Photography Cameron Flaisch
The buzz of friends and acquaintances on Facebook bred attention for a local singer/songwriter who was successfully making his way across “The Voice” stage with Team Blake Shelton. It seemed as if every time one would open the Facebook app, the Cedartown, Georgia native WILKES’ face would pop up along with his most recent performance on the show.
This enigmatic, long-haired vocalist of pop/rock sound over a country lyric was prospering, all while securing a name for himself as a professional performer (during a live performance on the show, WILKES had to slyly perform a mic drop after a stand malfunction). Although his ride with “The Voice” ended after being eliminated during the live playoffs, WILKES was (and is still) a local superstar and for a good reason.
This rise to fame seemed rapid for most, but it has been a slow-go for the musician. He initially started his professional music career in 2001 with the band, High Flight Society. WILKES set out on his solo career in 2015, beginning with his time on “The Voice” and he is not disappointing.
V3 Magazine had the honor of speaking with WILKES and his wife, Chelsey, about his time on the show, as well as his life before (and after) his new-found fame. As he reminded us, we never truly reach the horizon. No matter how much we think we’ve seen and heard, there’s always something new out there to find. Inspiration is infinite and he shows Northwest Georgia why he’s planning on continuing to rock n’ roll through the ranks of recognition.
V3: Tell me about yourself. How did you get your start in music?
WILKES: Growing up, my family was very musical. I started out singing Southern Gospel in church, which inspired me to begin learning my first instrument, the drums, around age six. Middle school was when I started to branch off on my own, stylistically, by listening to more pop and rock music. It was then that I made a conscious effort to soak up everything I could from artists all over the map, genre wise from Michael Jackson to the Foo Fighters. In 2001, I joined High Flight Society as the lead singer and we were off to the races.
Do you have a love of writing music? If so, when did that start?
WILKES: I do. And I couldn’t stop writing if I wanted to. My mind can’t turn it off. Everything, from the wind, to car horns, to the groove my washing machine makes during the spin cycle translates into music by the time it reaches my brain. Everything is a groove, a melody or a lyric and I can’t turn it off. I actually wrote my first song when still in a car seat, and I still remember the chorus. It was called “Don’t Look Down.” I’ve considered revisiting it one of these days to see if I could make it into something legitimate.
How much of yourself do you insert into your music?
WILKES: 100 percent. Every part of me goes into every part of my music. Whether it is lyrics that come from things that have happened to me in my life, or completely made up stories…it’s all some part of me. Writing songs and performing them on stage are the only times I ever feel fully connected with my emotions. There are parts of me that only come out in my music.
Are there any musicians in your family?
WILKES: Pretty much everyone in my family plays something and/or sings. My older brother taught me the foundation of everything I know when we were super young. He taught me how to work my way around a drum set and how to hold a guitar. My dad played acoustic guitar a lot and my Mom is a great piano player. They made a big impression on me wanting to play music. In fact, I remember sitting on the floor in front of my Mom putting on shows for her where all I was doing was beating on my Dad’s acoustic guitar like it was drum. She assured me it was amazing.
Who was it that first introduced you to music?
WILKES: My mom, dad and brother all played a big role, but my earliest memories of music are simply driving around with my dad in his old, white Chevy pickup truck listening to REO Speed wagon, Three Dog Night and “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood. I used to think he was so cool for listening to such cool music because it sounded so unique compared to the Southern Gospel I heard at church all the time. To this day, I think that is what lit the fire in me, music wise.
Outside of other musicians, who are other writers, or artists in general, who have impacted your work?
WILKES: It is mostly friends and family, especially because my music is very personal and mostly spawns from life experiences. I’ve never been one to really idolize too many people or strive to be like anyone else. My work is just impacted by the people around me in general.
What kind of skill set do you have to develop in order to become a song writer/ performer?
WILKES: In order to be a song writer, you have to be extremely observant and detail oriented. Great songs don’t come from looking at the world through a normal lens. Great songs are in the details and the dark corners, in turning things upside down and purposefully looking at them from a different angle. You can’t just see a tree and think, wow… cool tree. It’s the color of the leaves on the tree, the way the light peaks through them and reveals their spines and the ruffling sound they make when the wind hits them. Your senses need to be on overdrive all the time, and honestly, sometimes it’s pretty maddening. For as long as I can remember, my brain has been wired this way. Performance wise, the biggest hurdle is feeling comfortable on stage. Once you get that down, just be yourself. Authenticity wins every time.
Talk about your time on “The Voice.”
WILKES: My time on “The Voice” was incredible, and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. Everyone who works for “The Voice” is amazing, from the coaches, to the producers, to the camera guys… all are incredible people. It couldn’t have been a better experience for me as a song writer and performer.
Do you keep in contact with any of the contestants/judges and have you formed professional opportunities through you contacts there?
WILKES: Yes, I stay in contact with a ton of the contestants. We’re like a family in a lot of ways, and are all still great friends and will be for life. I’ve actually been writing with a number of the contestants for their records and I’m planning a few shows with them. I guess you could technically call a lot of what I’m doing with different contestants “professional opportunities” because they technically are. But, we’re just friends who believe in what we’re all doing. I believe in every single one of them and I’m on board to help any of them in any way I can, whether that be songs or just dreaming about the future. We’re all in this together.
Did you get the results you were looking for on the show?
WILKES: I got exactly what I was hoping to get from “The Voice.” I went into the whole experience with a plan and walked away achieving all of it, which wasn’t necessarily making it to the end. “The Voice” is an undeniable platform and, at the end of the day, anyone is extremely blessed just to be able to step foot on that stage for a split second. It’s definitely been fuel on the flame that wouldn’t have been burning as quickly.
Any specific opportunities on the horizon?
WILKES: My new Extended Playlist (EP) just released on July 20th which was a big thing for us. Getting music out ASAP after something like “The Voice” is paramount. Being able to pull it off as quickly as we did was a daunting task, but completely worth it. We do have some things in the wings related to the new music and new opportunities, but nothing that can be talked about as of yet.
How has life changed for you since your time on the Voice?
WILKES: The main difference is that more people care about what I’m doing. I’ve been doing this for a very long time now and, by far, the hardest thing to accomplish is to get people to look in your general direction. Thanks to the show I have a ton more people looking in my direction than before. It feels good to work hard on something and put it out knowing that people are there to receive it. And of course, getting recognized in the grocery store is new… but I don’t get out a lot. It’s been really great. Everyone at home has been very supportive throughout my whole journey. People seem to have fully embraced me as a rising artist and not just a singer who did a thing on television. That’s very important to me and I’m really happy to see that momentum and excitement continuing to build.
What are some of your goals?
WILKES: Short-term, we want to continue to build the momentum and keep this snowball rolling. We’re booking shows at mid-sized venues and theatres with the goal of giving people big caliber shows that are better than what they expect when they walk in. We will be pushing the new music hard and I will be writing more songs for future releases as well. Long-term, we plan to release lots more music and grow the live show in an organic way that makes sense for both us and the fans. We make our plans so that we can over-deliver as opposed to just meeting expectations, and consistent releases of music and solid live shows is the cornerstone of our plan.
Questions for Chelsey
Tell us about how you two met. What led you to WILKES?
Chelsey Wilkes: We actually met at a park in Summerville, Georgia. My parents were involved in a church there. We were living in Rome at the time. Jason was randomly leading worship for a small bible study and I had known who he was for years. But, I had never spoken to him and always wondered if he knew who I was. Jason is the quiet, introverted type, but something about him was so intriguing to me. His demeanor made it difficult to figure out if he was interested or not though (laughs). Honestly, I remember at the time it seemed that he wasn’t really my type, but there was something that pulled me to him. Later, I had heard him lead worship at another church we both attended in Cedartown, Georgia and was definitely very drawn to his voice. He was just a mysteriously mesmerizing person to me and it was totally captivating.
How involved are you in his career?
CW: I am willingly involved in every aspect of his career, and I want so badly to see him through to success in this. I love the business and administrative side of his music, so I handle a lot of that while continually throwing him any thoughts or ideas that may cross my mind and remind him of anything he will forget, which is a lot… (laughs). Of course, I love to be with him, so I prefer to travel wherever he has to go as much as I can. At shows, I set up and run the merch table and keep up with the sales as well.
What influence do you feel you have on his style, and how do you help him to be able to stand out among other artists?
CW: I feel that I tend to have a pretty big influence on his style. Going back to when we met, although I was attracted to him, he definitely had an interesting style, which was more of a thrift store, skateboarder kind of vibe. I have always loved clothes, shoes and fashion in general. So, over time I gave him suggestions and opinions giving him new things to try. Obviously, being a hairstylist, I feel I’ve always had a handle on his style and how he looks. His natural hair color is phenomenal, so it isn’t hard to make him stand out. We both love his hair long and it gets wavier the longer it gets which is easier for both of us. Since we keep it longer, I try to think of creative ways to add style. Lately, we’ve been adding one to two cornrow braids on each side underneath.
Are there moments where you can tell when he’s in his creative zone? What are some of these things that you may notice that other people wouldn’t?
CW: Oh definitely! Those moments are the ones when he forgets a lot of things… when his brain is flowing with thoughts and ideas about lyrics, melodies, etc… and there is little room for anything else. I try to not get frustrated because I know he’s a unique and creative person and I love that about him. I love that he embraces it and focuses on the moments that ideas come, because I believe that it’s really important for him to capture those. Some things others may not notice when he’s in this creative zone are pretty funny actually. He will chatter and chomp his teeth to the beat of a song, even in his sleep. He also rubs his toes together and makes this “shaker” sound. It kind of drives me nuts sometimes, and I always joke with him that I cannot hear the song in his head so he needs to stop!
What are some cool things about WILKES that you are willing to share. You know, ones that others may not know?
CW: Some cool things about Jason that others may not know is that he is so handy! He can pretty much build or fix anything, which reminds me a lot of my dad, so I love it. He also loves to play golf, and for some reason that is so weird to me as no one in my family played and I’ve never successfully hit a golf ball either. He also loves old cars, and most importantly, is the best daddy to our daughter, Linley. He plays with her pretend play sets all day long sometimes and he is really good at it.
As he moves forward, what aspects of your lives have you both agreed to keep sacred, if anything? Will you guys be a more public family, or will you tend to stay private?
CW: I definitely think that we will be a public family, for the most part. I truly believe that by doing that, that we could be a place to help encourage others through our love for God and our love for each other. Marriage and having a family is work and we are okay with showing and sharing the things that we do to make it all be the best it can possibly be. Of course, there are some things we will always keep private as we are definitely careful of how much of our daughter we expose to the world.
What are some of your guilty pleasure songs or artists?
WILKES: Toxic by Britney Spears or anything by Backstreet Boys or NSYNC… All of which I am completely unashamed of.
Any fun facts of things coming up that you want to share that we haven’t touched on?
WILKES: Let’s just say the last half of 2018 will be pivotal and 2019 will be a big year for the WILKES campaign
Be on the lookout for these upcoming events for WILKES:
October 6 at the Holly Springs
October 27 show in Cedartown – Kaleb Lee and Pryor Baird (also from season 14
of “The Voice” will be playing).
Ticket link and info for that: