It’s been pretty well-established by now that 2020 has been a… challenging year. (For. So. Many. Reasons.) But for Just John, the challenge is all part of the journey. “Just because the outside world's at a standstill doesn't mean your internal world is,” he says when we spoke by phone last week, right before news dropped that the GTA was headed towards another lockdown.
For John, this year isn’t bad luck. Or shitty timing for a Toronto artist on the ascent after 2019 saw the Just John x Dom Dias track “Soundboi” become the Raptors’ official anthem ahead of the team’s epic title run. It’s just fate.
“There's times in life where you are going to feel like your back's against the wall,” he explains. “It's what's meant to happen to make you a more evolved version of yourself, and you got to use it. You got to use everything in life, not only the good things.”
He used all of it as inspiration for his latest EP, This Is Fate, which drops today along with an accompanying short film (check it out below)—where the three-track EP’s cyclical themes of death and rebirth are made visual. It’s Just John’s way of reintroducing himself as a solo act following the successful Don trilogy and 2019’s full-length PROJECT he released with Dias. And making the most of the pandemic-induced slowdown.
“It's a good time for new artists to be discovered, because it's like all we have really is to be sharing content,” he says. “I feel like people have more time to digest content and try something new. So it's a good time to experiment.”
Complex spoke to the Scarborough native about embracing isolation, evolving into a “post-genre” artist, and his big plans for 2021. And when those plans eventually come to fruition? Just call it fate.
Tell me how This Is Fate came together. Is this something you had been working on at the beginning of the year or was this more COVID-inspired?
So “Open Wound” was made in January. And “A Thousand Corpses” was made in March—just at the beginning of the lockdowns. It was like basketball [shut down], patient zero. Go into the studio and you start giving people daps with the elbow. That was starting to happen and that's when that song came down. I was thinking about 28 Days Later and zombies and stuff. 28 Months Later. I love zombie movies, so I was thinking about the world in this way. So that's where that song came from, and “Black Ghost” was made in July actually. But they all speak to just like how I'm feeling now—this idea of death, transformation and rebirth essentially, which This is Fate really speaks to.
Did the music or the meaning behind it evolve at all considering where your head's at now versus when you first started working on these tracks?
This project really exemplifies a healing process, you know what I mean? Every morning we are reborn. Every day we're actually dying. It sounds dark. [Laughs.] But the reality is, every day we're constantly dying and we're being reborn, our skin cells are constantly regenerating. So when I listen to “Open Wound” now, I just think about like, it's a therapy. It's a record that’s used for healing.
But it's almost cyclical in a way, where it's like whatever I made that about was something I needed to heal at that time in January. But it still can be used as a tool. To help me heal whatever I'm going through in life now. This idea of not needing fear, because this world, it just feeds off fear. And choosing love and choosing forgiveness and choosing the things that are a bit harder sometimes.
Did you have any difficulty maintaining your creative focus and motivation post-lockdown? Or were you able to adjust to it fairly quickly?
I think I embraced it. I tweeted something like a year ago now, “Isolation is a gift.” This was before COVID and everything. Because I think in all of our lives, it's a constant cycle, right? I like the times where it's like, okay, I'm going to be isolated right now and I'm going to just work on myself and create work that I feel like exemplifies the period that I'm going through in this current time in my life. And then I'm going to come out again, and I'm going to awaken and I'm going to share, and then I'm going to go back into isolation and be away. And then I'm going to go out and share. I think sometimes with social media and everything, everything gets fogged together, because people always feel like, “I need to constantly be doing stuff.” But at the same time, it's also important to get away and evolve as a human being.
So I embraced not the pandemic, but I embraced the isolation, because it was a really good time to just get ideas out there and incubate and grow. But also now I'm really looking forward to getting out there and performing this new music and meeting new audiences and new fans and just engaging in the real sphere.
"It’s a new world, it's a new time. We need new philosophies, we need new ideas. And we need new rock stars."
I saw you say on Instagram that one of your hopes for this release was that it could create a space for people to feel less alone. And I guess that's one of the great things about music, right? It can foster that sense of community even in this isolating time we’re in.
That's what it is, man. With this project, it's playing a lot with battling inner demons, and the idea is, hopefully this work can make you feel a little less alone. Hopefully this work can help you lean into the light and deal with your shadows. And hopefully this work can help you learn to let go of things and accept the unknown so that you can actualize your truest form in the now.
Last year was a big year for you. How much did you have to let go and adjust your plans for 2020, due to everything?
I feel like it kind of aligned, because I was already changing a lot of things, things that I was already going to do anyway. Just because this was my first offering as a solo artist. The work that I was releasing before was with my heavy collaborator, Dom Dias. We're still best friends and he has credits on this project; he produced “Black Ghost” and mixed “Open Wound” and “Black Ghost.”
With that being said, I was already kind of shedding things from the past and moving into this new form of myself. Like, yes, shows got canceled and things got delayed, but I think I was already in this metamorphosis that had already begun when 2020 started.
“Soundboi” getting adopted by the Raptors last year was a huge moment. Did that translate to any added pressure for you, like you were saying, to keep pushing and come out with this new EP?
Honestly, to have your song be part of the Raptors' soundtrack for such an amazing, historic year, it was such a blessing and I'm so grateful for that. I'm so grateful to everybody in the Raptors organization, just everybody that made that possible.
I think when it came to releasing this new work, I just knew that this was the truest, [most] authentic form of myself, and it felt right. I felt like… my fans and my audience will reciprocate and follow me into it. And it's been so great to see that when I actually drop music, people are loving the new direction and supporting it fully and wanting to hear more of it. And we're going to give them more, for sure.
Oh yeah. Filmed in Toronto.
That's one of my favorites. It inspires me a lot. Then 28 Days Later is one of my favorites as well. I also just love horror. Like House of 1000 Corpses is something that used to scare the shit out of me as a kid. [Laughs.] But I watched it again, obviously older, and I really loved the aesthetic of it. But I'll definitely send you the short film. Because you really need to check out the whole thing.
Is it a similar vibe to the “Thousand Corpses” video?
“A Thousand Corpses” is a video that came out of the short film. It's a director's cut of the three records put together. “A Thousand Corpses” is still in the short film, but there's different cuts, and then “Black Ghost” has a video and also “Open Wound” has a video. So it's all together in this cohesive project. Along with some skits and soliloquies as well too.
Do you enjoy curating the whole picture when it comes to a release? Not just the music, but also this visual art that goes with it, short films, all that?
It’s all important. We have two eyes and we have two ears. I think artists today, we need to always be thinking about that stuff, creating a visceral experience for our audience. And I love my fans and supporters, because they know they're going to get new music, they're going to get crazy visuals too.
I love the release schedule here of “A Thousand Corpses” on Halloween, “Black Ghost” on Friday the 13th. Now you've got the full EP dropping on Black Friday. I'm assuming that was intentional and not just some happy accident?
[Laughs.] I didn't even know that! Like, the Halloween thing, yes. But it's just all alignment. It's all fate.
Do you enjoy releasing this way, three, four tracks at a time? Doing the EP thing?
As a new artist, I just feel like it's better. There's more opportunity. It's just building the base. Because cats, you don't know when they're going to intersect with your music, right? Some cats might have just discovered me literally right now. Like, from “Black Ghost,” they're going to go back to everything else.
Especially in this age, we want to constantly be putting out stuff. I want to be constantly putting out stuff until I'm at the point where I can disappear for two years and come out and have like features with André 3000, Jay-Z. Just like crazy projects. Like, Sade comes out. With this crazy vocal ballad. [Laughs.] I'll be releasing constantly until that.
I feel like it allows you to experiment a little more too, what interests you right now.
It's so true, man. It works so much for artists that don't want to stay in one groove. And I believe that I'm a post-genre artist—I don't know if everybody is down to embrace that title yet of post-genre—but we're in the post-genre age. That's what it is. We could call it things if we want to categorize stuff, but I feel like all the artists that are really doing anything exciting right now are post-genre.
So after This Is Fate, where is fate leading you next here? Have you started thinking about that yet?
Next year, I'm the new-age rock star. That’s what I know is happening. And I'm around the world. It’s a new world, it's a new time. We need new philosophies, we need new ideas. And we need new rock stars. And that's the role I'm filling.