ABOUT JACOB WHITESIDES–
“Landing in Europe for the first time was one of the coolest moments of my life,” says 17-year-old singer-songwriter Jacob Whitesides. “Coming into Copenhagen airport, I was surrounded by all these fans who had been supporting me for so long. There were girls passing out. It was insane!”
Jacob’s first overseas trip was a world away from what you’d expect from a common teenage rite-of-passage. But then Jacob is hardly your typical teenager. For this is a young artist with a social media following of over 5 million people, and who went straight to #1 on the iTunes singer/songwriter chart with the release of his debut EP ‘A Piece Of Me’. Already in scintillating form, he then topped the charts in the UK, Canada, Portugal, Australia, Brazil and France.
What’s more, he’s done it all on his own terms. Sure, he could’ve taken the major route and been molded into the next pop puppet, but this fiercely independent spirit instead opted to become the CEO of his own touring, merchandising and record label Double U Records which recently partnered with BMG. Empowerment is extremely important to Jacob and he’s proving how musicians can establish a credible career for themselves by using the available democratic and free media platforms to support their music. Jacob hopes his fans are inspired by this pursuit, and know that they too can have control over their destiny. No wonder Wired Magazine recognised his pioneering spirit and invited him to speak at their flagship London conference, Wired 2015.
And despite all of that, he’s still a teenager at heart. He picked up the guitar after being inspired by bluegrass kings The SteelDrivers, yet was too self-conscious to actually sing too. The turning point came when his then-girlfriend was struck with Bieber fever. “It bothered me a little, but it really bothered me when she got a life-size cardboard cut-out of him for her birthday,” he laughs. “That’s when I drew the line and realised that I had to something!”
Jacob shot his interpretation of Bieber’s ‘One Time’ on his laptop’s webcam and uploaded it that same day. “I didn’t get a ton of views or anything, but I got some good feedback,” he recalls. “Besides, I wasn’t trying to get into the YouTube scene at that point. I was just trying to win my girl back!”
Over the coming months, Jacob would play gigs in bars and restaurants – “some of the most raggedy places that I’d ever played” – around his hometown of Sevierville in Tennessee and its nearest city Knoxville with his father. At the same time, he was uploading more covers and taking his first steps as a songwriter. Soon enough he had the roots of a fanbase. And then…
“One of my fans had tweeted me: ‘Liam from One Direction has tweeted your version of ‘One Thing’. And I thought it was a joke. So I looked at my socials and they were flooded. I was freaking out and calling all of my friends, which was like two people because I didn’t have many at the time. From there on I had a lot of drive to post more videos, improve as an artist and really dive into the social media world. Reading all the positive feedback from the One Direction fans was a real motivator, and a sign that I could do something.”
Freshly enthused, Jacob took a multi-faceted approach to his career. The uploads continued and he played select shows, but the primary focus was on developing his songwriting (his first original, ‘You Are Mine’, demonstrated that there was an audience for his originals) and finding a team that could help him progress while also allowing him to maintain creative and commercial independence. Teaming up with producer/songwriter David Spencer and Manncom management company provided the foundations from which his talents could flourish.
The title of Jacob’s first EP ‘A Piece of Me’ was chosen by a fan vote in which he asked fans to pick their favorite hashtag from five different titles – it was such a success that three of the options were trending worldwide. And it was an apt title, for the EP really did present as snapshot of Jacob as a person, most notably in the nakedly honest ‘Ohio’ which addressed his estranged relationship with his father: “I haven’t spoken to him in years now, but I’m thankful for the things I’ve learned from him, and I’m grateful that I have such a great mom.”
The EP was released two days after it was completed and Jacob then hit the road for a short EP release tour ahead of dates with Fifth Harmony. It has only been months since Jacob released his charting debut EP and it didn’t take long for him to be chosen as Radio Disney’s “Next Big Thing” and MTV’s Artist To Watch, among other great moments of recognition by peers and press from Rolling Stone to Cosmopolitan.)
Next on the agenda after his even bigger European tour (including a 3-shows-in-one-day in Paris) is the new EP Faces On Film. Many of the songs on the new EP are clearly inspired by Jacob’s coming of age and understanding materialism (having come from a modest background and now running a successful enterprise.) The EP also features a slide guitar guest appearance from Grammy winning blues legend, Keb’Mo, on the EP’s title track.
While the second EP continues to deliver his organic musical narrative, Faces On Film reflects a creative coming of age as well. ‘Secrets’, for example, builds from the rhythmically phrased vocals of its introduction into a soaring folk-pop hook, and the percussive stomp of ‘Shame On You’ heightens the drama with a climactic crescendo of sound that’s intensified by a bluesy guitar break and one of Jacob’s most impassioned vocals to date. At the other end of the spectrum, ‘Rules of Beautiful’ strips Jacob’s sound back to an intimate tandem of piano and vocals, with an addition emotional charge courtesy of a surging accompaniment of strings.
It’s a collection of songs that allow fans to follow Jacob’s creative growth to the next level, and one that will certainly be lapped up by his ever-growing legion of fans, The Whitesiders. “They work for me as hard as I do, and they’re also great people to talk to,” summarises Jacob with a broad, appreciative smile. “I’ll be there for them, they’ll be there for me, and they are also there for each other.”
Such a stance suggests that those wild scenes in Copenhagen will soon be replicated all over the globe.
The pop/folk trio Castro is a breath of fresh air. Self-aware but never self-conscious, fun but never trivial, Jason, Michael, and Jackie Castro’s free-range pop soars thanks to a funny little twist for a trio of siblings: It is not how the brothers and sister are alike that creates their undeniable chemistry, but how they are different.
“We all have very different tastes in music,” says Jason. “That’s been a big part of this project: How do we bridge all those gaps and make something that’s true to all of us?”
“It’s hard to fit our music into a category, and I’m okay with that,” agrees Jackie. “I feel like the way we do this together is really unique because we each write on every song, so each song has part of each of us. We listen to very different music, and I think we capture that variety of music in collaborating together.”
That appreciation for the distinct, liberating beauty only found in celebrating differences pulses throughout Castro’s debut EP, Diamond Dreams (Fervent Records). Produced by Charlie Peacock (The Civil Wars, Ben Rector, The Lone Bellow) and recorded in Nashville’s Blackbird Studios, the seven-song collection is a harmonies-driven vocal showcase anchored by three powerhouse singers who take turns taking lead and know exactly when to share the spotlight.
Artists confident, ambitious, and skilled enough to incorporate sounds that were once exclusive or niche into sing-alongs for absolutely everyone have long made the best pop music. Castro falls into that tradition naturally. On Diamond Dreams, they swivel seamlessly between bluesy soul, indie folk, and grandiose pop drama with the poise and effortlessness that only comes with loving each sound too much to abandon it. And while the record may be proudly noncommittal when it comes to genre, there is one mission on which all three siblings agree: making others happy.
“I don’t know anything about genres,” Michael says. “I guess I could probably name about five. But what I do know is I am always pushing for more pop than Jay and Jackie. I’m always trying to make music that just makes you feel good.”
“I hope this record just makes people feel happy,” Jackie says. “I feel like it’s the kind of music you want to listen to with the windows rolled down on a summer day with your friends.”
Diamond Dreams introduces an exciting new chapter for the Castros, who have earned thousands of fans individually on strong solo efforts. Jason, the oldest, became a favorite of judges and viewers alike on season 7 of American Idol, where he placed fourth. Jason went on to record acclaimed projects, while Michael surprised his brother and wowed the entire country when he auditioned for Idol the following season, charmed audiences, and began releasing his own EPs. “Jay and I were living together in college at the time, then he went on American Idol and I was like, ‘You can just get out of college by doing that?'” Michael says wryly with a slight laugh, poking a bit of fun at himself, his brother, and the idea that the preternatural vocal gifts the Castro brothers share are available to everyone.
Neither Jason nor Michael had sung before college—-a truth almost too hard to believe when listening to their soulful vocals now—-but little sister Jackie made her performance debut when she was five and never stopped. “We come from a super musical family,” she says. “There was always a guitar being played, always a chance to sing—-and I always loved it.”
The decision to come together to form Castro was motivated by personal reasons for each member.
“I’m coming from a really different place this go round,” Jason says, reflecting on the burnout and lonely time away from home after Idol that had grown more difficult to bear since he got married and became a father of two. “Doing this has helped me get back to the root of what I love about music—-and that’s the music, which is just better together.”
Castro co-wrote all seven songs on Diamond Dreams. The EP starts high with the title track’s foot-stomping power. Gorgeous three-part harmonies kick off the song¬¬¬¬—-written with Tofer Brown—-before Michael takes over. He launches into gratitude for a simple life made up of a car that usually won’t start, loyal friends, and a “mansion made of apartments,” before returning to a chorus declaring dreams of something more. “Dreams are more valuable than anything else,” Jason says. “It’s about realizing, look, a lot of people want to squash dreams, say it’s unrealistic or that you can’t do it. I think a big part of how we’ve gotten to where we are is by really valuing dreams.” The song’s potency lies in the way Castro doesn’t shrug off or hate the humble realities surrounding starry-eyed plans. The band cheers real life just as loudly as hopes.
Michael came up with an infectious chorus in the shower one day, took it to Jason and Jackie, and the three came up with “Rock and Roll,” a joy-soaked ode to finding happiness in contrasts. Jackie, whose arresting soprano charms as she takes the lead, appreciates the song’s playful give and take. “I like emphasizing that our differences complement each other,” she says.
“Waters of Jordan” pulls back, relying on sparse electric guitar and Michael’s room-shushing voice. Listeners feel privy to an intimate moment as the band explores love’s ability to create comforting calm. Jason claims the track as a favorite. “We’d gone through some stuff that had us all stressed out and second guessing a lot,” he says of writing the song. “We were really doubting everything. Should we just quit? Should we just call it a day? You can get caught in this idea of, ‘What do we need to do?’ So that day, we just said, ‘What do we want to do?'”
Other album standout “Automatic” revels in the overwhelming pull of deep love. The three wrote the song with Hank Bentley and Josh Bronleewe, and the result is a lush pop gem with a cinematic build-up—-and a favorite of Jackie and Michael. “I really like all the sounds it uses,” Michael says. “I think it might be the best song on there.”
Written with Charlie Peacock and Josh Williams—-who also contributed additional production to the track—-“Heart’s Coming Home” captures Castro taking risks. The band’s refusal to play it safe pays off with vocals that achieve Prince-worthy swagger. Album closers “Good for You” and “Know Me Well” captivate acoustically. “Good For You” tackles the heartbreak of being in love with an oblivious best friend, while “Know Me Well” calls out for the comfort of unconditional love to soul-shaking effect.
As Castro challenges themselves, their focus will undoubtedly also remain fixed on the ways what they create can touch others. “Music has the power to transform a day, and the power to define a time,” Jason says. “That’s our goal: to be that for somebody. To be the song.”
ABOUT TAYLOR GREY–
With the essence of an old soul and a youthful approach to life, 19-year-old singer-songwriter, Taylor Grey, is a promising newcomer to the Alternative Pop community. Known for her emotional ballads and catchy uptempo pop hits, her vocal style and range makes her a fan favorite
Growing up in Northern California and currently a sophomore at Stanford University, Taylor’s love for music came at a very young age. Starting her career in musical theater and trained in classical opera, Taylor began writing lyrics at 12 years old. Shortly after, she started teaching herself both the piano and guitar which enhanced her passion for writing and performing her own music. With a wide range of influences in Classic Rock, Jazz and 90’s Hip-Hop, Taylor continues to grow and develop her own unique sound and songwriting style. Thus, creating a sophisticated and cross-generational refined pop alternative concoction.
Making her debut in 2016, with “Mind of Mine I & II”, a two-part EP that was co-written and produced with up-and-coming producers, Benjamin Taylor and Bryan Morton. Taylor soon caught the eyes and ears of Pop Artist, Jacob Whitesides and shortly after, jumped on his summer “Lovesick” Tour as his opening performer and making it her national debut with a full live band. Quickly, her fan base began to grow and gained even more traction when she joined The Summer Set’s sold out “Made For You” Tour as a special guest throughout the USA in the fall of 2016.
Taylor Grey is set to release her debut album, SPACE CASE, executive produced by legendary award-winning Producer, Josh Abraham in the spring of 2017. Along with Producers Josh Abraham and Nico Stadi, Taylor collaborated with some of the most talented writers and producers on the album such as David Kuncio, Jordan Ware and Isaac Hasson to name a few.