Ruggedly handsome with a melodic growl in his voice, JONNY STARKES was born and raised in Hare Bay, Newfoundland. He was introduced to the guitar by his late grandfather, Ernest Collins, who learned to play while hospitalized during World War 2.
Jonny released his first album, “Father’s Boy,” which was inspired by the loss of his dad to cancer in 2017. He followed up with his 2020 single, “These Four Walls,” which performed well in the UK and Canada. Jonny is currently out with a new track, “Lay It On.” Despite working construction jobs in Toronto, Jonny is rapidly become a rising star on the international music scene.
We caught up with him recently to ask about his music, his life and future plans.
Hey, Jonny. What was the first thing that inspired you toward a music career?
I would say it was the rush of playing live. I have always looked for a rush in life since I was a kid and when I learned to play guitar and started performing, I thought I found it.
How long after that did you dive in?
It was in my early 20s that I decided to get serious about music but was led astray by other interests such as martial arts, friends and just being stupid. During that time I was working a back-breaking job, feeling miserable and empty. I was became a shell of a person and felt and hit a wall. I didn’t want to live an ordinary life. I wanted more, so one day I said f**k it! I’m going to do something crazy and make music a full-time gig.
What did your family think?
As you can imagine, they had their concerns. They figured it was another crazy adventure I was embarking on. My dad kept telling me that it was important to find a good-paying job with a pension. My mom said she didn’t mind the idea of me being a musician. I think she found it romantic, but secretly she also shared my dad’s mentality.
Did their attitude slow you down?
No. I decided I was going for it. I started improving my guitar playing and put in lots of work writing what felt like good songs. I started playing open mics three, four times a week. Began to live and breathe music. After 2 years something amazing happened. I landed a spot on a television show.
How did your parents react?
They thought that was pretty cool. I remember saying to my dad, “not bad huh?” It only took me two years to get on TV! Even though they had initially been iffy about me pursuing a career in music, my family has always supported me to the fullest with everything I did in life.
Not long after that, my father was diagnosed with cancer. It shook our family to the core and when my dad came to watch me play for the last time he asked me, is this what you really want? I told him it was and his dying gift was to help me finance my first album which I called, “Father’s Boy” and dedicated it to him. It breaks my heart that he never got to hear any of it.
That’s very touching.
And also motivating. I want to make my dad proud.
If you could re-do the last 5 years, what would you do differently?
I think I would play more guitar and really focus on technique and delivery. I might have been a little harder on myself and not let the people around me distract me as much. Discipline is a major card that you need to hold in your pocket and I didn’t always have that. I sometimes tend to bend a little too much to appease others.
What advice would you give to young musicians starting out in the business?
I would say work tirelessly on your writing and playing. Evaluate yourself and take input from others. Be open to what needs to be corrected. Play shows when possible and emerge yourself in what you want to become. Never forget why you started playing in the first place. There will be a lot of ups and downs but you need to buckle down, build your grit and your character – and then sit back and enjoy the ride.
Tell us about your current management team?
They are called Dandelions of Courage. I met the owner, Wanda Ryan a few years ago when I filled in for a no-show at RIb fest concert in Pickering. She liked what I brought to the table and we eventually decided to work together. Wanda has a great team and works very hard. She takes pride in her clients and loves what she does.
Where can we hear your latest release, “Lay It On” and who are the creatives you collaborated with on it?
I met a musician named Roddy Colmer and he suggested that I check out a producer called Devon Lougheed who is a member of a band named “Altered By Mom.” I listened to Devon’s work, we decided to move forward. Working with Roddy was a great experience. He’s a talented guy and a great producer. I highly recommend him.
“Lay It On” is available on all streaming platforms, and you can check out the official video on my YouTube channel.
Last question. Where do you hope to be in five years?
That’s hard to say but realistically I hope to be doing this as a full-time career at a level where I can sustain a family and make a comfortable living. Maybe traveling the world playing my tunes and staying far away from swinging a hammer in construction boots.