Who says real music is dead? Not Calvin Gary, Jr. better known as soul crooner Joonie.
Born in Jacksonville, North Carolina, at the age of twelve, the talented musician and his family moved to Seattle, Washington where he began to hone his gift of playing instruments and his love for music. Seattle is where he perfected his craft. It’s also where he ended up getting signed to a major record label—Elektra Entertainment—before subsequently ending that contract and rethinking music altogether.
After a year-long sabbatical, Joonie found himself in L.A., back in music, and is currently prepping for the April 27th release of his debut album, Acoustic Love. Neon Limelight had the pleasure of speaking to him about his musical journey, the inspiration behind his songs, and his ultimate love for music that not only drove him back to his craft, but also led to the title track of his album.
Neon Limelight: Your bio talks about your unwillingness to compromise your musical integrity and how you stopped pursuing music for a minute. Can you tell me a little bit about that decision and what inevitably brought you back to music?
Joonie: Warren G got my demo when I was in Seattle, Washington. I wasn’t really trying to be an artist, I was making songs for my own listening pleasure, and to try to get tracks placed. I didn’t have anybody to sing my demos, so I would sing myself. He [Warren G] got my demo and we did a little agreement in which he had 90 days to get me a deal with a major. He always talked about how he loved the genuineness of my music… like just pure music. He’s a real music lover. When I came down to meet with different labels, we ran into a couple situations in which they wanted to change, kind of make me a little harder. Something I wasn’t.
He was like, “Joonie, I like you because of what you do, so let’s go with the label that’s gonna let you do what you do.” So we decided to go with Elektra. Sylvia Rhone and Jay Brown signed me over there. We basically, pretty much finished the record for the most part. But what happened was the big head company, Time Warner, took over and decided to merge Elektra with Atlantic. Atlantic already had Trey Songz. And keep in mind, this is after I already had a record done. I had a song that was going to be a single with Mos Def. And I had another song with Angie Stone, and it was ready to go. But when the merger happened, people became afraid for their jobs at Elektra. They put me in a position where I had to almost, in a sense, kind of compromise and try to find what worked for the mainstream. So needless to say, I was doing stuff that really wasn’t me or where my heart was. So that deal… we decided to go our separate ways with it. And after that, I kind of had to step back from music and just really find myself again, honestly.
NL: You were still in LA?
J: I wasn’t here yet, I was in Seattle. So that’s when I took the hiatus. After that, that’s when I moved down to L.A. to start again.
NL: What made you want to come back to music?
J: Well just the love for it, you know. I kind of stepped away, but there’s a song that I have called “Love You More.” And that’s like my first… in a sense I kind of call that my savior song. It’s the song that… the first song I did after the situation with Elektra that I just felt was just genuine, stripped down, real music. After that, I just decided to come on down and just go. I wasn’t really pushing to record a record or anything like that, it was more to be involved in the scenes and stuff like that.
NL: Most people initially want to be artists and use writing as vehicle to become artists. You were initially committed to producing and writing behind the scenes only. What changed your mind?
J: Honestly, it was just family and friends, you know. I would make the music and create it just for my own listening pleasure. Some songs I would create and make for other people, but people would hear it and be like, “Oh, you need to keep that.” And the more you hear that, you get encouraged by different people. It’s just like, “Man I should just share this with the rest of the world.” And that’s kind of where that came from.
NL: What age did you know that you definitely wanted to pursue music as a career?
J: I knew that I wanted to pursue music as a career when I was probably around maybe fourteen.
NL: Do you play instruments?
J: I play my own music. Every song on the album is actually produced by me, myself. I play the piano, keyboards, and a little guitar as well.
NL: Why Acoustic Love?
J: Acoustic Love for the record? Or for the name of the song?
J: Well Acoustic Love is basically… I decided to name it after the song on the record called “Acoustic Love.” If I had to give a short description of what acoustic love is… basically just genuine pure love. And my example of that usually is you know you have an acoustic piano that’s hand-craft and handmade. Any musician will tell you they all have different feels, but you know a real piano. Then you have a keyboard which has imitation sounds of a piano. And it may sound like or come close to it, but it’s not the real thing. That’s where acoustic love comes from. Same with guitars and different things. It may come close and it may feel okay, but it’s nothing like the real piano. So that’s where acoustic love comes from. Genuine, pure love.
NL: Can you tell me about the album and what the theme is behind it?
J: The overall theme for the album is there is such a thing as real love and real relationships that last.
NL: Is it inspired by real relationships?
J: It’s inspired by relationships in the past as well as the desire to have a perfect relationship. Just different things and ideas like “Delilah.” “Delilah” is a song about being in love with someone so much to the point that they do you dirty, and it’s hard for you to let them go.
NL: R&B music has taken somewhat of a back seat to Pop/Dance music lately. What do you think you’re bringing to the table that’s going to get people excited about it again?
J: Honestly, I’m not looking to do that. However, I feel like my music is just genuine music coming from a real musician who, you know, I write most of all of my songs. I have my hand in every bit of the record as far as production, playing instruments and all of that stuff. It’s just like true artistry. And one of the things I usually tell people is when you look at different people who are going crazy with the auto-tunes and just the pop wash type stuff, honestly, I can’t bash them. The reason why is because I can’t help but think about the kid from the hood who was offered a situation to put auto-tune on his voice and go up there and sing and dance, you know? Take care of your family. I’m not going to bash you for doing that. But I just want them to know a little bit of, just at least acknowledge, the real music and give it power in a sense.
NL: Who are your musical influences?
J: I grew up in the church so I didn’t have a vast amount of artists in the secular world that I listened to, but, I would say that I love Nat King Cole. I just like the swag that he has and brings, and I’m a big D’Angelo fan.
NL: Outside of music, what do you do for fun?
J: I like doing the simple things like going to the movies, just chilling, kicking back just relaxing, but I also like to do different things like skiing and some dangerous stuff. I’m not trying to jump out of a plane or nothing like that, but I like to get out.
NL: Tell me what you’re most looking forward to with the album release, and in your career in general?
J: I’m really excited. The reason why is because it’s 100% me. I’m just looking forward to seeing different people’s reactions to it and how they respond to it. It’s kind of a scary thing, but at the same time, it’s like a baby. When you make songs, they’re kind of like kids. You get rid of them and give them out, and hopefully they’ll fly. I’m just real optimistic about it.
NL: Are any of the songs on the album from the previous, unreleased album you recorded?
J: “Acoustic Love” is actually from the first album. I re-did it, polished it up. That right there was kinda like… that’s my song, it has a special place in my heart because It’s been with me through this whole little ride.
NL: What other genres of music do you like?
J: I’m just a music fan all across the board. I’m not really biased. If I hear something that sounds good and it catches me, then I’m listening to it. I love John Mayer.
NL: Is there anybody that you would want to collaborate with in the future?
J: I’m not biased to collaborate with anybody, not so much that I love everybody’s voices, but I just love music that much that I’m willing to try. But if I could name a couple of names, I would love to do a song with Jazmine Sullivan. I would like to do a song with John Mayer. That would be nice, and Alicia Keys.
NL: April 27th, the album is released, what happens after that?
J: I’m working on doing a tour along the west coast. And we’re just praying that something will pick up. I’ll be able to get on somebody else’s tour or do a big worldwide tour, you know. The sky’s the limit. I’m just going with the flow. I’m teamed up with Hit Club Entertainment, and I trust these guys and that they’ll steer me in the right direction.