The past few years have been a whirlwind for Kitchener local JJ Wilde, but not just because of the pandemic.
Between 2018 and 2022, Wilde went from working three jobs to being a Juno-winning artist, touring across Canada, the U.S. and Europe with various bands, namely The Glorious Sons.
When I spoke with Wilde, she had just returned to Kitchener after recording in Nashville -- a brief stop home before heading to France to play the Papillons De Nuit Festival, and then back to Canada to continue her first arena tour with The Glorious Sons.
They’ll be on the road until returning home in mid-July. But Wilde has no plans of taking a break.
“I’ve had two years of a break,” she said. “[The pandemic] taught me to not take this for granted, because all of a sudden, [live music] was gone. Jumping back into this busy, crazy pace of life … I love it. I don't want to stop.”
Even with her flourishing career, Wilde still chooses to call Kitchener home.
“Being gone all the time, it's nice for me at least to come home and see family and friends. It's getting less and less that I'm even at home. So it's nice to come home to that kind of familiarity.”
Plus, she says, “there’s a great music scene.”
Growing up, she would go to open mics at The Boathouse and anywhere she could play in Uptown Waterloo.
Watching other people at open mics served as a source of inspiration for her. Wilde also spent a decade working serving jobs in Kitchener, which allowed her to watch a lot of in-house bands and local artists at work.
But ultimately, her inspiration comes from her own life, and her family.
“My music and my style has just been me working through stuff and writing it down on paper. I think a lot of it [comes from] my family. They’re pretty heavy into music.”
Even her stage name, JJ Wilde, has ties to her family. One J stands for her first name, Jillian, and the other is for her sister, Jenny.
“She’s my best friend. She has three kids, so she can’t really come to a lot of the shows. So it was kind of a sentimental thing … it’s just the two of us, the two J’s, that’s what it represents.”
Her brother is the one who inspired her to play guitar.
“[He’s] an insanely talented musician. I just wanted to play guitar like him. I still can’t,” she laughed. “But he definitely inspired me to play.”
She’s been singing for as long as she can remember. She remembers singing in her room and finding instrumental versions of songs to play on her Walkman to sing karaoke-style.
Around the same time she started learning guitar, she went beyond her room, hitting up open mics all over Kitchener and Waterloo.
By 18, she was playing gigs wherever she could get them.
In her early 20s, she was in an indie folk band that toured across Canada in a van.
“I thought it was the be-all-end-all, not even realizing we weren’t signed, we had minimal success,” she said. “And when that broke up, I didn’t know what I was going to do, because I thought that was it.”
It was around this time that she started working three jobs to make ends meet: a receptionist at a spa, a server at Abe Erb, and a bartender at Maxwell’s -- all while doing music on the side, trying to find her own sound.
Exhausted, it became hard to focus on music, and she felt like it wasn’t working out. So she went to a career counsellor at Conestoga College to see what other avenues she could consider.
“I was sitting in that appointment, and my heart sank. This woman was telling me all these options of viable careers that I might be interested in, [but] the only thing going through my head is like ... I don’t want to do anything else. I don’t think I can do anything else,” she said. “So I made the decision to stick with it.”
Not long after, she met her manager, who noticed her after Brett from The Glorious Sons uploaded a video of the two of them singing together.
Not long after, her career took off. She has since released two albums, Ruthless, and Wilde, the former earning her Rock Album of the Year at the 2021 Junos -- making her the first woman to win the award in 25 years.
Now, she’s working on a new album, and plans to finish recording in Nashville when she comes back from tour. She says to expect more experimental sounds along with some softer songs, and of course, “some good old rock and roll songs.”