January 25, 2021

Read the full interview on Flaunt.com!

Nowadays in an oversaturated music industry, music with substance stands out even more. Insert Jack Kays, a 22-year-old musician from Cincinnati, Ohio, here to raise awareness for mental health, drug addiction, and redemption—situations and obstacles he personally has faced, gone through, and overcame. Blending the genres of hip-hop, alternative, and folk, Jack carves his own unique lane and sound, while touching the masses with his remarkable story.

With his newest track titled “MY HEAD,” the singer-songwriter gives listeners a deep dive into his own brain, detailing his honest truth about his thoughts of being stuck but still holding onto a small beacon of hope. Penning the record at age 17, Jack felt now is the perfect time to release it as a summary for his forthcoming album aptly titled MIXED EMOTIONS.

Jack’s goal with his music is to share his own trials and tribulations that come with life, in hopes of touching others that they too can feel comfortable to do the same. Aside from that, let’s not forget Kays can play 10 instruments, writes all his own music, and is a culinary chef… a true prodigy in the making.

Flaunt caught up with Kays via Zoom to discuss his teenage years, how he landed at Columbia Records, the inspo behind “GIN N JUICE,” the role TikTok played in his career, how music is a coping mechanism, being a trained chef and selling jam, the meaning behind his album, and more!

Photo Credit: Alex Harper

What was a young Jack Kays from Ohio like? 

I wasn’t good in school, I almost failed out of high school. I wasn’t supposed to graduate but the administration pushed me through high school to get me out of the system. After high school, I was really mentally unstable. I brought my parents to a position where they had to ask me to leave the house, that’s when my drug addiction started. I was living outside of my parents’ house making what musicians would know as SoundCloud rap right now. I went to culinary school and that’s what rehab was for me. Another huge incremental part of me is cooking, I spent a lot of time working in restaurants and going into the culinary arts.

Who were you listening to coming up?

You know, I really wasn’t a huge music listener. I never really dove into a lot of artists but I really liked My Chemical Romance, visually and the attitude they had was so cool when I was a kid. Twenty One Pilots I really liked when I was in high school. I liked how they talked about how they felt, how honest they were. How they shined a little bit of light on mental health, that was a huge inspiration for my mission. I’ve never really been so much of a consumer of music, I’ve always preferred playing it.

At what point did you realize you could do music for a living?

When I signed with Columbia. [laughs] I was making music for 3 years before I ever got any discovery for it. That whole time I was really confident saying “I want to be this, I want to be that.” But it was never really a solid thing that in my heart I knew I’d be a musician until it happened, because there’s so much uncertainty around this industry. You never know if you’re going to be able to break through and luckily, I did breakthrough.

Jack Kays is your real name, were there any contenders for other artist names? 

No, I thought about other names and nothing seemed me. A huge part of my brand has been complete honesty, openness, and vulnerability, so it made sense to keep my regular name.

Who or what inspired “GIN N JUICE”?

“Gin N Juice” was the first song I ever wrote on the guitar, it was on the back end of my addiction and I think that record just kind of encompasses trying to run away from a feeling trying to run away from something that you did, thoughts that you have. just problems that you’re dealing with. That’s what this song is about.

The visual sees you going through a bunch of scenes in life. What were you trying to convey? 

I was so excited to do that music video, it came out really cool. The concept I came to Soul Serum with was I wanted me to be standing in the exact same place the entire video basically emotionless, and have as many things happening to me and happening around me as possible. An egg cracking on my head, a bottle cracking on my head, baseballs flying by my face, trying to show a contrast between so much stuff is happening in your life and you’re letting it pass you by. That’s how I wanted to portray that.

How much of a role do you play in your own visuals?

I really try to build a whole world on each song that I have, I really put a lot of thought into my art. When I make a song and plan to release it as a single or on an album, which “GIN N JUICE” will be on my album, I put a lot of thought behind it. I always come up with a concept for the video, mostly self-produced. I think about this shit really hard, you know?

What role did TikTok play in your career?

So the day after I met my manager Sam, he asked “are you on TikTok?” I told him no. I never wanted to be on TikTok, I hated the idea of being a TikTok artist. A song that’s a TikTok song, I didn’t want that for myself. I took the lazy route and I posted a portrait of the music video for “MORBID MIND.” I posted it 3 times in a row because I heard the more you post on TikTok, the better your posts will do. The third one caught the algorithm and it blew up. It didn’t just blow up as a video on TikTok, it really transferred over to Instagram, Twitter, Spotify. It really started everything for me. Now my fans are across so many platforms which is cool to experience.

How active are you on the app?

I’m really active on the app, I use it as a platform to do a ton of things other than my music. I do cooking tutorials, I perform, I do fashion videos. I talk about my mental health on TikTok, I’m trying to do something different with the app. A lot of people when they find something that works on TikTok, they start to stick to that platform and they really only do that .I want my Tiktok to be a place where you can come and see a whole variety of things.

How important is social media for your career?

At the end of the day, it’s the art that’s going to speak. I’ve been focusing on being a songwriter for so long but since I have this big mission to shine light on mental health and be an activist for the things I’ve gone through and the things other people are going through, social media will play a really incremental part of my career. I’m not here to just make music, I’m here to make an impact also.

What were you going through when you recorded “MORBID MIND”?

I’d gotten off a double shift at the restaurant I was working at. The entire time I was at the restaurant, I kept thinking I want to make a song that goes “bat bat bat!” I wanted to have that 3 repetition on the guitar. I could hear it in my head the entire time I was at work and as soon as I got home from work, I recorded it. It took 15 minutes to make the song, it came together so fast. The only thing I knew was I wanted to have that banging shit in the beginning, that was it. The rest of it came to me. I was mad as hell when I made that song. [laughs]

Why were you mad? 

I mean you know, life was hard. I was living in a really shitty house, I was working a really hard job for very little pay. I wanted to be making music.

So how did you end up getting signed at Columbia

(Columbia Records CEO) Ron Perry DM’d me on Instagram, he said “let’s hop on a call sometime.” We were talking to a bunch of other labels at the time and Columbia seemed most interested. I saw the work they were putting in and I really liked all the people at the company, so it seemed like the right decision.

Did you anticipate this happening this fast?

No, I didn’t anticipate this. [laughs] I literally met my manager 6 months ago. 2 months after that, I’m signing my record deal.

How did you guys meet? 

He was working as an agent at UTA. He DM’d me, scoping me out for UTA. We kept talking over a couple of days and he offered to quit his job at UTA to be my manager. If anybody’s  going to show that much faith in me, I feel like they’re the right person. I was living in Cincinnati at the time. Before we signed the deal, he flew to Cincinnati and helped me move out of my house and move into D.C. He came and showed me a different life. He’s put in the work, really he put a lot on the line to work with me and it’s really worked out so far.

Photo Credit: Alex Harper

You struggled with Xanax addiction, how is music a coping mechanism for you?

I started playing music at a really young age so it was something I always did no matter what. I took piano lessons so it’s hardwired into my brain. When I was in high school,

I started dealing with some mental health issues. I got into songwriting. When I started taking a lot of Xanax, I started making songs every night and getting into the studio a lot. It ended up being a coping mechanism for me because writing songs helped me understand my feelings more. Speaking through the thoughts, singing through everything made everything more clear to me. It helped me realize what I was doing wrong.

How important is mental health for you and part of your artistry?

It’s everything to me. In high school, I was self-harming and I was suicidal. When I was 20, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I feel a lot and I know there’s a lot of other people that feel a lot. The worst part about your mental illness isn’t feeling depressed or feeling anxious, it’s about feeling like you’re the only one feeling that. Nobody wants to talk about it, nobody wants to hear about it and it sucks. I want to build a community where people are comfortable talking about that, comfortable sharing whatever they want to share. My music does that, I share anything I possibly can through my lyrics.

What do you do for self-care? 

I do a lot of things for self-care. I focus on routine very heavily, me and my girlfriend wake up and do the same thing damn near every morning. I give myself a schedule, I give myself things to look forward to. I focus on eating good. I have “cook more love life” tattooed on my knuckles because cooking makes me feel so good, so cook more. It’s more than cook more meals, it’s a life motto. If it makes you feel good, you should do it.

Talk about being a trained chef and selling jam, that’s dope. There’s so many layers to you.

The jam is a really cool story. In Cincinnati, I was living in a neighborhood called Northside. I’d make homemade jam, which is the easiest shit in the world. It’s so easy to make, I promise. It’s 4 ingredients, it takes 15 minutes. I’d make it in mass quantities because me and my girlfriend came up with this idea to post the jam on this Facebook group that my neighborhood in Cincinnati had. So I made a bunch of jam one day and posted it on the Facebook group, it went viral within that group. I sold out of the jam and made so much money off of it, so we kept doing it. At the time, I was selling weed. I literally stopped selling weed and started selling jam, I completely flipped my hustle to selling jam. The last batch of jam I made, I profited $250 and I used that $250 to promote “MORBID MIND.” That’s the song that got me signed, it’s cool that going to school and becoming a chef helped out with this ultimately.

What’s your favorite thing to cook?

Right now, I’m going through a phase of French omelettes. I go through different phases. French omelettes are such a challenge. When I was in culinary school, it was a huge part of my exam because it’s so challenging. After I got out of culinary school, I said I’m never going to make a fucking French omelette again! It’s too hard, I’m not gonna put myself through that. But now I’m trying to get really good at it for whatever reason. [laughs]

3 things you need in the studio? 

I like to have a keyboard and my acoustic guitar, then my computer obviously. I’m self-produced so I can do mostly everything with the keyboard, a guitar, and my computer.

What can we expect from your debut album, MIXED EMOTIONS?

I need everybody to take their expectations and wipe them, because it’s really really different from what I have out right now. If you’ve heard what I’ve been saying, I’ve been talking about how I’ve made my emotions through my music. It’ll make sense when you hear it because the music is genreless and it goes in a lot of different directions. It’s a really good representation of what’s going on inside my head.

How important is it to converse with your fanbase and interact with them? 

It’s really important, I try my best to interact with my fanbase. I’ll go into my DMs and reply to a couple people. With the community I’m building, people reach out to me with things they’re going through and problems they’re dealing with. I try to interact with that as much as I can so it’s really important. Building those relationships can strengthen or make your career have a lot more longevity than if not.

Do you have any goals for yourself? 

I really want to maintain this mindset I have right now. I think I’m on the right track: making an impact and the things I care about. If I keep doing what I’m doing and I keep practicing what I’ve been preaching, I’ll get to where I need to be.

Photo Credit: Alex Harper

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