Editor’s Note: Interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You may know Jonathan Bach, JBACH, from his stunning audition on The Voice that earned him a spot on Team Pharrell, but since his legendary performance, the young artist has gone off on his own. A career in the arts hasn’t always been in JBACH’s future. JBach, a Chaldean Catholic, was originally pursuing a pre-med track at the University of Michigan, and it wasn’t until his audition on The Voice did he realize he couldn’t deny his passion for music any longer.
JBACH’s debut single, “Old Me,” narrates his journey to being a full-time artist. The song addresses conflict, identity and bravery, all while encouraging other Chaldeans to have faith in their abilities. JBACH has become a role model for many hoping to stray from a traditional path and pursue a career in the arts. I talked with the singer/songwriter about his love for music and upcoming projects.
Ariel Zedric: First and foremost, let’s talk about The Voice! Walk me through what you were feeling when Pharrell turned around.
JBACH: Oh my god I was so surprised, especially because he turned VERY early on, which threw me off. The relief of knowing that Pharrell turned around within the first like 15 seconds of the songs was so freeing, and I was able to have way more fun with my performance because I knew I was already moving on to the next round.
So I gave the song my all. There was literally someone crying in the audience reaching out to me while I was singing, and I waved to them. They were so touched by that, and it was the greatest moment of my life. I felt like a superstar.
— The Voice (@NBCTheVoice) March 2, 2016
Tell me about how your experience on The Voice changed the course of your life.
I’m not kidding when I say that I had a solid idea of the course my life would take ever since I was very young. I’m talking like well into my 30s. Then The Voice came in, and everything forked left. All of a sudden, everything I had planned didn’t matter. Everything I thought I knew wasn’t applicable in this new career, and it was so thrilling and terrifying at the same time. Suddenly what I always thought was impossible for people like me was so close and real, and I had huge celebrities telling me that they believed in me. Literally changed everything.
Can you recall the moment when you decided to leave the pre-med track at the University of Michigan and pursue music full time?
I remember FaceTiming my friend Jess, who was also on Team Pharrell, after we were both eliminated and her asking me to move to LA with her. I initially laughed it off, and she probed me as to why I felt like I couldn’t seriously move to LA and give music a shot. It made me think like, why was I always so skeptical and hard on myself? If the odds are one in a million, there’s still ONE person that has to make it, so if I worked my ass off and maybe got some cooler clothes I could be that one. It was all up to me.
Do you ever wish you made the decision earlier?
I always say that the way everything went down was the way that it HAD to happen. Had I not been on The Voice, I would have never had the confidence to believe I could make it in music. I also wouldn’t have met Jess, who fully talked me into moving to LA with her. Sometimes I wish that I had learned a little more about my artistry and music prior to moving, but I know that if I had waited at all, I would have never ended up making the move. I’m so happy with the way everything worked out, and there were plenty of bumps in the road, believe me, but I came out here starting from scratch and can’t help but be proud of my progress.
Have you experienced any doubt since your choice? If so, what’s kept you going?
Literally every day. Even the day that “Old Me” came out I was like freaking out and regretting the release because I was afraid people wouldn’t get it or like it or that something so personal to my story would be seen as lame or corny. But I have amazing friends that keep me grounded, and I know that my job isn’t to be fully content with everything I do. As artists, we’re never fully satisfied because we’re our own worst critics, but all you can do is keep the channel open and keep creating and hoping that someone somewhere relates to your music and is affected by it. That’s what makes all the stress and insomnia and struggle worth it.
Tell me about the inspiration behind your debut single, “Old Me!”
I always describe “Old Me” as the conversation between my two selves. JBACH opens the song, confident as ever with rebellious energy, and is met by Jonathan, who is a cautious people-pleaser in search of acceptance (this got poetic real quick!). It’s basically a song about growth and being the person you’ve always wanted to be and forgetting about the people, activities or tendencies that tried to backpedal you into someone who you aren’t anymore. Although the lyrics and topic are pretty heavy, I wanted the song to feel light and victorious; the new you triumphs over the old.
How has your culture impacted your music?
I feel like the song is especially topical to my community. Chaldeans, or Iraqi Christians, have a huge community where I’m from in suburban Detroit. It’s so cool to be able to trace your roots back to ancient Mesopotamia and know exactly who you are and where you came from.
A lot of Chaldeans had to flee Iraq in search of a better life, and in doing so had to start businesses or pursue higher education to survive. Since that’s really the only way they know how to survive and thrive, a lot of those expectations were passed down to us first-generation Americans. Although this does work for some and is in no way a bad gauge of success, that expectation just didn’t work for me anymore.
My family has been so incredibly willing to learn with me, and they’re now my biggest supporters. But this song is about triumph in the face of hesitation and going all out to make your dreams come true, knowing that the people who see how hard you work will learn to love your drive and support you and accept the new you.
Why do you think it’s important for other Chaldeans to see your success in this industry?
Representation is so important today in media, and for other Chaldeans to see me succeed is so important to me. My community has received my music with such open arms. I constantly get messages about how Chaldean kids have parents who want them to be doctors or run their stores, and they felt understood listening to my song. I just want to show everyone that it’s okay to leave things behind and pursue a dream for something better, the same way our parents and grandparents did by coming here.
What would it have meant to you to have a role model, like yourself, when you were younger?
Oh my god, if some other Chaldean weirdo like me was making music when I was a kid, then that would have changed EVERYTHING. I think the reason I never believed in my music as a kid was because I always thought that “people like me” don’t ever make it out of our towns and achieve anything extraordinary. I think that it would have been so much easier for my family and friends to encourage me earlier on, had they seen someone like me doing well and making things happen.
Do you have any exciting forthcoming projects that you can tease?
YES, MY FAVORITE SONG COMES OUT THIS MONTH. “Taste” comes out June 28th 🙂
If you could give young aspiring artists one piece of advice, what would it be?
The best advice I’ve ever received as an artist at the beginning of my career was that you will never be happy with the very first things you create. And a lot of times that may frustrate you and keep you from releasing your music, but you have to KEEP GOING. The only way to get better at writing is to keep writing, the only way to get better at singing is to keep singing. Eventually, you will reach the caliber of work that you’ve always wanted to, but be okay making things you aren’t entirely satisfied with just for the sake of consistent creation.
Any last thoughts?
Be nice to yourself, eat more cheesecake, come to my show in LA on July 17th at Black Rabbit Rose. Thank you for coming to my TED Talk.
Feature image courtesy of JBACH