Get to Know Jutes [Interview]

Sundhya Alter

In a music scene full of industry plants and internet music artists, Jutes has always strayed far from the status quo, both sonically and spiritually. Inspired in-part by the punk rock movement in the 90s, the Canadian artist approaches his evolution of sound through the grunge of loud declarative vocals and distorted riffs, adding in context and storytelling elements through the honest and often personal darkness that he speaks from. While his lyrical writing remains reflective of his own non-fiction experiences, his instrumental experimentation is unpredictably versatile, creating an identity for himself that projects his non-conformist drive in creating his most authentic self. After leaving Capital Records two years ago to pursue music as an independent artist, he has released numerous EP’s and singles, embracing the ability to experiment and explore his sound as an individual and a creative. I got the chance to speak with him about how music has guided him through mental ups and downs, what he has learned most from his early song writing, and where he see’s his music taking him.

When you first started making music, it was in your college dorm room during university. Almost eight years since your first recorded track, your sound and artist identity has changed quite a bit. Can you describe what that beginning period was like for you in terms of how you began to experiment with sound and creative technology?

I started out using my laptop's webcam built-in microphone, just the built-in mic on the computer and using mostly GarageBand. I would just get beats off of YouTube, a lot of beats that were actual songs that were out and just go over those beats. I think one song I made was over a Katy Perry song. It was super low quality and I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it started out as a joke at first. I couldn’t sing at all, so I was rapping but I never took myself seriously and I didn’t think anyone would else either so I just made all my songs super self-deprecating and kind of poking fun of myself all the time. I thought that if I was making fun of myself, then they would’t make fun of me. 

When did you first start to take yourself and your musical talent seriously?

I first started to take this seriously when I fell in love with writing songs and started pushing myself to get better. But it took a little bit for me to stop making it a joke and to build the confidence to realize that this was actually what I wanted to do and that I wanted to take it seriously. At the time I had a little pocket of residents in my dorm that were really supportive that eventually helped me come out of my shell creatively. I would play my songs at little parties and from then on that felt like the beginning of it. I still experienced pushback from people in my resident's halls that would laugh or roll their eyes, it was kind of typical of the early stages of anything I guess you have to battle people telling you not to waste your time against being confident that this is your passion. 

What made you decide to drop out of school and pursue music full-time? What was the feedback you initially received from listeners and how did you start to build a following while honing in your identity as an artist?

I remember my mom questioning my decision to drop out of school to be a rapper, she initially wanted me to finish school and pursue music on the side, but I knew that if I was going to take this seriously, I needed to go all in and make this my life. I kind of threw away everything I was doing and just dove in head first. Not long after that, I was playing really small, terrible gigs around Toronto, like one of my gigs was at the back of this sushi restaurant and I was just rapping in the back, or dive bars, pretty much playing anywhere I could. From this I built a fan base in real life before an internet fan base which is so opposite from how things work now, but it was through the human connection of me playing shows and meeting people and building a fan base by person in real life. I had a little following but I wasn’t big on the internet at all. I was just uploading to Spotify and anytime a song got a thousand views, I remember just being stoked that it was a massive win. 

After dropping out of school and pursuing music full-time, your distinct approach to writing songs as an artist started to take off which can be recognized, reflected in the rise in views and online following. Was there a specific moment for you when you realized that your music career could really take off?

There was a YouYube sharing channel, this was the era of blogs when music blogs would put you on and YouTube sharing pages that had big followings would repost you and upload your song to their page. One of these sharing pages uploaded "Cocaine Cinderella" and that started my internet presence and following. By "Cocaine Cinderella," I was all in, but there wasn’t really a moment that I felt like this could be a breakthrough. It was more a feeling that I had that I have to do this with my life. Like if it wasn’t music, everything else kind of felt irrelevant. 

In so many of your songs, there's a story that's being developed whether it's direct or indirectly told, with characters, plots and often a climax in the chorus. What is the creative thought process behind these patterns of your discography?

My ability to put my heart and soul into my music has just grown from doing it so much. From the beginning, I would always push myself to say something in my music and to make people feel a certain way, but music saved my life and so it meant more to me than just a ticket to money or fame. It’s never been about anything other than how important music is to me and how its helped me through really really dark times in my life and I try to put that into my music to try and help other people like it helped me. 

"Cocaine Cinderella" was your first “breakout” song, what is the story behind writing and producing it?

Before I wrote this song, I remember I had gone out and bought my first legitimate microphone that day. I was messing around with it just stoked to have something even remotely decent sounding, and I had set up a microphone stand for it and was sitting on my couch with my laptop just messing around and I started singing into the mic, that hook. The song just started coming to me and I ended up making the entire song just sitting there on the couch. It’s definitely reminiscent of my darkest days in terms of my mental state and overall health, those days were definitely the darkest days of my life and I think you can hear that in this song and a lot of my older songs. It was when I was struggling with really bad substance abuse and depression and feeling lost and wanting to do music and being scared of failure and if this doesn’t work out then what will I become, but at the same time, running from that fear and masking it with drugs and alcohol. 

When you first signed to Capital Records, the A&R team signed you as a hip hop/R&B/pop artist, what was your experience with them like as a rising artist beginning to carve out your sound within the limiting bounds of a music label?

My A&R Kate really believed in me and there was a guy, David Walter, who worked for Capital Records and who actually signed the Gorillaz back in the day and he really vouched for me when Kate was trying to get me signed. David Walter was the guy who got behind her and kind of helped her get the green light to sign me. I have love for a lot of people at Capital Records, the president who was there when I was signed was really supportive of what I was doing and he understood my rock angle to my sound, but then there was a switch when a new president came in who decided that my focus wouldn’t be rock music. At this point I was being pushed more into a hip-hop world and it was during a time when I was leaning more towards rock and really wanting to finally make rock music with the tools at I had. There was a bit of a conflict there. I feel like I am inherently geared towards being more independent with the way that I work, I like to have no rules and no boss and to go through things creatively in the way that works best for me. So at this point, I am really happy that I’m not on a label anymore, but I definitely still have a lot of love for those people. 

Now that you’re working as an independent artist, how do you feel that this transition has helped you develop the sound that you see as your most creatively unique approach to the industry?

I feel like when I was at the label I was really early, in terms of no one was really making rock at the time and I had been making rock for a long time and showing my own progression in that specific lane. I think it was too early, labels are rarely first to decide to lead the charge of something and instead be more compelled to follow which ever trend on TikTok or any internet platform. It's tough as an artist when you sense that something is coming back or just want to do your own thing but you're signed as an artist thats supposed to be producing an entirely different sound because labels don’t love to take chance, and it just makes it harder to have full control over your own creative expression and direction as an artist. 

After becoming independent you mention that it gave you the agency to experiment with your sound and allowed you to fully shift into a punk rock lane, what are the sonic toons that you experimented with to begin this new period and then simultaneously, what were the ways you started to see your own evolution into a completely new genre?

I started out doing hip-hop because I couldn’t sing, and during that time rock music hadn’t completely made its comeback so if you’re looking on YouTube for beats all your going to find is what’s at the time the hottest sound which wasn’t rock, so the biggest quality beats you were going to find were hip-hop or R&B because thats what was popular. It wasn’t until I got to LA that I realized there was different music everywhere, there were also different pockets and scenes, and there were different circles that you can create in. I started to meet the world's best musicians and writers, one of the people I met at the time was Omer Fedi. He is a really gifted guitar player and he was really young when we started working together but we would just make songs in my bedroom and thats kind of when the punk stuff started to come out and I had started to experiment. I think it was just being in LA, it's a playground for music. But thats how the rock thing happened, just from meeting musicians and being able to create stuff from scratch and not having to go based on what I’m finding on the internet. 

In one interview from 2021, you explained that after leaving the label you had set a goal for yourself to release a song a week. What was the drive behind consistently releasing like this, and can you speak on the creative aftermath or burnout of pumping out songs at such a high pace?

When I decided to do this, I was out of money and had left the label and was trying to come up with ways to get a monthly income because Capital owns everything I put out through them. So I came up with a song a week because I was already writing so many songs that I could have released a song a week for a year just based on the number of songs I had already recorded on my phone. I wanted to do it for a full year but it got to a point where people would text me "congrats on the release" and I would forget that I had released a song that week. So I got kind of numbed out to it and it lost the magic of releasing music and at that point, my monthly income had gotten to a point where it could support me. I think it served its purpose, it was liberating in the sense that I was independent and could do what I want. 

You recently had the opportunity to write a couple songs for Demi Lovato’s album HOLY FVCK which debuted a completely new punk sound for the artist. How did co-writing with her help propel the evolution of your own growth as an artist and a song writer?

Massively. When I first met her, just listening to the integrity and just her going for it and her making what she likes regardless of what people expect of her, I thought it was so badass. She is doing her own shit, that had its own flavor and vibe really inspired me in starting my new album, Ladybug, it inspired me to go even further into what I wanted to create and not worrying about whether it would be popular, and instead being driven by what I want to make and honestly it sounds cheesy, but she really did inspire the project sonically and me as an artist to do what I love. 

Your most recent release, “Quitter” is a self reflective punk song in which you seem to be singing to yourself about your own life choices, can you speak a little bit about how this song came together to reflect that POV?

A few years ago I wrote a song called "Quitter" and it was the opposite angle of the "Quitter" that is out right now. I wasn’t sober, I was getting trashed all the time and I was justifying it because I was like no one likes a quitter, I have to be this guy because of this lifestyle I'm living and this industry that I’m in and you know I thought I had the freedom to do whatever I wanted to do and be wild and crazy and basically kill myself. But then I got sober, I’m just a year over sober now, and I went to write that song again because I want to write it from the other angle now that I’m sober, and as I cope and adjust to what it's like being in this industry and can be remembered if you’re not this trouble tormented rock star. People gravitate towards that demeanor and put people on a pedestal that are destroying their lives. So this song is me wanting to get better and do what's best for me, but will I be able to still be this guy? Will this destroy the whole rockstar style persona? So I wanted to come at it from an angle that is honest and reflective of the period of my life that I’m in right now and I’m super happy I did. 

What can fans expect from you in the next couple years?

I have an album that is done and there is one more single i’m planning on releasing before the album comes out. It’s my first full length album, and that goes along with my mantra of focusing less on what’s going to do well and instead putting out a full length album so that I can have a full body of work that I can look back on and be proud of.

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