Q&A: Jagwar Twin on His Striking Debut Album & Nearly Moving to Idaho to Work at Pizza Hut

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Photos: Fabien Montique

Roy English, who adopted the moniker of Jagwar Twin for his latest project, released his impressive debut album Subject to Flooding seemingly out of thin air. The 11-track collection pulls from disparate influences, from alternative rock, breakbeats typically reserved for hip-hop, to '60s-inspired guitar riffs, forming a kaleidoscopic picture of Jagwar Twin as a truly unique artist unrestrained by typical conventions. This sense of distinction extends beyond the realm of Subject to Flooding to English himself and the people who naturally gravitated towards the Jagwar Twin project.

For English, adopting the name Jagwar Twin did not come as a result of needing to creatively rebrand himself, but as a way to properly express the universality and collaborative spirit of his next musical venture. While English is at the forefront of the Jagwar Twin project, to him, it is something larger than himself. The studio became a revolving door of artists like Travis Barker of Blink-182 to producers like Linus, as well as S1 and the renowned Jeff Bhasker who have worked with the likes of Kanye West. Embracing the spirit of collaboration, Jagwar Twin and Subject to Flooding at times feels larger than life. We sat down with English, the man ultimately behind the Jagwar Twin to talk about everything from the first single "Loser" to the Mayan mythology.

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OTW: Let's start at the beginning. You went from being bullied because of your voice to where you are today. It's a very inspirational story, but was there ever a point where you thought you were going to give up on singing?

Jagwar Twin: Aw man, there we were so many times. I mean, early on, definitely when I was bullied, I didn’t really think I could do it, but I didn't really know anything else to do, and it kind of felt like the only way that I fit in. The biggest time I ever thought about giving up must have been like 2012 or 13. I had nothing going on and my girlfriend at the time was going to Boise State, and there was a job opening at a Pizza Hut across the street from her apartment, so I was like I guess I'll just move to Idaho and work at this Pizza Hut. I remember talking to my neighbor who I grew up with till like four in the morning that night and was like, "Man I'm going to go work at this Pizza Hut, and I fly out tomorrow," and he was like "Man you're an idiot."

I thought a simple life could be beautiful, and if that's the plan and that’s what God wants for me, that’s cool. It was funny cause that night I just kind of said a prayer. I was like, "God. if you want me to do music, open that door. And if not, it's all good." Then the next day, like I could not plan this shit, I got a text from my friend who's like, "Hey I'm in the studio with Jeff Bhasker, and he really loves your music and your voice. Jeff happened to be less than a mile from where I was staying in Venice, so I met him, and he was like, "You're special don't go to Idaho." He ended up being my mentor during that time where we just had conversations that changed the way that I thought about music and the way that I wrote.

OTW: So, when did you take on this moniker of Jagwar Twin. Was it always there or is it something that you recently developed?

Jagwar Twin: It was recent; before I was just Roy English. Jagwar Twin, the whole process of this album, was so different than anything I've ever done, and it was really just me completely letting go and going on a journey in and of myself. Everyone who was involved, from Linus to S1, they are the main producers on the album. Everyone just let go of their egos, and it was the most collaborative effort. The songs, the production, and everything felt like gifts because we were all just one little piece of the puzzle being used to create this whole thing. So, at the end of it, we were up in Arrowhead, and I was talking with S1, and we were just like, "This is big. This is not about the us anymore. This is something else." So, I didn’t feel right putting it out as a Roy English album, as a solo kind of thing, because it's not. It was such a collaborative effort, and all of us feel that way.

I'm really big into Mayan mythology and all sorts of mythology from every different culture and religion. So, I was like the jaguar - that’s what it needs to be, because the jaguar is the creature who looks into the souls of other people and then, in turn, can look back into itself. Humans are just mirrors for each other, so when you really look at somebody you know you understand them a lot more. You really understand that person and because of that you really understand yourself. This whole project coming together was that. It has to be Jaguar and then the twin is the dual nature - the light and the dark, the yin and the yang - that everybody has. It also plays into the fact that I'm a Gemini, so I have the twin thing.

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OTW: Subject to Flooding feels very universal and human. You touch on some really important subjects, especially now of all times. How did the album title come about?

Jagwar Twin: Yeah, as we both know, this time that we are living in is very crazy culturally, politically, environmentally. We're all Subject to Flooding. It’s like something’s going to happen, something’s got to change, or something's going to give. With flooding, there’s both positives and negatives. Flooding brings the silt that causes plants to grow, you could be flooded with love and emotion, but then there’s also that flip side - the twin element where it can also bring destruction and death. But sometimes those things might need to happen so we can pick ourselves up together as a human race. We have the power to do that together when we look at each other and understand each other and focus on how we're similar as opposed to how we're different. I think in our society right now everyone’s focusing on the difference, but we're all tiny ants on this in the universe. Not to sound all hippy, but it's beautiful that we're all here together, and we should value that and value the interactions that we do have with each other and find the similarities.

OTW: "Loser," your first single touched on the idea that we're all basically losers. You essentially sought out to co-opt this term that was negative and turn it on its head. How has the reaction been to that first track?

Jagwar Twin: It's been incredible. It's cool to see young kids resonating with the song or with the message so much. I don’t necessarily like to think about it too much. It flowed out and that was kind of the process of it. The whole album was letting things flow, but I felt like a loser so much growing up and made fun of so much and bullied. It's interesting that kids can feel that authenticity and that realness. I’m so happy that it can help. I've got so many messages from people saying, "This song is really helping me. I felt like I didn't fit in" 

It's taking the word back, exactly like you said. We're all losers and we just need to purpose to see the beauty in that. Yeah! I'm weird. I have this weird thing, and that's cool. You can be yourself. It doesn't matter what your skin color is, your sexual orientation, what you do for a living, how much money you make. it doesn't matter; those things aren't real.  

OTW: With everything going on in the world, is there a certain thing you hope this album can provide to people?

Jagwar Twin: I do hope, just in general, it focuses people on our shared humanity and the ways that we are similar and the ways that we can help uplift each other as a human race, because that’s something that isn't necessarily fostered right now. I think people, in general, are waking up to that, people are starting to wake up a bit and understand empathy more. I hope people focus on that shared humanity through the whole album, cause on the whole there’s not really a single song about the me that I am, everything is us focused on purpose.

OTW: From alternative rock, old-school guitar riffs, to these odd yet charming vocal samples Subject to Flooding really pulls from everywhere. Going into creating the album, were these sounds and influences always there or did it arise from collaborative experience?

Jagwar Twin: It was so collaborative. It's all things I've always loved - the '60s sounding old school guitars - but then there’s the breakbeats that S1 would bring. Linus was such a driving force behind the sound of the album. He's such a genius. Linus comes more from a classic rock world and S1 comes from hip-hop, so it was cool having both of them as elements on this album where we got this very unique sound coming from these recorded children’s choirs and amazing live drummers. We had Travis Barker play, and then Linus chopped up the drums and made it sound like a sample. It was this beautiful, very collaborative process. I don’t think any of us really knew what it was going to sound like going into it, and I think that’s the beauty of it. When you get in the studio and you allow yourself to be free and childlike, that’s when the magic happens.

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OTW: How'd you first come into this world of music? Was it a large part of your upbringing?

Jagwar Twin: Music was always around. Nobody’s a musician in my family, but my mom just loved music, and she would always listen to the most random music. It was like Celtic hymns and chants and then from that to African drum music and then to like world music. I don’t even know where some of the music she listened to would come from. I think I'm a product of the time we grew up, where at any point we could put on any genre, and it’s always accessible. We always had different kinds of music playing everywhere.

OTW: You mentioned earlier your interest in mythology. Where does that spur from?

Jagwar Twin: I guess I've always been really interested in other cultures and religions. Not the differences, but I've been interested in the similarities. All these cultures are talking about so many of the same thing, and I think it’s important to focus on the similarities. Focusing on those things helps you to just understand the world in a better way. When I was young, I wanted to be an Egyptologist. I was such a nerd. I remember making my dad make this sphinx out of clay because I loved it for decoration in my room. I have always been fascinated with that stuff

OTW: It almost seems like destiny that, as someone so interested in a sense of universality, you practice a craft that can be thought of as universal.

Jagwar Twin: Music is such a universal language, and it resonates on a DNA level with people even if you don't know the language. You hear a song and you can feel the emotion. You don’t need language. In some ways, I don’t even really believe in language. Sometimes you can feel more in a person when you don't speak than when you are speaking.

OTW: Do you have anything planned following Subject to Flooding?

Jagwar Twin: I'm trying not to plan anything. I'm just going with it. I mean I'm always making music. Linus and I cook all the time, we're already nine songs deep into the next before even releasing the first one. Music is fun, and it’s such an outlet and a way to inspire yourself and inspire others through that.

OTW: You were photographed with Tommy Hilfiger during New York Fashion Week. Is fashion another artistic endeavor of yours?

Jagwar Twin: It's just another outlet, another form of art. Fashion's interesting too because it seems like such a different world, but everything is really all the same. When you look at design and you look at songwriting, it’s all the same principles, just applied slightly differently.

OTW: So looking at where you are now versus when you were a kid, is there anything you would want say to yourself back then or to any kid out there who feels alone?

Jagwar Twin: I would say it all starts inside yourself and the way you feel about yourself. People will feel that. So, know that you're awesome and know that I'm a loser, and that’s a good thing. You have so much to offer. I would just say believe in yourself because I struggled with depression, and a lot of that is when you're bullied and made fun of, after a while, you start to believe things that people say about you and you can't do that.

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OTW: You have quite the number of tattoos. Do you have a favorite or vivid memory associated to any?

Jagwar Twin: I got this "C" tattoo and it's for one of my best friends in the world, Callum. I got his initial and he got mine on the roof in Bali like monkeys crawling around, but I love this 'I'm not here' one. That was kind of when I was homeless, had no money, and nowhere to go. It's funny cause at the time I felt like nobody sees me, nobody understands me. We always do that. We walk past people on the street, and we don’t even look at them. I'm not one to judge, but I think we do need to pay attention to people and see people, see people for who they are not what they are.

OTW: Any final words you want to say about Subject to Flooding?

Jagwar Twin: I'm just excited for people to hear it and excited for it to be the world's. It's not my album. I can say that over and over again because it feels like something that's outside of myself and all of us on the project from Linus to S1 and everyone who worked on it. We just look at each other like how does this exist in the world.

OTW: Who are your Ones to Watch?

Jagwar Twin: I really love lovelytheband. They've been killing it.

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