WFA is all about discovering new sounds and sharing insights. Kicking off our first new series: CONVERSATIONS with... we have Joy Conaway, an Atlanta-based singer/songwriter whose journey so far has included building a name for herself in her native Atlanta and singing back-up for Raury at Radio 1's Big Weekend back in 2015. Now that her own star is on the rise, Joy sat down with me to talk candidly about life as a singer trying to define their own identity and success. We enjoyed a few pleasantries before jumping right into the mix, read more below:
Now, you have an EP out at the moment called: A Tale of Joy & Sorrow, when did you start writing it and how long did it take you to bring the 4 songs together?
So The Gigabots helped me to write and produce the project. It was a little over a year ago (maybe last March), that we started working on some things for example the song "Monsters" (one of the tracks from the EP) and we finally finished it; a lot went into the marketing and detail with planning its release. Then after "Monsters", The Gigabots were like "Okay let's maybe do a project" because there was buzz behind the song. So Tyrone (Joy's Fiancé) already wrote "Deepest Fear" and so we just added a couple of other songs that were in the vault. There were just so many songs, as sometimes artists will record but they won't release. It was one of those things where we just took a step back at some things that we had already done and were familiar with and that was the process for that. It was really fun; I loved it.
How have your family been in terms of supporting you on this journey?
My Fiancé, wrote one of the songs on the project and the latest song that I actually released, which was a song dedicated to my Aunt who passed away. He helped me with writing that so he is really involved and very supportive of what I'm doing and he's the best *chuckles*; he's just really helped me through this process.
Going back to your EP, Monsters is your most played song on Soundcloud, how did it feel for you to see people being so receptive to that song?
When I first heard Monsters, I loved the song and my vocals weren't even on there or anything; it was a reference that a friend of mine did and she sounded incredible. I just always listened to the song, I loved it and I said "you guys (The Gigabots) should let me have Monsters" and they were like "well yeah, okay". It was one of those things that started off really as a joke but as time progressed, seeing that dream really manifest itself and then seeing other people really enjoy it was great. I love seeing people's interpretations of the song and what it means to them; so it's just very overwhelming and humbling. Like, when people really love your work, that's everything, that's the point of artistry. To truly impact other people, it's just awesome.
Well I think it's really important to connect with different kinds of people and just see how they react to your music. Now I know one thing you like to say is that you want to "bring joy" to people through your music, how do you think you are able to do that and how do you think you will be able to continue to do that in the future?
Honestly, I'm just not an easily-offended person. It just makes it easy when you're not easily offended to not get worried, mad or upset about things. I'm not about to get out of my head-space of serenity to address that; life is literally too short to go back and forth like that. If I see there's going to be a situation that's heading downhill, I'm like "get out the car, we are not about to get in a car accident with each other".
I can see what you mean, you're just trying to spread positivity by just being you.
Yeah, I just kind of accept myself, faults and all and keep it moving. People can't use anything against you and that's how I look at it. I know my flaws and I'm cool with them. Especially with artistry, it's one of those things that's so personal but you still have to share your gift.
So do you feel that you were put on this Earth to share that gift? because a lot of people think that they were put on this Earth for certain reasons.
I honestly do. I was talking to my Fiancé and saying: I don't have a Plan B; I don't have a fall-back plan. This is what I feel like I'm supposed to do and this is what I feel like I am destined to do and I don't want to try to create a lane that I'm not designed to be in. So I just need to flow in this lane and not try to mess up anything.
I feel like you're giving me a lot of raw-honesty and I think in the music industry today at least, there are a lot of people who have façades and they're trying to be something that they're not. I feel like, you're just being you. Now, when I'm listening to your music, it sounds very polished and very professional so what made you choose the sound that you have now and stick to that? As I saw on your Soundcloud that you put "Indie" as some of the categories on your music. What made you decide on that?
I don't want to be a one lane artist. Like when people hear me, I don't want people to say "oh she's a Church Singer" or "she can just do Neo-Soul or she just does Jazz". I want the music that I do to be in different avenues, in different markets because I want to include different people as I feel like I'm a very inclusive person and I don't want to just be one-sided. So that's honestly why I'm doing Indie-Music and the sound that I am going for. It's just influences of what I listened to as I was growing up. It's not necessarily a "white sound" or a "black sound" or anything like that, it's just artists that I grew up listening to.
Let's dig deeper into that: who did you listen to as you were growing up?
So, it's so funny because, I grew up in a really Christian household so we couldn't listen to secular music but we would watch biopics like The Temptations, The Jackson 5 and that's how I learned all the songs. I would watch those movies and listen to those old songs over and over again and then as time progressed (i.e. I got to Middle school/ High School), Destiny's Child, Kanye: like who didn't listen to old Kanye? (I mean people still listen to Kanye now). I also listened to Brandy of course, yeah she was always great. Also, anything Gospel.
Okay, nice. Well I kind of know you from seeing you as a back-up singer for Raury. I remember watching you when he was doing a show here in the UK for the BBC and you were singing back-up, what made you want to transition from that to taking centre-stage?
So, I actually heard about the Raury audition via a DM on Instagram; one of the band members DM'd me and was like "hey, Joy I think you should audition for this guy, here's some clips of the music, learn the songs." I was like "O.K.....I don't know....." But this was a money-opportunity so I messaged him back, then I listened to the music and thought "Oh, this kid has a following." Because, I'm 26 and Raury at the time was 18 (now he's 19) and my baby sister is 19 so you know, I look at her like a little kid so I guess I wasn't plugged into that market yet. But yeah, I listened to the songs and thought, "oh this is good". And it's not even because he has a lot of followers, this is just very good music. So, I went to the audition on a Monday (I had to call off of work) and there were like 60 people there for the audition so I thought "oh, nevermind". I went into the room and auditioned and sometimes watching people you would see that some of them were trying to do too much, but as a background singer you have to be in the background; you're the supporting cast, you're not the star. I could tell by some of the Judges' faces that "okay, well they're not going to get it". I was learning while I was watching other people. I auditioned and then they said they would let everybody know by Thursday. They didn't call me back and Saturday rolled around and I thought maybe I didn't get it. Then they sent me an e-mail with an itinerary and that was just awesome and very fun.
I can tell because, when I was watching you on stage you seemed very energetic. So, that transition from being a backing singer to being centre-stage, have you come across anyone who has said anything to try to discourage you by saying you should just remain in the background?
You know what, no one has said that. I have always been pursuing artistry on-and-off, because artistry isn't one of those things where you just wake up one day and you're like "I'm an artist today!" You have to build the confidence and a level of comfortability with being an artist. So, I've been trying to get my feet wet and do a little here and there and then, I really found my zone doing background music. I then started to watch the people that I was doing background for and that allowed me to learn; I was doing something that I loved so I thought, let me start trying a couple of different things and that's what happened.
Okay cool, so you're from Atlanta, what would you say is the sound of Atlanta right now? In London, we've had a resurgence in Grime (it's kind of like what hip-hop is to America). What are the sounds that you're feeling will take over soon?
I would say there is an Atlanta Indie-Artists' Movement. I'd say, be on the look-out for: Brik Liam, Hero The band, India Shawn. There are so many Indie artists in Atlanta that have really cultivated and perfected their craft.
Are these some of the artists you're listening to at the moment? and who else are you listening to outside of Atlanta?
In my car I have Rascal Flatts, The very best of The Temptations, Earth Wind & Fire. I also have some Katy Perry in there; she's a really good story teller. Who else do I have in there?
Any Beyoncé, Drake, The Weeknd or other commercial artists?
Yeah, I listen to Drake. I loved him from Degrassi, like I followed Drake now; those little mixtape raps - Drake was bae. Um, I like The Weeknd but I don't have his albums but in general, I just like good music.
Fair enough, now who was the last commercial artist that you went to see live?
I saw Janelle Monae in Wondaland and it was really good; it was excellent. Jidenna performed, St. Beauty performed, Roman, John Arthur etc. It was really great.
Now going back to Instagram, I mean social media has completely changed the way we discover and listen to music; how have you found that (particularly Instagram) has helped you get your music out there?
I just stay really consistent and I would try to come up with things that people will look forward to. I would do music videos and try to find really catchy tunes or throwback songs that everybody will remember and have a nostalgic feeling. I love when people do old school stuff because it reminds me of back in the day, growing up type thing. I like that feeling and felt like "why not share that with other people." So that was really the motive behind it, but then I started seeing people reach out to me to do background vocal gigs and I thought, maybe I should keep doing what I'm doing and see where it takes me.
Do you also feel that there can be too much noise out there? and how do you feel that you can stand out from all of that?
You can click on the hashtag: vocals or singers singing and there are literally 20 million videos and I was like "man, maybe I'm just wasting my time." But then I thought, the people that are supposed to see me will see me. It's almost like a fate thing, if it's supposed to happen, it will happen. If I stay and I trust the journey and I continue with the process: it will happen. I don't know on what scale. It might not be on a Beyoncé level but that's okay. There are different levels to success and you can't say one person's is equivalent to "true success". If you set a goal and you conquer it, you know, that's success. And I know I'm supposed to be doing this.
You have a lot of confidence which is great to see because I feel that sometimes, people are crippled with fear. Now earlier you were saying that your influences are soul and other old school genres. If you could sing with one person, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
I'm thinking really hard about this because I have 3 people in mind. Right okay, if this could happen right now today, I would be honoured. If I could sing a duet with John Legend that would be pretty incredible. I was going to say Celine Dion but I think John Legend fits my style more; Celine Dion is still incredible. I was also going to say Whitney, but I would more want to do background for Whitney and watch her and learn from her to see how she does what she does like vocal control and ability and not necessarily be the person to try to match that.
If you could describe your EP in a phrase or in a few words, what would that be?
If I could describe it in a few words I would say that it's catchy, really fun and it's like something I would listen to in the morning if my day started off kind of rough. That's what I want people to do. That's what I hope my music could do for people because that happened to me. I went through a break-up and (it was such a bad break up) I listened to Jazmine Sullivan and that girl got me together. Every time I felt sad, I would just throw on some Jazmine haha.
So you want people to turn to you as a pick me up.
Yeah, you know what that's what you can say about the EP it's a "pick me up".
And with that it was time to bid adieu to Ms. Conaway. Be sure to check out her EP A Tale of Joy & Sorrow for that pick me up feeling.