Jerone - Interview With A Rising Star
12/08/2020 by Gardy Stein
There is a whole lot of talent out there - and a lot of it remains hidden. Think of competition shows like The X Factor, The Voice etc. what you will, they do give people an opportunity to showcase their talents to the public. Christopher Martin, Romain Virgo, Shuga and Dalton Harris are some of the names that won the Digicel Rising Stars contest in Jamaica, and they have established themselves as big voices subsequently. One of the finalists of the 2017 edition is Jerone Riley aka Jerone, but his amazing vocal talent was discovered even before that.
Being at the right place in the right time back in 2016, he was approached by Munchy and Alex (the founders of Germany's Real People Music label), and they worked on his debut EP ever since. Their collaboration has now come to fruition - Rising is out, presenting five tracks of remarkable quality to the world.
Reggaeville linked up with the likeable young man to get a glimpse of his inspirations, aspirations, motivations and visions:
Greetings Jerone! How are you? How do you feel now that your debut EP is released?
Honestly, it's a really great feeling. I've been doing music for a while now, I started my solo carreer about 4 years ago, and since then I've been working with Munchy and Alex of Real People Music, so we've been working on this EP for some time, probably three years now... no, four years! We recorded one of the tracks in 2016. To see this finally completed is just a great joy.
How did you meet them anyway?
You know, it was actually through Chevaughn and Mackeehan. They were doing a live performance for the program Munchy has, Munchy's Yaad and I was doing some background vocals for them. Munchy heard it and said "You know what, I really like your voice! We are looking to work with young artists now, would you be interested?" and here I am.
Before we talk about the EP, I wanted to ask about your childhood, your youth. When did you start doing music and when did the idea of doing it professionally first come up?
I grew up in Waterhouse, as many other musicians can attest, I was brought up in the church as well, where a lot of my musical foundations grew. That's where I first experienced music, through singing and playing instruments. And then also in primary school, I started singing at functions, going out and singing at different events. There was a point where I was in a Gospel musical group called Total Praise, and we were travelling all across the island, performing. I was about 10, 11 then. So that kind a put me ahead in a sense with music, that gave me a taste of performance lifestyle. And ever since, I really really fell in love with music.
Since then, I have been working on my craft, always trying to better myself with music, whether it is through singing or playing instruments. But it's just a real joy! And as I said, growing up in Waterhouse, there is a strong Dancehall and Reggae influence there, as you know, about the whole Soundsystem environment. There are times when I can lay in my bed and I can hear like 4 or 5 parties going on all at once, different areas, so I can choose which one to listen to. (laughs) Those kind of experiences really created some kind of foundation within me and music.
And were your parents always supportive of that?
My parents are really supportive. My father actually loves music as well. My older sister Deondra is also a background vocalist, she is the one who even brought me into doing background vocals. She's done some work with a lot of well-known artists, so she brought me into it. They were suppportive of her, and when I pretty much followed suit, the support came right back to me as well.
What instruments did you learn?
You know, how that even started, I was self-taught. It was through the singing. I had a little Casio keyboard at home. Back then there wasn't any YouTube for me to go on, so I would just sing, pick out the notes and find the scales. Then I would sing a note, find a harmony so that I could find the triads and then from there I just learned more and more. In church there was a musician, and after figuring out some stuff, I went to him and said "Hey, show me a bit more!" and he helped to grow me into playing a bit better with the keyboard. And then a couple of years after, my father had an old guitar, that... it was just... it was bad (laughs). So I bought and replaced the strings and some other parts on the guitar, then I started working with YouTube, learning the simple chords, then I went on to the Barré chords...
I think self taught is best sometimes! Then the next big step on your way to become an artist was your participation in the Digicel Rising Stars - what made you enter the contest?
Alright, so... at first I was always reluctant to enter into Rising Stars because I didn't want to be another Rising Stars artist, but over the years people kept encouraging me, saying "Hey, go to Rising Stars, you have the talent, show it to the world!" and I said ok let me do it because it is really a big platform and I can showcase my talent. When I went the first time in 2016, I didn't go through. A lot of people don't even know this, I didn't pass the auditions. I went back in 2017 and I blew the judges away in the auditions and in the first performance, moving forward. So with that, trust me, it was a really great experience. I learned a lot! And there was a whole lot of discipline involved, because you have to go out campaigning, still you have to learn the songs each week, because it's a new song each week, sometimes you don't even know the songs so you have to learn them from scratch. And still you are out all day, sometimes I'm out from seven in the morning and I'm going back in at three in the morning, just out there campaigning and still having to learn. There was a whole lot of discipline involved, just really dedicating your life to your art, and that taught me a whole lot and showed me that people are really supportive. Like, the general public, people want to see people win! That helped me to see people, right, as people. Showing that people actually care about people and not all that you see is negative, although a lot of times the negative is highlighted. There are great people still left in the world.
True. One big part of participating and winning the people over is the appearance and performance I guess... I watched some footage from back then where you have this outfit with the blue and yellow that you even chose as EP cover now. Would you say you are a fashion person or did you have people around you who advised you what to wear and how to style yourself?
For the competition, there was a styling. For that first outfit though, we didn't have the stylist just yet. But I was advised to wear that, to wear an outfit that would really pop and stand out. And it really stood out because, no matter where I went, it was "Oh that's the guy with the yellow pants!" (laughs) And as you said, I chose that for the EP cover because a lot of people can identify me with that outfit, once they see that they say "Oh that's the guy from Rising Stars!" And I kind of payed a whole lot of hommage to Rising Stars for that EP because, as you know, I named it Rising.
Yes, that would have been my next question...
So, one of the reasons is, as I said, a lot of people would remember me from Rising Stars. And then the whole mattere of rising... I'm still a star that's rising. I haven't made it to the top yet, but I'm working on getting there and hopefully it will soon happen.
It is a great EP and I'm glad we have reached there now to talk about. You said you have worked on it for the last 4 years. How can we imagine the process, did Real People Music send the riddims over and you chose the ones that are on the EP now?
Alex actually sent me some of his tracks over the years. As soon as he'd created a track or if he had an idea for a new one, he'd send it to me and say "Hey do you like this one? Should we record it, do you have something on this one?" So he sent it to me, and sometimes it took me months to get anything at all on the track, honestly. There was even a point where, for two of the songs, I actually wrote them in one night. He sent me the riddims months upon months and I've been here trying and trying and nothing was coming, right... and when they came to Jamaica, he was like "Jerone, do you have anything on the riddim?" and I said "Yeah man!" (laughs) and he said "When can we go record?" and I said "Tomorrow!" I didn't really have anything, but that night I stayed up pretty much all night and I woke up early to complete the songs. Those were Brother's Keeper and Give Me A Minute, so those were written pretty much in one night.
Crazy! But yeah, sometimes it's good to work with a little bit of pressure, like a deadline you have to fulfil or whatever, it can give you a certain focus... Brother's Keeper is one of the first songs that was released as a single. It wasn't only the song that touched me but also the message, and when I watched the video, I found out it's part of a whole campaign you set up. Can you tell us about the school tour you did?
Alright, so... for Brother's Keeper, as you can notice with the video, I used some students. Those are students from a school that I used to teach in, St. Particks Primary School, so those are actually my students. And I chose them because of the message being your brother's keeper, it will resonate with the older folks, the grown ups, the adults, but I want it to carry on throughout the generations. If you teach the younger ones to be their brother's keeper from early on, as the bible says "Train a child in the way it should go, and if he's older he'll never depart from it.", so if you teach them that from when they are younger, they will always have that in the back of their mind, always looking out for someone elese.
And from the video shoot in Kingston, how did that develop into a school tour?
Yeah, so, after we did the video and I saw the reception from my school, I said I really don't want to just leave it at this, I have to spread the message! Because, as I said, I wanted it to go through the generations, and one school alone won't do it. So I chose some other primary schools in and around my area, introduced the children to the concept, had them singing the song... As you know, when you sing something it resonates, even if you don't think about it, you are thinking about it. So I pretty much just tried to plant a seed, be your brother's keeper, into as many kids as I could.
I think that's very important! The only feature on the EP is Search is Over with Evie from No Maddz... did you know him before?
Evie is a great friend of mine, you know... he knew that I was working on the project and he jokingly said "Jerone, if you want a collab, link me!" And when I heard the riddim, the Marching riddim, I thought "Oh me a go link Evie pon dis one, mek me call him." And I called him up and he was like "Yeah man, let's do it!". Then I went up to his house, we really just sat down and wrote it, it was a great vibe creating this track. Even laying down the track in studio was a vibe again, and the video shoot was a great one as well... as you see in the video... no, you wouldn't have seen that yet because it's not released.
No, I haven't seen it yet...
So the video, look out for that, it will release in the next couple of weeks.
The track is very educative... was that intentional?
Kind of! We wanted it to be different, and knowing the type of music Evie does, really preaching and teaching about our blackness, being true to who you are, right, as the black race, a lot of times people... I don't even want to say look down, but they don't appreciate their race as much as they should. So people take on things that can harm themselves and deface themselves, so we wanted for them to really appreciate being black, knowing that there are attributes to being black, there is great history with black people! We made mention of a couple of the black stalwarts, right, just pretty much showing that a lot of great things come from black people as well.
Definitely. And what made you choose the metaphor of the Christmas Tree?
(laughs) You know, I actually had a little battle with this part as well, but, you know, a Christmas Tree actually stands tall, so I say "Stand tall!".
It fits the season definitely. One of my favourite songs is Keep You Safe. I see the cardboard behind you that you used in the video...
Yes, one of the guys who was on set, Perty, he is an artist. And in the morning he just brought it and said "You know, last night I just had a vibe and I did a one likkle painting." and he just brought this, so we used it in the video.
I think there is a video for every track now, right? Which one was most fun to shoot?
Most fun to shoot? I would say Keep You Safe. The whole journey, even finding the location. It was me, my manager Jermaine Miller and the cinematographer, the director, Dennis Fyffe, we said alright we need to find a great location, so we decided to go to Portland because it has some really great scenery. So we just got in the car, drove out, we didn't know where we were going, and luckily we found a great location. We went back on the day, the crew was amazing, big up to Zhayna, the lead actress, she has a new song out as well, so check her out. That was just a great day, the whole shooting, everything was great about that day.
Talking about your musical influences... some parts in the song Brother's Keeper reminded me of Stylin' by Protoje. Would you say that he has a big influence on you?
You know, before now I wouldn't even say so, but come to think of it... I've been a great fan of Protoje over the years since he released 7 Year Itch, I've been following his career.
Yes, I saw a cover you did on your IG from the Ancient Future album.
Way back when! Which one was it, I think it's the one with Mortimer, Protection... Memory lane! But yeah, I've been a great fan of him as well, so he is an influence, yes.
Who else do you listen to, who is your favourite artist right now?
I'm not sure if I have a favourite artist, you know, because my scope of music is pretty broad... so I listen to both local and international music, any genre of music whether it is Reggae, Pop, R&B, Jazz, whatever it is. Over the years I have been listening Romain Virgo, Chris Martin, Chronixx, Imagine Dragons... a whole lot of artists, it's a broad scope.
Coming back to your music... normally, the next step would be a showcase or a tour, but we can't do that right now, so what is your vision for your EP for the next months?
Alright, so I'm actually considering doing a live show, a virtual live show, cause as you know, currently we can't do any live shows. It pains my heart! Corona needs to go man, Corona needs to go!
Fi real! Especially Kool It Down, it brings you in such a dancing mood!
Yes, cause the whole vibe of Kool It Down is just Rub-a-Dub (sings), and those gatherings aren't happening, so what you have to do is just play it at home and pretend you had a party.
And dance with the pillow! (laughs) Hopefully a lot of people listen to the album and give you feedback... what feedback did you get so far?
The feedback is great, you know, as I said we've been working on the EP for a couple of years, Keep You Safe was the first one to be recorded... so my close friends and family, the people in my circle have been hearing the songs, have been giving me feedback, and overall is pretty good.
May you continue to rise musically! Just in case that it doesn't work out as you wish and plan, is there a Plan B? Like, you said you are teaching, is that something you can imagine for your future?
Currently I'm not teaching, you know, but there was a point when I was doing music full time. Plan B... I don't really have a Plan B, cause I think if you work hard enough at Plan A, it will work, you will find a way to make it work. A lot of times there are going to be hickups, things aren't going to go smoothly, you will fall on your face at times, but always have Plan A in mind. Cause even now, Corona, that really threw off a whole lot of artists, cause as you know, a lot of artists thrive from live performances, they get paid through live shows and there aren't any or very few now that they get paid from. So a lot of artists have to be finding very innovative ways of making money cause there are bills that still have to be paid, and although we are trying to live the dream, we are not living in a dream, it's real life. So there are responsibilities. But... Plan A, Plan A, Plan A for me.
Great, thank you for the insights. I'm through actually, is there anything you wish to add?
I just want to say, work hard at your dreams. As I just said, Plan A it is! There are going to be hickups and shortfalls at times, but just keep on working, keep on believing, and once you believe in yourself and you're doing the right work, not just keeping busy.... keeping busy is different from working hard. So, work hard at your dreams, find ways to make it happen, just keep believing as well.