“I mean, like everybody, I was just forced to kinda put a pause on everything,” Will Jay tells American Songwriter. “I couldn’t write in-person, I couldn’t play shows, I couldn’t really do much of anything. It kinda forced me to reevaluate and, in the end, I’m actually really grateful for that time. I think I was in a place where I was heading towards total creative burnout.”
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Like many around the world—artists and non-artists alike—the COVID-19 pandemic was a life-changing, world-altering moment for Jay. After releasing singles for the better part of the past decade, leading up to that aforementioned album, the sudden jolt of being in quarantine led the 25-year-old pop artist to reconsider a lot of things about his vocation.
In the end, his newfound clarity led to a newfound headspace for songwriting, meriting some of the most heartfelt and skillfully-packaged tracks of his career. In May, he unveiled the nostalgic pop bop, “Glory Days” and on July 9, he’s dropping his latest single: “Please Don’t Get Any Older,” a touching tune that grew out of his quarantine experience watching his parents age… which goes to prove just how impactful that quarantine time was.
“When things first shut down, I didn’t really write anything for, like, two months,” Jay said. “Since I first started writing songs, I’ve never taken that long of a break. But when I finally came back to it, it almost felt new again, which was something I’ve never really experienced. So, since then, I’ve been striving to create stuff that I wouldn’t have normally done before or that I didn’t think was possible. I don’t mean that to sound pompous in any way, I just mean that whenever I sit down to write, I kinda try to force myself to fire a new neural pathway in my brain.”
It was this exciting creative exploration that eventually led Jay to writing “Please Don’t Get Any Older.” With an ingenious arrangement—clad with silky strings, glistening synths and a Brian Wilson-esque bridge—the tune proves that Jay grew quite a bit as a writer. Likewise, the striking vulnerability of the song’s lyrics is further evidence of that growth. Considering his parents’ mortality with poetic tact and emotional precision, the end result is something movingly beautiful.
“I live in the same city as my parents, so because of the pandemic, I was spending a lot of time with them,” Jay explained. “Towards the end of last year, my dad had a health scare and it really shook me. Because of COVID, I couldn’t go to the hospital to see him, only my mom was allowed to see him. He’s had health issues in the past, but it really felt different because I wasn’t able to see him. Thank God he’s fine now. There was a moment where I was like, ‘Oh, this might be it,’ you know? My parents are just far more fragile than I ever thought they would be. When you’re growing up, your parents are superheroes, they’re invincible. That’s really where this song came from.”
Ultimately, Jay is describing a feeling that a lot of folks can relate to, especially after the pandemic. To that end, he revealed that being able to put these feelings into music and then share it with his audience is a hugely therapeutic process.
“It means the most to me, it’s what fuels me to create,” he said. “Not only do I get to have that catharsis of writing this song—which allows me to understand myself better and turn a broken heart into art—but then I get to give it to somebody else and hopefully, they can connect with it. I think that everything in life is meant to be shared and I think music is the best way for me to do that. It’s amazing that I, as the artist, and you, as the listener, can bond over this shared experience. That’s the most beautiful part of doing what I do.”
Thanks to the wonders of social media, Jay gets the opportunity to connect with his fans in a pretty astounding way. With hundreds of thousands of followers, he’s been able to foster a sense of camaraderie with folks from literally all over the world. And as an Asian-American pansexual, having that opportunity means a lot to him. Even just looking back on the past decade, he feels honored to have played a role in the advancement of cultural diversity.
“I’ve been advocating for Asian-Americans for a long time—I still am and I always will,” he said. “But reflecting on just the past four or five years, the progress that’s been made has been amazing. Crazy Rich Asians wasn’t a movie when I started releasing music. There’s still so much work to be done, but that’s why I like to stay grounded. I think about 10-year-old me who didn’t really have anybody who looked like me to look up to.”
Likewise, Jay is proud of how far the conversation around the LGBT+ community has advanced, but he’s aware of the additional ground that’s yet to be covered. Even as homosexuality is becoming more and more mainstream in American culture, there’s still quite a bit of prejudice and misunderstanding around sexuality and the gender “binary.” For his part, Jay hopes he can be a helpful force in that conversation.
“I don’t really think of things in terms of labels, but I would say that I’m pansexual,” Jay said. “That’s a new thing—everyone close to me knows, but honestly, it hasn’t been something I’ve talked about openly. But, as a 25-year-old, I don’t really feel like I have anything to shy around from or hide. So, I look forward to exploring that, not just in my music, but in my identity. Like, I have a girlfriend, so I feel a need to be vocal and open about that, even though it’d be easy not to. I feel like people who fall in the ‘gray area’ need as much representation as someone who is fully straight or fully gay.
“Unfortunately, we live in a society where if you fit in the gray area as a man, you’re perceived a lot differently versus a woman,” he continued. “It is a man’s world, but if you’re in the gray area as a man, people say you’re in denial. So, it’s important to remind people that there’s so much more than just that binary.”
Making a strong point, Jay is an exemplary figure as to how musicians can be positive influences, both with their personalities and their music itself. Now, sharing “Please Don’t Get Any Older,” Jay feels good about where he’s at and is looking forward to continuing to grow—as a musician, as a songwriter and as a person.
“I feel great—I’m excited about ‘Please Don’t Get Any Older’ and the music that’s coming after that,” he said. “I’m just constantly feeling more and more excited about what’s up next. I hope I never lose that passion for creating. Shows are opening back up, so I’d love to get out there and play these songs. I’m just gonna keep putting myself out there, hoping that it finds the right people.”
Will Jay’s new single “Please Don’t Get Any Older” is out now—listen to it below: