As IJALE, Music Production alumni Jerry Agbinya is fanatical. "I knew from the jump that I was taking more of a riskier route," he tells me on the line, reflecting on his decision to go all-in with music. Having grown up in Sydney with doctors and lawyers for siblings, striving towards excellence was the norm. "I think the onus is still on me to make a life out of what I'm doing and that has really pushed me towards doing that to a certain standard."
Releasing his debut EP Wildly Disparate Sounds in late July, it was this integrity that thrusted IJALE onto the radar of the Australian music community; his DIY work gaining attention from the likes of The Guardian, NME, The AU Review, EARMILK, and Triple j Unearthed. "Things just started to take a slow but sure upward trajectory," he says. "And in a year like 2020, all you can do is try and shine a light."
With plans to kick back and offer creative advice at Collarts' upcoming Mental Health Week Facebook event on Thursday, we caught up with IJALE to discuss the ins-and-outs of a disrupted creative flow and the benefits of self-reflection.
Hey Jerry, thank you so much for chatting with me today! You recently released your debut EP, Wildly Disparate Sounds. What was it like making it?
It was, in retrospect, pretty hectic. Creating the EP was an introspective process, as I was doing it all by myself, essentially in an echo-chamber of my own thoughts. But it was pretty gratifying; after I finished it, I felt like I got the message I wanted to across.
Being an independent artist, do you think it was empowering writing and producing it all yourself?
Yeah, definitely. I did that specifically because I wanted to make that statement. A lot of the artists that I love—like Tyler, the Creator and Dev Hynes—they have a big hand in their own sound like that. Coming out of my studies at Collarts, I felt most comfortable doing that by myself because a lot of the assignments that we had were also geared towards it.
Honestly, I’m so happy for you. I know it was a two-year or so process, so you should be really proud. When listening to the EP myself, I noticed you retold a lot of experiences that have impacted your identity. How did you find the process of articulating these really personal situations into a creative medium?
It was a little difficult, I'm not going to lie. I was still really raw in my head after I had experienced certain things in my previous relationship and found myself pondering the world, given the current sociopolitical climate. Especially after lockdown happening and coming into effect, I had more time to just sit with those thoughts and process. Having a project I could direct these feelings towards was probably my saving grace.
Yeah, I feel like this year's been really emotionally exhausting on so many different fronts. Have you had deal with any creative blocks or the feeling of being stuck?
Yeah, there’s lot of things this year that were halted in the pipeline or the timelines got really fuzzy after a while. I actually received grant funding from the City of Melbourne to perform live and shoot my work, but now everything’s up in the air. What’s been the most difficult is getting my vision across, as collaboration is so difficult at the moment in lockdown.
It’s interesting you touched on collaboration, especially in terms of your single, ‘Hotlines’. Around the promotion of it, you spoke to a lot of black creatives about their run-ins with racism, prejudice, and navigating difficult situations. Do you feel like being in a supportive, like-minded community is a great way of getting out of your head and pushing past creative blocks?
Yeah, definitely. It was really comforting to know that people had experiences similar to what I had gone through and were able to verify that the things that you're thinking in your head aren't just paranoia. It was incredibly validating for me to hear, debrief and have them be on-board with assisting in the series.
Yeah, it feels cathartic when people understand where you’re coming from.
Exactly. When I was putting the idea together, it made me realise as well that I had been quite shy doing anything that has to do with my face. So when I put forward the idea to my management, Juilan and Jordan of Submerse—who I clicked with really well last year in November—they really encouraged me to put myself out there. And it made sense: if I was asking people to be so exposed sharing their stories with me, I had to do the same.
I’m so glad to hear you’ve got such a solid support system. Do you feel like surrounding yourself with people who understand your intentions has been helpful for both your artistry and mental health?
Yeah, I think we're all learning from each other as well. Trust is important for any creative. When I was creating the EP for example, there were a lot of really cutting lyrics that I wasn't so keen on putting into songs. I was worried about exposing myself, but I leant on my core group of friends who understood the intent behind them. Having their input really helped, along with recognising when to slow down, understand my headspace, and having a team who respect that as well.
Yeah, I think there's a really genuine resilience that we build up as creatives, along with being people of colour. I’m curious to know, what does resilience mean to you? Because I feel like in terms of mental health, it’s a really fascinating and powerful tool.
For sure. Resilience to me means the constant trials and journey towards self-empowerment and self-assurance. You're always going to have those things that make you waver in your belief, in your art, or in yourself, but it's usually those failures and how you react to them that builds your character and your ability to deal with like-minded failings or setbacks after that point.
I couldn’t agree more. For other young upcoming artists who are struggling to be vulnerable and share their emotions, what advice can you offer?
It's just about continuing and not stopping, basically. But I would also encourage them to look inward. A part of that what I realised contributed to me feeling unsure about certain lyrics or things in my work was that maybe I wasn't being as true to myself as I thought I was. So, continually looking at your art, both objectively and subjectively, and really assessing it as whether what you're saying or how you're presenting it is true to who you are. And if it is, it'll be a little bit easier to put that stuff out into the world.
I really like that. Ahead of your discussion for Mental Health Week at Collarts, is there a final piece of wisdom or direction you want to offer about making it through 2020?
Yeah, if you’re feeling stressed or inundated or snowed-in or whatever, you're dealing with an incredibly difficult thing to deal with. 2020 is going to go down in history, so don’t feel bad. Nobody's watching you right now—instead, everybody’s looking after themselves and nobody's expecting you to be any better or worse. This is an unprecedented time so if you're dealing with it worse than you could imagine, that's exactly how it's supposed to have gone down. You are exactly where you need to be.
If you're interested in chatting with IJALE about music, mental health, and everything in-between, join us on Thursday 8 October at 3PM on our Facebook for a free live stream.