First Published October 2020
ADDICTED TO THE MUSIC
If you haven’t been feeling at least a little bit stressed out from time to time this year, then I applaud you. And I also need to meet you so that you can let me in on your secret, because if you’ve been livin’ stress-free in 2020, you’re among a very small number, that’s for sure. Most of us, and I include myself in this grand and somewhat sweeping statement, have been stressed out to some extent most of the time. And it’s hardly a remarkably candid confession or revelation to say that it’s not a cool feeling. However, if you’re someone like singer/songwriter JO PETIT, part of what you do is find ways to make life cool. Even in 2020 and with all of its seemingly unending stress!
In fact, not only did Jo turn the stress he was feeling earlier this year into something cool, he turned it into a song! And there was only ever going to be one name for it…you got it…STRESSED OUT. Born in Mauritius, but now living in Dublin, Jo has a wealth of talent and experience to pour into the creative side of his life. From supporting pop giants such as Westlife, Boyzone, and JLS, performing at venues such as the O2, the RDS, and even Trafalgar Square, and rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in pop and rock history at times, Jo has learned to take almost everything in his stride. But this year has been different…
I had the pleasure of catching up with Jo last week, and I began our chat by putting it to Jo that his new single has pretty much perfectly summed up how everybody has been feeling these past few months, to which he replies with a good-natured laugh, “That’s what it’s all about!” But, he’s done so in a very cool, chilled out, and fun kinda way. I asked Jo to tell me how he came to write Stressed Out…
“Basically, what happened is I had a beat, because I do production as well, and I knew that was cool. That was August, I think, last year. But I’d put it aside for a while. Then the lockdown came, and it was really, really stressing. Because all of our bookings and everything were going [Jo also fronts one of the country’s most in-demand weddingand corporate event outfits, The Dream Band], everything was being cancelled. So then I started to feel really stressed out, ya know what I mean. Obviously I wasn’t working, so I was like, you know what, I’ll do a bit of production, that will take my mind off things. Then just before opening up, one of the last sessions I did was that song, I was just singing, [sings] ‘I’m so stressed out…’, you know [laughs]. It took a few little changes to get it right, but yeah, that’s how it came about.”
Stressed Out was produced by Billy Farrell, a man whose name is well-known on the Irish music scene. So how did Jo and Billy cross paths, and what made Jo think Billy was the man for this particular project?
“Well, I had the beat, you know, and I had put it aside. But then I started writing, and it started with one song, then two songs, and before I knew it, I had about ten songs written. And I actually didn’t know Billy Farrell at the time. I’d always comment on his posts and say something. I knew he was a producer, yes, but I didn’t know to what level, to what extent. I messaged him and said I had a couple of songs, and would he mind having a listen and telling me what he thought about them. I used to write for a company in the UK, co-writing, you know. They put the ideas out there, and then I can pitch something from there. But this was my first time writing from scratch. So I was thinking they were probably all rubbish [laughs]. But all I wanted was an insight of what he thought. So Billy said, yeah, send them over. Between that time of sending it over and hearing back from him, I checked out more of his work, and I was like…Oh…My…God! This guy is just gonna trash me! [laughs]. He’s gonna chew me up and spit me out, that’s what I thought, because I didn’t know who he was [laughs]. I started to feel a bit like I probably should have just shut my mouth! [laughs]”
Billy, by the way – just to offer some context as to why Jo was thinking that maybe he should have kept his mouth shut – has worked with artists like Bonnie Tyler, Brian Kennedy, The Corrs, and Westlife.
Jo went on with his story…“But then he came back to me and he was like, ‘Jo, those songs are great.’ And I was like, whaaaaat?! He said yeah, really good. I asked him what did he think of the lyrics, because I’d never written a song from scratch on my own, and he said yeah, they were really well put together, well constructed. I had 80% of the production done already. So as the song is now, that’s the way I originally produced it, we just changed a few sounds, like the drums, made it more modern, changed the rhythm a bit to give it that more tropical vibe [laughs], that feel-good vibe! So we started from there.”
While Jo may well have been impressed with Billy’s bio, there’s a few big names that stand out in his own one as well. Try Lenny Kravitz, Whitney Houston, Chris De Burgh, and Paris Hilton for size!
“I was born in, and grew up in Mauritius, where they’re are loads of high-profile, big-name hotels. And I used to sing in different ones. And I love what I do, so I would work seven days a week! Even if I had three days off! I’d call somebody up and ask if I could come in too, that’s the way I was, I wanted to learn. I would have been seventeen or eighteen at the time. So over time, I was getting better, and obviously getting involved with bigger bands. I’m a quite powerful soul singer, so I was going with these bands to do massive shows, funk and soul, and I loved it! At that time I was doing acoustic trios and part-time with bands too. There was a hotel called the San Geran, which was a massive hotel, and this is where all the celebrities would be going to. One time we were gigging there, and I noticed a familiar face! [laughs]. And I was like, I know them from somewhere. And I was asking the musicians and they said, oh, he’s here every year, and I thought then well that’s why he looks familiar. I probably saw him last year or something. But it was Chris De Burgh! [laughs]. We ended up exchanging a few words, and I met Rosanna Davison at the time, she was young herself too. The whole family. We started chatting, and it became a kind of every night thing, going in and saying hello. But back then I didn’t know he was from Ireland. And I met Whitney Houston out there as well, at the same hotel. Then, I was performing at the launch of the Hilton Hotel in Mauritius, and the Hilton family was there, including Paris. And Lenny Kravitz was performing on that night as well. I’ve also performed for the Prince of Dubai, too.”
I suggest that Jo is obviously not a man who gets nervous in front of a famous face?
“Well, it helps when you don’t know them at the time! [laughs]. I’ve been very lucky with those types of things. Once, I was just doing my thing, and this guy comes up to me and he says, ‘Hey man, you have a really good voice.’ And he looked like a rocker guy, you know. Then somebody said to me, ‘Do you know who that is? That’s Lenny Kravitz!’ That blew my mind! I actually felt nervous after that [laughs]. I went to say goodbye to him later, to say it was nice to meet you, you know, and I was literally so shaky! [laughs].”
As well as being a solo artist with his original work like Stressed Out, Jo is also a part of The Dream Band, as previously mentioned. But before The Dream Band…came the boyband! Once upon a time Jo was a member of the Irish boyband The Boulevard, supporting the likes of Boyzone, Westlife, and JLS. I wondered how Jo looks back on those times and experiences now, and how much did he enjoy them at the time?
“I absolutely enjoyed them, I wouldn’t change a thing. It was difficult at the time, because it’s not a nine-to-five job, it’s a twenty-four hour job, seven days a week, flat-out. Between rehearsing, keeping fit in the gym, all of that. It took literally every minute of my life. That’s the part that I probably would have changed if I could have [laughs]. But I really wouldn’t change a thing, because I learned so much from it. I’m somebody who’s very observant. If there’s a situation I’m in, I’m gonna learn from it. So that time taught me a lot of things. Observing the managers, the way they work. It wasn’t only the music for me, and the fans and the screaming girls, it was observation. How do they work? What are they doing? Why are they doing that? That taught me a lot for my career up to now. Now I’m able to manage certain situations better. And if I hadn’t done that, I probably wouldn’t have been able to approach certain people. After that time, I went to Scotland and worked with some extremely good songwriters and producers, through my experience in The Boulevard.”
What was the most important thing Jo learned from back then, from observing everybody and what they were doing?
“Professionalism. Professionalism. There’s nothing else I can think of that was that important. It might have been that people would manage a certain situation in such a professional way, that I would have thought, oh my God, this is something I need to remember. And even now, The Dream Band, which I founded, I founded based on those experiences of that time. So I know how to manage my own business on a much more professional level than if I never had the experience of being in The Boulevard and doing everything I did in that time.”
This has been a crazy year for everyone, and it’s still really crazy for most people in the music business because any kind of normal – nevermind the normal we knew – still seems so far away. As an artist, and a creative person, and also just on a purely human level too, how has Jo been dealing with the strangeness of 2020?
“Well…2020 is definitely a year I’m pretty sure everybody will remember! [laughs]. Especially artists. Because everything – all the bookings we had, everything that was set in stone – just literally…I mean, you would think that the entertainment industry is one that cannot break. Because as long as there’s music, we’ll be working. And then reality kicks in and says look, everybody else is now back working, and we’re not?! We’re not untouchable. There’s lessons to learn there. And it would be better for Stressed Out if there was gigs and I could perform it ‘live.’ That would have been great. Because with The Dream Band, we do a lot of weddings and corporate, and we travel all over Europe performing. You could put the song in your set to let people know it’s out. But there’s absolutely nothing. It’s a stand-still. The song is out…but now what? [laughs]. So yeah, it’s had a major impact on that side of things. Musicians are addicted to what we do. And not having that is hard. Not even talking about just paid gigs. Like sometimes, you’ll just do a gig for fun. And not even having that hit…that’s why so many musicians I’ve been talking to are stressed out. Actually, I was talking to one who said he was out of his mind, and I said yeah…that’s a good line for Stressed Out [laughs]. If you think about it, this industry is so big. There’s the musicians, but then the P.A. Hire, rehearsal rooms, dancers, singers…it goes on and on. That impact is just so huge. But at the same time, I don’t think the people who make the legislation have thought about it that way. They’re like, ok, no musicians are working. But what about the rest? What about event-planners? Venues? Everybody else is this huge industry that’s now just at a stand-still.”
Well one thing that Jo has been able to do, thankfully, is put together a video for Stressed Out that’s every bit as cool as the song itself. And indeed, at the time of our chat, views of the video on YouTube had already gone well past the 100,000 mark. Jo told me all about putting that side of things together…
“We were obviously planning that in advance, but then the government said we were going to shut down for a month or two, and then everything was going to go back to normal. So we were planning to have a bunch of people at the beach and have a real tropical vibe with it. So myself and the director, we had designed a full set and started getting people involved, we needed about fifty people there for the end, all clapping and dancing and singing the song. And we were going to do a bit in a venue as well, on stage, you know. There was a whole plan going ahead. But then, about ten days before we were due to shoot the video, they announced that the lockdown was not going away, nowhere was opening, no weddings happening, no groups of people meeting, and all of this! [laughs]. So we had to literally strip everything then to the bare minimum. But it was very enjoyable. We were like, ok, cool, let’s make it like a kind of scenario where you wake up and the minute I leave the apartment that we hired, from that time until going to the beach, it’s just me trying to get away from all the craziness! It still works! There’s just a lot less people involved. Because we couldn’t have done it the way we planned it, and then have everybody see that we’d done it at a time when people were not meant to be together that much. This is why we ended up really stripping it back, and having less people in isolated places.”
To bring our chat to an end, I asked Jo what’s next on his schedule for 2020, in as much as it’s even possible to plan anything right now…
“I’m just hoping that we will see more consideration given to the events industry. Up to now, there’s been no thought or emphasis on it. I think they just need to consider the thousands and tens of thousands of people who are out of work right now in this industry. Music, at the end of the day, and entertainment, it’s something that people look forward to. If there’s a show, people plan weeks in advance. Even musicians as well, knowing that something is coming back, that would lift our spirits. We were meant to have a gig this week, but then they were saying that Cork might be locked down, and that’s where our gig was. We’re literally working on a day-to-day basis not knowing what’s happening. For 2021, I just hope that everything goes back to some kind of normal [laughs]. So that we can go out gigging and promoting. Because what I’ve found out is that it’s so hard to promote anything if you’re not able to go out and show it to people. Ok, I can do so much on video, so much on Facebook, but then…there’s nothing else I can do. And then it’s destructive for the art itself. Because you start questioning yourself, am I doing the right thing? Because it still costs money to do a song.”One thing is for sure, though, and that is that no matter what happens, Jo will remain addicted to the music.
~ STRESSED OUT, the brand new single from JO PETIT is out now, available on all platforms and to request from radio.