Making a good first impression is important for any new artist, especially now. Attention spans are shrinking, the amount of competition is unprecedented, and if potential fans don't like what they see and hear, they move on to the thousands of other options popping up in their feeds and on their playlists.
Torono artist Joël nailed that introduction with "Vent," a downtempo, left-of-center song with a charming DIY video shot in a warehouse. The song did its job—playlist placements, media coverage, and hundreds of thousands of streams. Instead of delivering a safe follow-up in the same vein, Joël returned shortly after with "Type," a jagged, skittish track patched together with swirling guitars, free-flowing vocals, and a noisy backdrop.
"I was still super nervous when it came to dropping 'Type' because it was so different then anything I’ve ever wrote," Joël explains. "It’s a lot more gritty."
The switch-up paid off—instead of getting tagged as an R&B act with an edge, Joël is a true wild card. He grew up on gospel, dove into alternative music as he got older, and he's working on an album called Grunge Gospel that will incorporate both. "My producer Colin [Munroe] intro’d me to a lot of those sounds," he says, "and we started blending everything together."
Good first impressions are important, but they are even more compelling when followed by a plot twist. With Joël, we're only two songs in, but it's clear that we're just scratching the surface.
We first featured you in a list of artists defying genre. A few years ago, I think people might have stuck you with the "alternative R&B" label, but it seems like things are changing and those labels don't really apply. Do you consider yourself an R&B artist?
I really don’t like to put boxes around art but for the most part if you were to categorize my music yeah I’d say I’m more of an alternative R&B artist. I think it's cool genres are going away though, we gotta let creatives be free.
The "Vent" video features some dance moves, but it seems very casual and not too choreographed. Can you tell us about how that video came about?
I started dancing pretty young but I was super low-key with it. My older cousins really got me into it, just by watching them really. it was a part of my culture growing up whether i was dancing in a basement jam during elementary school days or doing a one two step at church.
When I wrote "Vent" I really just wanted to blow off steam, I wanted to vent for real. Someone in my circle actually gave me the idea for the video, I was working at Walmart at the time doing receiving—I hated working there. On top of that, [I was] going through a lot of shit on a personal level. So mans just suggested we get an empty warehouse kinda like where I was working at the time and blow off steam. Nothing too serious but that shit was very therapeutic. I wanted to keep it super vibey and raw.
To me, "Vent" and "Type" are so different from each other. Did you intentionally kick things off with two songs that show some versatility?
Definitely, but I was still super nervous when it came to dropping "Type" because it was so different then anything I’ve ever wrote. It’s a lot more gritty. I got a lot more different shit coming.
What has your path to a solo music career been like so far?
I love making music, period. Of course it’s been tough at times but I wouldn’t do anything else. The hard part is seeing your friends getting these “dream" salary jobs at 22, 23 and you’re still just working minimum wage just so you can get bus money to head to the studio. This life can be a rollercoaster but honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Any surprises or frustrations with being a new artist in 2019? Seems like a crazy, hyper competitive time to be trying to cut through all the noise.
Life’s crazy, so many new artists out there, lots of dope ones too. I just keep my head down and focus on my art. Try and count my blessings everyday and tune out bullshit. You can’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing, trends, all that noise. I wanna be the best me, and find the people that mess with that. Fuck what everyone else has going on.
You can’t get caught up in what everyone else is doing, trends, all that noise. I wanna be the best me, and find the people that mess with that. F*ck what everyone else has going on.
Toronto's music scene is well-documented and seems to be thriving still. Are you connected with a lot of artists and people in the city, or do you keep to yourself?
I mostly keep to myself, suburbia can be kind of lonely for real. But when I do get out I like to surround myself with like-minded people. Most of my friends are creatives themselves, they always inspire me and show love. I should probably get out more.
What can you tell us about your upcoming album Grunge Gospel? Where does that name come from?
Well I grew up in the church, that's where I learned to sing and gospel music is probably what still musically influences me the most. But as I got older I started listening to way more alternative music—grunge bands like Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, I love that shit. My producer Colin [Munroe] intro’d me to a lot of those sounds, and we started blending everything together. We’re working together on this project and it's basically the melting pot of all of these influences.
There is so much more beyond just the music in grunge that I fuck with, growing up in the suburbs it was easy to feel lost and dissociated, it resonated with me. But gospel is in my DNA. We’re breaking Grunge Gospel it into two parts and the first half is dropping this spring. I can’t wait for y’all to hear it. I knew the name could be divisive, because you don’t really hear those words together… but that made me fuck with it even more.
From your Spotify playlist and tweets, I can see you've got an eclectic taste in music. Can you share some of your all-time favorites and tell us a little about what draws you to certain music? Is there any one quality or factor that attracts you to a song or an artist?
That’s cool you checked that playlist, I gotta update it more! Yeah I listen to some different shit, I like the new stuff but tend to gravitate to the shit that’s more classic. A few of my favorites are Jazmine Sullivan, J. Moss, Frank Ocean, Kim Burrell, Miguel, Nirvana, Post Malone, H.E.R… the list goes on. Vocals tend to jump out at me first, I care a lot about that shit. After that it’s all about if I can vibe to it. To be honest, I can be pretty fucking picky too.
You once tweeted, "You will understand my crazy later." Can you explain that a little? Do you feel like you see things differently from most people or artists?
Definitely, I tend to overthink... a lot, on some perfectionist shit. I’m very open-minded but get really upset if I don't get my point across. I been through a lot of shit growing up so my initial thoughts or tendencies are usually a little left-field or weird some might say. A lot of the times I feel misunderstood and don't really like explaining myself, so I hope one day the music will just connect and for those who didn’t get it before, it will then make sense.
What else do you have in store for the rest of 2019? Any next steps or goals you can share with us?
Right now I’m hella focused on the music, studio every day. It’s dope that people are messing with the first two songs but I gotta keep bringing it. I have so much more to create it’s crazy. But otherwise gonna be hitting the road more in 2019, looking to spread the movement everywhere. I want to meet all of these people who are in my DMs showing love, so shows are a must. The biggest thing for me is getting more people to hear my music, whether that's one person, one hundred, or a one million, that’s the shit that matters to me. So thank you for showing love, this shit means the world to me.