How did Jason Wilkes — AKA “Wilkes” — go from a Christian band in Cedartown, Georgia all the way to becoming a fan favorite on NBC’s The Voice? By being an authentic artist. But it took nearly two decades to find himself.
The CLIMB is a show produced by Brent Baxter and Johnny Dwinell dedicated to helping singers, songwriters, and artists create leverage in the music business. This post is excerpted from The CLIMB podcast #110 “Interview With Wilkes.”
Johnny Dwinell: We’ve seen this, we see somebody on TV, they’ve made it to a certain spot that’s enviable, we want to be there, and we think it all just happened with one phone call. And I think you’re different from other talent television show contestants, because there are a lot of them who get lucky very early in their artistic journey and they’re not really prepared to handle it — they’re not very sure of who they are as artists. To your credit, you know exactly what you’re doing. Could you just give us a little background on how long the road has been leading to here?
Wilkes: Well so far, professionally, it’s been 17 years, going on 18. Like many people. I started singing when I was little, the whole typical backstory thing, singing in church. I joined a band in 2001 called High Flight Society. I was the lead singer, we were a bunch of friends from Cedartown, Georgia. We started playing together and we took it kind of seriously, but not incredibly seriously at first. But after a few months we realized there was a little bit of magic there so we dove in head first. Over a 12 year period we went through three record deals, and it’s a whole other story as to why that didn’t pan out. Honestly it was a great 12 years, but we definitely lived in the trenches and paid our dues, to put it lightly. So we had a blast but it was pretty rough. Then I did a stint for three years as a bass player in a band called Disciple … so long story short I’ve been all over the map for 17 years and had a few ups — lots of downs. Lots of paying dues. Lots of living in the ditch. But it’s taught me exactly who I am as an artist, and what to embrace, and what not to embrace.
Johnny Dwinell: Can you expand a little on what you’ve learned to embrace on this rocky road and some things you learned to not embrace and throw away?
Wilkes: The main thing, which is a little unexpected to people because it has nothing to do with music — musically I’ll accept whatever feels good — but my personality has been the main hurdle for me. Literally my whole life, for 33 years, I’ve been jumping over my personality. And in the 17 years in the music industry, that’s been the one thing I’ve struggled with the most, and really, only until recently, have I decided to fully embrace it. For instance, if you didn’t notice, when the show (The Voice) started, it took me a minute to say anything, because I have to be engaged to talk. I’m more comfortable behind a guitar or behind a mic than I am just saying words. And typically the frontman of a rock band or someone who has my kind of persona musically is the kind of guy who comes out on stage and screams the name of the city he’s in and just kind of dominates the world, and that’s just not me at all. So I went through a lot of years struggling to make myself be that kind of entertainer. I can do all the stuff, I just don’t have the type of personality to be that entertainer, so I have to find it within me to be that guy. And then, eventually, I realized I’m not that guy — at all. I’m a stand-offish, blend-into-the-wallpaper kind of guy, and I’ve learned to embrace it, which actually has turned out to be one of my advantages on the show, the fact that I don’t have a personality like everybody else on there. So it’s beginning to work in my favor, but it took me a long time to embrace that side of me.
Johnny Dwinell: So what I’m going to take from this is “authenticity.” And please correct me if I’m wrong, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I feel like what you’re saying is, “I just embraced who I was instead of changing it and being what I thought I was supposed to be. I’m just going to be myself, and they’re either going to love it or hate it.”
Wilkes: Yeah, that’s exactly right. If I don’t feel comfortable onstage, and people don’t think that I feel comfortable, they’re going to feel uncomfortable. The trade-off is I kind of become another person onstage, I kind of have that syndrome where I can be a little bit of somebody else when I’m onstage that I’m not one-on-one. But I’ve fully embraced being authentic and ever since I have, it’s been not only less pressure on me, but I think it has kept people more entertained, because it’s honestly kind of strange, the things I say and the way I am. So I’ve fully embraced the weirdness and it works.
Brent Baxter: Well I would think of it also as a way of protecting your energy. Trying to be something that’s radically different from what you are is just exhausting, and how much does that leave for your creative energy? Because, obviously, you’re not afraid of work. You’re not afraid of the grind — you’ve been on the road so long — but there is something about protecting your energy, which I imagine this has helped you to do.
Wilkes: Absolutely. The way your brain works as a musician, especially the kind that I am, I get distracted by everything — like if a tree makes a certain noise, that cues a song, or a drum beat when I go over speed bumps. So my mind is already so occupied by things pulling me in different directions. If I start thinking about presenting myself in a way that’s not natural, the artistic side of me suffers dramatically.
Listen to the podcast (Episode #110).
Photo credit: THE VOICE — Season: 14 — (Photo by: Paul Drinkwater/NBC)
The CLIMB is a show produced by Brent Baxter (award-winning hit songwriter with cuts by Alan Jackson, Randy Travis, Lady Antebellum, Joe Nichols, and more) and Johnny Dwinell (owner of Daredevil Production) that’s dedicated to helping singers, songwriters, and artists like you create leverage in the music business because that’s what you’re gonna need. You’re gonna need some leverage, you’re gonna need an audience, and you’re gonna need a reason for people to stand up and salute you. It’s not just about your talent – you’ve got to bring the business, and that’s why we call it The CLIMB, it’s an acronym that stands for “creating leverage in the music business.” Hear this entire podcast and more at theclimbshow.com.
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