Interviews / Music

Artist to Watch: J.J Leone

London-bred R&B and Pop artist J.J Leone is a man of many talents. Not only did he teach himself how to play the guitar among other instruments, but he’s also been writing music since a very young age. It all started with poetry when he was only 7 years old, and he has only grown more passionate since. Here, we chat with the artist about what inspired him to pick up an instrument in the first place and how he plans to release new music in his own way.
Cliché: When did you first get interested in pursuing music? Did your family influence you in any way?
J.J Leone: My family have always loved music, so I was always around it growing up. My older brother is a musician and my godfather was, too. The best thing about it was it was always really varied. I heard albums from Stevie Wonder to Roots Manuva, Guns N Roses to Seu Jorge, so I learned to appreciate a lot of different styles and take inspiration from a lot of different genres. I enjoyed it, too, but never really thought of doing it myself until my Nan bought me a £20 acoustic guitar from Argos one Christmas! I mucked about with it at first, and didn’t really think it was for me, but my brother encouraged me a lot to learn it, so by the time I started taking it seriously, the strings were all rusty and it was just pretty bashed up in general… still, it meant it toughened my fingers pretty early!

At what age did you recognize that you have a great voice?
Well, I had some poetry published when I was 7, so I think they knew I could write creatively from a pretty young age. In terms of my voice, I suppose it was when the band I was in in high school got endorsed for a tour in Spain when we were like 14. My family started to think then that I could possibly make a living out of this if I put my mind to it. Now, they’ll hear my demos and stuff, but I won’t let them come to a live show. My mum is the only person who can make me nervous!

I think, most of the time, the sound is a reflection of me: pretty laid back, easygoing, and chilled out.

Did you perform in talent shows when you were younger?
Yeah, I performed in one. It was only my school talent show though, and I suppose it was about 10 or 11 years ago now. I did a duet with a girl and we performed “Home” by Michael Buble. I didn’t have enough confidence in my voice at that time to sing the lead, so I played guitar for it and harmonised. We won the whole thing, but for some reason, I never went in for another one!
Are you currently working on an album?
I’m just working on a lot of music right now. There is a steady stream of stuff coming people’s way! I’m not really interested in releasing an album in the conventional way these days. By that I mean setting a release date and promoting it up to that date, because firstly if your name isn’t Drake or Justin Bieber, you ain’t really making money off of album sales! I have enough tracks together to release an album tomorrow, but for now, I’m drip feeding them through with a series of videos and singles, and the album will be released at some point, but not just yet.
Are there any artists in the states or U.K. that you’d like to collaborate with?
I think, for the States, Frank Ocean would probably get my vote. I really dig his style and his vibe is kind of similar to mine in the sense that it’s mostly pretty laid back. It’d be awesome to work with him at some point. There aren’t too many U.K. R&B artists that stand out for me personally. I’d like to do something a little different though, maybe with guys like Paolo Nutini or Passenger. They’re both sick at what they do.
How would you describe your musical style?
I would label it as something I made up: P&R&B, which stands for Pop and R&B. There’s so many sub genres of R&B now that when you type it in Google, you can get anything from The Weeknd to Gary Moore, and most things inbetween! I think you can definitely hear an R&B influence in the way I play guitar and people say my voice is pretty soulful. I think, most of the time, the sound is a reflection of me: pretty laid back, easy going, chilled out, but I’m not that concerned about labels. If you like it, then that’s good enough for me!

There’s so many sub genres of R&B now that when you type it in Google, you can get anything from The Weeknd to Gary Moore.

How did you teach yourself how to play the guitar?
Whatever I’ve learned growing up, as a kid or in work, [didn’t stick] if you talk at me for like 10 hours straight. But if you show me, I’ll pick it up pretty quick. The first part was inspiration. The first time I heard Jimi Hendrix, my mind was blown, and I remember thinking, “I want to do that,” so I sat down and did my best to replicate it! Jimi, James Hetfield (Metallica), and John Frusciante (RHCP) were my main guys for wanting to learn the guitar. Growing up in Norfolk, there wasn’t really much else to do, so I had a great environment for learning new instruments. The first time I heard “Easy Lover” by Phil Collins, it made me want to pick up some drumsticks! The process always remained the same: learn a song that you really like, which in turn means you’ll pick up certain techniques, then try to apply it to other styles of music.
Tell us something about you that most people don’t know.
This might sound quite strange, but I’m not a massive fan of crowds. I always prefer being somewhere quiet where you can take your time and appreciate everything around you… but in a musical sense, performing to crowds really doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I love it! I’m actually more nervous of playing in a room to 3 people than 30,000!
All the ladies will want to know: are you single?
Yes, I am single! And actually, I’m being told a lot lately that I look like Tom Hiddleston from The Night Manager, and from what I gather that girls dig him! It’s hard to juggle a relationship and doing this music thing though. If I’m not on the road doing shows, I’m locked away in the studio for months at a time. There’s not many women who would stand for that! Who knows, maybe someone will surprise me though.
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Artist to Watch: J.J Leone: Photographed by Joe James Photography

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