It's the morning of JJ Wilde's debut EP's release. She calls me excitedly, voice slightly raspy but full of wild energy. I'm taken aback when I learn that she is currently located only several blocks away from me, back at her home in Kitchener, Ontario. How can someone that sounds like that come out of a place like this? I wonder. But the more I listen to her debut EP ,Wilde Eyes, Steady Hands, the more I understand that Wilde's talent is not only staggering- it's utterly familiar.
Wilde isn't just another pretty face belting out love-struck ballads on the radio. There is an undeniable grit to her voice, a blue-collar spirit reminiscent of the Springsteen tracks she grew up with, laced with the infectious energy of a timeless classic rock record found on her dad's shelf. It's liberating to be able to listen to her music, knowing that she isn't trying to be anything less than her true self. "The nice thing about my team and who I'm working with, why I found this so easy, was that I'm very free to express how I'm feeling. I brought these songs to my producer, Frederick, and it was just a 'whatever happens, happens' situation, let's make some cool songs, and see."
Her first single "Wired" gave a voice to all the repetitive disappointments she endured while trying to maintain a "real" job: "’I've been working for myself since seventeen| Taking orders getting low on self-esteem". Speaking from her experience of working up to four jobs at a time (most in the service industry), Wilde catapults herself into a prodigious songwriter with her no-bullshit attitude and stripped down sincerity. When the swelling chorus courageously wails "There's something better than this", a thought echoed through so many of our own minds, there's no question that Wilde finally found her something better.
When I ask Wilde about her "movie moment"- the moment where everything started to turn around for her, she shares an unexpected story. "I was working a bunch of jobs I didn’t like, and I had a brief encounter with my now manager and we had a couple meetings, he came to a couple of my shows. I thought 'this is it, this is it', and I didn’t hear from him for two years." Although music remained to be her passion, the mindless time that went by without an inch of progress did finally break her motivation. "In those two years, I kept writing, and then I eventually got to thinking, 'maybe this was my shot. Maybe I missed it'. I decided I should get a real job, as they say, and went to a career counselling appointment to see what my options were and they were all great, but at the end of it I felt so defeated. I made the decision in my head to stick with [music] because I didn’t want to do anything else. Literally 2 days later, Jason [my manager] messaged me asking me if I had any good music to send him. I left over 200 voicemails of songs."
Those 200 songs would eventually get whittled down to the four found on her debut EP. Emotionally raw and packed with organic compositions, it's a project that can invoke youthful memories while paving the path for any future ones at the same time. It makes it easy to forget that Wilde is only 26 years old, with her mature songwriting and dynamic performances. So it shouldn't have come as a surprise when I asked her who her dream collaborator would be and she answered, "Bob Dylan. I've always had a thing for his lyrics. I would just want to sit down with him and a guitar, no band, no nothing. Just a singer-songwriter session, and I would die happy." An admirable choice for an artist who is able to articulate every-day life so well, such as in the introspective "State of Mind".
For someone who has had so many stories to tell and lessons to relate, I was genuinely surprised to only see four tracks on her debut EP. It seemed like such a succinct list, perhaps it was all she needed to tell her story. Turns out, I was dead wrong. "I think these four songs are just the beginning. It’s the taste that’s going to get people hopefully interested. To me, it’s four songs that I needed to say right now and it’s the beginning of something that I’m going to continue with, and it’s almost like the introduction to me. I'm always writing, always working on the next thing. I got a big mouth, so I always have shit to say."
JJ Wilde will be taking her EP on the road this summer, supporting acts like The Struts, Glorious Sons, and Reignwolf. The stage is where she feels most at her home, and where I can truly say I understand why she's often referred to as an alt-rock siren. If this is truly just the beginning, then I don't want it to ever end.