Hannah George | 05/09/2023
JGrrey is taking everyone by storm, perhaps evening surprising herself, as she tells me, ‘I never wanted to be a musician.’
HATC joined JGrrey to discuss navigating the mental challenges that accompany being creative, from burnout, imposter syndrome to navigating the harsh world of social media. In this stripped-back interview, JGrrey rather honestly opened up about what it can be like to maintain a creative flow in such a demanding industry whilst also sharing the blessings they have experienced, reminding me it’s essential to stay true to your integrity as well building a sense of community.
As a creative running multiple endeavours, I asked JGrrey how she copes with those moments where she loses that creative flow.
“I am working on a tour for next year, as well as music videos, and podcasts. But at the same time, I’m trying to record music, write songs, keep things fresh, and stay musical. I think that that can be quite a big pressure that we, as artists and creatives, put on ourselves because we live in a society where all you’ve got to do now to see someone else’s hustle is pick up your phone. All you have to do to see someone else’s work or achievements or even someone else’s goals, hopes and dreams is look on social media platforms. So it can feel like everyone is your competition. Even my peers and my friends that I am so proud of which can feel unerving. You can find yourself loggin onto Instagram thinking they’ve done something similar to what I wanted to do, only they’ve done a bit better. It knocks you back a couple of pegs. Both in self-esteem and your confidence. It’s an awkward uphill battle, where you can feel like you want to create but can I even write another song? Can I do that Again?”
In a moment of reflection, I found myself agreeing with JGrrey’s frustrations when navigating a world that demands so much from creatives and that need for constant hustle, especially regarding social media. It can be deafening at times. JGrrey shared her advice for dealing with this creative strain as a musician, stating -
“My piece of advice to any musician, any artist, or creative would be doing it for you first. Once you've done it for you then let the ether have it. Don’t have any expectation with the ether, the world and your peers, sharing it. You should feel proud of what you’ve done. And then, if it gets a reaction, and it gets a bite, you can talk with sheer integrity about how and why it means so much to you, not anyone else. I think that makes a difference with how it resonates with people more so than an Instagram post.”
It's integral advice, especially in an age of online perpetual disappointment. I admire how JGrrey can reframe the narrative, valuing her art by her means, not exclusively through other’s validation. JGrrey unveiled how her upbringing helped shape this way of thinking for in a way that freed her.
“For me, I had a peculiar upbringing. I grew up in foster homes for the first part of my life. As I grew up, I found myself in many different people’s homes and schools, having many different conversations and becoming so many different versions of myself. Depending on who I was talking to, I realised I could become anything because if someone doesn’t know you and you tell me you’re an astronaut, they’ve got no reason to doubt you. I’ve not got any GCSEs and don’t have so much of an education. I found myself at a college where I went to an open day. It was a performing arts college, and I started talking to this tutor. I told him I hadn’t done very well in my GCSEs but was good at singing, dancing, and performing arts.We started talking and he took me on to this course without the right qualifications, which was ridiculous. It felt right. I guess music comes naturally to me. I’m a bit of an attention seeker and I like the sound of my voice."
JGrrey then tells me how her faith in believing these things could only have been made because of how they made her feel safe. I find this viewpoint utterly uplifting, the way she can trust in faith, faith that her path is leading her to the right place, and an extremely positive outlook considering her somewhat tumultuous upbringing. I asked JGrrey if she felt she had embraced a somewhat chameleon-esque way of living due to her upbringing.
They replied frankly, stating, ‘I think at first it was maybe a defence mechanism,’ describing how they strove to be somewhat of a class clown to be liked by their peers. Upon reflection, JGrrey then pointed out how she wants to uplift her peers now, taking time to understand the strengths of the people around her and making space for ‘the quiet queer people, the ones who don’t get to say their opinions enough.’ Exclaiming the joy she now feels being able to platform other queer artists in her community and to collaborate with them on her live shows, it's clear it's been an essential element of her productions. "As someone who has found a community its something I need. From the day I was born, even in foster homes, a community of people in the same boat is what I look for everywhere I go. I think being a chameleon has helped me find different communities, but also reminded me to be sincere to who I am."
JGrrey has a beautiful way of enabling others to look at the bigger picture when it comes to mental health struggles. Something that is not an easy thing to do. I was curious if this is something she’s been able to master so beautifully because of her personal experiences. She explained, “I’m a bit too honest and I can be a bit too sincere. I’d say that applies more than ever in my music, because my lyrics are quite cryptic. For example, the second single I ever released was called "Ready to Die." And the lyrics are 'Isn’t it interesting? I feel so alive. And at the same time, I’m ready to die.”
In terms of her writing, they then elaborates on how songs like “Ready to Die" and "Theirs13" in how they were a 2 a.m. freestyle. People get it, and people resonate with what it feels like, not necessarily what I’m saying. Young people often text me saying thank you for songs like "Ready to Die". Because they’re 15 and experiencing these fast and intense emotions."
The way JGrrey approaches songwriting enables a genuine and raw emotion to be transcended onto her audience, and it is done in such a free-flowing yet stylish way. Knowing how vital styling is to JGrrey, I asked what style means to her regarding her identity and the role it has in her music.
“I’d like to think that I only really use style or my ability to be stylish with sound. I really love all styles. Because I’m someone that has been to so many different schools, and so many different foster parents, I’ve seen and experienced so many different living styles. The first thing people notice is what you look like or how you’re acting. You have the power to own a styling pose. There's so many ways style can come across. I’m someone who is neurodivergent, and through almost defence mechanisms, I heavily pick up on mannerisms.”
With her new EP on the way, I asked JGrrey how she incorporates her style into her new music. “I think I’ve been able to do this project with my visuals and all my assets. I’m talking about my music and the process behind it. The style in which I’ve done it is me. It’s Jen Grey, who is flamboyant. It’s daring, it’s bold, and it can be quite sinister and uncomfortable."
Returning to our previous conversation surrounding their newfound autonomy, I asked JGrrey how they felt regarding how much control she they had over their new music. “I’m really excited.As someone who didn’t want to make music but found myself in the music industry, as a blessing, that’s not to say I’m ungrateful for it. I’m blessed that I found music, and that’s what I do. But as someone who didn’t necessarily start with intention in the music industry, I have been so surprised by the number of shifts and the projects I've made. As someone who was new in this space I wasn’t sure what control I had over my autonomy or what control I had over the art I was making. When several men in the industry say, 'This is what you need to do. Trust me.' As a young person at the time, a young girl, I believed it."
In terms of how JGrrey chooses to communicate their battles through their music, they tell me a little about how this process works for them.
“I’ve struggled in my life, I've really been through it, my family life, my personal life and my love life. I often will listen to music and press the R button on my laptop. Whatever it is I will sing and see what I create. "Theirs13" I wrote when I fell in love. I was in a relationship with a man at the time, a very toxic relationship. When I heard it it reminded me of everything I’ve been through. And the same goes with "Boys". "Boys" is a track that, again, is brazen, really ballsy, really loud, and quite uncomfortable at times. It’s got a crunchy guitar, and the mix is quite abrasive. And I fucking love that because that’s how I felt.”
Passionately, JGrrey unveils the name of one of her new tracks on her upcoming album and telling me a little about how her experiences with racism and homophobia living in south London have taught her to take up space.
“There’s a song called "Sick of Me" on the project. I need people to hear how it feels. We live in a society where it’s okay for someone to be racist, homophobic and transphobic. Straight, you know, from privilege, not coming from a working-class background. But you can still walk into a space that is not made for you, that is not made for your community, that is not made for people that look like you, and take up that all important space.”
JGrrey finds joy in the way she has chosen to create her music and various other creative endeavours, building up her community as she grows. It is evident this passion is made of enormous success, success defined by JGrrey not by wealth and fame. Instead through being able to create a platform for those who need to be heard. Her music does that ever so well, providing a safe space for her listeners to hear and feel understood whether that be navigating queerness, relationships or mental health. JGrrey provides this relatability that is sincere and genuine created through the way she produces her music in such a free-flowing, raw way.
Words Hannah George
Photography Leanda Helen