Since joining forces, creative artists Atay & JAX have written and released a mighty collection of original tracks. We caught an interview with the duo to find out more about their journey, their music, and their hopes for the future. Here’s the conversation in full.
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How did you guys meet, and what prompted you to collaborate musically?
JAX: Atay actually reached out to me first, sending me a message on Instagram about my recently released EP. We talked for a bit about him producing and featuring on a song of mine, but nothing ever came of it. I ended up doing a show in Halifax a couple months later and Atay came out and filmed it for me. We got to talking again and eventually got in the studio with one another. Our styles and music genres are so different and we both knew it upon listening to each other rap, but that’s what made it so intriguing to work together.
This is a fairly eclectic album, some light and optimistic moments, some a little heavier, faster paced. How do you decide which direction to take things in?
Atay: The pace of the album sort of set itself. Not sure how else to explain it. I’ve made a few projects on my own and had to think very hard about how I wanted to implement styles to achieve a certain pace. With Honey, the vibe came naturally. I think it had to do with how long JAX was writing it, but I also think the collaboration process made things feel that much more coherent and genuine. There wasn’t a single moment during production that I was worried about the flow of songs, everything felt like Honey.
JAX: If I’m entirely honest, I had no idea what I was doing, I was in an incredibly unique and strange time of my life while writing this album, amazing and terrible things were happening to me throughout the year, and I think that played a huge part in why the album feels so omnidirectional. I didn’t have a plan; I just wrote the songs about how I was feeling at the time, whether it was good or bad. It’s really cool to see the story arch of my 19 year old life play throughout the album.
Despite your indie status, this sounds like a skillful, high-production project. How long was the album in the making, and how did you manage to get such a professional and clean finish in every case?
Atay: The album took just under half a year to make from start to finish. I think the high quality sounds comes from the hours and hours I put in learning to be a producer / engineer. I wish I could say that there’s some magical way to get better at this stage of the process, but trusting your ears remains the biggest piece of advice I can give. If it sounds good, it sounds good.
What can you tell us about the track Pellet Gun?
JAX: Pellet Gun was a track that I had pitched to Atay in April, I wanted it to be the only feature on my album, and if I’m entirely honest I wasn’t even sure if people would like it, given how different it was to my previous music. I told him I had a song about embracing the inner goofy white boy inside of us, and as soon as he sent me his verse, I knew we had something special on our hands. Pellet Gun is our most popular song to date with over 60,000 streams on all platforms.
How have you honed your abilities as performers, writers and artists over time, and do you still feel there is something left to learn or develop?
Atay: My voice has taken so long to get used to. Even still, I’m learning how to use it the way I like. I didn’t hit puberty until about 17 or 18, so I was at a disadvantage having to wait for my voice to drop. I feel like I am just now hitting my real style as a rapper.
JAX: Comparing my music and my live shows from when I was 16 to being 20 is a no contest. In those 4 years I learned so much and developed my persona, stage presence and writing style. I personally believe that I have so much left to learn, and I hope I never hit the point where I feel like I’ve done it all. I want to be the kind of artist that is always trying new things, never accepting being stuck at a peak. I think there’s always time to grow and really hone in on your craft.
Which artists would you say have inspired you the most, and what are your thoughts on the current hip hop landscape?
Atay: I remember downloading K.I.D.S from Datpiff.com in 2010 and putting it on my mp3 player. Mac Miller will forever be my biggest inspiration. His honest writing and fearlessness to test genres is insane. The current state of Rap is crazy. I didn’t expect the direction it took, but I’m constantly impressed by how weirdly and confidently new artists can create waves. All sorts of genres are beginning to flood into hip-hop, and I think that’s super awesome. I’m excited to test the waters myself, not just as a vocalist but as a producer as well.
JAX: For me personally it would be KYLE, not only has his music helped me through some incredibly dark times in my life, it’s the reason I never gave up, and for that I will always be grateful. None of this would be happening without his influence and help. I think that the landscape in hip-hop today is a little difficult. You got people glorifying drugs and violence, people rapping about what they’re not really living, people copying each other and being clones, and I think that kind of style will run out soon. I don’t necessarily think its bad music, I just think if all of those people tried to find their own unique style, we would have a way more diverse and interesting hip hop culture in mainstream music.
In what ways do you think growing up in Nova Scotia has influenced you as artists and as individuals?
Atay: The small city / small town mindset creates a sort of chip on your shoulder, not just as a Canadian but a Nova Scotian. The idea that it’s almost impossible to make it as a rapper from Nova Scotia is motivating. I think the rarity in Rappers here inspires me to be the first of my kind in a sense.
JAX: I think being born in Nova Scotia was a blessing. To be this connected and close to all our friends and family has helped us grow tremendously. Growing up in a small town we didn’t have a lot of rappers, I was the first person to step up in my community and start a movement like this, and I don’t think it would have worked as well anywhere else. Lunenburg has given so much to me and hopefully one day I can give it something back.
How important is live performance for you, and where can fans catch a live show in the near future?
Atay: I had always been so afraid of performing until I did with JAX. Since starting, I’ve fallen in love with it, and can’t wait to bring new songs to the stage.
JAX: I used to be terrified of live performance and if I’m honest with you I still am. But being on stage in front of a crowd and having them scream your lyrics back at you is the most surreal feeling in the entire world. I never want to stop doing live shows, the confidence and energy it gives me is crazy, and I hope to make sure everyone at my shows has an amazing time. You can expect to see me and Atay performing in Halifax, Bridgewater, and a university tour across Atlantic Canada.
Where would be your dream venue to perform, and why?
Atay: Anywhere in the US. I want us to reach a level where we’re playing any venue outside of Canada. That almost marks the point of no return, where music finally becomes a job.
JAX: I personally have always wanted to do a show at Coachella. I have never been and it’s always been a dream of mine. Between the vibe, the atmosphere and the venue itself, I think it would just be a life changing experience to get to be a part of.
What would you change about the music industry if you could?
Atay: I wish that people championed their local artists the way they do sports teams. I have also found that people are usually less likely to enjoy a local artist than an artist they find from away.
Which of the tracks on the project would you play to a new listener who only has time for one, and why?
Atay: Personally I would play Catching Feelings. Even though I’m not on it, it remains my favourite on Honey. It feels like a title track to me, it encapsulates so much of what the album brings. The genuine lyrics and frustrated undertones ring so true to who Jaxon was at the time when he wrote it. Seriously impressive.
JAX: I think I would play them Romeo & Juliet, there’s something so real about that song that you could not fake no matter how hard you tried. The versatility in the verses and the switches between singing, fast wordplay and slow rap really showcases every aspect of mine and Atay’s styles.
Which track is your favourite to perform?
Atay: As of now, Pellet Gun is a no-brainer, but I think with the release of our next project there will be a few songs that hit even harder. The audience reactions and interactions make the songs fun to perform. The shows create a new personality to the songs that they wouldn’t have otherwise.
JAX: Pellet Gun is by far my favorite song to perform live, the energy we can both bring and the hype that we can get the crowd involved in makes it the perfect party song. Also I’ve gotten in the habit of taking my shirt off and throwing it in the crowd every time we do the song, and the crowd loves it just as much as I do.
Do either of you play any instruments, and would an acoustic, stripped-back performance ever be on the cards?
Atay: This is something we’re looking into for sure. I produced all of my own albums up until this point, but hilariously cannot play any particular instrument very well.
JAX: I grew up playing the guitar, but my favourite instrument is the ukulele. Beyond rapping I love to sing and write originals and I’m hoping to implement it into my music.
If you could sit down to lunch with anyone at all, who would it be, and what would you ask them about?
Atay: I would sit down with 50 Cent. Somehow he has the funniest instagram ever. Really though, it’s how happy he has seemed to be long term that fascinates me. His life doesn’t really make a lot of sense, but he always seems to stay content, I would want to ask about that the most.
JAX: I would sit down with MF DOOM, when I first started rapping, he was a huge influence on my style and lyrics. I’ve listened to every album of his religiously and I think he is the most interesting and complex human being. I would ask him about his life and everything that got him to where he is today.
What does 2020 have in store?
Atay: 2020 brings the funnest album i’ve ever gotten to work on. I can’t wait to play the songs live and show people just how hard we have worked to get here. 2020 has new music videos, new solo projects, and so much more experimentation.
JAX: Big things are coming in the 2020, between the album, the live shows and everything in between, I truly believe the world is ready to see me and Atay.
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