An Interview With The LA-Based Singer-Songwriter JAKI NELSON On New Music Including a Covid-19 Related Parody, ‘(Don’t Get) Physical’!
Two time Top 10, four-time Billboard charting pop/dance artist Jaki Nelson is a singer-songwriter from Los Angeles. Her single, “What We Wanna Do” spent six weeks on the Billboard Dance Club Songs Chart and peaked at #29. Her follow-up single, “Uh Oh”, spent 12 weeks on the same chart and peaked at #9. It was also featured numerous times as a Spotify Discover Weekly track. Jaki has performed at NY Fashion Week (2016/2017), LA Fashion Week (2017) and prestigious clubs including TigerHeat at the legendary Avalon Hollywood in 2018 & 2019 as well as LA Pride Weekend (2018) and a headlining spot on the main stage with powerhouse DJ Hector Fonseca (Beyonce, Rihanna) at San Francisco Pride (2018). In 2018, Jaki released “Dancing With Strangers”, written and produced with GRAMMY winner Dave Aude who has created over 120 #1 Billboard dance remixes (Madonna, Lady Gaga, Britney Spears, Rihanna). “Dancing With Strangers” peaked at #10 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs Chart and was the only single by an independent artist in the top ten for her week.
Now, Jaki is debuting her track “High Wasted” by Rayne & Jaki Nelson, produced and co-written with Rayne (“America’s Got Talent”). The “High Wasted” music video continues the story in “Dancing With Strangers” as a prequel.
More recently, since nearly 40 percent of hospitalized Coronavirus patients are as young as 20, according to the CDC, Jaki Nelson, who has an underlying health condition, wanted to get the word out to young people with, “(Don’t Get) Physical”, a 20-second musical hand-washing PSA. The track is a parody of Dua Lipa’s “Physical” that also features Loris (“The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula”, Season 1) as “Corona” with a cameo from Billboard artist Joey Suarez.
Check out the videos for it here-20-second
Short version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjYP-P6mszk&feature=youtu.be
Learn more about Jaki Nelson in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today, Jaki. So how are you keeping busy and musical these days during this crazy Covid-19 pandemic? How are you staying connected to your fans?
Thank you for having me. I have a studio at home, so I haven’t slowed down much. I also started hosting a weekly talk show on my Instagram live to connect with my fans and keep them up to date with me and what’s going on in the world.
What kind of music do you think is going to come out of these crazy times? Are you working on anything new right now?
This is a period in the human experience that is uncharted territory. Never in history has such a large section of the human race been forced to sit at home and reflect while still staying so connected to everyone else. A lot of the musical landscape coming out of this will have to do with the need to get out and experience what makes us human. Human contact will likely be a big one.
Can you recall the moment when you thought you could be a musician? What do you think motivates you day in and day out? How has that changed over the years?
I was 17 and my boyfriend at the time was showing me how to use a DAW (the program used to produce music). I was instantly hooked. I started using ALL my spare time to write and produce music, and I remember there was this one moment – I had just skipped lunch at school to keep working on a track, had to go back to class and I remember thinking “what a waste of my time, I already know what I want to do.” And that was the first time in my life that I knew what I wanted to do. Through the process of ingratiating myself into the music lifestyle, it became too much for me to be the songwriter, singer, engineer, producer, mixer AND masterer, so I let go of everything except singing and songwriting for a while. At the time, I didn’t understand how much of my motivation was coming from the production of the songs. I’ve been able to get back to that recently, and I’ve never felt more in my element.
How do you think your hometown has influenced the kind of music that you make? If not, why is that?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles, so that has a lot to do with it. In middle school, I had an older friend who told me about this music festival he was going to called Electric Daisy Carnival. (This is when EDC was still in Laos Angeles) The way he described it, it sounded like magic. I was already lightly into what would later be called EDM, but it gave me this weird obsession with going to a rave. I informed my family in my freshman year of high school that I was going to go to “Together As One”, a rave at The Coliseum on New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t a question. I was going. Maybe it’s because I had almost died that same year. But mom didn’t fight me. She just sent my adult sister to go with me and make sure I was safe. After that, dance music and pop was all I listened to.
I’m curious to know more about what it was like discovering music while you were recovering from a terrible horseback riding accident at just 14-years-old. What was that time like for you? Was it music that truly got you through it all?
Right, so that was the almost dying thing. At the same time as I was obsessing over raves, I was also physically incapable of any physical activity for four months. My mom ran a music school throughout my middle and high school years, I’d been a full-time equestrian athlete, but since I couldn’t do that anymore, it was either pick up an instrument or sit in the lobby and stare at the wall. I had taken piano before, but it didn’t stick until I had some real emotional and physical pain to work through.
Growing up, how important was music in your life? Was your family and friends supportive of this career choice? If you weren’t a musician today, could you see yourself doing anything else?
Music is my family’s second language. My Dad was a rock-n-roller back in the 70s and early 80s and he toured with huge acts like The Beach Boys and Tanya Tucker. They were very supportive of my music career. They watched me buy myself a recording studio setup with the money I was making at the front desk of the music school. I got my first song placed on a label within four months of graduating. I can’t see myself in any other profession. Music is literally everything I do.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all? What has been the best part?
When you go into music, it’s really easy to think you have to be a certain way, talk a certain way, etc. It’s easy to think that you have to be someone that is not you. But that’s just not what makes a music career work. The more I find myself and stop hiding it from my fans, the more music I do and that’s difficult in and of itself.
Let’s talk about your newest and very appropriate for these times single, “(Don’t Get) Physical.” How and why did you come up with this 20-second musical hand-washing PSA? What was it like working with Loris (“The Boulet Brothers’ Dragula”) on it?
My creative director, Leo Madrid, was out and about one of the last nights before the quarantine started. He heard a DJ play “Physical” and he was making jokes about how it should be re-written. He immediately called me in the middle of the night. I got to work on it the next day and finished it the next day. We made the video the day after we put out the song, and had the hand washing PSA out the day after that. I loved working with Loris. Her physical comedy is so spot on. She had us in stitches all day. At one point, I was telling her about my pre-existing conditions and how they make me particularly susceptible to diseases like Coronavirus and she commented that she really hadn’t thought about someone like me (young, active) being seriously at risk. That conversation really put the project into perspective, and it became my mission to help other people understand that it’s not just the elderly that are in danger.
Looks like you had a lot of fun making the music video! How creatively involved with the whole process were you?
I rewrote the lyrics with some input from my creative director, and recorded and mixed the whole thing at my home studio. My creative director came up with the whole video idea with Loris, and he edited it inside of 24 hours. I gave him a couple notes, but that’s about it. I’m very much on the music side of things, and he takes care of the visual side.
Do you have plans to release more new music soon and a full collection of new songs?
I do. I have a new song coming out April 20 with Nick Ledesma and Dante Levo called “Broken Parts”. After that, I’ll have a new single coming out. “Give Me Tonight” was originally produced and written by multi-platinum producer Lars Jensen and released by Darin. The song went #1 in Sweden despite not being a single off the album. Now, I’ve re-produced it and will be releasing it with my own spin. It’s going to be a lot of fun.
I read that you have a unique coming-out story and in fact, you came out as bisexual on stage in front of several hundred people. What was that experience like for you exactly? How did your parents who were in the audience react to this news? Why did you want to reveal this about yourself on stage like this?
I wouldn’t say that I really set out to come out. I had just heard “Boys” by Charli XCX for the first time, and I wanted to make a bisexual remix cover of it. I was in the closet, but it just didn’t occur to me that this would be my coming out. I brought the idea to a producer friend of mine, Oscar Del Amor, and we busted it out. The second we had it done, I was offered a show at Tigerheat at the Avalon in Los Angeles where a lot of artists including Lady Gaga have performed. My mom happened to be in town and wanted to see the show. I had anxiety. I literally embodied it. I had the shakes, I was turning green, I actually got myself sick for a week after. When I walked out, I asked the audience who likes boys and who likes girls, and then I said that I like both. I don’t think she really got what I was saying, though. When I went to say hi after the show, all I got was a “I have a flight in four hours. I have to go home and go to sleep, but you did great.” We didn’t talk about it for a while after that, but my parents are very supportive.
How do you think you have grown as a musician since you first started making music?
I have given up on the idea that a musician is just a musician. As a musician, I am also a music theorist, classical pianist, songwriter, producer, engineer, recording artist and social media influencer.
How do you feel about social media? What do you think social media has done for your career so far? What is it like keeping up with all your different accounts? What is your favorite way to connect with fans?
Social media is the reason I have a career. It’s the reason I got that first big song when I was 18. It can be a lot to keep up with, and I try my best, but I make sure I’m always checking my Instagram DMs. I want my fans to feel like they can talk to me. I often find myself giving my fans a lot of life advice. Upon request, I send videos and say hi and say their name so they can show their friends. I want to be accessible.
What musicians would you absolutely love to work with in the future? Who has been inspiring you and the music that you make?
Dua Lipa has been the biggest inspiration lately. I love the live feel she’s been introducing back into the pop music world. That’s part of why I was so excited to make the “Don’t Get Physical” cover.
Where would you still love to hear a song of yours played?
I have heard myself on the radio a few times, but I’ve always been told in advance. I think the real moment I’m waiting for is that moment when you’re driving somewhere and you hear a song and you’re like “Oh I love this song!” And then you’re like “wait…THIS IS ME! HI I’M ON THE RADIO RIGHT NOW OMG SOEIFHWROIHODFH”. That’ll be a good day.
At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
I want people to dance. I want people to feel the full gamut of human emotions and still want to move and use their body.