“If being current and trendy and business-oriented is what you’re going for, I’m not knocking it. But I tried playing that game and I found ultimately that it wasn’t a good fit for the kind of person I really am, deep down. I’ve never been cool, or trendy. I’ve always been sort of counter-culture and left field in my own goofy ways, and that’s really a more honest perspective for me to come from anyway as an artist.” – Fly Academic
JACQUELINE JAX – How did you get your start in music?
FLY ACADEMIC: Well I starting writing rhymes just for fun in high school. It wasn’t until I went off to college that I got a little more confident about it – started getting involved in freestyle ciphers at parties and spitting rhymes with my buddies when we would go on smoke rides. Around the time I was a Sophomore/Junior, I had some high school friends who were getting serious about hip hop. They got a deal with an indie label in Philly, put out an album, did a few shows around the city. Seeing people so close to me going out there and doing it, it made the whole idea suddenly a lot more attainable, so by the time my Senior year in college came around I had recorded a demo/mixtape, was doing gigs at campus parties and such, etc. And from there I just got deeper and deeper into it, took it from more of a hobby to a professional interest.
Tell me about “Keep Dreaming”.
The song I’m sending into the show is called “Keep Dreaming.” It was the first single I released under the Fly Academic name. “Keep Dreaming” is a record that is very close to my heart. Probably one of the most honest and personal records I’ve put out. “Keep Dreaming” is all about the struggle to keep your dreams alive as you move out of adolescence and into full-blown adulthood. When we are kids, we have such idealistic ideas about what we want to do when we ‘grow up.’ We want to be astronauts and rock stars and TV actors. Then we enter our college/young adult phase and our dreams get watered down into something more realistic, more practical. Then I find that most people enter the so-called real world and pretty much just take the first job that comes along and suddenly your dreams get left behind. We look down on dreamers in this society. We think there is something childish about still wanting to be a rock star as you are entering your 30’s, when the Powers-That-Be are telling us to buy shit we don’t need and ‘settle down,’ whatever that means. Fall in line and do as you’re told. But honestly, I think there is something beautiful about those people who choose a different path. The dreamers need more love, more support, and we need dreamers more than ever right now. This song is all about chasing your dreams no matter what your age, color, size, life situation, etc. may be.
– What’s the music scene like in your town?
I just moved to Baltimore about a year and a half ago. Truth be told, I haven’t really had much of a chance to explore the music scene down here yet. But in the meantime, I don’t hear too much about indie bands or open mic shows or anything of the underground variety. Maybe I am just not in the right social circles to be ‘in the know,’ it’s hard to say. But it’s a little discouraging, because it has felt to me for a while that live music is dying out. Less and less bars/venues seem to book live acts anymore, not sure why that is. You hear about big name acts coming through town once in a while, but sometimes I wonder what outlet the indie artists even have anymore to get out there and be seen and heard. Philly wasn’t exactly a big music industry town when I was coming up, but at least we had open mics and venues willing to give you a chance to draw a crowd and make some money. These days, it just seems like the internet is replacing any want or need for live music, and that’s a little disappointing.
– What do you like about social media? Have you found any challenges that you’ve had to overcome?
My greatest challenge with social media for the past 6 years or so was figuring out how to get rid of it. I hate social media. I finally set myself free in late 2014. I still have a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account for my music, but I never sign on anymore and have basically turned off all notifications. I realize that’s essentially the best way to never make an impact in the 2015 modern world of music/entertainment, but I was on that grind for 6 years and I hated it. It dominated my life, I spent the majority of my day sitting in front of a computer screen or a cell phone screen, and I just felt like I was living in the Matrix. I’ve been “social media free” for a few months now, and it’s like I suddenly remember what the clouds look like. I can still make my music, make my art, and not feel like a prisoner to technology anymore. It has been great.
– Why do you think it’s so hard for indie artists to break into the mainstream big markets and gain a solid fan base?
Because most indie artists don’t have money. Let’s not kid ourselves. Talent and drive and ambition doesn’t mean anything anymore. A terrible “artist” with a big promo budget will always break into the mainstream and enjoy that exposure before an artistic genius who doesn’t have the means to invest in themselves will. True talent sometimes rises to the top eventually, but it doesn’t happen as often as people lead you to believe and it usually takes many, many years. So, make music because you love it. Not because you want to ‘make it.’ Because nobody makes it. And the ones who do are usually the ones who don’t deserve it.
– Who is your favorite artist? Why do they influence you?
It’s almost impossible for me to choose just one favorite artist. I listen to so many different musicians. So many different styles, genres, I go through so many phases. I’ll spend a few weeks only listening to 90’s underground hip-hop, then I’ll switch it up and listen to pop dance reggae for a week, suddenly have a craving for some ambient indie electronic shit, before switching gears and rocking out to some Paul Simon or James Taylor song on repeat for 3 days. I just crave music of all kinds. And no, I’ve never met any of my idols in person, but I did get the opportunity to record a track with Geechi Suede of Camp Lo back in 2013, and that was a huge personal accomplishment. Camp Lo “Luchini” was one of the songs that really got me into hip hop as a writer and helped develop my early rap style. It was surreal to appear on the same track as one of my inspirations.
– Every true artist has a creative journey they hope for, what is the legacy you want to leave? How do you want to be remembered for your music?
I used to spend a lot of time worrying about my “legacy,” and how I wanted to be remembered as an artist, or how I wanted people to interpret my work. You know, trying to craft my own narrative. I’m not really into that anymore. I just create art for the purpose of self-expression, to share my journey and my various experiences with the world in a creative, stimulating way. If people take something from it, if a song I recorded leads to someone emoting or connecting with it on some meaningful level, that’s amazing. But I’m done trying to prove to everybody how innovative and high-concept and multi-layered and cerebral of a musician I think I am. If that is how somebody interprets my work, great, but I don’t really need the ego validation anymore. I do this because it makes me happy, no other reason.
– What is your experience with negative energy?
I mean, I’ve certainly dealt with my fair share of negativity. A lot of my early stuff was, misunderstood, to say the least. I would get all kinds of backlash. Hurtful YouTube comments, people trying to clown me on social media, even death threats. So that was tough to digest, because I thought what I was doing at that time was really smart and outside-the-box, and to be honest I wasn’t used to people not liking me or not getting along with me. So that was something else, man.
How do you remove the monetary value as a means of influence over or judgement of your art?
I’ve definitely been guilty in the past of letting money, or the pursuit of money, poison my mind, influence my music in a negative way. Basically, I’m at a point now where I do this because I enjoy it, because it is a creative outlet, and really that’s probably all it ever should have been. Once I started treating it like a business, it took the fun out of it. It became a job, I became obsessed, stressed out all the time, behaving erratically. So I can’t tell anybody else how to be.
Do you find that there is to much emphasis on being current and trendy or Is there a balance that you have found helpful in your artistic decisions?
If being current and trendy and business-oriented is what you’re going for, I’m not knocking it. But I tried playing that game and I found ultimately that it wasn’t a good fit for the kind of person I really am, deep down. I’ve never been cool, or trendy. I’ve always been sort of counter-culture and left field in my own goofy ways, and that’s really a more honest perspective for me to come from anyway as an artist.
– Are you religious? Do you believe in fate?
I’m not religious, no. I flirted with Buddhism back in college like many liberal potheads are ought to do, a Buddhist Enthusiast I used to say, but no I was never into any organized religion. I don’t believe in fate. I hate that concept, actually. I think it takes away an individual’s power to make a change in their lives. I would rather empower people by instilling the idea that you can be anybody or anything you want to be (within reason). You can be the type of person you want to be, rather. You may not necessarily land your dream job or your dream house, but you can be as good a human being as you want to be. And yes I believe a positive attitude is key. Negativity can drag you down fast if you don’t stay on top of it. And I do find that the most positive people end up being the happiest and most fulfilled people, regardless of their perceived ‘status’ in society.
– What are you thankful for?
To be here, to be alive. By all accounts I should be dead. Probably should have died a few times over, given some of the stupid shit I use to get into. I’m thankful for my family, for my girlfriend, to have a job, to have strong friendships that have endured the years and various personality overhauls I’ve been through. I’m thankful for my (relative) freedom. I’m thankful for those things.
– Where do you hope to see yourself in 5 years?
– What do you want most and how do you know it will make you happy?
Some days I wake up and I honestly don’t know what I want. There are times I feel discontent, I feel restless, or uncomfortable in my position for whatever reason. Unfortunately I’ve always been a little depressed, or generally frustrated about something. It’s just my disposition. But I do my best to find the good in things, stay positive like I said, enjoy the little things, live in the moment to the best of my ability. That’s all you can do, you know? A happy artist is a boring artist anyway haha.
– Have you ever stepped back to look at the bigger picture of who you are and where you fit in this world?
All the time. I pride myself on being self-aware. Knowing who you are, and sometimes more importantly who you WANT to be, are essential I think in building forward momentum in life. It’s been a while since I’ve had a true existential, introspective nightmare, but I used to go through those pretty frequently. I think too much, people always told me. That was my biggest problem. I would over-think everything. I can’t stop thinking. That’s why I average about 3 hours of sleep a night (which is actually a step up from the 1-2 hours a night I would get back in the 08-09 era). I think I have learned a lot about myself over the years. I finally started feeling truly comfortable in my own skin in just the past 3 or 4 years. But I’m always changing, growing, evolving, etc. So just when you think you have the answers, suddenly you’re forced to change the questions.
– In your opinion what is the best way for someone to discover what they are good at and or what will make them happy?
Be open-minded, keep a healthy sense of adventure. Don’t be afraid of new experiences, or to step outside of your comfort zone.
– How can your life become more rich?
Nothing having to deal with crippling anxiety anymore would be a nice start, I imagine.
– How do you handle conflict in your life?
I don’t know. I used to avoid conflict as a younger man. I would have rather let someone take advantage of me or treat me with disrespect than run the risk of having to get into a confrontation with somebody. I hate how cowardly I used to be in that respect. I still have moments where it is hard to overcome that programming. But in general, I’ve gotten better about standing up for myself, about facing conflict and challenge head on. I can’t think of any specific instances, honestly, off the top of my head. But some of that just comes from growing up and finding yourself and learning how to be comfortable with who you are.
– Do you feel that there is anything that prevents you from living up to your full potential?
No. We all have obstacles to overcome, but nothing really prevents you from doing anything or being anything other than yourself.
– What is your personal definition of success?
Happiness, a sense of fulfillment, having touched other people’s lives in a positive way. That’s a strong start, at least.
– Do you feel that you have limits to what you can do and achieve? Explain.
It depends on what your particular goals are. The window has probably closed on me becoming the President of the United States, yeah. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be an important person in my own right.
-If heaven exists what’s the first thing you would like to hear god say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
“Hmm .. not seeing your name on the list … well, ha, this is awkward, huh? … Nah, I’m just fucking with ya. Come on in, I was just about to pearl up.”
“Keep Dreaming” on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/keep-dreaming-feat.-turquoise/id844529450