Jack Gilinsky

29 June 2020

Photography Laura Gilinsky
Interview Sophia Razvi

“Sorry, I'm extremely rambling right now. I haven’t talked to someone like this in so long. I'm away from all my friends, so this is nice. Thanks for listening.”

White sheets, red lipstick, and a bubble bath bathed in LEDs. Singer-songwriter Jack Gilinsky slides under his crisp bed linen as he sings into the camera, "Don't let too many nights go by, before you try to make this right". Distance and longing: it’s a recurring theme of lockdown and one that Jack’s creative director, renowned industry player Diane Martel, has embraced in the video concept for his debut single, My Love. Though not one that Jack himself could ever anticipate would have defined his first foray as a solo artist.

Shot remotely over two weeks with the help of his dad, his friend, and Diane on call, My Love was a painstaking process of back and forth, trial and error, importing and exporting files. But for those who have seen the end product, there’s no question about it: it works. The single has amassed over 2 million streams on Spotify since April, and it’s clear that Jack’s transition to ‘solo’ artist has in many ways already been cemented.

Having originally built his following on Vine in 2013 as one half of viral pop duo Jack & Jack, Jack G’s relationship with social media is an interesting one, governed by ‘intense happiness’ as well as ‘crazy anxiety’. We spend a lot of the conversation trying to get to grips with the reality of the last 6 months. It’s complicated, with many conflicting imperatives to reckon with. Any creeping sense of helplessness, however, is necessarily checked at the door as we talk about how it’s possible to be a positive influence in the world - even online, even at a distance.

How are you doing, Jack?
Pretty good, aside from the craziness of the world right now.

I know. It's very overwhelming.
Yeah, I think you hit it spot on. I don't even know how to speak on that, I can't believe what's going on. But at the same time, it's inspiring - and I'm happy that it's come to a point where we are actually doing something about it. You can see a tonne of people out there protesting for the right thing. It’s just such a crazy year in general. That's all I can talk about with anybody that I talk to, like, ‘can you believe this year?!’ It's so much to take in. But I'm lucky. I'm in a good situation; I'm at home with my family. I'm just trying to do my part by spreading my voice on social media.

Where is home?
I'm based in LA, but when I say ‘home’, I'm where I grew up in Omaha, Nebraska. My whole family is actually out here. I have two older sisters, one of them lives in LA and one of them lives in New York. We've all been here since March, which is kind of insane thinking about since I'm talking to you right now in June, three months later, wow. It just goes back to the reality of how crazy life is right now.

How is it being home with everyone reunited?
It's honestly great. I love spending so much time with my family. We’re very close. I see them at least three to five times a year, but this period has probably been more time than I've spent with all five of us together since my sister graduated high school - that was maybe 10 years ago. It's really nice that we're getting to this family time in, but at the same time, this is all we can talk about; we're not really getting to enjoy it because it's under terrible circumstances. I'm definitely very fortunate to just be at home and healthy and safe.

And your sister shot you for this feature! How was that?
She was in the middle of her workdays - all my family have their own jobs and have been working from home - so I caught her in between some of her Zoom meetings. My mum and my sister helped me. It's funny, because I just did something similar for Vogue and I thought it was the funniest thing that my sister got a photo credit on Vogue. She is not a photographer! That is a testament of the times. Like, my sister is taking my photos in my backyard... Hard to believe.

I took these shots over the course of three days. I was going about my day and then I would tell my sister or my mum, ‘hey, will you take some photos while I do this?’. It was actually really nice because often I have to do a whole photo shoot and it's like a whole ‘thing’. This was a very casual, fun way to do it.

Speaking of, I want to talk about the video for your single, My Love. How was creating something with that ‘proper’ kind of production from a distance?
It looks like a proper production, for sure, but it wasn't. It was just me and my phone, and my friend who filmed me - and my dad who helped film some stuff. It was definitely a new experience - something that I never imagined would be the video for my debut single having worked the last 12 months towards that release. I was always imagining this big-budget video and these cool scenes, but it just goes along with the theme of this year: you have no idea what's coming! But I'm really happy with how it came out. It's all credit to my creative director Diane Martel - she really walked me through that whole process. I would have had no idea what the vibe even was supposed to be, but she put it together so well. It was a long process, though - it took like two weeks. It wasn't easy.

Two weeks of filming or two weeks from start to finish?
Start to finish, but we filmed probably for 10 or 11 of those days. It might even have been longer, start to finish. I would wake up and call Diane, and she would tell me what she wanted me to shoot that day. Then I would shoot it and would have to WeTransfer it over because the files were insanely huge. I was sending around 30 minutes of footage every day. And then she would tell me what she liked and what she didn't like; I would revise it the next day and we would just keep going through that process until we had what we ended up with.

It works so, so well. You must be really proud.
Thank you. I'm very proud and it was the most involved I’ve ever been. I've always been involved in making all my videos, but there is someone holding the camera, there's a lighting guy, a sound guy. There are all these people, and they work really hard to make it happen. But this time, it was me, my dad and my friend, and Diane. We just figured it out. I really appreciate all of those positions now. I always have, but that opened my eyes - like, the lighting is such a huge thing! I'm excited to go back to LA whenever the madness has settled down and film a legit music video for one of my next songs.

What is the inspiration behind My Love?
My Love has a contradicting feel to it. At the beginning of the song when I was writing, I was in this mood of, ‘Okay, you’re mine. I'm yours. No matter what. We might not be together right now, but love is deeper than just “right now” and we are each other's forever’. Then later in the song, you get to the hook and it's almost cheeky. I'm saying, ‘Don't make me find someone who knows how to do the little things you do'. That part is more like ‘hey, if I don't feel like I'm getting treated right, I'm going to have to get out of this, because that's not healthy’. So it's contradicting in that way. ‘I love you and your mine, no matter what, but at the same time, if the respect isn't there, then this can't work'. That's how I view it.

Who is Jack?
That is a question my manager asked me when I told him I really wanted to make my own music. He was like, "Well, what do you stand for and who are you?". I asked myself that every day for months. Even to this day, I don't know the answer.

All I know - and I feel like I'm feeling this way because of the state of the world - is that I want to affect the world in a positive way. As cliché as that might sound. I want to put a smile on people's faces. I want you to be able to live in the world of me, of Jack, for a second, when you’re listening to my music or, hopefully, one day, when watching me in a show or a movie, and be able to feel okay - even if you're not okay. That's what I look for in music: I look for those people who not only inspire me and provoke good thoughts, but those who I can listen to and tune out the world. Even though you don’t want to forget - for two minutes while you're listening to a song, it's nice. I just want to be a positive impact and have a positive impact. I don't know if that answers who I am, but I want people to be happy. That's it.

Have the events of 2020 inspired any new music?
It's crazy you ask that because I was just talking with my buddy Jack, who I obviously previously made music with. We came up with a song title and an album name that we wanted to be our debut album name, but it didn't end up working that way. I came to him and was like, that idea was kind of beautiful. It was about equality and love and peace - it had this acronym that worked out in a special way including all three of those words. I just feel like that's extremely relevant right now. I was talking to him and just brainstorming, like, ‘yo, obviously, we're on different journeys right now. But I don't think there's any reason to say no if you feel an urge to make music. I feel like we could make something very special to us'.

So to answer your question: yeah, I definitely want to make something because that's what everything is about right now! It's hard to not address it. I don't know what will actually happen, but I've definitely been writing down my thoughts. I've been listening to this guy named D Smoke. He just released this song and it's very relevant. He says in his rap that he wrote this verse the day that George Floyd was murdered. I was really inspired by that song, and by other artists who are coming out with relevant music that concern this topic. And so, I want to; I feel like I need to. But at the same time, I'm in Omaha, Nebraska. I have no resources to make music right now, and I'm not with the people that I always make music with. That's why I feel it’s very urgent to go back to LA. I kind of feel helpless because I'm in Nebraska, and it's the middle of nowhere and I don't know what to do.

It's like this permanent state of flux, isn’t it? Like you're just waiting for something to happen.
Exactly. And I'm waiting for my manager to say like, "Okay, you can come back and we can start recording". But at home, I’m very taken care of, you know? My mum is a very loving mother and she'll cook for me, she'll do anything for me. I don't take advantage of that, but it's really nice to be home and have my parents take care of me in a sense. I don't want to go back to LA where I'm kind of a lone wolf and have to figure out how to be an adult again unless I know that I can do work while I'm there - and right now, it’s not even possible. I feel like all of our lives are in such a weird place.

How have you been finding peace during this time?
For me, just being with my family. You don't want to tune out what's going on, because it's very important that we all learn and grow from where we're at, but it's nice to be with my family because for an hour and a half while we're eating dinner, or when we're watching our favourite Netflix shows together, I forget about the worries of the world for a second. I'm just living in that moment.

I feel very lucky to be living my life and walking in my shoes, but that also reminds me and it kind of stresses me out at the same time: I want to use my voice to let the people know who don't have the same privileges as me that I feel them, and I might not know their pain but I'm with them. I support them. That's been on my mind so much. It's hard to find peace. I love to work out, so working out kind of helps me push through that… But then even again, when I'm working out, I'm listening to rap music, and I'm thinking about black culture, and I'm thinking about everything that's going on. So, it's really tough to tune it out but if I had to say, it definitely would be having my family around.

Your journey into the industry was maybe a little bit more unusual because you built your audience on Vine. How has your relationship with social media changed since then?
It's changed quite a bit. It was so exciting when we first started seeing the numbers grow. We would just do anything to keep those numbers going up, which I admire looking back on my younger self - we worked so hard to gain the followers we did and to amass that fan base. I would say the difference from then to now is that I post less because I don't enjoy being so on my phone as much. When I was a complete social media ‘personality’, that was my whole life. It still is my whole life - that's where all the people who support me are and that's where I can connect with them - but I find that if I have an amazing thought, my first reaction isn't like, ‘oh my God, let me go tweet that’. Six years ago, that was it, for sure, like, ‘oh my God, this will get likes, this will get retweets or grow my platform’. I was very business-minded back then. I still am - I think I'll work back to that point where I'm extremely active.

We posted Vines every single day because we were in high school and that was our escape from our reality at the time. It made us happy and in return, it made other people happy, which is going back to my other point. That's what our goal was from the beginning - to spread positivity. The goal remains the same, but the activeness has shifted a little bit.

Was it always a positive relationship? I know amongst my friends, and even from my personal experience on social media, sometimes it's too much and you spend too much time online and get sucked in. Have you always been able to balance that?
Oh no, I don't think so at all. That’s something that I'm really bad at, to be honest, because I do let it take over me sometimes. I care too much about this or that, and it has an extremely negative effect on my mental health. Thinking so hard about likes, or ‘is this going to perform the way I want it to perform?’, you know? I envy those people who have it down to a science. Though sometimes I think from the outside, it looks like someone might have it figured out, but nobody really does. I try not to get down on myself too much thinking about social media - sometimes it gives me crazy anxiety and other times, it brings me intense happiness.

I agree with you and your friends. My friends and I talk about that all the time. Being a rock star in the 1960s, or ‘70s, I would kill - I wouldn't actually kill anyone - but I would love to go back in time and have my platform in that era. There's so much stress that comes with social media and it would just be really nice if it didn't exist. Although, it does help spread really important messages. There’s balance in everything and so I'm learning to find that balance.

Speaking of mental health, as part of Jack & Jack you have been involved in mental health campaigns. Why is mental health awareness important to you?
I think it's really important because it's something that I see a lot of people don't take so seriously. Even if they might have mental health issues of their own, they might discredit them. Over the years, I've experienced it in my own way and, definitely, having a platform, and the credibility that comes with being a “someone”, it's something that needs to be highlighted. Mental health is something that everybody has to take extremely seriously because your happiness depends on it, and you want to be happy. I don't know if there's some secret to it, but I feel like anything that you get too down on yourself about, you’ve got to realise it's okay. This is an emotion that you're feeling, and you have to let it pass.

Especially when you're going through high school; everybody gets bullied at some point, or alienated, or feels isolated from their friends, and it’s important to not let those moments ruin the rest of your life or change the rest of your life for the worse. It's important that young kids know that they're not alone and that as they grow, they're going to continue to experience those moments but that's okay. That's normal. That’s also really important why you should have friends and a good family around you. I know that's not everyone's situation, but that's what helps me, for sure… Sorry, I'm extremely rambling right now. I haven’t talked to someone like this in so long. I'm away from all my friends, so this is nice. Thanks for listening.

Do you have a personal story or journey with mental health that you'd like to share?
More of a journey, maybe, but I'm still definitely on that journey. I don't think I'm in a place where I feel completely 100%, whatever that means. I don't feel like I'm there yet, where I am living my greatest life. There have been moments where I felt like I was, and I think that a big reason as to why I'm not feeling that way right now is because we're in quarantine. There's an insane pandemic, obviously, that’s worldwide and people are dying, and we're forced to be inside. It’s summer and it's totally not normal that everybody is distanced from each other. And then on top of all that, just seeing what's going on in America right now. It's so sad. But mental health is something that I deal with every day. I have full hope and full faith that I will get to a place where I want to be one day, but this is just a tough time and that's probably why I'm feeling these things right now - and that’s okay.

Amongst your friendship group, have you always been able to openly discuss these kinds of feelings?
Yeah, we are pretty open. That's not necessarily something that comes to mind when you think of a bunch of guys hanging out - we're definitely boys, and don’t talk about our feelings all the time. But recently, ever since Apple came out with the group FaceTime, we've been doing that. We've kind of been taking turns and talking like, ‘Yo, what do you feel right now?’ and this person will say, ‘Like this’, and that helps me so much. That's why I'm so grateful to have a really close friend group that I don’t feel judged by. The biggest difference right now is that they're all in LA and can participate in the peaceful protests, which I'm so jealous of. I wish I could be there. I want to be using my voice and showing all the people that I'm in this with them, so I feel bad because I'm not - but they keep my head up about that and they're like, dude, you're in your situation and you can't get out of that.

You've experienced the music industry as a duo, as part of Jack & Jack, and now as a solo artist. Is there a different kind of pressure being a solo artist? How do those experiences compare?
Personally, I think so. That will definitely be interesting to see what Jack J thinks once he releases his own music and starts doing the promotion stuff that you do as an artist. I think there's a tonne of pressure being a solo artist - not that there isn't being in a duo - but you're half of something and so it definitely lightens the load. There's someone that you can share your feelings with and is going through the exact same thing as you are in that same moment. So, I miss that - I miss working with my best friend. It's definitely something that is a total switch up for me, but I don't prefer one over the other and, if anything, I have no grounds to take a side, because I haven't really even experienced being a solo artist in the real world yet. I've only promoted from my own house so far!

Outside of music, what are you passionate about? You mentioned you'd like to go into acting.
Outside of music, that would have to be my number one passion. My friends and I, we always just play characters. It's definitely weird and I don't know how good we are at it, but we'll just randomly jump into a character and start role-playing and improvising - especially Jack J and I together. We love to write sketches and comedy. I would love to write a drama, but I don't have any experience with that. Some of my friends are really passionate about writing scripts. I think one day it would be cool to star in a movie that one of my friends has written. I'm also extremely passionate about sports. I really want to involve myself in that community, in fitness, somehow, at some point. I think there's a brand waiting for me to make it. I want to create something, like how Kylie Jenner has Kylie Cosmetics, I want to have something like that. Whether it’s a fitness routine… I don't know. I'm literally just brainstorming as we're talking! But fitness, acting, singing. Those are my three.

You can be the Kylie Jenner of the sports world.
I don't know if I'm like there, but, something like that. That's the goal.

Do you have any advice on how to best manage the online world for young content creators?
My advice is always: be positive and spread positivity. You want to make people happy. You want the internet to be a place you can go and escape from the real world - hopefully, the real world can catch up and be a cool place to live, which it is not right now. But I would just say: be accepting of everybody. You can have your own opinions and your own beliefs, but you have to remember when you're someone with a large following, there are a lot of people who follow you from different backgrounds and different walks of life, who might not agree with that. So, you have to be open and be willing to learn about new things. Be positive, be accepting and be willing to learn.

What is on the horizon once lockdown is over?
That is a great question. I am definitely looking forward to releasing more music and filming a legitimate music video in Los Angeles. I'm also doing a lot of auditions for different things, like HBO and Netflix - all over the place - so, hopefully, one day I will book a role, but there are no plans for that right now. But, also - I don't know when quarantine will be lifted so it's all up in the air, just like the rest of my life.

Is there any more information you can share on what new music we can expect?
I was thinking about putting something out in the next six weeks, maybe. As far as the genre, the main thing is that my voice holds it together. I'm definitely into hip hop and RnB, but at the same time, I’m very into pop, so it's kind of something in the middle. There's one song that I'm really, really, really excited to get out. That doesn't really give you any information at all… But just know that I'm really excited about a couple of songs that I have coming up!

And, look at that. We’re done with three minutes to spare of the dreaded Zoom countdown. What does the rest of your day look like?
I'm going to make some food - probably some ground turkey and brown rice. As I said, I want to make a nutrition plan at some point, you know, as part of my Kylie thing! And then I'll probably go workout. I don't know if I'm going be able to take my dog for a walk – it’s really, really hot outside. He's a little black dog and gets really hot in the sun. We'll see what happens. But I'm definitely going to have dinner with my family and hang with them.

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