LA-based musician and emcee, Jaq Lion explores the art of story telling through his engaging artistry. He has just dropped his latest EP Inaug(yo)ur)ation and through his clever wordplay and enticing production, Jaq ignites the conversation on the current climate of today's society. Having lived in many countries across the globe and immersing himself amongst various cultures, Jaq instills an insight into the struggles of human kind whilst documenting a voice to rise above.
We sit down with Jaq Lion and have a chat about his recent EP Inaug(yo)ur)ation, how he first got into creating music, and how living in Germany and South Korea has influenced his sound as an artist. Ayla Dhyani writes.
I hear you're out in Hawaii at the moment, what takes you out there?
Yeah, just a little holiday. I just proposed to my girlfriend yesterday… and she said yes! So, I'm definitely having a lot of fun over here. Hiking, beaches, swimming with the dolphins. I got to see some sea turtles and tropical fish. Lots of fun.
That sounds incredible. Congratulations! So you just dropped your latest EP Inaug(yo)ur)ation, which is spectacular. What does the record mean to you?
Well, the EP is really a statement of where I’m at in my life and where we are as a global community. There’s a little bit of a political statement with the title as well as the release date being connected to my contempt with Donald Trump being elected as President. It also reflects where we've come to as people in relation to technology, whilst sprinkling in sentiments of love and a blend of my views and how I see the world at this point from LA. I’ve travelled a lot, and I’ve been very fortunate to do so. This is kind of the first crack at creating an eclectic sound that would appeal to different folks, while maintaining an authenticity and integrity to my own story. I'm trying to create something that people can vibe with, but also hear a story in some ways.
You touched on having travelled quite a bit in the past. I heard you actually lived in Germany and South Korea for some time. Tell us about that.
I lived in Germany for four years. I actually went to high school there and then after high school, I lived in South Korea for about six months. When I was younger I lived in Portugal as well. There’s an island group called The Azores, and a lot of my early memories are from an island in the Atlantic Ocean with cobble stone streets and not a whole lot of development. I kind of bounced back between the US and living abroad in my coming up, so interesting perspectives developed as a consequence of that.
Do you think that living in those places has made an impact on your musical style?
Absolutely. 100%. I was able to live outside of America and the political landscapes that have been going on here over the past 20 years. Getting outside of that gave me a different perspective and a more globalised view of things as they are. Whenever there is a very specific ethnocentric bubble happening, being able to leave that behind and be challenged on a personal level allows you to engage in music outside of that comfort zone with different world music influences. Also being able to sing in German, French, Italian, and Spanish allowed me to take on different stories from different cultures and attempt an interpretation of those things through music, which really is our Universal Language. You pick up certain things like story elements and emotions that you didn’t even realise you had or could tap into. Music is really a gateway for that. I try to take it all with me as I go with different styles or techniques. In Germany, I felt that I got to sing a lot more of a classical styled music. I was able to carry that back to the States and continue on with that for a little while.
I can completely relate. Travelling and immersing yourself in other cultures completely alters your perspective in a very positive way.
Exactly. It changes what appreciations you have for little things in life. There’s so much that I feel Americans take for granted and I think to be able to travel and see different cultures - well not only different cultures, but different economic situations as well and peoples’ struggle. It changes you and where that music comes from. Your soul is affected and your heart. It feels weighted.
On the hip hop side of things, what did you witness in terms of music scenes while you were travelling?
Oh yeah! Well in Germany, the drinking age is much lower than in the United States and I went to high school over there, so I was able to drink legally while I was in high school. I feel like that perspective is so different to the traditional American coming up where you could drive before you could drink, but in Germany you could drink before you could drive and we’d have a lot of fun nights going out with different music scenes. There was a lot of techno and house music that they loved in Germany. However, I feel like there was an international flair that was big in the UK or Australia or France that would appear in the charts in Germany. There was a really diverse appreciation of music and where it had come from. But also there was not as much Gospel while I was overseas and I feel like there is a lot more of a Gospel flavour in the States, which I particularly love as well as more RnB than some of the places I lived. I feel like South Korea was more technology-based music, which I definitely got an appreciation for. But then also traditional Korean music, which is worlds a part from the top chart music that we hear here in LA. I was able to draw from many of those elements and creatively, I had a lot to draw from (laughs).
Tell us how you first got into creating music.
I started singing when I was a kid and my Mum would play popular jams on the radio. Anything from Marriah Carey to Boyz II Men. I would sing along and I liked music from a very early age. I didn’t start singing in organised groups until I was in high school, but I didn’t start creating my own music outside of poetry or songs that I had kept personal or private until much later. I didn’t really do anything with those except to develop them for myself and to sharpen some of my own writing skills. It was really when I moved to Los Angeles and had been living there for a few years when I started doing song writing for a band called High Sunday. Then for another band called Genocide Entertainment as well as my own individual music. My fiancee and I - I’m just gonna throw that out there - (laughs) are a singing duo called Jaq-n-Gina, so we started making music together. We just started with some covers and we’re putting those out on iTunes and eventually our long term goal is to not only cover music. We want to get the ball rolling with just arranging popular music as covers in ways that you haven’t really heard before. We try and tell a better story… or more our story.
It’s great that you’re putting it all out there. And it such a short amount of time as well. Tell us about a significant moment that stands out for you. Is there a particular time on stage or in the studio that really spoke to you?
(Laughs), okay yeah definitely. There are a couple of moments that really stand out. One was performing at the Keller Auditorium in Portland, Oregon. I performed in a production where there were thousands of people that went to see the Opera. I think just seeing that many people applauding was one of those moments that was breathtaking and unforgettable. It really inspired me to keep going no matter what. It wasn’t always easy to learn the material or to break through and become a part of the artist committee, but the reward was tremendous. The other one was performing with High Sunday at The House of Blues, which was just another moment of “wow, I can’t believe we’re actually here.” We were in the Viper Room in West Hollywood. It was such an iconic venue, and being there was so humbling. I realised that through those experiences, I love to perform, and love to act and tell stories. But, I think that there’s a challenge in creating my own music and telling my own stories. It can move people. It’s fun to perform what other people have written, but it is wildly engaging to perform your own story and be vulnerable. It’s a wild ride, but I love it.
What do you anticipate for the future?
I’m working on another album with Genocide Entertainment called Rocket Science & Brain Surgery. The album is dropping this year, as well as another Jaq Lion solo EP. As of yet, it’s untitled, but the music on this new project is some of my favourite music that I’ve created and I’m super excited to release it. Jaq-n-Gina are also moving forward. We have a new Single that’s coming out. It’s a cover of “Like I’m Gonna Lose You” and there’s a music video for that. I’m really excited to see what kind of new projects we take on.
What moves you?
I honestly can say that compassion moves me more than anything else. To see people have compassion for other people and for myself to feel compassion for others. It’s a very moving feeling and it’s hard to describe in total, but I think that there’s something about adversity and we all go through it. When we see people struggling, I feel like no matter where I’ve lived across the globe and no matter how hard the times are, anything at all that’s happening in our world, I feel like it almost always turns out that there are people who will be compassionate. There are always people who will help other people in need. Sometimes that’s been myself being helped by others, and sometimes I’ve been able to be the one showing that compassion and helping others. It’s really humbling and a thing of grace. Then outside of that it’s you know… love. Love and compassion, which is such a cliché (laughs). I think for most musicians, those two concepts are at play within the writing process.