– By Khahlil Louisy
With a quiet demeanor and youthful spirit, Jonathan Tilkin won over social media last year with his multi-cam covers of major pop songs like “Despacito,” “Let Me Love You,” and “Night Changes.” That attention quickly garnered him over 100,ooo actively engaged followers on Instagram, who are wholly invested in what he publishes.
Prior to Instagram, his Vine videos garnering over 5 million loops. Originally from Boca Raton, Florida, Tilkin’s distinct vocal style blends his love of virtuosic greats like Stevie Wonder with pop acts like One Direction and Ed Sheeran. His debut single, DAYDREAMIN, was released in August 2017 and quickly passed 1 million streams, charting in five countries.
He chats with us about his new single, SOMETHING TO HOLD ON TO, and his first experience attending New York Fashion week.
Tell us, how did you wind up in New York?
It’s funny, I always thought I’d end up in New York growing up, but as soon as I graduated from college I actually moved right to LA. I was offered an awesome internship with Quincy Jones and afterwards decided I wanted to stay for a while. After a year there I met my manager (who’s primarily in [New York City]) at an Interscope records party and that’s when I started going back and forth between LA and NYC.
Which do you prefer? LA or NYC?
I love them both for different reasons. I love how much more open space there is in LA, but I love the rush and hustle of New York. I feel like I get more done here.
Did you always want to be a singer growing up? Is this what you imagined for your career?
Yes and no. I was always singing as a kid. I started taking piano lessons at 6, which I quit a few years later and then picked up again in my teens. Music has always been a huge part of my life, but I never dreamed of being a big singer. It just seemed too unrealistic. It wasn’t until my voice coach, who was working with Ariana Grande at the time, told me I could do it that I even really considered it. I figured with all he knew, if he thought I could do it, maybe I really could.
Speaking of Ariana Grande, I heard you grew up with her. What was that like?
Yeah, we did shows together when we were really young, like 8 or 9, and after that we were in a singing group together till we were 13 or 14. Then she went off and did a Nickelodeon show and I went to a performing arts high school. She was really awesome and it’s honestly because of her that I started really trying to sing like a pro. She was as amazing then as she is now and I just wanted to keep up with her. I remember one Halloween we were out together and she was singing and I said to my friend “I just wish I could box-up her voice and give it as a gift,” and like 5 later years you could. Pretty crazy.
That’s incredible. Are you still close with her?
Not as close, but we still check in with each other on Facebook and support each other.
Has she heard your new song? Is she a part of the massive online push I’ve heard about?
She hasn’t heard it yet. I’m very private with my music until I’m confident it’s ready to go. And as far as being a part of the push, I didn’t want to put her in a weird position. If she likes it and wants to share it, that would be awesome! But I would never ask for it.
Totally understandable. What about the rest of your friends and family? Are they supportive?
Yes! They’re insanely supportive. I pretty much called my parents every night to check in with them about what phase of the song’s release we were at. They love being a part of it. My friends are great too- not many of them have heard the song so I can’t wait for them to hear it.
Has it been a lot of stress getting the song ready for the world to hear?
Absolutely. There’s been a lot of sleepless nights. But I think it’s ready. At a certain point you have take your hands off and say it’s time. I don’t think you ever sit back and say “this is as good as it will ever be.” You’re always thinking of new things you want to try.
I can only imagine. You’ve been in front of the camera a lot lately. How do you balance the sleepless nights and stress while keeping up your health?
That’s a tough one. Usually I try to go to the gym 3-4 days a week and sleep at least 7 hours. But lately I’ve been lucky to get in 2 days and sleep 5 hours. So far I’ve been okay though. I think I manage to stay on top of it all by eating well and not going to too many parties.
I’m sure the not partying also helps keep your head clear when you’re writing and in the studio. Tell us a little more about that process. How long have you been working on Something To Hold On To?
My co-writer and I wrote the song back in June and recorded the demo the same week, which is actually the final vocal you hear. We went in to re-record it and the emotion just never beat that first version. We were trying to do better than the demo and finally just said “why are we trying to outdo something that already works?” So we left it.
That makes sense. The emotion really is the center of a song like this. Could you tell us a little bit about what inspired the song and what it’s about?
The song is a big love ballad about a couple that drifted but managed to find their way back to each other. As far as the inspiration for the song- I was actually going through a pretty bad break up and I kept saying to my co-writer “the toughest part is going to bed alone. I just wish I had something to hold on to” and he goes “and that’s your song,” and then we just started writing. Most of my songs so far have come from a really truthful place. I’m an honest guy and I think my music reflects it.
Sounds like it came from a natural place. Was it a fast process? How many hours do you think you spent writing and recording it?
The initial demo? We wrote the skeleton in probably 2 hours. It took a few more days to work out the second verse and how the song should end. Then the recording was probably 4 hours in the studio. After that comes the “mixing and mastering” and that’s the part where all the elements are blended and balanced. That part probably took 20 hours to get right. But I wasn’t in the room for all of that. Part of it is the engineer’s job to tackle and then I come in and give a fresh perspective. It’s really a group effort.
Speaking of group efforts, how many people did it take get this song to happen?
Hm. Well there’s my co-writer, the producer, two engineers, mixer, two mastering guys, and my manager. Then there’s a whole other team for the video. But on a daily basis I’m mainly working with two people, my mentor and co-writer Aaron Hagan and my manager Ryan M. Kolton.
You mentioned your manger earlier and how you connected. What’s it like working with him? Do you guys see eye to eye?
Oh yeah 100%. I worked independently for a while because I felt like people couldn’t really see my vision. As soon as Ryan and I started talking he completely got what I was trying to do and where I wanted to go. Early on he had a lot of ideas of what we could do and he’s pretty much gotten all of them to happen. I try to make sure all of my team- down to the photographers I work with- really want to make something special.
That’s really great. Was one of those ideas a release during fashion week?
Yes! At the start we talked about how music and fashion really went hand in hand. Part of creating who I am is told visually so to me it made a lot of sense. Not to mention my manager had a lot of background with fashion, so it seemed like a good way to take advantage of all our strengths.
And this is your first time at fashion week, right? Can you tell us how it’s been going? Was it different than you expected?
It’s been a lot of fun and I’ve learned so much. I expected most of the shows to be like Perry Ellis – bright space, marble floors, and clean designs. It was a great show and the energy in the room was really exciting. What I wasn’t expecting were the shows like Dyne or Sanchez-Kane. The first was in a dark room and even had a girl on stilts walking the runway. Sanchez-Kane was actually my first show and was nothing like I expected. Most of the models had round disks covering their faces. One guy was even wearing a big stack of sunglasses that covered his chest up to like a foot above his head. It was really cool.
Sounds like it. There’s a lot of variety to the week. I think that’s what keeps it fun and fresh. So what’s coming next? Do you have more songs lined up?
Yes! There’s another 3 or 4 songs I’m hoping to get out in the next few months. Right now we’re debating between an EP and a full length album. I’m hoping to be opening for a major singer by summer. That would really be incredible.
Who would you want to open up for in a dream world?
Well Taylor [Swift] is about to start her tour. She’s an amazing songwriter and I’d really like to learn from her. Ed Sheeran would be incredible too, but I think his tour is about to end so the timing wouldn’t work out.
Thank you so much for sitting down to talk with us. It’s always interesting to get inside the life and mind of an up-and-coming artist. Here’s hoping you continue to enjoy your first-of-many-to-come fashion weeks. There’s a lot of eye-popping collections to take in. See you there!