Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and model. These are a handful of attributes the talented Petra Jarrar brings to the table.
Coming from a Palestinian and Sri-Lankan background, Jarrar says she “never truly saw girls who looked like her in the spotlight.” She’s since made it a mission to use her platform and voice to pave the way for women of color, advocating for diversity, representation, and inclusion throughout the music industry.
Jarrar has performed all over the world with headlining shows in New York (Knitting Factory, Webster Hall), Boston (Hard Rock Cafe), Los Angeles (The Mint), Tokyo, and Osaka. She is also a Guitar Center & D’Addario Strings sponsored artist.
Jarrar’s debut album, Dancing Without You, dropped almost exactly a year ago in November 2019 to critical acclaim, and she’s back at it with her newest single, “Rebel.”
She recently dropped a brand new artistically and aesthetically driven music video for the single, and we got a chance to discuss it and much more.
So where did you grow up, and who or what got you into playing and writing music?
I grew up in Fairfield, Connecticut; it truly felt like I lived in a storybook growing up. My older brother, Felix, was the one who got me into music. He used to prop me on his lap and press my fingers down on the piano keys to mimic the music he was learning in his lessons. Before I could walk, I was playing the piano. I did classical piano for about 13 years, but at the age of seven, I told my mom that I wanted to do something different than my brother. So, she bought me my first electric guitar and things took flight from there. I was inspired by classic 70s rock, which was played all the time by my dad in our house. I looked up to bands like Fleetwood Mac and The Beatles and learned as many of their songs on guitar as possible. I didn’t write my first song until I was 12 years old, which inspired my ending a friendship with my childhood best friend. From there, I learned how to record demos on GarageBand, and began recording demos in my bedroom closet.
Who are some of your primary influences within your music?
I was raised on the radio; I absolutely love mainstream pop. Artists like Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Madonna, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and Gwen Stefani shaped the sound of my childhood. I also had a soft spot for classic rock, including Blondie, The Runaways, Janis Joplin, as well as Disco, such as ABBA, Donna Summer, and Diana Ross. I often find myself pulling different inspirations from all of the music I grew up on when it comes to producing my music. I love paying homage to the musicians that inspired me to do what I love today.
Can you walk us through a day in the life of Petra Jarrar’s songwriting process?
It’s so hard to pinpoint my exact process because it changes with every song. I’ve written songs from beginning to end in a matter of an hour, and then there I’ve songs I’ve written initial ideas for, and years later, I found myself coming back to them when I felt the time for this song to be finished was finally right. For example, with “Rebel,” I wrote all of the lyrics almost immediately. The idea was fully formed in my head, as well as the melody for the chorus. What I loved about this song is that when I took the track to Alex Arias to co-write, the first version of the song became the final version of the song. It was one of the most perfect songs I’ve written and that rarely happens.
So your new single, “Rebel,” was just released. What’s the inspiration and influence behind this track?
I wrote “Rebel” shortly after the murder of George Floyd; by the time this happened, this country also witnessed the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony Mcdade, and countless others. None of their murders were brought to justice. Furthermore, 2020 had already witnessed countless tragedies, including COVID-19 which has kept us locked up for months, a president who had little regard for the health and safety of its people, and racial justice was a continually growing second plague that has been affecting this country for generations. I felt burnout because as a Woman of Color and activist, these are topics I had been advocating in support of for years. When I wrote “Rebel,” I felt heartbroken from the state of the world, and I had felt like my voice didn’t matter anymore because the world was too corrupt and broken. However, when I started seeing the protestors come out in support of Black Lives Matters in NYC, I began to remember why I stood up for what I believe in the first place. “Rebel” became a song of catharsis to help me find my power again. I knew that I wasn’t the only person who felt this way, so I wanted to write a song people could take comfort in during uncertain times.
Can fans expect to see it on an EP or LP, or is it a standalone single for now?
Eventually, an EP will be coming soon! However, I have been releasing standalone singles projects which will continue throughout early 2021. Because of COVID, I wanted to create mini-immersive experiences for my followers online with my standalone singles projects, especially because we don’t know when live shows will be returning.
Your music video is unique what with the split-screen filming in the first half. What was the artistic vision for this video and where was it filmed?
The music video for “Rebel” is composed of three one-shot sequences. The first two are shown in a split-screen scenario and feature two characters. On the left, we have “The Nightmare Rebel.” She is rebellious, courageous, and brave. Her fearlessness and power are completely undeniable. On the right, we have “The Suppressed Rebel.” She is the exact opposite of The Nightmare Rebel; she has been broken and beaten down by the world, and doesn’t know how to find her voice. Despite this, she holds on to glimmering hope that she will find her power again.
The two characters interact and explore their differences through the split-screen; The Nightmare tries to encourage The Suppressed to find herself again, though The Suppressed is scared to do so. Leading up to the climax of the video, The Nightmare hands The Suppressed her jacket; a move that symbolizes giving her power to find her inner strength to fight again. As the suppressed puts on the coat, she finally begins to break free and explores the big streets of New York, completely unafraid of what will come her way. At the end of the video, she passes her coat off to the viewer, in hopes to give her power to the next person who needs it most.
The concept was developed with director Nicholas Keil, who wanted to help come up with a simple, yet powerful concept to accompany the music video, especially since the song is anthemic and powerful. Nick and I wanted to create a story of two characters who represent very real people in the world trying to navigate our chaotic political environment.
The choreography for the first two shot sequences was created by Bea Goodwin, who cited dances from protests happening in LA and Brooklyn. Some of the movements came from Krump Dancers as well as protestors performing the Cupid Shuffle. In collaboration with Teresea Lafferty, who choreographed the final outside sequence, paying homage to some classic hip-hop dance moves with a twist.
What kinds of messages and feelings do you try to offer the listener through your music?
My message through my songs has always been telling the truth surrounding experiences we all go through as humans; whether that is love, heartbreak, resentment, or empowerment, I tell my songs through a truthful place. I remind myself often as a songwriter why I listened to certain songs when I was going through something personal in my own life. I try my best to create music through my perspective and experience but at the end of the day, to connect with others in hopes my music will be something they turn to whenever they need.
What are one or two pinnacle moments in your music career so far?
One of the first and most amazing moments in my career so far was getting to release my debut album. The album was the first music project I had released in four years since my debut single in 2015. Shortly after the release of my debut single, my father unexpectedly was diagnosed was Stage IV Lung Cancer and passed away shortly after. The pain from his loss prevented me from pursuing my own dreams because I felt I couldn’t do what I loved without him by my side. However, I wrote a song with my brother called “Dancing Without You” which reminded me of why I loved music so much in the first place and motivated me to compile a record of songs I had written between the span of his loss to present it. It was a journal of my five stages of grief and I am so proud of that album.
The second, and honestly a true tie for first place was getting to attend the GRAMMYs in 2017. I worked as a student ambassador in the New York Chapter, and we were invited to sit on the floor for the awards show that season. That was the first awards show I had ever been to, and it was the most magical experience. I was an arm length away from musicians I’ve idolized my whole life and the experience was so humbling. I cannot wait to go back to the GRAMMYs one day.
What does a dream gig look like for you?
My absolute DREAM gig would be getting to open for an artist I idolize. If I could tour with Lady Gaga, Dua Lipa, or Charli XCX, that would be a dream come true.
What might fans expect from Petra Jarrar to close out the year and heading into 2021?
Right now, I am getting ready to release another single this winter. Along with this, there will be a few more singles/immersive experiences with fans online as we head into 2021! The end goal would be releasing an EP project. There’s LOTS of new music to come, so stay tuned.