THERE are few artists who have had such…
an interesting and eventful rise to prominence. I have been speaking with Jaki Nelson about her path to music and her musical origins. She talks with me about her latest cut, Dancing with Strangers, and its story; which albums are most important to her – I ask whether there are tour dates coming up.
Nelson tells me what it was like coming out to her parents whilst on stage; how Nicolette Sheridan has impacted her life; some rising artists we need to get behind – she ends the interview with a cool song selection.
Hi, Jaki. How are you? How has your week been?
My week has been crazy! I played two shows in two different cities this weekend. I had my first major wardrobe malfunction and thank God it wasn't as bad as it could've been. It's been quite the week.
For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?
(*Awkwardly stands*) Hi, my name is Jaki Nelson and I’m a bisexual top-ten, three-time Billboard Dance music artist.
Dancing with Strangers is your new single. What is the story behind the song?
Dancing with Strangers is the story everyone has been through (or will) at some point. It’s that period after a breakup when you’re still mourning your relationship but you’ve decided to turn that grief into something a lot more fun and a little less healthy - drinking and ‘dancing’ with strangers. It’s an exciting time because the song is #30, and climbing, on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart.
Might there be more material this or next year? What are you working on right now?
Yeah. I have another couple of singles ready to go but it’s finding the right deal to put them out on. We almost had another song coming out right now but the deal wasn’t right.
Is it true a horse riding accident not only almost ended your life but led you to music?!
This is true. I was a show rider growing up. I was on a horse sometimes up to eight hours on a show day. Then, I had a bad accident: I was training a friend’s horse while she was out of town. To keep the story short, I went a little too hard on this horse and he didn’t like it. I ended up on the ground, world spinning; bleeding from my chin to my waist. The fall had ruptured my spleen, so I ended up having to get it removed.
I was stuck in the hospital barely capable of walking for about a week. Once I got out, I couldn’t run; walk up the stairs or do any physical activity for four months. I had been taking piano and voice lessons on and off for a few years at that point. It was the only thing I actually liked to do that I could still do, so I joined a band.
Nicolette Sheridan, I understand, is your ‘horse mum’. How did you two meet and what advice did she give you?!
I met Nicolette at the barn when I was nine-years-old. Nicolette and I would occasionally go on trail rides around Hidden Hills where the barn was located. That area of Los Angeles has the best trails. For my tenth birthday, I have a very vivid memory of her getting down on one knee with a chocolate cake she had baked for me and she sang Happy Birthday.
Then, she asked me to watch her new show which was airing that night. It was Desperate Housewives. I definitely should not have been watching that show at the age of ten.
I want to ask about the way you came out – on stage with your parents in attendance! Why choose that gig? What was your parents’ reaction?!
My parents don’t come to a lot of my shows. Most of my performances take place around or past midnight and my parents live most of the year in Florida; so they would effectively be staying up until 3 A.M. their time to see me. But, it was the biggest room I had ever played and my mom happened to be in town that night, so she decided to come.
The room happened to also be the biggest gay club night this side of the Mississippi River and artists like Lady Gaga have performed there. I had already recorded and was gearing up to release, Boys X Girls: my coming-out song. It seemed like the best way to do it.
My mom didn’t immediately react. I still don’t know if she knew what I was really saying. I went into the audience after the performance and all she said was “Great job, sweetie! I have a flight in four hours. Have a great night!”
We had a real conversation about it somewhere around a month later. Once we got through sorting out that “No, really; I’m super SUPER-bisexual; this is not just a reaction to that breakup (from Dancing with Strangers)” then she was supe-supportive and excited. Actually, she is also bisexual, so, her actual quote was “You’re just like Mommy!”
Your father toured with The Beach Boys! Has he been instrumental regarding advice and your career choice?
My father toured with The Beach Boys, Tanya Tucker; Leon Russell and many others. He has been a wealth of information for my entire life, from things that I really wanted to know all the way down to the things I definitely didn’t want to hear. He’s a singing drummer, so pitch and timing are VERY important to him (as they should be to any musician.).
For example, he knew that I didn’t want to hear about the timing I was practicing wrong on the piano; so he would casually walk over, turn on the metronome and walk away. As a teenager and a young adult, it’s been nice to always have a knowledgeable resource to turn to for advice on deals and such. I sometimes joke that I was “bred for this”.
When did music come into your life? Which artists did you follow when you were young?
My earliest memory of having my own obsession with music was when my parents gave me a Walkman for Christmas (for the kids out there, a Walkman is a small mobile device that plays C.D.s). My first memory of having my own taste in music is when I would sneak into my sister's room and steal her copy of Britney Spears’ In the Zone album. I listened to that hundreds of times. I was probably eight.
I believe you went to school with Kylie Jenner! Do you still keep in touch? Did you know then she would become such a success?!
I did. My high-school had 7th and 8th graders on campus with us (terrible idea, by the way.). Kendall and Kylie were in 7th and 8th when I was a sophomore (I think?). We never really talked, but Kendall came to my high-school graduation party.
It was fairly obvious that they were going to do just fine in the world of entertainment. They were already pretty famous in 7th grade and it's not like their family doesn't know what they're doing in that area of things.
What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?
I hope to be hopping on a bigger artist’s tour - someone who is also working in and around the L.G.B.T. world. That would make my whole year. O.M.G.
Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?
SAN FRANCISCO PRIDE! I debuted my single, Dancing with Strangers, in front of half a million people, live, and people were so into it.
Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?
In the Zone - Britney Spears (explained above)
Closer - Josh Groban
I had been assigned to sing You Raise Me Up at my 5th grade graduation. After listening to that 200 times, I decided to listen to the rest of the C.D. A lot of it was in Italian, and it was such an emotional recording. I had no idea what he was talking about, but I learned every word. It was the first time that I realized that I had a musical interest in more than just pop music.
AM - Arctic Monkeys
I literally just realized right now that ‘AM’ stands for ‘Arctic Monkeys’. Anyway, it was the first album I ever heard that was absolutely perfect from top to bottom.
If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?
I would DIE to go on tour with Hayley Kiyoko…and I think the only stipulation I would include on my rider is that the dressing rooms would have to be smoke-free. I'm severely allergic to cigarette smoke.
Might we see some tour dates coming up? Where might we be able to catch you play?
I just did a whole bunch of them in California. I'll be doing Out on the Mountain on September 14 in Southern California. After that….well, follow me and see.
What advice would you give to new artists coming through?
Write music. No one is going to do it for you and, even if they do, it won't be as fun and it won't be as honest. Get to it.
IN THIS PHOTO: Bobi Andonov
Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?
I just went to this showcase the other day that was absolutely mind-blowing. One that I was not expecting was Bobi Andonov. He's got an upper register that was so surprisingly incredible; it literally made me burst out in a giggle. I don't giggle. Charlotte Lawrence was also amazing. Same with Steph Jones. I left that event SO inspired. That right there is what music is supposed to do.
IN THIS PHOTO: Charlotte Lawrence
Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?
I don't really, but I don't mind. Music is now and has always been my life. I got a boombox for my 10th birthday and stuck it in my bathroom, so I could listen to the radio in the shower. It’s still there. I have another boombox in my room. I play Classical piano when I want to unwind. I can't do anything productive without music to keep me focused.
Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).
Well; if you're up for reliving the worst heartbreak of your life, Water on the Bridge by Chelsea Cutler has been killing me for the last few weeks. If you're looking for something old-school-sexy, Sour Diesel by Zayn. And, if you want to feel great, check out Treat Myself by Meghan Trainor.
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