John-Robert Is the Small-Town Teen Poised to Become the Next Big Singer-Songwriter [Q&A]

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From a town in Virginia of about 1000 people, the new Nice Life Recording Company / Warner Records-signee, John-Robert, has been working on his music in near-total isolation since childhood. Playing at county fairs and local open mics since age nine, the songwriter learned to single-handedly create arrangements of his favorite acts, using live instruments, looping pedals, and (eventually) Garageband and Logic.

Working in a vacuum allowed the young writer to craft his own style and become entirely self-sufficient. With writing most akin to early Ed Sheeran, Glen Hansard, and Damien Rice, John-Robert's latest single, "Urs," feels familiar enough but distinctly his own. Taking the purity of singer-songwriter works of the early 2010s and mixing it with busier, left-of-center production, John-Robert's "Urs," produced by Grammy-nominated Ricky Reed, turns the traditionally minimal production of the singer-songwriter into an exciting collage
of dissimilar elements.

Ones to Watch got a chance to ask John-Robert about how his upbringing influenced his music, his obsession with Swedish Fish, and what he has been doing to prepare for COVID-19.

Ones To Watch: You grew up in a very small town. How do you feel that growing up in Edinburg, Virginia has impacted your music?

John-Robert: There weren't many places to play outside of
cafes and county fairs where I only had an acoustic guitar and no backing tracks, it really made me focus on my storytelling and songwriting.

Who have been some of your musical heroes growing up?

Ed Sheeran and his work with the Boss RC 30 looper station was incredibly inspiring at a time when I couldn't form my own band or work with any producers. I was also exposed to Chicago and Queen at an early age. I deeply appreciated their backup vocal work and progressive arrangements. David Foster's work with Chicago is unmatched.

What was the process of recording your latest single "Urs" with co-producer Ricky Reed?

Plants, Kombucha, rugs. The space is vibey, and Ricky is a calm and collected mad scientist.

You recently opened for Ethan Gruska at The Echo, and it seemed you have a lot of songs that you haven’t released yet. Can we expect an EP or LP from you in 2020?

I have a lot of songs, like a hefty grip of tunes. Don't remind me. Some of them will be on an EP coming out in the next few months.

What is the story behind your Swedish Fish obsession? 

I was sifting through pseudonyms to go under and during that search I posted a SoundCloud demo, where the cover art featured a pic of a Swedish fish movie theatre candy box taped to my face, and deep-fried in the negative filter. I've been fascinated with the candy as a concept and just enjoy snacking
on em, and sharing em.

How have your plans changed for this year, following the spread of coronavirus? 

I was planning on playing SXSW for the first time and touring the country. Now, I'm planning on curling up at home, toying around with plug-ins, and connecting with people from a CDC regulated distance.

What are your essentials for coronavirus quarantine/isolation?

I've been microdosing different viruses to build up a tolerance in anticipation of the next outbreak. Been doing crunches and pushups to fistfight the germs and friends that fracture my baby deer ego. So two 20 pound dumbbells.

Who are your Ones to Watch?

First person that comes to mind is Junior Mesa. He's my housemate and I'm constantly hearing his music through the roof. He makes me insecure as a musician and there’s no limit to his creativity. Kate Bollinger is also fantastic. She's based out of Charlottesville, her producer John makes cute lofi beats that knock, and Kate has a flow of her own. And lastly GOLF. Unapologetically bedroom pop, and I personally have a lot of memories tied to their tunes.

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