Stream his new EP "Drifting Apart" now.
If you consider yourself even a casual fan of indie-folk music, you've undoubtedly heard Juke Ross' 2017 smash hit "Colour Me."
Ross, born and raised in Guyana, is a singer-songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist. He moved to the United States in 2017 to pursue music after his independent single "Colour Me" went viral. Within two years, Ross went on to accumulate upwards of 80 million cumulative streams and 2 million listeners on Spotify. Soon, Ross released another hit, "Fresh Roses," that racked up 17.5 million Spotify streams in under six months.
At the end of 2019, the singer-songwriter went on tour for his new EP, Drifting Apart. He traveled much of North America in a matter of weeks, playing shows in New York, Nashville, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, and more. Popdust sat down with Ross to discuss his meteoric rise to fame, dropping out of medical school, and how he deals with homesickness.
Tell me a little bit about the tour you just finished, how'd that go?
The tour went really well. I enjoyed every night on stage. The stage is the place I'm having the most fun these days. Washington to Vancouver and everything in between was really good. I, uh, also got a chance to drive from city to city and kind of see the road in between. Kind of see America, besides New York and LA you know, which was really insightful, to like meet people along the way. It was really cool. We sold out Toronto. We did two Canada shows, Toronto and Vancouver. And it's so crazy. I've been looking forward to Toronto for a very long time, so to get that reception there was huge. It really felt good. And it meant a lot.
You moved to New York in 2017, is that right?
And where were you before then? Where were you living?
I was living in Guyana. I was born and raised in Guyana up until that time.
So then what caused the move?
It was mainly because of music. Late in 2016, after I kinda was dipping my toes into the whole music world. I went to Atlanta for three months and Atlanta was great. I had a really good time there, and it really ushered me into the industry. But it was pretty clear after like three months that when you turn on the radio, you hear rap artists. I'm a guy with an acoustic guitar who sings contemporary pop folk songs. So I knew I needed to get out of there. But it's fine, 'cause I learned a lot there.
So how did you find your way to that specific sound?
Well, it's interesting that you'd ask that because, like, of course being from the Caribbean, I grew up listening to lots of music, lots of dance hall music, lots of Guyanese folk music. I think the Guyanese folk music is what did it; I think like if you listen to folk music from pretty much all around the world, there's just like a common thread that runs through it. It just so happened at the time I started writing music, it seemed the easiest genre. It kind of came naturally.
So in terms of your songwriting, tell me a little about your process. Are you more lyrics first or music first?
Well, it changes from time to time, I think. Sometimes melody comes first, sometimes ideas for lyrics come first. Or I'll be having a conversation with a friend and he says something cool and they don't even know, you know what I mean? And I just take it, write it down, and use it for inspiration.
In terms of this newest EP, was there any specific inspiration? You touch on themes of heartbreak and lost love. Is there a specific reason you're writing about that?
Well, yeah, essentially it's the heartbreak of leaving home, you know, leaving all of my family and all of my friends. And I'm trying to go out and do this thing that I have this burning desire for, but like, it's lonely. It was really hard. Emotional ties and physical ties are so important, and we take it for granted. It really heightens and highlights the importance of a support system.
I understand that you're a med school dropout?
Yeah. It's crazy. My mom's a nurse, so like growing up and watching her take care of people and give them love and give them care, I kind of naturally gravitated towards that growing up. Maybe not for my own personal reasons. In the Caribbean it's kinda difficult because parents really want children to be successful, so they kind of groom and guide children in a certain direction, but it's not always the child's true desires.
So is that the case for you? Did you go to med school partly out of obligation?
Yeah, I mean a bit out of obligation, but then just a bit out of just being influenced by my parents, you know what I mean?
So then when did you start playing music? Have you always been playing and songwriting?
No, I haven't. I started playing music about four or five years ago when I got into med school. I stopped playing cricket because I wanted to focus on medicine. And it so happened that I had all this free time, and I had just upgraded my internet connection from dial up to DSL, so I could do my med school work better, and I had all this extra time. So I had YouTube, and it's like I found this whole new amazing world of new songs. At that time I was just like listening to a bunch of new songs, and I guess it just overwhelmed me and I just had to like let it out. I was also going through a lot in my personal life at the time.
Your music has received some incredible reception considering you started just four or five years ago, what has that been like?
It's been bittersweet, to tell you the truth. Growing up I was a very introverted child. I clung to my mother and my parents. So dealing with the social media and the public persona aspect has been challenging. But after the first few years of breaking the ice with all this new technology and all this extra attention, I'd like to think I'm doing my best to like, you know, show people who I really am.
That being said, what do you want fans to get out of your music? What are you trying to say? I guess that's sort of an existential question.
Well, I think it's sort of an existential theme. I want people to listen to their own hearts and to follow their own hearts and to believe that anything is possible. And just not be scared and not to hesitate.
What your plans for the future?
It's so interesting: I used to try to look perhaps too far ahead in the future, but now I'm more rooted in the present, you know. I try to have each day be fulfilling in some way. So, in short, I just want to keep making music and writing songs.
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