“Originally hailing from Baton Rouge, Jony Shelby is a versatile R&B artist, while he is now based in Austin, Texas. He was always fascinated by music since a young age, from playing instruments in his late father’s church to being drum major in his high school band, but it has only been recently within the past 3 years that he has artfully captivated with his creations.”
Jony Shelby sings in the intro of his single “Crater”. With the sonic energy of Frank Ocean and the humming vibrato of Post Malone, “Crater” is perfect for a road trip to California with a purple-red sunset as the backdrop. The track speaks to his longing to escape the world he’s in while hopefully being with someone to withstand the rush of his ambitious lifestyle. Dwight James III spoke with Jony about music, life, and everything in between.
Dwight James III: How do you pronounce your stage name?
Jo-knee Shell-bee. People tend to pronounce it as Johnny.
How have things been since COVID started? Has COVID affected you in any way?
Yea, it actually has. I know everyone has their own share of struggles and hardships but it affected me in the sense that initially when everyone had to quarantine, I thought it was kinda nice. I could spend more time at home which meant that I could spend more time working on the s$&^ that I love which is music, working on my craft. This was great at first but what I came to find out is that you need that variation in life [to] keep that hunger alive. Beforehand, I was going to work, hanging out with friends and doing other normal things in life. By the time I got home, I was grinding super hard on music and being more efficient with the things that I do. What I also found out about being in quarantine and being at home all the time was that I was doing just as much as I was before [quarantine] and not less. There’s something about being home all of the time that affects your mood a bit. It kinda got worse because quarantine affected my living situation. At the house I was staying at, I had everything set up and it was nice. But the owners of the house ran into hardships because of COVID and they ended up having to sell the house. They gave me a month’s notice to pack up my stuff and move out, which is the worst possible news I could’ve heard at the time. In the middle of a pandemic, the last thing you’re trying to do is pick up and move to try and find a new place. It’s been a bit of a struggle trying to find a new place to settle up and get things back to normal. It has affected the workflow a little bit and like everyone else that came into 2020 with big plans and big hopes, I wasn’t any different. I came into the year like this is gonna be the year– grind hard, get more shows, increase efficiency. Yea it has taken a hit lil bit with COVID affecting plans but at the same time, it has affected everyone so I try to keep that in mind. Life is gonna throw you curveballs so I try to make the best out of the situation. Find the positives out of it.
Speaking of positives, what are some of your inspirations? What are some things you do to get in the zone?
I like to relax and maybe go outside to take a walk and enjoy nature to just take it in. The spot I’m staying in now is a homie’s spot, he’s big on plants and planting stuff. He has a little garden on his porch which is perfect for me to kinda just go out there. I do it almost every day and listen to the wind chimes, it’s a really zen spot for me. I go out there and decompress. Nature, sitting outside helps me clear my mind and thoughts. Usually what I find when I’m in a really creative mode, I bounce between grinding super hard on the computer, taking a 30-minute break to go outside and chill then working some more if I’m really trying to decompress.
What has living in Austin done for you musically?
You know, Louisiana is great if you’re in New Orleans but I wasn’t in New Orleans at the time. I was in Baton Rouge– which is the capital but it also doesn’t have the best music culture. When I was doing more and more music starting to get better and better, I craved more companionship to collaborate which Baton Rouge didn’t have much of that or the culture either. So I began to seek out a place that had that identity. I heard good things about Austin so I took a leap and moved there. What I love about it is that soon as you get there, you feel that music culture. It permeates throughout the whole town. I met a ton of people who were aspiring musicians so it’s good to see that we’re all on that type of level. So that inspires you to raise the bar in terms of your standards. You’re like, “Damn, I gotta get on this level.” Before I was in Baton Rouge and people weren’t really doing things or were on an introductory level. But now that I’m doing things, you got people in Austin that are born into it or they’ve been living there their whole life or they’ve been grinding for a while. So I’m like dang I gotta step my game up. So it inspired me in the sense to raise up my level to try to match the people who’ve been doing this for a long time. In a collaborative sense, these people have a completely different perspective on music creation and life whether it be because they’re from Austin or a different part of the country and they migrate to Austin. That’s definitely influenced how I’ve been creating music. It’s been really great compared to Baton Rouge. Having a community of artists and a town that places artists on a pedestal where you can have a live scene if you wanted to expand your live presence is really big to me.
Who would you say are your influences?
I got a few, I’m pretty eclectic. Being a producer early on, I took a lot from Kanye. He was always somebody, on the production side, that always blew my mind at a young age. From the moment I heard him, he stood out from everyone else. He went a long way in influencing the way I produce my stuff to create emotion and moments in my music. Obviously, [Kid] Cudi is a big influence for me and a lot of people. [Childish] Gambino, James Blake is a big influence. If I had to throw in one more person, I would have to say Bon Iver. They’re a great group. I would say those are my main influences.
What is home like for you?
You’ll probably like Louisiana. It’s similar to Florida in the sense that it’s humid as f*ck. Hot as hell. But Louisiana itself is alright. It’s home. There’s a lot of trees. Baton Rouge especially is a pretty big town. It’s not like New Orleans, it doesn’t really have that culture like I mentioned before. It has a lot of variation in terms of the people that are there, which was kinda nice growing up. But also, there isn’t too much to do. I know you mentioned that you went to FSU, I went to LSU. I had a friend that went there [FSU]. It’s a pretty good school. But the main reason I was in Baton Rouge was because of LSU. So Baton Rouge in a sense is a college town. Home for me is Baton Rouge. A lot of the memories I have come from the friends and family I have there– in the actual state itself. I wouldn’t say it’s too culture-driven when it comes to Baton Rouge but New Orleans is always a great look to go visit. It’s like an hour away from Baton Rouge. All the time when people think of Louisiana, they think of New Orleans and you know it is a great place. If you ever find yourself in Louisiana, definitely check it out. I think most of my memories of home come from Baton Rouge and when I think about it, it’s more of my family, my friends, and my homies there.
How much did playing music in church and the high school band have an impact on your music and/or the process you have making music?
I don’t think it influences that much in terms of the style or lyrical content currently since it was so long ago. My dad had a small fellowship. My brother and I were eight and 11 years old respectively. It was actually my uncle that played all of the instruments. We just wanted to help out and just started playing drums, the guitar, and piano. I would say that helps the variation of instrumental choice that I use nowadays that’s drawn from the different instruments. But it doesn’t influence my output as much as I hoped it to do.
Would you consider yourself a full-time artist or are you working part-time to pave the way to become a full-time artist?
With the pandemic, I’m a full-time artist now. If things were to go back to normal, I would be working and be a part-time artist. That’s basically what I was before. The dream is to become a full-time artist. Working, paying the rent, paying the bills and getting to that stage where I can live solely off the music. Once things get back to normal, I will get a job and work until I get to that full-time status.
What would you say are your dreams as an artist?
My motivations and dreams are like I mentioned before, is to be able to live completely off of music. I want to wake up in the morning and do what I love: make music, create, work with others, and not have to worry about rent, bills, where my next meal is coming from, going to work at another job (which is what I would rather not do). I want to be able to do that and make a living. I want to be able to do music and have enough to give back to my mom and not worry about money. I also want to make an impact with my music. I know a lot of people are happy with reaching a certain level but I don’t want to be just another name you read or see on your playlist. I wanna be like the people I aspire to be like. I wanna be able to affect somebody the same way that [Kid] Cudi affected me or James Blake. I wanna have that impact on a kid somewhere in the middle of the country who maybe didn’t have the biggest interest in music. But came across my stuff and got so inspired to pick up the computer and make beats. I want to make music that’s so compelling to make someone do that because that’s the reaction I had listening to the people that influenced me. I heard songs by these artists that made me do what I’m doing now. So I want to have that same impact on as many people as possible. That’s my driving motivation and aspiration.
What are your next steps toward your end goal when it comes to music?
My next steps were delayed because of COVID but I definitely want to get into the live scene. Taking that big step forward and doing more live music. Having that one on one connection with the people who listen to my stuff digitally. That physical connection you have with fans is invaluable and it’s hard to replicate with the current situation. So I’m doing what I can social media-wise until things get better to where we can come back out and return to that normalness of being able to play live and connect with fans. That would be the big step in terms of moving forward.
Do you have any new projects on the way?
I dropped my first EP about a year and a half ago. So now I’m working on the follow-up to that, which is gonna be my second EP. I’m trying to go all-in on that and grind on that. It probably won’t come out, ideally, until the beginning of next year with everything going on now. I think it’s gonna do a lot in terms of helping me take that next step and executing the plan I put together a few years ago.