by Dom Jones
In a crowded venue, under dimmed lights, the ambiance set, the girls swooning in the front, second, and third rows, JJ Adrian belted out new tunes from his forthcoming EP, “Priorities.” Self described as the “Prince of Van City,” this Vancouver transplant is in his second to last semester at Berklee, and excited about what’s to come. I sat down with JJ in the Caf earlier in the day, before his performance, to chat about his new single, “Right Now,” and to find out what I should expect from the evening. A range of emotions, his quiet confidence and even shyness made for an interesting interaction with an upperclassman. One would think that after 3+ years at Berklee, the ego would be apparent and overwhelming. In this reality, at this moment, it was quite the opposite.
The Music Business major says his sister (also a performer) inspired his interest and that, often in his youth, he didn’t see himself as talented enough to pursue music as a career.
“I went to Wales when I was in 9th grade for a school rugby trip, and these girls asked me to sing the national anthem, and I did. That’s how I found out I could sing. That’s actually how it happened,” he tells me. Confused, I ask why he didn’t know he could sing until 9th grade. “I knew I could sing, it’s just that I never saw it as something that I’d really want to do. I was a very shy kid,” JJ responds, adding that he’s Filipino and that he also grew up on karaoke, which was a big part of his musical development.
Adrian credits the five-week program for his decision to ultimately attend Berklee. A friend who attended the program before him told him that he should try it, which he did, succinctly telling me, “It changed my life.” At Berklee, JJ tells me that his greatest challenge has been time management. “Berklee students have so many projects, classes, and what we’re working on in our own time. Finding a productive way to split everything up is definitely the hardest thing.” So how did he find time to write and record his newest single, “Right Now?” It’s a product of his time in Kara DioGuardi’s “Berklee Bootcamp,” which aims to help artists develop their sound by splitting the class up into teams (artist, songwriter, and producer) where they are required to write, record, and perform two songs per week. Everyone receives feedback on their songs, and the experience culminates in a showcase where fellow students, parents, friends, and even industry insiders can get a taste of how each group has developed the artist’s overall sound throughout the semester.
“I’m releasing four songs for the EP, and the reason I decided to release [Right Now] first is because it’s a fun song. It’s a different side of JJ that people haven’t necessarily seen. I was in a boy band for two years at Berklee, and it’s definitely different than that,” he shares, laughing. Ironically, I can see the song being sung by a boy band, so the influence from his past musical experience has left an indelible impression on his current style. The song explores the struggle with attraction between two friends, where one doesn’t know if they want to ruin the friendship in the name of romance. JJ urges his friend to tell him what she wants right now. I enjoy the dynamics of the production, which transition chords in a way that support Adrian’s vocals. The lyrics are simple, but uplifted by the cadence that the writer and arranger chose. Flexing his vocal experience, the senior shows off his upper register throughout the song, which keeps it interesting and my ear engaged. If anything, I’d have asked for harmony in the bridge, as it’s similar to the hook, and had the space to add more layers. Overall, I enjoy the song and look forward to hearing more from the EP.
On his inspiration he tells me, “Canada’s killing the game right now. We have Justin Bieber, Drake, The Weeknd, so we’re doing pretty well right now. It’s kind of nice to be from another country. I’m definitely influenced by what’s going on in my country,” and on his plans after graduation he pauses before answering, “The plan is either New York or LA. I have some things that I want to do, but I don’t know. Honestly, I have no idea, which is kinda cool. I have a plan, but I don’t know if I want to stick to that plan. So, we’ll find out.”
As people file out of the show, I see plenty of JJ Adrian fans sticking around to give him compliments and probably in hopes of taking selfies with him. It’s apparent that he has the star quality that many have come to Berklee to develop. As the last performer of the night, he closed his set by thanking his instructor Kara DioGuardi, adding, “Kara, you told us that you weren’t looking for the next big thing. You were looking for the next you. If that’s the case, we’re here to do it.”