“Life is so much better when you smile” – Joonie
Born in Jacksonville, NC to musical parents, Calvin Gary Jr was given the nickname ‘Joonie‘ as a child, which has stayed with him over the years and a moniker he has embraced throughout his musical career.
Having relocated to Seattle from the music state of North Carolina a year before teenhood, his appetite for music bloomed; teaching himself how to play piano and guitar from the age of 12. Joonie tells us “life has always looked like music to me”, and that determination brought into focus the dotted line of a label deal at the age of 21.
Though, as many professional musicians can attest, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Despite the glory of being signed to Elektra Records, and not to mention that having been made possible with the support of Warren G (one third of the hip-hop supergroup, along with Snoop Dogg and Nate Dogg), Joonie boldly walked away from the deal due to ‘creative and ideological differences’.
Yet, one closed door often forces others to open and for a number of years following, Joonie turned his attention to writing, producing and supporting other artists as a skilled multi-instrumentalist, rather than taking centre stage himself. During this period he worked with the likes of Ruben Stoddard, Nappy Roots, Angie Stone, Mos Def and Elliott Yamin in addition to appearing in Lincoln Heights (TV Series).
His time touring with platinum selling artist, Elliott Yamin, reinvigorated his desire to pursue his own musical journey and in 2010 wrote, arranged, performed and produced his debut album ‘Acoustic Love’ which depict his feelings on love and relationships. His sophomore album, ‘Contrast’, came four years later featuring Elliott Yamin and Donald Hayes and more recently, his R&B/Soul masterpiece “Yellow Dust”, featuring Grammy award winning singer JaVonte.
IAMUR are proud to introduce Calvin ‘Joonie’ Gary Jr. Let’s hear from the man himself…
“My audience is anyone who enjoys a great love song and great vibe”– Joonie
Tell us some interesting things that describe/ define ‘Joonie’
I’m a singer, music producer and writer who enjoys the art of storytelling with mostly a taste for the topic of love. I was born in Jacksonville, North Carolina and spent most of my childhood in Seattle Washington where I buried myself in all things music.
I started playing piano but managed to get a cheap 4 track cassette tape recorder and immediately fell in love with production, and though I could sing I never had a desire to be an artist. I’d record vocals on demo tracks with hopes of selling the completed songs to other artist. Little did I know, it would be the combination of my voice and production style that people would gravitate to.
Los Angeles is now home and over the years I’ve been blessed to work with some pretty amazing people, tour many parts of the world and have my music heard on many platforms via commercials, film, radio and common streaming services.
What did life look like before being a musician became your profession, and what steps did you have to take to get to where you are now?
Life has always looked like music to me. Whether I was working in a music store, playing piano for a church, singing at a school event… music has always been the heartbeat of my life. While my friends would collect comics I’d collect the latest music store studio gear catalog and read the descriptions of each product because not only did I want to perfect creating music, I wanted to know the in and outs of recording and mixing it as well. It paid off because without paying a dime for a producer, engineer, writer, etc. I was able to secure my first major label deal very young. I made it a silent priority to learn from every situation I’ve encountered over the years and that is how I got to where I am musically today.
How would you describe your musical preferences and style?
My personal taste for music goes beyond a genre. The “artist” in me would say my audience is anyone who enjoys a great love song and great vibe but the “matured music business” side of me would say my audience is the R&B/Soul music lover. I’ve done quite a bit of performing both as an artist and musician for other artist. There’s the adrenaline rush, energy and excitement that comes while doing the arena shows for thousands and then there’s that warm feeling in an intimate setting when you can literally feel the audience savoring the emotion of each song. Both are equally amazing experiences.
You’ve done a fair bit of touring, how does it feel to play a love show in front of thousands of people?
I’ve done quite a bit of performing both as an artist and as a musician for other artists. There’s the adrenaline rush, energy and excitement that comes while doing the arena shows for thousands, and then there’s that warm feeling in an intimate setting when you can literally feel the audience savoring the emotion of each song. Both are equally amazing experiences.
“I feel as if the melodies are always in the sky to pull from when needed”– Joonie
What is it that motivates you to create, and if you’ve experienced a ‘creative block’, how do you typically combat that?
I’m usually motivated by what’s happening around me or a fantasy of how I’d like things to be. I’m always feeling creative so I’ve never experienced creative block but I have experienced writers block. When this happens I move to another song or step away and do something that usually non-music related to clear my head and then try again later.
Can you describe your creative process; do you have any processes or customs that you apply to each project?
My creative process changes often. Sometimes I’ll grab a guitar and just right what’s on my mind or play around a voice memo I may have recorded earlier on my phone. Other times I’ll create a music track, grab a microphone and sing “gibberish” until a melody sticks. Then I’ll write the lyrics. The process varies.
You’re known for your guitar and piano skills. What other instruments can you play?
I play anything that’s put in front of me enough to get the point across on record but I’m most fluent on the piano. The piano is my mental therapy buddy. It’s an instrument I can bring my problems to, swim in a melody and walk away feeling refreshed.
You’ve got quite a back catalogue… is there a track/ project you’ve written that you’re particularly proud of, or has special meaning for you?
Acoustic Love (2010), Contrast (2014) and Yellow Dust (2020) are all albums I’m proud of. At some point in my life I really became infatuated with the idea of self love and romantic love, the beautiful parts and the not so pretty parts. Each album captures what I want to convey in the most genuine way.
Is there a particular lyric, or quote, that means something special to you?
“Life is so much better when you smile” from my song Life’s Better featuring Elliott Yamin. It’s a reminder that we have the ability to combat adversity and potentially change the outcome of any tough situation by taking simple positive actions. A smile isn’t to say everything is ok but it’s a way of saying I’m not defeated.
We’re all about supporting undiscovered artists, and those on their way up… what’s the best advice you’ve been given in your career, and what advice would you give artists that are trying to break through?
I was told to never stop learning. I’d suggest that any undiscovered creatives focus less on being discovered and more on creating genuine content you personally love, and create your own lanes. Music and the industry has changed and will continue to change. Never be bitter about those changes.
What have been the most effective means of promoting yourself as an artist in your experience?
Word of mouth has worked for me over the years but with my latest album Yellow Dust I’ve been exploring “ads” and the more I understand how to us it the better my results.
Are you working on anything new at the moment that you’d like to mention?
I’ve been in my music bag… lets see what the year brings.
“Yellow Dust” is the pollen of a sunflower which I’ve defined as positivity in the face of adversity given the sunflowers’ ability to absorb radiation. This album is my positive offering in hopes of absorbing some of the negativity in the lives of those who choose to listen.”– Joonie
With features from Tweet and Javonte´, each song has it’s on story and love and positive vibes are the
foundation of this album.
You can find Joonie’s work, including his recent album ‘Yellow Dust’ on all major streaming services. Huge thanks from the IAMUR team and we wish him every success for his musical journey.