Even weeks into self-isolation, the laughter and light-hearted nature of Jon Vinyl remain ever-present. Like many musicians at the moment, his scheduled studio sessions and plans for collaborations have been put on hold. That’s no problem for the 22-year-old singer-songwriter from Pickering, Ontario. Growing up in the suburbs, he’s comfortable with isolation and being creative at home.
Despite being one of the strangest years in recent times, 2020’s been a big one for R&B heavy-hitters from Toronto. Artists like The Weeknd, Jessie Reyez, and Dvsn have all gifted us with some exceptional LPs. As Jon unveils the acoustic version of his hit “Addicted” today, he humbly acknowledges the commitment it takes to release a full-length album. With plans to eventually release his own debut record, his focus right now is on continuing to drop singles, as is the approach for many new artists.
The acoustic rendition is a testament to Jon’s commitment to performance. For the first time, he picked up the guitar and lead his producers in exploring a stripped-down approach. Beyond this new release, Jon can’t wait to get back in front of crowds to perform it.
I had the pleasure of ringing in the new year with Jon in a room full of Shawn Mendes’ close family and friends. Great party, lots of drinks, lots of dancing, and a countdown with some very hopeful people. Nobody there would’ve imagined we’d be where we are today.
We talked to Jon about how he’s coping with quarantine, his development as a musician, and the words of advice he received from Mendes, his old high school pal.
I feel like a lot of people were like, "2020 is going to be my year."
[Laughs.] Yeah, crazy times!
Yeah man. How have you been holding up?
It's been good. I mean, it's definitely weird because you just know everything is a little off. And, you know, this whole pandemic situation is going on. But I'm doing alright, because at the end of the day, for me, I've always created in my house, inside and away from people typically. So, yeah, I'm always kind of isolated.
Are you in Pickering right now? Where's home for you?
Yeah, currently Pickering.
What do you think it is about being on the outskirts of the big city that creates some of these amazing artists? Is it the fact that they're not in the hustle and bustle of the city?
Yeah, I think it's less distraction. I feel like when you're in the city, you have friends that are going out every single week, you know, every weekend. And I feel like out here, since there's not as much to do, you're not tempted to go out and party as much. It's more just like the only thing you can really do out here is just go hang out with friends at a house. And I think that is the difference between Toronto and Pickering. You can go out and just do so many things [in Toronto]. But Pickering, you really have like one option. And if that option isn't open, you're going to probably stay in your house.
Kinda sounds like this quarantine.
Exactly! Pickering is quarantine. [Laughs.] But yeah, I think you just lock in and you're in your house and you've got to just figure out what you can do. And for me, music is what I do.
It's interesting because you've released a lot of singles. You have one EP. But you don't have an album out yet, and I've heard you mention in previous interviews that you feel albums can be limiting because of the need for them to be cohesive. Is that what's made you hold off on an album?
Yeah. I mean, I think it's all timing as well. But we just wanted to build as much as we could through singles and just call everybody's attention in. And then give the people an album just because I feel like albums are really a body of work for your fans. And it's almost like a gift to your fans, a bunch of songs. But you have to get the fans first, right? That's why we've done the single play for a little while and I guess it's been working pretty well for us. So we just wanted to keep on doing that until we can exhaust that and then put out our albums.
"Everybody wants to see how you attack an album differently than everybody else. And I'm definitely excited to do it."
The musical landscape has changed a lot. So many artists now are able to blow up without an album, just off a single, like Lil Nas X, for instance. Cardi B, even Jessie Reyez, she got a Grammy nomination and it was just off of an EP. What are your thoughts on that? And do you feel like an album is even necessary at this point?
I think eventually there is gonna come a time where it's going to be very necessary. Everybody wants to see how you attack an album differently than everybody else. And I'm definitely excited to do it. But with this whole pandemic situation, that's kind of tough because the people you want to work with, you can't really get in touch with unless you're using Zoom or FaceTime. [Laughs.]
Who are some artists out of Toronto that you want to collaborate with?
Jessie Reyez would be really cool. Daniel Caesar would be cool, too. Yeah, those are some of the names.
Let's talk about your latest release. You're dropping the acoustic version of "Addicted." Tell me about this song and why you felt it was important to make an acoustic version.
I obviously really loved the song "Addicted" and it did well, too. We were really happy with it, how it came out from the writing to the production and everything. We were actually in Montreal and we did a live performance there. But we did an acoustic version of "Addicted" and we loved how it sounded, and we just really were inspired by it. So then I took it home. I thought about it and then I hopped on the guitar and I made kind of like a rough idea. And then I showed it to my guitarist, Daniel Dimito, and he started playing it. And from there, we just built out this song. I was really happy with it because this was the first time I was on the guitar and, you know, kind of produced the idea by myself. And then I brought it to the band and they made it what it was. I was really proud of that moment.
Let's go back to your high school days. I heard when you were 15 years old, that's when you first created your home studio. And it actually wasn't until five years after that you released your first single. Is that true?
Yes, that is true.
Tell me about that, man. That takes a lot of discipline.
I found when I was coming up, in the process of creating music, that I would listen to a lot of other artists and then I would compare my songs to theirs. And if I didn't think it matched up [Laughs], I would be like, Okay, we got to keep on going and keep on working. Because I mean, at the end of the day, the blueprint in front of you is right there. There's so many artists who are making amazing music. I guess the discipline was just because I listened to so much other music that was so good and I was like, Wow, we got to keep up. So I just kept on working and just never stopped and tried to sing better. Tried to write better. Over time I finally got the confidence to release something. And then it did well. I just never stopped from that point.
Right. That first single you released was "Nostalgia." I'm sure you worked on lots of songs, lots of singles in those five years. When you completed "Nostalgia," how did you know at that point, "Okay, this is ready"?
Yeah. I think a lot of artists in the studio have this moment of magic where it's euphoric, it feels so good. It's kind of like the situation when you're in the studio and you just feel like it's a hit. And no matter what, you're like, This is going to do good. And you just have all the confidence in the song. Then you put it out and it does exactly what you thought it would do.
Let's go back to your high school days again, man. I know you and Shawn [Mendes] go back to being high school friends. What's your relationship like with Shawn? What was he like in high school?
So back in high school, I think I was like grade 11, he was grade 10, and he was on Vine and it kind of just blew up his career. He just started taking off and then he left high school. But in that time, yeah, we were in similar groups and we had similar friends. So we would talk and we would share it. We both loved music and he knew I did music as well. We would just talk about music or a new song, all that stuff. Then he left high school and we really never saw him for like two or three years after that. And then I'd say pretty recently, maybe like a year ago, we got really, really close and just had been sharing music, talking about music, and hanging out with all of our friends a lot.
I've seen clips online of you playing the guitar and Shawn singing over it. Have you guys collaborated or talked about it?
I mean, a lot of the times when we're together, we're with all of our friends. So we're kind of just chillin and having fun. It's kind of like our getaway from music. So a lot of the times we're not really working on too much. But there are a lot of times where he'll like play something and I'll play something and we'll give each other ideas and bounce ideas off of each other. But a full collab, like a feature? Nothing yet. Maybe soon.
That'd be awesome. And especially because there's history there with you guys. What would you say is a takeaway that you got from Shawn? Is there a piece of advice that he's given you that's resonated?
The main thing that he definitely said to me was make sure you take a breather while you are where you are, because as soon as you get that hit or you get that one song that pops off, it doesn't stop and life just keeps on going. And you're always busy. It just really never stops. You always are doing something. So he's like, "Enjoy the moments that you have right now when you're with your family, you're with your friends. Just really enjoy it, because when it starts, when everything pops off, you literally have no time." So, yeah, that was something really interesting that he said.
It's hard to predict what's happening right now because of the whole pandemic but what would you say are your next steps? What's the next goal you want to accomplish?
I definitely want to just get into the studio and lock in with other people, other creatives, and just create some music that is different and has a bunch of creative elements. Just a great body of work. I want to collab with people because I feel like you're only as good as your team. I mean, like there's so many great people out there that are just amazing at what they do. And you just add them to your team and who knows what can happen?