Jly - Singer-Songwriter
jly is a rocket scientist by day and pop singer-songwriter by night. Her love for music began at a young age, singing and performing through out school, but she got her degree in electrical engineering and a 9-5 job before she chose to pursue music full time. Jly recognized her talent in songwriting then spent time in Nashville working on songwriting and performing at open mics before coming back to LA, participating in more songwriting workshops and open mics and releasing her EP “Fresh Face”. She’s performed at 626 Night Market, Sunday Jump, Kulak’s Woodshed, and Recess Mic, finding her community in LA’s Asian American creative scene. Jly continues to work on music, developing a darker/deeper/more modern style for her new work, and is releasing a new single on September 27th!
When did you begin singing and performing? And when did you realize music was something you wanted to pursue?
I started singing at 5 years old, rolling around on the carpet in front of my parents’ stereo system, singing along to Beyonce and Christina Aguilera. I loved music. I began performing in 6th grade in the school choir and was in choir all throughout high school. I was in an a cappella group at UCLA, and once I graduated, I joined a semi professional a cappella group called Top Shelf Vocal.
As far as my solo singing career, I spent a lot of time in middle school prepping for solo auditions. I wasn’t that good and kept getting rejected for all the solos I wanted. I got the Spirit award 2 years in a row for trying, though! Once I took private voice lessons in high school, I started to land more gigs, like singing the national anthem at my high school’s sporting events, and I even started a band called 11th Summer. Up to this point, music was still a side hobby.
I feel that it’s very common for Asian American parents to want their kids to pursue more practical careers. My parents met in Philippines when they were studying chemical engineering. They wanted their kids to focus on getting a practical degree and learn how to solve problems like an engineer. My brother went to UC Berkeley and studied civil engineering, so naturally I followed a similar path at UCLA and graduated with a degree in electrical engineering.
I interned twice at Walt Disney Engineering, doing audio video engineering work. For me, AV engineering was a compromise for me to still have a creative edge in my technical work. Once I got a full time job at an AV systems integration company that worked both for Disneyland and Universal Studios, I also took classes at The Songwriting School of LA. It was then that I realized that not only do I have a strong passion for songwriting and performing...but I’m also naturally quite gifted when it comes to writing songs!
I quit my first job in September 2018 and decided to go all in and pursue music full-time. I moved to Ohio with my older brother and lived in the basement of his new house in Cincinnati. Since it was only a 4.5 hour drive to Nashville, I drove there every other week to learn more about songwriting and perform at local open mics. I seriously considered moving to Nashville, but I realized that since I do pop music, I would be better off back in LA. I took a 48-hour train ride back to LA at the start of 2019 and have been fully committed to starting my music career here ever since.
Was it difficult making the decision to go from engineering to music? Change your life?
It was hard. My dad was supportive but expressed worry. He is all for me going what makes me happy, but he was worried that I won’t have enough money to afford food or a comfortable place to stay. I assured him I’d try to get an engineering day job to support myself and my music career. After spending the last year and a half looking for a stable 9-5 job, I am happy to say that I landed a great position with Raytheon as a systems engineer. I will be starting at the end of this month.
I am grateful to have parents who, despite being worried for my future at first when I declared that I wanted to be a musician, have had my back. My mom hasn’t missed a single show of mine, and my dad is always asking me how he can help me achieve my goals.
What is your musical style?
I am pretty pop. I grew up listening to the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, Britney Spears—a lot of stuff my older brother listened to.
My first project, Fresh Face, a four-song EP about self love and empowerment, shows my more acoustic side in the vein of Sara Bareilles and Corinne Bailey Rae. I leaned into my singer-songwriter side. I wanted to show people what I sounded like without heavy production behind me. I also wanted to show my roots as a songwriter and tell my story through themes of self love.
I want my next projects to have a darker sound and more modern production with touches of R&B, EDM, and hip hop. I’m in the process of learning how to rap and move more freely onstage. I’ve always loved when Beyonce riffs and I'm a huge fan of Lizzo and Janelle Monae. Within the next year, I will transition from this cute ukelele girl to becoming a badass Asian Lizzo. I’m ready to take my listeners on a journey to show the evolution of jly as both a storyteller and as a performer.
How do you convey personal style in your music? Music unique to you.
When I write songs, I always ask myself, “Has this been said before?” If it has, then I try to come up with a new and fresh way to say things. I like to go through my songs line by line and ask, “What is a more Jackie way of saying it?” Sometimes it comes down to my co-writer from Nashville, Brent, asking me to “Tell him something true.” After I tell him some personal tidbit from my life, without fail, he says “That’s a lyric.” Songs come from the heart and from you living your life.
Your body will naturally break down as you’re older, so things like playing sports will be a bit harder to keep up with in your later years. But with songwriting, the more you live your life, the better your songwriting will be because you will have lived to tell more stories.
I’m also a performer who sings the songs I write. Sometimes I rewrite the songs that I’ve finalized with my songwriter hat on because once I perform it and have the artist hat on, I am looking at my song from a different perspective. For example, “Fresh Face” is a song I toured all around Nashville, and it’s gone through a lot of changes. After performing it this past year, I realized that it needed to be more personal. It took a few re-writes, but I knew that this is exactly how the song should be when I was done with it.
Do you have any songs you love performing?
“Fresh Face” is awesome to perform because I've been performing that since I started writing last year, and so my audience knows the words and will sing it with me. It’s a magical moment when the audience sings your song back at you. It’s an incredible feeling. I also love doing my cover of Lizzo’s “Cuz I love you” because every time I do the high note and diva it out, the crowd goes bananas!
What are some of your favorite venues?
626 Night Market was awesome! I performed there a few weekends ago and got called back to perform there again because they liked me and my band a lot. There’s a lot of people walking by the stage, minding their own business and eating food, then they notice the stage and the music and stop to watch. By the end of my set, I’m performing in front of a few hundred people!
I enjoy open mics in the Asian American community like Sunday Jump and Recess Mic. I think they are my favorite ones in LA because the community is so strong. Kulak’s Woodshed in North Hollywood is a great one for singer-songwriters.
What was it like having your first single out?
This song was a long time coming. I began the production process in February.
I’ve been an active member of ACN (the Asian Creative Network on Facebook) since December. When they held the first mixer, I met Brian who is now a bass player in my band. He introduced me to the guitar player in my band, Kevin, who is also the producer for my album. He became my closest creative collaborator. We worked on “Fresh Face” from February to July and wrapped it up when we were on tour in Nashville and Cincinnati.
I still have people reach out to me and tell me that the songs from that project resonate with them. I am so proud as a songwriter to know that my music has touched people and made a positive impact in their lives.
I love pop music but these days it’s become mindless and repetitive, and I think there’s a lot more to be said in the realm of empowerment, lifting up minority groups and talking about my Asian American experience.
What/who has been instrumental in your personal and creative growth?
The thing that started everything was The Songwriting School of LA in Burbank. I wouldn't have been awakened to my talent in songwriting if I hadn’t taken their Roots class. I remember feeling so inspired in the time I was enrolled in those classes and thinking, “I can write and write an endless number of songs and I don’t think I’m ever gonna run out of ideas!” I learned that there is no rule to songwriting, that each song writes itself in a unique way. Every time you write, it’s something new, something fresh.
How does your community uplift you?
I began at open mics within the songwriting community. Many of the songwriters I met were just as inexperienced as I was, so I found camaraderie there. There were also a lot of talented folks who have been hustling for years, and it was nice to have people to look up to as well. They’re incredibly humble and willing to share how they found success and their path. It’s inspiring to hear that it can be you in a few years if you keep going. Oftentimes the songwriting I listen to inspires more art on my end. In Nashville, the songwriting community was super tight knit. Everyone was best friends and would lift each other up.
I also found community in the Asian American creative scene in LA. We all have this understanding of how we were raised and how it may have held us back early on in life from pursuing our creative goals. I also think minority groups are more aware of the need to go out and support each other. I want people in our community to shine. We can’t be threatened by other people who do what we do because there is room for everyone to bloom. We are celebrating each other’s success!
Do you have any upcoming events you’d like to share?
In collaboration with Sunday Jump, I will be teaching a Songwriting 101 workshop on Sunday, September 15th from 5-7 pm at the Pilipino Workers’ Center.
I will be performing with my full band at the Venice LGBT Art Walk in Saturday, September 14th at 8 pm!
My single release beach bonfire social will be on Friday, September 27th. More information on that soon!
Photos courtesy of jly music.