A Conversation with Award-Winning Duo JJ ROOTS
Stevie Connor caught up with Jocelyn Parlee and Jeff Scott Gray of JJ ROOTS to find out more about this award winning duo who are based in Nova Scotia, Canada.
JJ ROOTS exploded onto the East Coast Music scene with the launch of their self produced debut album “Here Goes Something”. With soul-lifting vocals and powerful melodic riffs, JJ ROOTS excites audiences with their highly impactful original Contemporary Roots-Folk-Americana vibe.
Combining the diverse talents and backgrounds of Jocelyn Parlee and Jeff Scott Gray, the JJ ROOTS sound can rarely be categorized. Their sonic style has previously been referenced to such story telling greats as Buffy Sainte-Marie & Joan Baez with a twist of Fleetwood Mac's vintage edge.
In under 2 years since forming the duo, Jeff & Jocelyn have experienced sold out concerts on tour, various TV and Radio appearances on CTV, Global, and CBC, and won the 2019 Overall Folk/Americana Duo of the Year at the International JMA Music Awards in Tennessee. Their second time, year over year, winning this highly competitive international title!
They are currently releasing singles from their Trillium House Studio Sessions they co-produced with renowned award winning engineer/producer Paul Milner throughout the 18 month Covid shutdown. With a fresh approach to writing this follow up studio album, Jocelyn and Jeff continue to transform their newly developed Contemporary Roots sound.
The Sound Cafe
What are each of your "backstories"? How did you guys meet ?
Jocelyn had been looking for a writing partner for over two years when she happened upon some music online that Jeff had produced, co-wrote and played multiple instruments on. Seeing the possibilities, Jocelyn reached out and the two met and began their musical journey into JJ ROOTS!
My roots began with being born and raised in Nova Scotia. I spent much of my youth in orchestra pits often battling it out for 1st string positions. But mostly I just enjoyed playing and connecting with the beautiful violin pieces of my favorite classical composers like Mozart and Tchaikovsky.
Meanwhile at home, my very artistic mother filled life with the most colorful and soulful musical storytelling legends like Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, & Joni Mitchell as well as an endless list of songwriters and vocalists that exceeded all musical genres and boundaries. This was the fertile ground where my musical ROOTS took hold.
I continued throughout life to develop a skill set that included multiple instruments, song writing, and poetry. As an adult, I also worked in film and pushed my creative boundaries further to include writing, directing, and producing sold-out comedy theatre productions, another favorite creative activity from childhood.
Personal Quote: “ To be as one, simultaneously with the song and the audience, is to be whole as an artist. Singing & Songwriting has always been a passion for me that began as a child. I believe I have been led to this pivotal moment in joining forces with Jeff, and we are proudly creating songs in uniquely blended sonic textures and emotions, weaving together a tapestry of genres..." Jocelyn Parlee
Jeff Scott Gray
I was born in San Diego and spent my formative musical years in Alabama and Massachusetts listening and learning from the music of Motown and Sly and the Family Stone. These early roots were shaken when I discovered rock through The Edgar Winter Group and Bachman Turner Overdrive.
After relocating to Nova Scotia with my family my passion really took off after discovering the infectious riff rock and theatrical performances of KISS inspiring me to play guitar! I always fantasized about being a rock star! Over the years I continuously returned to these influences following the likes of Alice Cooper, Metallica, Rush, Slipknot and even Marilyn Manson!
My musical journey is unusual in that I spent my professional career as a bank executive while maintaining my official garage band superstar status! My alter ego! After years of honing my skills alone, I am now inspired by the amazing talents of Tommy Emmanuel. So much so that I have taken on the monumental task of becoming a world-class finger picker. It may never happen, however my playing and writing has changed forever and for the better.
Personal Quote: "It is clear to me that my life's musical journey has been preparing me for this shining moment partnering with Jocelyn. Every sliver of my Rock, Metal and Acoustic roots are coming into their own with our music..." Jeff Scott Gray
The Sound Cafe
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your music career?
We have so much fun every time we get together. I don’t think it’s possible to narrow it down to one story. I think the biggest surprise or interesting thing we can both agree upon is how much we both enjoy meeting other music lovers that interact with us on social media but especially before, during and after shows. It literally is the best part of what we do! We have met so many wonderful souls who for some reason enjoy what we do, and they share themselves with us and are so kind. They know the music. They know the lyrics and they make us feel special every time. We have many new friends as a result, and we continue to create new meaningful relationships along our path.
The Sound Cafe
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Right now, we are focused on finishing our Trillium House Studio collection of songs. We have recently released our 1st single, Midnight Illusions, from that collection and will continue releasing new music to the public over the coming months ahead of the full album due out early spring 2022. There is so much that goes into that, but we love it all.
Because of our experience in co-producing with renowned award winning producer/engineer Paul Milner, our sound has become more expansive and complex to include orchestrations, piano, and vocals. So our soundscapes have become much broader and our genre has become more and more difficult to pigeonhole, but we’ve never been the type to place music styles in boxes. A great song is a great song, and there’s nothing complicated about that.
At the same time, we have been re-inventing our live show experience and have moved into bigger theatre venues allowing us to create a visual video aspect in our rebooted Boxcars & Memoirs Fall Concert Series this year. It’s certainly been a lot of work, but it has undoubtedly been rewarding on so many levels as the enthusiastic feedback from audience members has been overwhelming.
The Sound Cafe
Who are some of the most well-known people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I have met Tommy Emmanuel on three occasions. Tommy is such a genuine giving person. You instantly feel comfortable around him, and he treats you like you are the only person who is important in that moment. Even as he prepares for a show in just a few minutes. We discussed guitars, songwriting and just joked around. I remember the time I took my guitar to Portland Maine to have Tommy sign it for a second time and Tommy looked at it exclaiming “Oh I already signed that I don’t need to sign that!” I quickly replied, “Yes you do” followed by Tommy “What for?” to which I replied “Because!” which broke up Tommy and the rest of the people in the room.
My experience with meeting Tommy for the 1st time was in Halifax, and aside from Jeff, I’ve honestly not met a more down to earth musically kindred spirit. He and I connected immediately with our love of songwriters and lyrics. We shared our favourites and laughed about both our desires to become better at our craft. Our meeting lasted probably longer than it should’ve and shorter then we would’ve liked, as his staff basically had to pull him away to get ready for the show, lol!
I also met a vocal idol of mine as well, Mariah Carey, but that was on a film set when in Halifax filming “Wise Girls’ as I work in the film industry from time to time. She was very kind to me when we chatted and we also felt a sense of musical kinship.
The Sound Cafe
Which people in history inspire you the most and why?
This is a question we can both really have the same answer. We are fans of the underdog. Always have been. We both admire anyone who has had to work hard and be determined to get what they want. Not necessarily the most talented people, but the ones that achieve greatness regardless of talent and obstacles. Honestly, kind people also inspire us. People that are kind even through adversity have a special place in our hearts.
The Sound Cafe
What advice would you give an aspiring artist who would like a career in music?
If you want a career in this industry, then realize it’s a career. Its work. It takes a plan. It takes execution, creativity and discipline. Jocelyn does vocal exercises every day on top of full rehearsals and studying songwriting from the best! Jeff plays guitar everyday. We choose new musical pieces and styles that stretch us, styles that we cannot execute or are weak at. That’s why Jeff learned Nu Metal. That’s why he learned to play Johnny Cash songs and learned a little bluegrass....it's also why he started finger picking. It changes everything about what you do.
Also 75% of our time is spent on the business aspect of this band. Marketing. Promoting. Networking. It all takes time. If you want a career based on substance, then it will take time. Don’t expect overnight success.
Surround yourself with successful people in the industry based on results not based on perceived success. Make sure you have objective people around you who will tell you not only when you are great but also when and where you need to improve. Family and friends aren’t always objective.
When dealing with venues and managers and publicists etc etc....remember you are a client, and as a client, you should expect accountability and results. This includes what venues and managers expect of you.
Find people who are excited about what you do. Find people that will share and expand your vision and what’s possible.
The Sound Cafe
How have you used your music to bring goodness to the world?
We’re not sure if that is for us to say. People tell us we do. People tell us they are inspired. We do believe that we tackle difficult social issues in our themes and lyrics such as our songs like COLD, What’s It Gonna Take, & What They’re Saying. Ultimately we believe music to be the connective tissue that has the power to help us all understand, heal, and bring peace to ourselves and others both individually and collectively.
The Sound Cafe
What are your 5 things I wish someone had told me when I first started in music and why?
I sincerely had my eyes wide open when I started this...hehe I didn’t expect people to want my autograph!
Honestly, I think for me it would have been the following:
Trust your gut, if it’s too good to be true, it is!
Not everyone tells the truth so be objective and seek qualified council when making critical decisions.
Be prepared to work very hard in every aspect of what it takes to be an artist, including the business side of the coin.
POLISH YOUR PEARL! Practice and perfect your craft if you want to rise above the rest that are working just as hard.
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! There will be days when you’re all you got.
The Sound Cafe
We have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some great people in the music business. Is there a person in the world who you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this.
This answer is simple, lol! Tommy Emmanuel!
Tommy has had to build his audience since he was just a child. As mentioned before, we have both spent limited time with him and we both would love to just chat about the business, songwriting, the art and responsibility of entertaining an audience as well as life lessons in general.
We both admire him tremendously as a musician, songwriter and businessperson. Most importantly we admire him as a person. We have learned so much already on how to interact with fans and to build a show that entertains people...as he calls it the “happiness business”.
We both want to tap into that with Tommy much much more. But really, we would cherish the opportunity to discuss anything with him just to spend time in his presence. We honestly hope this will happen someday.
The latest single 'Midnight Illusions' can be heard HERE