When a 25-year-old South London born, North London raised singer was tasked with coming up with a moniker, she simply amalgamated her first initial, J, with her favourite colour, grey, and just like that, an artist was born.
This was five years ago, during a brief stint that JGrrey (who is keeping her real name under lock and key) lived in Manchester. On one particularly boring, particularly unemployed day, her and her then-boyfriend decided to make a song. “The first line was something like, ‘candy kisses and hugs make me feel happy’ laughs JGrrey. “That’s all I remember, it was a really shitty song and I thought it was the best thing I'd ever make!” After shooting a makeshift music video, the pair uploaded it to JGrrey’s Tumblr. The whole exercise took a few hours, the first and last song she thought she’d ever make.
But by the next day, the praise had poured in and JGrrey’s Tumblr was flooded with comments, including an invite to a studio session by London MC, Manga Saint Hilare. JGrrey went to the session and never looked back.
Today, her sound has evolved from hugs-make-me-happy pop to introspective neo-soul. The confessional lyrics and paired back R&B stylings of her debut EP, Grrey Daze, has won her fans in everyone from Jorja Smith to Billie Eilish, who she recently supported on tour. Set to release a new EP and embark on her own headline tour, things are heating up for the JGrrey, but we asked the musician-on-the-rise to take us back to the start, and tell us about the one artist who inspired her the most. With zero hesitation, JGrrey picked Amy Winehouse, the musician who taught her how music could change her life forever.
“I remember watching the music video for Fuck Me Pumps in 2003, when Amy Winehouse was all everyone was talking about. She wasn’t this blonde manufactured girl, she didn’t look at all like a popstar and I loved that. It was before Instagram, so you could hear a song and hear things about an artist before you’d actually get to know them. It was in the same era where you had Kate Nash and Adele and all of these artists who were singing in London accents, I was so excited by it.”
“A couple of years after Amy passed away, just before I started singing myself, I was working at a shop in Camden. One of the guys who started working in the shop with me had been Amy’s close friend. He used to play guitar with her and they were really tight. It was so interesting hearing his stories, and I started to play music with him too. His whole scene of people, they just didn’t give a fuck! They were simply out to play music and have the best time, and I think through knowing he’d been close with Amy and watching him jamming and making music with this community of people; it was really inspiring. I was a few years younger and I thought it was all so rock n roll. Now I think about it, a lot of people I know in the music industry knew Amy. I never got to see her perform, so that’s the closest I’ll ever get to her. My friend Christian is an amazing musician and I think he actually has an unreleased track coming out with her soon. Me and him used to go to [Camden pub] The Hawley Arms, and everyone there knew her and had all these amazing stories about her.”
“By that point, I was obsessed with Amy’s music and her songwriting. Take something like Rehab, it's so well written. She’s literally talking very clearly about experiences she’s having, in the most beautifully creative and amazing way. And it’s so upbeat, you’re dancing around to the song while she’s singing about this painful thing, not wanting to go to rehab. It’s weird because it felt like at that time, nobody stopped and went, ‘guys, listen to what she’s saying’, everyone just wanted music from her. Unfortunately there just wasn’t awareness around what she was going through. There wasn’t enough support and there weren’t enough of the right conversations happening. Back then tabloids were so much worse and nobody was asking, ‘who am I impacting, what’s the worst outcome that could happen here?’ That song is so telling. It’s so nostalgic for me too, it really brings me straight back to that time.”
“Amy is one person where, when I get to the end of the song or album I’m an emotional mess. I’m excited about her sheer talent, I’m inspired by her voice and her songwriting and everything that goes along with it, and I'm sad that it got to where it got to and that she’s not here anymore. But mostly I’m inspired. It’s reassuring to listen to her music because she writes really honestly about the way she feels, and that’s what I do. It’s really hard to do that, because people don’t always want to know how you feel, but then I listen to her and I think, if Amy can do it, I don’t give a fuck whether the mainstream like it, I know that there’s artistry in it still.”
“She’s got a cover of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? which is my all time favourite. I cry and cry and cry when I listen to it, it’s just the most perfect thing I’ve ever heard. It’s a mixture of her voice, the fact she decided to cover it, that the song obviously resonated with her. Everything about it is golden. She was such a tortured soul, she had so many bad days but she was also such a beautiful musician and a beautiful person. Her singing that song, i'm just in awe of it.”
JGrrey plays Omeara London 20th November