We got a new Spotlight – JJ Shiplett. We caught up with JJ to talk about his music and how he’s been keeping busy. His newest release Crossed Fingers is available out on streaming platforms. Check out what he had to say now!
You started performing live at 18, at the Ironwood Stage and Grill, in downtown Calgary. How did you discover the passion for writing and performing, and how do you feel about some of those early shows?
Ahh some of those early shows were the best. I had no clue what I was doing, who I was or how it sounded but they sure were fun. Some nights really got rockin’ and other nights were so chill and that’s stayed with me my whole career, the ability to read the crowd and go with it. The Ironwood has a real special spot in my heart still to this day. The staff(Amanda and Jimmy), Pat (owner), the sound techs (JT)…so many of them have been on the journey with me and supported me from the start. It’s a great spot for a songwriter like myself who just wants people to hear and interpret the lyrics, feel the vibe and that place allows for all of those things to happen.
Do you come from a musical family?
Well I come from a pretty musical family. My parents put an emphasis on the arts for sure – any instrument we wanted to learn, we could. They would find teachers or shows us a few things themselves. Eventually I found my way to the guitar (my father played and sang) and that was it for me. I loved it. We also had a piano set up in our house and my sister used to sit and sing at it for hours. She really introduced me to the type of songs and music that felt most natural to me.
You have had quite the prolific career in a short time- CCMA, Sirius XM, working with Johnny Reid. Have you ever just stopped and had that “I’ve made it moment”? If so, what did it feel like?
Feels like a lifetime. ha. I’m grateful for all the opportunities I have over the years. There’s been my fair share of ups and downs and that’s alright with me – that’s a massive part of songwriting. I keep pushing forward, searching for a better a song that can resonate with people and is true to me. Hopefully one day I’ll be able to take a look back and feel like I accomplished all the things I’ve set out to do. Until then, there’s work to do.
Behind the scenes though, you not too long ago split with your label, which is an intense thing to do. Tell us a bit more about the creative differences that occur behind the scenes?
Most artists have to go through things like that. It’s not always pleasant, it ain’t easy but it’s the journey. Creative differences happen everywhere and more so in the studio. So much of life is learning from past mistakes and finding way’s to move forward. That’s where I’m at, keep your head up and push forward and be grateful for the opportunities you’ve had.
One of the worst things to happen to you as well, occurred in 2017 when your van was robbed in Vancouver. What happened there? Did your equipment ever get returned?
Ah that was a heartbreaker. We had just played a killer sold-out show, saw so many friends and family and then it all gets disrupted by our gear getting stolen. We got some of it back but sadly there’s still a few guitars and stuff out there in the world. Key lesson there is make sure you’ve got good insurance and back that trailer up to the wall no matter what. Also, Vancouver has a bit of a history with gear getting stolen.
The new EP: Fingers Crossed, came out earlier this year in March. Unbeknownst to be released at the height of the pandemic and shutdowns. Before we get into the album itself, how did it feel to have this product that you had put so much work in get eclipsed like that?
It was tough. We had some meetings as a team and decided to push forward with the release. I felt lucky through it all though, so many of the people who have supported me over the years really stepped up and helped spread the word, bought the record, watched the live streams but most importantly, they listened to it. That’s all I’m able to ask of people – just give is a listen. Give it a try.
Fingers Crossed is so cool because it is folk, its country, but it is not generic. It is dirt roads in the summer for sure, but it is not just you, a bottle of Jack and your pickup truck. I am a fan. Tell us about the story behind this album?
Ya I’ve always tried to make my focus about the song more so than the genre. What does this song need, what is it trying to say and then go from there. And that’s me also, I can be a lover but I don’t mind getting dirty too.
“Waiting on the Rain” has been the flagship track off the album- and it has been a hit across the board. Tell us about it, and how it feels after such a slow start to the year to have so much excitement returning to music?
That song comes straight from the heart for me. I wrote it in a time of uncertainty in my personal life (in retrospect it wasn’t that bad of a time considering COVID) and I didn’t have much answers I just knew I wanted to stand a little taller in who I am. The night before we released it with the music video I was in a hotel room and had so much anxiety. I just didn’t know if people would understand what I was trying to say but the response totally overwhelmed me. It was like there was a whole community of people who have so many questions about what the future will bring and we were all able to connect around it. It created a real moment for me personally.
Personal standout tracks for me on the album were Bluejay Highway and probably Northern Lights. What was the inspiration for those songs?
I wrote the chorus of Northern Lights on a red eye plane flying from Toronto to Calgary. I was seated in a window seat looking out to the north and there’s was this incredible view of the northern lights and of course, the night before I spent dancing and having the time of my life…it all come together in that moment and I started to record little voice memos. I’ve listened to them recently and it’s pretty funny. Lots of me trying to be quiet on the plane as every one sleeps.
Bluejay Highways is an old song for me. I wrote it after a breakup when I decided to move back to Calgary the lower mainland. I drove across the rockies and it began to pour out. Years ago I released it on a record that is no longer available so I decided to reach back and see if anyone could relate to it with me again.
During quarantine, you had the Living Room Lock Down sessions. After playing the mainstages and live shows for so long, was it difficult to transition, and what was it like?
It’s not that hard of a transition for me. All my life I’ve been playing guitar for friends so it’s kinda just like that although it is strange when you finish the song and it’s just quite. Dead quite. Everyone’s using their clapping emoji. Technologically it’s not easy and that area is not a strength for me but I’m learning on the fly.
How have you been staying sane over the last few months being indoors and not playing shows?
It’s been a challenge for sure. Like everyone, I’m trying to find my way in this new reality for us. I’ve asked some tough questions and really tried to make sense of it so I don’t go insane. I’ve realized that I love writing songs, I love singing and playing music so I’ve made it my focus. Each day I write, I work on new songs, try new covers and fool around on the guitar. If I don’t, then things go down hill. I’ve got no clue what the future hold and how I’ll survive through it but for right now keeping focused on my craft has been healthy. At the start of covid I really got in to yoga but then decided smoking weed and playing my guitar was cooler. ha.
What are some other forms of self care you suggest to folks?
Smoking weed and playing guitar. That count? I feel pretty fortunate about the community I have around me. They’ve helped so much. I’m not really the person to give advice on self-care because I don’t have a clue but I’d say reach out to your friends, check up on each other, ask questions about how and what they’re up to. Just try and build your community a bit more…sometimes that’s starts with us actually being the one who reaches out.
I saw that you were able to salvage a bit of a tour in the West Coast in BC and AB, how did it feel being back out on the road, and any fun or exciting stories to share?
Ya a few shows came through and it was incredible. All were in small theatres or halls following social distancing rules. I was able to get up and sing my heart out, play the new songs which was amazing. All of the sudden my set lists had lots of options. I made a rough list and then just let the crowd and the vibe of the room lead the way. At the start of the first show I was so nervous and that felt so good. I’ve missed that feeling.
Now that things are slowly reopening, what are some favorite local joints you are excited to get back to? Whether it is bars, restaurants, etc? I’m sure Peppino’s misses you.
I think I’m most excited to hear live music again. Wether it be shows at clubs or arena’s. I just want to hear music again, get inspired by it and see everyone enjoying it. That feeling of coming home at the end of the night where your ears are slighting ringing and your heart is full from great music – I want that. Call me greedy.
What do you want to say to your fans?
Hi mom!. ha. I hope we can get back to enjoying music together soon. I’ve been working my tail off and I’ve got so many things to show you.
This Spotlight – JJ Shiplett is at an end. Big thanks to JJ for taking the time to chat with us.
Check out Crossed Fingers out now!
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