Published on April 17th, 2012 | by EDMinsider0
Exclusive EDM Insider Interview with Vocalist Jwaydan
Jwaydan, the singer/songwriter behind hits such as “We Control the Sunlight,” “Xantic” and “Untouchable” to name a few, is only 21 years old. But don’t mistake her youth for inexperience or immaturity; She’s classically trained and soulfully inventive, wildly strong-minded and incredibly independent, identity-driven and extremely ambitious. Since her career as a vocalist began (just about a year ago), Jwaydan has been very selective with her projects to avoid over-saturation and ensure creative control. Don’t try to tame her or attempt to put her in a box; she’s not just trance, she’s not just a vocalist and for the record, she’s British not Egyptian. Glad we cleared that up.
EDMinsider 1. For those that don’t know you, talk a little about your upbringing and how you go to where you are today.
Jwaydan : One thing that people don’t know about me is that I was brought up in the countryside in a small village in Southwest England. For most of my life, animals and nature surrounded me. A lot of my hobbies revolved around being outdoors in the countryside. The whole EDM thing didn’t appeal to me until later on. I was always studying classical music because my mom is a pianist. I started playing piano at 5. I studied cello for about 5 years as well. It was always about going into a career that was classically oriented. I was doing a lot of performances as a pianist and cellist and then I went into the music conservatoire a few years later and decided I wanted to be film composer. I was getting my degree in classical composition and my first year in college and I had electronic music production classes. I started playing with Logic and I got really interested in it and I lost interest in what I was originally there to do. My parents were adamantly against it. They completely put their foot down. So I told them I would get a job and finance my lessons privately. I think it was my second year I decided to do vocals in some of these tracks. I had a friend who was a producer and we made a track together. It started to get some support from Gareth Emery and Markus Schulz and this guy who happened to be Egyptian knew Aly & Fila and introduced me. I teamed up with Aly & Fila to make a track and it took a year to make it and in the end we never released that one, because I sent him another demo and said, “you might want to hear this as well.” And that was “We Control the Sunlight.”
EDMinsider: Set the Egyptian record straight.
Jwaydan : A lot of people get really confused about this. I don’t even actually know how people found out that I have Egyptian roots. I guess it’s from my name. My mom is British and I was born in England, but I have Egyptian roots, because my Dad is half-Egyptian. I’ve tried to not incorporate the nationality thing with what I do musically. I think sometimes it can cause conflict if people become too involved from where they’re from. Egyptians are very enthusiastic because there are no females singers doing what I’m doing right now. So for them it’s their pride and joy. And that’s great, but sometimes they don’t focus on anything else besides the fact that I’m Egyptian. If you’re going to put me in a box and say, “shouldn’t you be dressing like this or that,” (because I’ve had people do that with me), I’m British and I dress like a British girl and act like one. I’ve never said that I’m representing Arab women so don’t get hung up on the nationality issue. I really appreciate the support from people there, but I don’t want to brand myself around my nationality. I want to brand myself based on my personality and music.
EDMinsider 2: How would you describe your personality?
Jwaydan : My attitude is feisty and outspoken than most trance singers. Trance singers tend to be nice and gentle. I can be like that too, but sometimes I think my attitude might contradict my voice. People expect a certain image because trance vocalists come under a certain category. I’m a little against being in this trance vocalist category. I don’t want people to get stuck on the fact that I’m going to do vocal trance and nothing else. Trance is the genre that I’m most passionate about, but I want to have the opportunity to move away from it. People assumed I picked up by Aly & Fila and that was the beginning for me musically speaking, which is not the case at all. Before I was doing that I was writing for British rappers and pop artists. I was influenced by pop music more so than electronic dance music back then. It’s important people to understand, because at any point in time I decide to do something different and people try to say I’m leaving my roots, well, my roots are actually classical music. That’s one of the things that people may not be able to understand about me. I’m very outspoken. When you see flowers in the music video (“We Control the Sunlight”), you might think oh she’s very sweet and innocent. It’s a great song and a great song to come into the industry with, because it’s something that most trance people can relate to, but I would also like to do something more grimy and dark and not have to stick to the whole sunlight image. You want to be known for other stuff. For me, it’s about being as versatile as possible and not being stuck in a box.
EDMinsider: It’s a good time to talk about this because genres today aren’t necessarily set in stone. Many producers are breaking down the genre walls.
Jwaydan : I have a lot of respect for people who are creating this fusion between trance and other genres like house (trouse), but I also have respect for the people who are keeping this classical trance sound. It’s not that they’re not developing trance for example like Aly & Fila has this uplifting trance sound. They’re not being pressured or influenced by other people to change or go somewhere else because that’s what the scene is demanding. This is what I love about electronic dance music so much. There’s so much flexibility. Anything is possible. For example, the songs that I write start off as Adele like acoustic songs and they sound completely different mixed. I love hearing it mixed into something. That’s one of the reasons why I love being in electronic dance music so much.
EDMinsider 3: Usually people have distinct experiences that they go through in their life that mold their personalities. What experiences do you feel have molded you into this independent and strong-minded woman?
Jwaydan : I was taken out of school when I was 12 and was bullied pretty badly up until that age. I was seen as an outcast. I was home educated for 5 years and I was very isolated from everyone. I pretty much only talked to my mom and my tutors. If you take someone and put him or her in a small space and isolate him or her, I don’t think they can come out as anything besides completely independent. Not argumentative, but able to have their own perspective and have their own opinion. That’s one of the most important things as an artist, because you need to have that distinction and ability to stand out with your sound and personality. Maybe it was all that time not being able to converse with other people and having a lot of time for soul searching. I also was not pressured by how I should act or look like. This is something I’ve been very passionate about – being able to understand yourself and appreciate who you are. I don’t think you can do a lot if you’re not in harmony with yourself.
EDMinsider 4: College, for Americans, is usually a time for people to find themselves. For you, it happened at an earlier age.
Jwaydan : I went back into college when I was 17 or 18 and then I went into music conservatoire. I wasn’t not one of those people who would experiment with drugs or get hammered. I was experimenting in the studio. I was working in the studio with Mat Zo and I could see so many things in him that were similar to me. The fact that he’s introverted and isolates himself from people and that’s what makes him a good artist, because he has that ability to sit down and focus on what he’s doing. He knows there’s a time you need to switch off with people and a time you can come back into society and mingle and get inspired by people around you. Being home educated probably taught me that. I appreciated alone time and I didn’t feel the need to surround myself with people. As an artist, you need loads of alone time. For every 60 tracks that you turn out you probably will only use 6 or 7 of those or less. And that’s something fans don’t understand, because they cry for new tracks and that they want me to work with Armin. I need to get something good together. I don’t want to give Armin something crappy. I want to make sure that if I work with Armin that it’s going to be just as good as everything else I do.
You want to consistently move up not make lateral career moves.
Exactly. As time goes on, the older you get, the harder it is to get that inspiration and creative side. I’ve always said it’s about quality not quantity. I’ve done 2 or 3 [tracks] in the last year and I’m happy with that, because I want people to know everything I’ve done is at the same standard. Emma Hewitt is a good example of this, because she’s very specific about the people she works with. She released a track in 2007 and she didn’t release anything for two years after and it was worth it because she’s one of the leading vocalists in trance. Sometimes the mistake some vocalists make is working with too many people. It doesn’t really distinguish you. They get thrown into this category and they’re not really separated for their style. I don’t want to be one of those people that aren’t recognized for having a clear style. There should be a meeting point of half me and half you with a collaboration, which is why it takes so long to finish the track.
EDMinsider 5: You’ve mentioned on Twitter that someone once told you that you’re a better songwriter than you are a singer. What do you think about that?
Jwaydan : That was actually Fila [from Aly & Fila]. I’ve always seen myself as a composer. I only started singing a year ago. At the time, my level wasn’t as high as it is now and he said you write better lyrics than you do sing. He probably wouldn’t say that now, but I respect that. I still find it overwhelming to see myself as a singer. If you told me that I would be doing this two years ago, I would say no way. Singing onstage at an Armin Van Buuren event? No way. I sang in choirs and stuff when I was young and I think my parents knew I had a good voice, but they never pushed me to do anything with it. When “We Control the Sunlight” came out my mom said, “I knew you would be a good singer.” I said, “You knew I would be a good singer and you didn’t say anything? Thanks for that. Well, thanks for letting me struggle all those years with what I wanted to do and not giving me any focus.” I did it just for fun back then and when I was ghostwriting I would sing on that so they would know how it would sound. When you talk to everyone else, like Emma and Betsie, they’ve been doing this awhile. I’m 21 now so I have a few years to go. I feel incredibly pressured to get these tracks out there and get recognition for something else now because I’ve been working so hard at trying to build up things that are equally as strong as what I’ve already released. It takes a really long time to get it together with other people. At this point I feel really pressured to get it out there. I really hope that it comes together and that we get the right names on the right tracks.
EDMinsider 6: You mentioned as you get older, it’s harder to get inspired. How do you get inspired to create tracks that are consistently at the same level of quality?
Jwaydan : You have to have a lot of exposure to a lot of music not just your own style. I take a lot of time and I don’t mind doing that as long as I know the end product is going to be ok. Most of the guys I’ve planned on working with I spoke to them a year ago and nothing is done still. That’s how long it takes. One of the reasons why it’s been harder for me to get a collaboration working with some of these guys is that I like to do everything from scratch. A lot of people want to produce a track and fit vocals to it. This is common in trance. I’ve sat down with Nic Chagall from Cosmic Gate. He knows how I work and he asks me to send ideas and he’ll play around with them. And that’s great because he has that respect and flexibility. Obviously not all DJs are willing to do that, because they want to have complete control over everything sounds.
EDMinsider 7: The industry is male-dominated. You’re extremely independent as a woman, but as an artist too. How do you handle that as not only a female but as a vocalist?
Jwaydan : DJs are at the forefront and the males always get the attention. In a way it is a little bit sexist and I’ve talked to Armin about this and what he does with his radio show is to support up and coming DJs not vocalists. And I respect that’s his business, but it’s one of the reasons why the trance vocalist is always overshadowed. I don’t know how you can change that. If you have a good idea people are going to recognize it at the end of the day and you’ll get the credit you deserve. You need to be strong-minded and persistent about the direction and including when DJs are going on tour and you want to do gigs with them. Not all DJs are happy with that. You have to push forward with them by saying this is also my track and I should be involved in performances, because I know there are a lot of conflicts between DJs and singers about this. You need to find a balance, because you don’t want to put them off by being too dominant or pushy because DJs are already very independent and they don’t feel the need to have a singer on their track so they feel like they’re doing the singer a favor by exposing them like Aly & Fila did for me. As strong-minded and determined as I am, I need to take a step back sometimes. You’ll notice that a lot of singers who collaborate with a DJ that they’ll come back and work with them again because they already have that understanding and that relationship. And that’s what I’ve always tried to build – that more intimate understanding between each other.
EDMInsider: And you seem to have that relationship with Fila.
Jwaydan : Definitely, he’s like my bro. That’s a very rare relationship because he can say whatever and I’ll take it and I can say whatever and he’ll take it. I enjoy getting to know people and getting to know their style. It would be really great to do solo things in the future, but right now I’m focused on collaborations because I’m so fascinated with what happens when I put my sound with someone else’s. I’m fascinated with that fusion what they do with my vocals and music. If you want to be trance vocalist you have to sacrifice being the center of attention and not get hung up over the fact that you won’t be able to have control over everything especially in the beginning.
EDMinsider 8 :As a vocalist, who are your greatest influences?
Jwaydan : I grew up with Enya’s music. That’s the highest level of spiritual music to me. She has such a beautiful voice. I love Tori Amos. Basically, I like singers that have that gentle but massive strength to reach out and touch you with what they’re singing. They all have a deep message behind their music that not a lot of people always don’t touch on. A lot of our songs today are about love, relationships and breakups. I always try to avoid talking about this with my music because there are so many things out there that can touch people as much as relationships like identity and being able to find yourself and guide yourself to where you want to get to. And keeping that positive element in your life, which is what “We Control the Sunlight” was about for me. A lot of people thought the song was about love, but that’s not it at all. Up until quite late I was studying classical composers, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach. When people ask me about my influences, these are a few that some people wouldn’t expect, but as a vocalist definitely Enya and Tori Amos.
EDMinsider 9: What other women do you admire for what they’re doing in the dance scene?
Jwaydan : Emma Hewitt and Nadia Ali. They’re both very independent they have a very distinct style and have a recognizable voice. Emma has taken a lot of time to develop her lyrics and the meaning behind them. Some people might think that it doesn’t matter but people do listen and people do want to hear something that touches them. I’ve always been surprised by how many people come up to me and say, “oh your lyrics really stick with me.” I do want to make something that really sticks with people and they remember and don’t get forgotten the next day. Artists like Nadia and Emma have established themselves with having that sound and independence and that comes across in everything they do not just their music. They’ve gotten to that stage now that they don’t necessarily have to be surrounded by DJs. The DJ is more so working for them rather than the other way around. That’s something that has to be greatly respected. It’s very hard to get to an equal status in the scene with vocalists and DJs.
EDMinsider: A State of Trance is a perfect example of what this music can accomplish. This community is so strong.
Jwaydan : It has such a dedicated following. I can’t speak for other genres, but they’re supportive on a level, which makes you feel like it is a family. The scene is a little smaller than what you have in commercial and you’re always bumping into the same people. It’s a very friendly atmosphere. I really love that about this scene. I’ve always said that the trance genre is very spiritual and you can see that in the audience. They’re all connected and in the zone and that’s something that is very specific atmosphere to the dance scene in general.
EDMinsider: Each genre has passionate fans, no doubt, but Trance perhaps connects with its fans on a deeper level.
Jwaydan : I’ve noticed that they [fans] get very carried away and enthusiastic, especially on Twitter. It’s great having that success and attention for what you do but I want people to understand that I’m going to talk to everyone normally the way I talk to anyone else regardless if they’re fans, followers or supporters. I don’t want anyone to get the impression that I’m egotistical or arrogant. There are some people in this scene that when they get to a certain status they ignore the people that actually supported them in the first place and forget that they were once unknown. I don’t want people to ever think I’m one of those people. I like to be very open and talk to my followers like they’re my friends. I think it’s important to have that communication between you and your followers so they know you’re treating them like everyone else.
EDMinsider 10: What’s your experience been like when you go into a club now that you’re a part of this dance scene?
Jwaydan : It’s so weird, you know, every time I walk into a club and I feel like I blend in with the crowd and people come up to me and say, “You’re that girl.” I can’t get used to that. I went up to Fila during a gig and said, “I thought I looked unrecognizable” and he said, “No, you don’t.” I’m like damnit, I need to wear a mask or something. Here [in the US] they’re [fans] kind of quiet, but in underground clubs in London girls come up to me screaming. It’s a bit weird actually but I try to stay away from the people I work with as much as possible as weird as that sounds, because to me, it’s work. If I’m in that zone 24 hours a day listening to their music it’s going to drive me crazy. I actually try to explore what other DJs are doing. When I had met Armin a few weeks ago, I told him when I go into a club I can’t switch off. I find it so difficult to detach now, because I’m thinking about tracks, lyrics and vocals. And he told me over time you get used to it and learn how to disconnect it and separate work. Having a career in music is difficult, because it’s not 9 to 5 job, it’s a 24 hour thing.
EDMinsider 11: Looking forward, what does success look like for you?
Jwaydan : My perspective of success will change in a year’s time, but for me right now, to be able to achieve working with all the guys I want to work with (about 6 or 7 artists). I would be pretty happy to be able to get to that. Skrillex, I love that grimey dubstep. A lot of my latest stuff are a bit darker. It’s not that falsetto you hear in “We Control the Sunlight.” I’ve been trying to develop that. I want to work with Cosmic Gate, Armin Van Buuren and a lot of people who are at the forefront of the dance scene and will continue to be. It would be a great honor to be able to work with them after to listening to them for years.
EDMinsider: You have a lot of perseverance and a competitive spirit. Things come to those who work hard in due time.
Jwaydan : It will hopefully make me chill out a bit. I’ll attack DJs and say, “let’s do this by this date!” And this is the problem with DJs – they’ll always say, “yeah, lets do a track” and then 6 months go by and nothing happens so you have to go to their next gig and say, “are we going to do this track sometime before I die?” It makes me happy to have something get put out there and get a good response from people. It makes you want to fight on regardless of the crap you go through with people and experiences. Seeing the end product and seeing people get into your music and get to know you this is why any artist would go on this journey of complete and utter aggravation. To be able to get to that point where they can sit back and say it was worth it.
Interview by: Meryl Luzzi