Jessie Reyez shouts out her Grade 8 history teacher for inspiring 'Intruders’

The Juno winner chatted about her album and video before her etalk Open House performance.
July 2, 2020 7:15 p.m. EST
July 3, 2020 1:42 a.m. EST
Jessie Reyez has had a busy time of late—calling out racism in the Canadian music industry, releasing a politically-charged new music video and winning a JUNO award, all in the month of June. July doesn't look to be any less exciting since she's kicking it off with an exclusive etalk Open House performance of her song "Kill Us."Ahead of the performance, the Torontonian sat still, for a moment, to chat with pal Tyrone Edwards to discuss the current political climate; her new "Intruders" music video (and it's eighth grade inspiration); the importance of fostering young, diverse creative talent; and her relationship with tour companion Billie Eilish. Jessie and Tyrone picked up their conversation where they left off earlier in the month when they discussed the lack of diversity at the highest levels of the Canadian music industry for CTV's Change & Action: Racism in Canada special.[video_embed id='1987731']WATCH: Jessie Reyez performs 'Kill Us' for etalk Open House[/video_embed]Tyrone: I’m still in the living room where you saw me last time; where are you checking in from?Jessie: I am upstairs from the spot where we last talked.There has been some bubbling since our last discussion—I see it’s gotten a lot of traction on your Instagram. What’s been some of the feedback or conversation since you posted that?Some of the people has been people who agree with me that there’s more that has to be done—that this idea that racism doesn’t exist in Canada is this fallacy that people want to hold on to because they just want… I quoted Amanda Parris. She said, “We have a carefully curated benevolent idea of what Canada is.” And it’s that in some aspects but when you look at executive boardrooms—it doesn’t have that same idea, that same diversity that we kind of try to promote as a city. And I think that a lot of people resonated with the truth because the truth is the truth is the truth, you know? And some people were motivated to speak outwardly. I feel like more people were more inclined to actually put their money where their mouth is and put more effort into action, you know what I mean? And I think that that’s great. I’m happy that it helped to mobilize people that weren’t doing enough.I’m going to take this opportunity to thank you again, not only for giving us your time, but giving us your honesty and your bravery and being a leader—that was a leader move. That was a boss move. Thanks, man. I’m doing what I wish other people would [do]. Just doing what I wish someone would do for me.Let’s talk about some more boss moves—the video for “Intruders.” This is exactly what we’re talking about—using your art. Tell me how this video came about—the inspiration, the motivation, everything we need to know about how we ended up with this piece of art.I’ve had the song for a minute. The song was on my album, it was on my album when it came out and I’ve had the video for a minute, too. I always had that idea for that song and I’m lucky to work with people to help me drive my vision to execution. And I’m happy that Peter [Huang] helped me storyboard it after I gave him a break-down and Solis Animation did a beautiful job. I was apprehensive about releasing anything because I felt like I didn’t want to take attention away from the movement that we’ve been able to see as a society. It seems like the majority is mobilizing—the majority understands that we need momentum, we need to take advantage of this divine timing that happened so that the world could actually pay attention to s**t that’s been going on—or things—that have been going on for a long time.I was apprehensive, but it seemed like this video was able to depict the seeds of where racism came from. That’s why when I put it out I actually put out a little statement that said, “Colonialism is in the mitochondria of racism.” Because if we were able to have respected equality back then, had respected human rights back then, as a race, as a human race, then maybe we wouldn’t be dealing with the systemic racism that we have now.
You can’t talk about racism in Canada and not talk about the Indigenous—some of the original sins in Canada, to be quite honest. That being said, shout out to my grade eight history teacher. I rate, I f*****g rate teachers that tell the truth in history classes because there are some teachers that will just regurgitate the information that’s in a lot of these textbooks and try to sugarcoat massacres and try to sugarcoat our history but I remember our teacher talking to a room full of 13-year-olds, breaking it down. And what was beautiful about how we did it is, he didn’t implant his opinion, he didn’t try to slide it in but he was like, “This happened, this happened, this happened. We came here, these people were already established and then this happened,” and then was quiet. I distinctly remember this.I remember the students being like, “So then… so then it wasn’t… so then it wasn’t really discovered and we just displaced Indigenous people?” “Yes.” And then another student put their hand up and was like, “But that was… that was wrong. And we’re the remnants of that?” And he was like, “Yes.” And kind of let us come to our own conclusion to make it obvious that right and wrong isn’t something that's so difficult to receive if you’re not conditioned into believing that this is a norm. So I just rate teachers out there that are out there in those history classrooms actually giving facts about what happened and not trying to sugarcoat it or drive past it just to hit the next lesson, but actually leaving little seeds. Because I distinctly remember that.I want everyone to listen to that story and understand that we all have the power to affect change within the spaces that we occupy. That one teacher left an impression on you that is lifelong, whereas I didn’t get so lucky—I didn’t learn about the truths of some of this stuff until I was in my late 20s, early 30s. I hate that that’s my truth but that is the truth. A product of your environment, man. ‘Cause someone didn’t think to drop that seed, you know. Mr. Apple. Shout-out, Mr. Apple.I was talking about how I would listen to Marvin Gaye and certain other older artists and I would always wonder how they made the switch from bedroom songs to politically-driven songs. We realized that they went through something similar to what we’re going through now where it was just too much was happening to not affect at least some of the artist’s music. With that in mind, with everything that’s going on, has this crept into your music as well?Yeah, I mean, it’s apparent in the whole reason I decided to release the project. I was apprehensive about releasing it because I didn’t want to take away from the attention of the movement but the more I thought about it the more that I was like, “This coincides with everything that’s happening.” This is a mirror to understand why we’re here now.I think I’ve always talked about my life and what I’m going through—whether it’s heartbreak one day, whether it’s sexual abuse in the music industry another day, whether it’s my experience as a Latina waiting over 14 years to get legally approved for documentation to live in the States legally. That song is related to “Far Away;” the sexual abuse is related to “Gatekeeper;” “Intruders” is related to this. So I’ve kind of just always talked about truth and it might just be heartbreak like “Figures” or like “SAME SIDE.” It’s just a depiction of my life, my experience as a human being.I want to take an opportunity to shine a light on Remix Project and other programs like that—why is something like Remix Project important, especially when we don’t necessarily have systems yet that are set in place for us?For me personally, my experience, growing up as a creative kid, everybody always pushes this idea of, “Make sure you have a Plan B. That ain’t secure. That ain’t going to pay. Make sure you have a Plan B.” And what’s crazy is how many opportunities there are to make a living within the music industry that aren’t communicated to kids that are coming up. As creatives, there’s no blueprint and I think that those programs like Remix Project and any program that’s set up in a similar way, is so important because we don’t have a blueprint so the closest thing we can have is mentorship. The closest thing that we can have is a facility that can bridge all these childhood dreams that we had when we were looking at paintings or these childhood dreams we had when we were looking at TV shows like the Grammys or music videos.I remember being little and watching those music videos feeling conflicted because I was like “Yo, I want to be there. I want to do this,” and feeling angry but also feeling like, “God, that’s beautiful, how can I get there?” but feeling this disconnect. And what those programs do are they can get someone who reached that goal, put them in front of you in a classroom like a mentorship, like a little workshop that might only be two hours but that can change the course of somebody’s life. It shows you that someone who looks like you—which is so important—someone that’s Black, or someone that’s dark-skinned, someone that’s not white, was able to achieve it.[video_embed id='1966986']RELATED: Tyrone Edwards shares why he can no longer remain silent about racism [/video_embed]And the person in front of you is also not giving you the Disney story. They’re telling you, “Yo, I had to deal with a hundred nos. I had to deal with all these failures. I had to deal with my family doubting me. I had to deal with everybody telling me, ‘Get a Plan B.’ I had to deal with debt. I had to deal with learning what it means to invest in myself. I had to deal with learning how to be fearless, going against the grain.”Because usually when you don’t go to school and a regular program, you’re going against the grain. Because when you’re 21 and all your friends are in school and you’re not and you’re pushing CDs, or all your friends are in school and you’re not but you’re still hustling—you’re still at these art shows; you’re still trying to network—that’s not wrong.  The Remix Project allows you to be around like-minded people that are also taking the risk. That are also going uphill. That are also trying to succeed in a world that doesn’t have institutionalized systems that are there to help them.I share the same sentiments when it comes to The Remix Project. That’s where I worked before I got on TV. Simply put: it was a room full of creatives that were able to push themselves and push each other. God bless Remix Project, man. God bless all those—there’s a lot in this city that people don’t know about. There’s programs like Rise. They’re just out there, you know? People just don’t know about them.You were on tour just before COVID with Billie Eilish. Can you give us a snapshot of what that working relationship was like? What that vibe was like? She’s dope, man. She’s chill. It’s rare that you find—and I feel like you probably agree with me—in this industry, it’s difficult sometimes to make genuine connections that aren’t motivated by ulterior motives. And it’s rare and a beautiful thing when you find someone that doesn’t really have anything to gain, but they’re still down with you. And they still mess with you. Years ago when [the album] Kiddo first came out, she was sharing my stuff off of Kiddo and that’s how we met because she was just sharing my stuff. And I was like, “Yo, thank you” and she—she’s the biggest artist in the world right now, but she wasn’t at the time—and she was still sharing mad love. And then our teams put us together in the studio and we just had good chemistry, man. She’s chill. She hasn’t changed. She hasn’t switched up—a lot of people can do that and I guess it’s a norm but she’s been cool, man. She’s been cool from jump, still cool now.etalk Open House is a weekly series that features performances and exclusive interviews with incredible talent like The KillersTones and INiall Horan and more. Catch the series on Thursday night as part of etalk’s regular  broadcast at 7pm ET on CTV  and 7:30pm on CTV2.[video_embed id='1980426']BEFORE YOU GO: FINNEAS performs 'Let's Fall in Love for the Night' [/video_embed]

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