Meet the American singer, rapper and songwriter who won't ever stop pursuing his dreams.
Growing up in the “middle of nowhere” in Southern California, music was a “buried treasure” that never existed in a young Jonny West’s childhood. “Acts like The Style Council and Split Enz were a bit too much of a first bite”, the 25-year-old singer, rapper and songwriter recalls, describing himself as pretty “uninvolved” in the music world in his early years. Instead, athletics was more important to him as he thought it would help him fit in: “I spent so much of my childhood wishing I was good enough at a sport to be able to just have a thing,” he recalls.
But, around the age of 12 when his older brother passed his iPod down to Jonny’s preadolescent ears, his love for music was ignited. “I was so blind-sided by this new form of art and entertainment that it swept me up like a perfect storm,” he says, detailing the staggering range of sounds he discovered on it. “I remember he had mostly hardcore punk music that I related to in message, but not in feel.” Hidden underneath the angsty waves of screamo, however, were two hip-hop songs.
This disparity of influences would go on to subtly inform the music he started to make as a teenager, giving out mixtapes at high school to “a crowd of unacquainted peers”. Jonny’s confidence paid off, and made him some new mates in the process: “I slowly made friends from being the kid who rapped and made music,” he says of his unique selling point. While Jonny’s first foray into songwriting was “all terrible”, it was the first time he realised he could use music to “get me things in life; I know that isn’t the most innocent sentence but my root intentions were good,” he says.
Having spent so much of his life feeling as though he didn’t fit in – “because of my lack of ability on a field or court” – Jonny was thankful to have finally found something he could use to make more friends and, as many teenage boys dream of, “attract the hot girls”.
Getting on stage and singing for the first time – as part of his high school talent show, in his sophomore year – grew his desire to perform even further. “I shakily fumbled through an emo punk song by Envy on the Coast; my fingers trembled over the piano keys,” he recalls. “Needless to say, I didn’t even place in the competition.” But rather than letting the defeat get the better of him, Jonny decided he would write as much as possible and give it another go the following year – but with an original song. His steely determination was well placed, as he achieved first place.
This won’t-give-up DIY attitude to life set him on the path to becoming an exciting name in the alt-pop and rap worlds. “I’ve only ever wanted to have my own thing that I could say was all me,” he says, listing Tyler the Creator, God, Tom Waits and actor Heath Ledger among his inspirations… “Anyone that brought their own thing to their art has always moved me immensely,” he says. But Jonny’s keen to make clear they don’t necessarily match who he is sonically: “there’s been a lot of paint thrown at the wall in the records I have put out,” he says of his introspective sound.
A lyrically honest songwriter, Jonny says “it’s important that my songs reflect my real life. In all of my favourite songs, I feel like I can hear the real-world situation bleed out on the record. There’s so much fiction in this industry, but I only want to tell my story. Even if something hurts or is scary, it needs to all be shown because it’s real. Life is a constant shift and this is how I find my own balance.”
“I’ve only ever wanted to have my own thing that I could say was all me"
Having been pouring his heart out in his songs for many years now, 25-year-old Jonny says that making music has become a form of personal therapy. “There’s this rigorous push and pull that goes on in me that feels like cement in my chest sinking me into the room. And there’s a fear that no matter how many times I pluck it out, another will grow in its place”.
Take his new single, ‘Past Nights’, for example: created when Jonny heard his close friend B.K. playing the synth part while he was in a different room, the initial lyrics and melody popped into his head almost instantly. “It’s the first time I didn’t have a direct hand in the instrumental part of the song, which was fun for me,” he remembers, saying that the single signifies an artistic evolution.
“It’s a shift for me sonically and about my shift in life, finding myself at the end of this road I went down that I’m not proud of… so much that I can’t fathom this new light in my life wanting to accept all my past decisions”.
Compared to his previous single (the stripped-back ‘don’t you have to go?’), ‘Past Nights’ places far more emphasis on the production, calling to mind early Jack Garratt. But why is that? “I want people to not be able to box it in. ‘don’t you have to go?’ will always be special to me and I love that song, but I don’t want to keep making the same sounding records. I want to grow and change.”
It’s fitting, then, that Jonny sees ‘Past Nights’ as a bridge between his old music and the sonic path he’s headed on. “I want to keep getting weird and experiment with not only structure, but what my voice can do and manipulate into.”
As for his future as an artist, Jonny West has got a clear goal in mind: “I really want to make my own world. Something people can find at any point and dive into”. He’s also got humble ambitions to help his family off the back of his surefire future success: “I want to buy my mom a house, send my grandma on more trips to see the world before she’s unable to and give back to the laundry list of people who have helped me get to where I know I can go.”
‘Past Nights’ is out via 3T Entertainment, watch the video below now.