capturing sounds to hook the listeners attention and take them through a song that has hook after hook in a span of about 2 minutes and 30 seconds so the listener would want more and listen again.
By being unbound by genre and definitions, is there any fear that breaking “rules” and established expectations will potentially limit your fan base?
I embrace breaking the rules. I don’t want to be any specific genre at all. I love mixing sounds because that’s what I do :). I am to make music for all types of listeners.
Even though you are labeled as a “cross-genre” artist, is there a genre you favor, prefer, or are inspired by moreover than the others?
Surprisingly enough I love reggae music and hip hop, but I love fusing all sounds together. I can’t help it, it’s in my DNA.
So your new single “Candy” has clear country music influences. This is in contrast to your previous singles this year, which leans more to rap, alternative. With having such contrasting tracks spanning across genres, how do you maintain your artistic identity? Or moreover, how do you create an artistic identity when everything you produce is stylistically different?
So spanning across different genres is my artistic identity. That’s who I am. I’m not afraid to try something different rather than stay in a genre box. My fusion of mixing and matching different genres plus my voice makes me stand out thus creates my artistic identity.
What is the story behind your new single, “Candy”?
“Candy” came from the mixture of myself, Jin Wooh, and Seejai all putting out flair into the perfect mix in my opinion. It was a song that brought joy to us and was created almost intuitively. Seejai thought of the hook for the song in literally two minutes over a phone call after sending him the beat- talk about talent. Seejai on a side note has been a music mentor of mine, and has shown me to embrace my uniqueness. He also had a heart transplant the same day I got sober on October 28th, 2014.
Especially in your more recent tracks, the role of faith is very prevalent. How does faith play a role in your life and music, and what do you put your faith in?
You gotta have faith in something. I put my faith in a power way greater than myself, and love tuning in to it to collaborate in creating music that is heartfelt and filled with passion. I give thanks for everything that I have and owe it all to my HP (Higher Power)- the oneness in everything that brings us all together.
You’ve previously mentioned some influences you had growing up. As a producing artist now, are there any contemporaries of yours you are inspired or influenced by?
So there was this band called Pepper, and their record had a keyboard player named Ronnie King, who was known for pianos on Tupac records. I loved his sound so much that I sought him out, and he eventually became a mentor of mine. I’d say he was a major influence of mine, and is now a dear friend. It’s amazing how the world comes full circle: from idol to friend. Like I said, life is contagious. I knew in my mind and heart I’d work with this man one day.
What might fans see from Johnny Gillespie to close out the year?
This year is a big one for me! I’m closing this year out with a 16-track self titled record dropping on October 23rd, 2020 because why the heck not!