5 surprising facts about JJ Wilde, the 1st-time Juno nominee dominating the rock charts
Would you believe this raspy-voiced, guitar-beating force used to suffer from stage fright?
Hit play on our brand new The Intro stream, filled with songs from artists featured on CBC Music's emerging artist series.
On March 9, when JJ Wilde received her first Juno Award nomination, it was the crowning achievement of a tremendously successful year for the rock musician from Kitchener-Waterloo.
She's nominated for rock album of the year for Ruthless, her debut full-length that includes the single "The Rush," which simultaneously reached No. 1 on Canada's modern rock, active rock and mainstream rock charts last May. It's the first time a woman has reached this milestone.
"It was an unimaginable high," Wilde told CBC Music recently, describing the day she heard the news. "I felt so much joy. I just started laughing and I think I cried — it was a burst of I don't even know what kind of emotions. It was insane."
Wilde has since released the single "Mercy," a gritty tale of revenge on a neighbour who used to spy on her. "I would daydream about throwing rocks through his window. I would think about driving my car into the apartment, like, just crazy things, because he had taken something from me that I didn't think I could get back: a sense of security, a sense of safety, everything," she explained. "I used to see him in places where he wasn't, you know what I mean? So for me, this song is the sweetest revenge because I didn't have to do any of those things. I got over it and I was able to carry on. And now when I hear it on the radio, it makes me emotional every time because that was probably the darkest point in my life. And now it has become something amazing and he had nothing to do with it."
It's that level of personal investment in her material that's attracting fans in droves to Wilde's authentic and thrilling brand of power rock.
Wilde spoke with CBC Music ahead of her appearance on The Intro, streaming above. Here are five surprising things we learned.
1. She used to suffer from stage fright
You wouldn't know it now, but when she was just starting out, Wilde suffered from crippling stage fright. "The first time I played music for a crowd, I was in high school and I had such bad stage fright I would shake," she recalls. "I didn't think that I would ever be a performer."
Fortunately, a teacher took an interest. "His name was Mr. Nicholls. He would host these coffeehouses once a month in the drama room [and] all the kids would come in and you could do a monologue, you could sing a song, pretty much anything for self-expression. And he basically said, 'You know, if you want to play, but you're too scared, I'll learn the guitar part so that you can sing.' And I was like, 'No, no, I don't want to do it. I'm scared.' And so he kind of forced me into it. I've never forgotten that because I don't think I would have taken that first step by myself."
2. She was 'discovered' at a college open-mic night
Wilde spent a year in Sheridan College's performing arts preparation program, where her friends convinced her to perform at an open-mic night. "Chuck Erman was the event coordinator and he heard me play from his office and sent his assistant to say, 'Wait 'til the end of the show, the organiser wants to talk to you.' And he ended up saying, 'You know, it takes a lot for me to stop what I'm doing and listen to these open mics. I want to help you.' And so, he got me my first gigs playing around colleges — a couple of different things that sparked my love and interest in performing. So it really got the ball rolling. He was helping me book gigs for I don't even know how long. A long time."
3. Early on, she learned a humbling lesson about professionalism
"On one of my first tours that I had done, myself and my band were all super excited and just couldn't believe that we were there," Wilde recounts. "It was a big tour. We were kind of acting like idiots — drinking beer onstage for the soundcheck, just running amok like kids in a candy store.
"And I remember our tour manager, who was very seasoned and had done a lot of tours in Canada, the States, all of that. And his advice was like, 'What are you doing? Do you want them to think it's your first time? It's fun and it's rock 'n' roll and stuff, but if you piss off the stage guys, if you piss off the crew, you're not going to have a good tour. So hide the beers in the back room until you go on.' He just laid it out. And all of us were sitting there like, 'Oh, man, I feel like a child.' That's my most memorable piece of advice."
4. Teachers told her she didn't have a good singing voice
Wilde says her college program was geared toward music theatre. "[But] I didn't do it for music theatre; I just wanted to get my foot in the door," she explains. "And so, many of the professors and music coaches said, 'You don't have a good singing voice, it's too low, or it's not [suitable for] music theatre, or you have a lazy voice.'" So Wilde looked to singers like Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse for inspiration. "I always gravitated toward the women in music [who] had that low rasp and it was working. They didn't have to listen to anybody. Those two were huge influences for me."
5. She wrote her biggest hit while hungover and rushing to get to work
"I was working three part-time jobs and doing music on the side. I was working as a bartender at a music venue, a waitress at a pub and a receptionist at a spa. I hated the receptionist job, but I liked the bartending job because I got to watch live music. It was really fun and social. So after our shift, my bartending friends and I closed down the bar and went out, as we usually did. And I had to be [at the receptionist job] at 8 a.m. the next day.
"So 'Rush' is literally me, waking up in the clothes from last night and going, 'Oh, I'm late,' running through my apartment, trying to get ready, hungover and stumbling. And because at this point I was just done with that [receptionist] job anyway, and trying to take music seriously and really trying to put everything I had into it, I stopped. I grabbed my guitar and just did this little mumbly thing. And then I was late for work. I sent it to my producer, and he picked out this little mumbly voice note and he goes, 'There's something in there.' So we got together when I had gone back to L.A. and he goes, 'What was this all about?' And I told him the story. It was just, 'What happened the night before? What happened that day?' and we just wrote out everything. It still makes me smile when I think about the lyrics because it was just a hungover morning, like, we've all been there."
Wherever you are in the world, you can watch the 2021 Juno Awards on Sunday, June 6. You can watch live on CBC TV and CBC Gem, listen on CBC Radio One and CBC Music and stream globally at CBCMusic.ca/junos.