As Willie Jones continues to trailblaze through his genre-crossing career in Country music, one thing that’s remained the same for him is that he hasn’t lost the essence of who he truly is.
All of Willie’s endeavors have been executed almost seamlessly and at a pretty quick pace – His career path thus far is a testament to the fact that real talent and true authenticity can go a long way. Willie chatted with us about his recent accolades, social responsibility as a Black country artist, and what representation looks like to him.
When people ask, “What is Willie Jones all about?” – What would you say?
Willie Jones: I’m all about positivity and love. I’m Willie Jones, a country music singer and just vibing.
Some would call your career path revolutionary in the sense that you’ve amassed such an incredible following through pure talent. How do you reflect on where your career is going with such a distinct genre-crossing sound?
Willie Jones: Revolutionary is crazy to think about. I’m just super blessed and honored to be in the position that I’m in. One of the reasons I got into country music was because I wanted to see that representation, so it’s cool to be that and also see the genre-expanding and evolving through my career. There are so many other Black artists in country music that are doing it day-to-day, so it’s really cool to see and hear that happening.
You recently made your debut at the Grand Ole Opry this year – on top of the fact that it happened close to the year mark of the national lockdown from the pandemic. What goes through your mind when you think about being able to achieve that?
It’s such a big stage in country music, and so many legends have touched that stage. There’s a circle at the front of the stage that’s about three feet, and it’s actually a piece of wood from the Ryman Theater, which has been a part of Nashville for many years. Just to be able to step on it and bring a different view of what country music is and what it has been is wild. I’ve been reflecting on it more through doing interviews and stuff, but honestly, I just feel like I’m doing me. Yes, I’m making moves that have never been done before, and I’m aware of that, so sometimes it’s kinda wild even to think I’ve achieved that.
Are those achievements something you think about more in the moment, or does it happen after the fact?
I think it varies, but typically I think about it more after the fact. I make sure I prepare because I don’t like putting too much pressure on myself. Generally, I go into things headfirst and expect the best.
What do you most want your audience to understand about you and your art?
I’m really just doing what I love to do, and I’m growing through it every day and every moment. I feel like I’m just realizing more about myself and what I’ve always wanted to do, and it’s just great.
Your music video for “American Dream“ has some incredible messaging. From paying homage to those who have fallen due to police brutality, the use of anime, to the images of Colin Kaepernick taking a knee – what has been the response to the video’s concept from the country music community?
From what I hear, the response has been great. I made that song to empower those people in the fight for justice and equality. They’re the ones who I want to hear from. The director was Jamal Wade, a fellow Louisiana stepper. I remember receiving a few ideas and treatments from other directors and creatives, but I just was not feeling the direction. I knew I wanted the imagery to be totally different than what you would expect. I didn’t want to be in handcuffs, and I didn’t want to reenact what we typically see when we get songs like that.
Visually we’ve seen so much in real life, like with George Floyd and others, I want to create something that can empower the movement. If anything, I wanted to be a superhero. I wanted this video to be fly and involve supernatural elements. When I linked up with Jamal, we came up with this idea and told a story that came across so well. The distinction between anime and country music never crossed my mind because I was just doing what I thought was cool.
Your latest single, “Down by the Riverside,” is a complete homage to your home state, Louisiana. Tell us more about the creation of that song and why it was so important to you.
“Down by the Riverside” was really fun to make, and the beat was crazy. I got in the studio with my boys, Josh Logan and Jason Afable, and I just wanted to make something that represented where I was from. I love the song, and the sound just hits. I hadn’t put any song out like it. I’m super braggadocious on it too, which I typically don’t go for, but it’s good to show a different side of me.
In terms of country music and collaborations, are there any other artists that you want to work with, or do you feel as though you’re creating your own genre and lane within the subculture of country music?
Outside of the traditional sense, there are many parts to country music, and I just want to add my own little vibe to it. As for collaborations, I’d love to work with T-Pain. I’ve always been a fan of his writing, storytelling, and sound. He’s definitely one of my biggest influences, and I feel like he could make country music.
I think many Black artists should get their feet wet in country music because it’s something different. I bring this up because when Beyoncé did “Daddy Lessons,” I wanted to hear her do a whole country album – There was just a different swag to it. I just love to see the genre opening up and show love to artists like Brittany Spencer, who’s doing her thing, and so many others bringing in a different view and sound to country.
Apart from being an artist, you also host your own bi-weekly show, “Crossroads Radio” on Apple Music. You have a great radio voice, and it’s refreshing to see different sides of you in that aspect. Tell us about how you differently or similarly prepare to be a radio show host.
I’ve always played around with my radio voice after hearing the radio skit in T-Pain’s “Kiss Kiss” single – and I just remember growing up and listening to DJ BayBay on the radio on Shreveport 103.7FM. At the top of the pandemic, my manager called me to share the news, and I was like, “What? How did this even happen?” Shout out to the homie, Michael Bryan, who was over at CAA and started working at Apple. Apple began to expand its radio platform across all boards, especially the country division. They ended up just blessing me with the show.
On “Crossroads Radio,” we play Country, Hip Hop, and R&B. We highlight how music blends, and it’s so dope. I prepared by listening to a lot of music and being more intentional with how I listen to and discover it. Creating the show required me to figure out sequencing, playlist curation, and figuring out what stories I wanted to tell in between songs. We also had to find ways to weave in interviews throughout the show. With my producers Tommy and Trevor, we just put together a cool show experience over the past year.
What’s special about Apple Radio is that other Black Country artists like Tiera, Breland, Jimmie Allen, and myself all have shows under the country music umbrella. To be able to amplify our voices in Country on Apple Music is cool, and it feels like a renaissance.
Do you feel as though you have a responsibility as a Black country star to create these platforms to raise awareness about what you and other similar artists are doing?
There’s definitely a responsibility, and I feel like that’s something I’ve always known. Like the saying, “with great power comes great responsibility,” and I’m trying to be as responsible as I can. I think I’ve been doing a good job so far because it doesn’t feel forced. I’m just chillin’ and doing my thing.
What would you say to younger artists who see you as an inspiration or aspire to cross over and add to the melting pot of multi-genre music?
Create how you want to create, and don’t compare your sounds to anybody else’s. Create freely, write the truth, tell stories, and get your pen game up. You can do it.
What’s on the horizon for you the rest of this year?
I’m working on new music and an album. I’m not done with it yet, but I’ve got many fire songs that I’m condensing down for the record. I’ll continue writing, and I’m working on a tour before the end of the year – so just growing mentally, physically, and spiritually by creating and getting better at what I do.
Is there anyone special you want to shout out?
My career is a team effort – they make everything happen. So I just want to shout out The Penthouse and my manager, Jonnie Foster; everyone at my label, Sony Music Nashville; and God.