Serendipity. That’s the word I’d use to describe how JGrrey’s career just seemingly fell into place. She didn’t go out searching for music, but instead – it found her. She found me, for our interview, a little bit tired. Not in the resigned sense – she assured me – but in that the unfurling of her new musical journey has been keeping her plenty occupied. But, what was the initial catalyst?
JGrrey was first put onto the map by her sonically sumptuous COLORS performance of “Don’t Fade” in 2015, where she figuratively uses blue, grey, pink, and red to paint a picture of all-consuming desire. Her next milestone, debut EP Grreydaze, received a chorus of critical acclaim when it was released in 2019. Fans all over were taken by her searing vulnerability, and her ability to meld together darkness and lightness. It wasn’t long until her buttery voice and Soul-infused oeuvre caught the attention of Billie Eilish – and the two would go on to open Eilish’s 2019 tour with a bang.
I was immediately greeted by an encapsulating warmth, as JGrrey eagerly opened her Spotify to tell me about the music she consumes herself. A recently discovered Nigerian Alté track, “Sugar Mama” by Dua Saleh was on the roster. The wordplay-driven “Hopscotch” by rapper Opal also made the cut, along with Leikeli47 and Portier’s Gospel-esque “Let’s Go Get Stoned”. The common thread? Black women whose music deviates from the norm – offering up a sound that’s not necessarily expected of them. JGrrey’s start in music was fairly unexpected too, admitting that she was just “trying a ting.” Going on to impart that, “the ting worked, and it still works, so I’m gonna carry on doing it.”
First hitting the studio with Grime kingpin Manga Saint Hilare and prolific producer Nana Rouges, JGrrey confesses that she wasn’t quite happy with the song they made. “It got released, for a minute, but I had to ask Manga to take it down because I didn’t like it.” I mean, this studio session was a meeting of minds – yet something in JGrrey recognised that she hadn’t yet reached her peak. Sensing the perfectionistic nature of a fellow Earth sign, I simply had to ask whether the shoe fits. “I’m a Capricorn”, she answers; I thought as much. Perfectionistic? “Okay, I’ll take that!”, she laughs.
On the topic of ‘trying a ting’, JGrrey has recently dipped her toes into filmmaking – co-directing the visuals for projects like “Lavish”, and “All Grrey”. I wondered whether she already has the visuals in mind when crafting up a song, but JGrrey imparts that there’s more of a symbiotic relationship between the two. “I’ll work on a song, and if there’s a point where I’m like, ‘Oo! I like this song’, then I think, ‘If I like this song sonically, what does it look like?”. Directing is an outlet that JGrrey is keen to explore even more, with the visuals for her latest single “Theirs 13” also a collaborative effort between creatives. Finding it incredibly fulfilling, she reflects, “I really enjoy it because I can have ideas, but then seeing them executed well is very affirming and validating for me, as someone who does like working with aesthetics and visuals.”
For most creatives, one medium doesn’t always feel like enough. Teeming with a wealth of concepts and ideas, it’s only natural that they can’t all be expressed in the same way. An untapped creative outlet of JGrrey’s is jewellery making, desiring to make the endeavour into “high end, one of one pieces of jewellery.” Waiting to take the plunge, she “threatens” friend and jeweller Johnny Hoxton with “coming through, and seeing wagwan” – adding that, “anything can get it, if it’s creative and I enjoy it.” Although balancing music while self-managing doesn’t leave for a lot of downtime, she’ll jump on it “as soon as I’ve got time.”
Pushing the envelope of her career, JGrrey is experiencing a metamorphosis. Entering into a new era, sprouted from an intense period of change, JGrrey has learnt lessons that go hand in hand with both her creative, and personal life. “There’s JGrrey but there’s also Jen – and we have to be able to coexist”, she reflects. The most vital lesson? “Always go with your gut. Listen to the universe, and listen to the signs. All of those silly things you believe in? Follow that, because you believe in it for a reason.”
Her latest track, “Theirs 13”, sees JGrrey emerge from her cocoon. An ode to her queerness, and to her non-binary partner, the lyrics unfurl by means of freestyle. Integral to keeping the spirit of experimentation alive, JGrrey reveals that her process “has to be subconscious.” Adding, “As soon as I start to try and write lyrics, then I’m trying to write a song, as opposed to having some truth behind what I’m saying.” The pressure of the fast-paced music industry doesn’t seem to faze her either, as JGrrey admits: “It’d be great to get a hit, but I’m trying to make music I like, really.”
Coming away from our interview, I found that JGrrey’s self-assured attitude was almost contagious. It takes an awful lot of courage to believe in oneself, yet JGrrey shows no fear. That said, she’s as humble as ever, recognising that there are people in the industry who juggle multiple jobs to just make ends meet. As for her hopes for the future, JGrrey is content with where she’s currently at: “I’m good, and I’m up. It’s such a blessing, and I feel like I wouldn’t want to be asking for anything more. That would feel ungrateful.” With her track record, I’d be singing the same tune.