J.J. LEONE, SINGER-SONGWRITER

Meet J.J. Leone

J.J. Leone (or Connor Manning, as he’s known to his friends) is a UK-based singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and producer (phew!) who is on the up and up in the music world. Pra recently heard one of J.J.’s songs via Facebook Share and the TCS team was instantly won over by the beat and his voice. He is the epitome of emerging talent; he’s a #TCSpearl.

(What’s a #TCSpearl? When we spot emerging talent who we just know are on the verge of becoming something big, we dub them as ‘pearls of caviar’. They have something special to offer and should definitely be on everyone’s radar!)

Anyway, of course, we hunted him down and nearly fell out of our chairs when we found out that, although he was born in Chingford, London, he was raised in Norfolk as Pra herself is from Norwich!

His first taste of music came at the age of 12 with a £20 acoustic guitar from Walmart. Determined to be the next Jimi Hendrix (although he says he’s failed miserably!), J.J. learnt everything by ear and even picked up the drums and bass along the way.

J.J.’s first performances were in function bands but he quickly set up his own with a few schoolmates, which turned out to be a good call. By 16, his band had gotten picked up by a production company and they were on their way to tour Barcelona “which was pretty crazy”!

Music has always been in J.J.’s heart and soul. (Confession: we’ve done a bit of Facebook stalking and he really does live and breathe the beat!) His older brother is a jazz musician in Canada and growing up, he was immersed in old school R&B and soul music which has had a huge influence in his own sound. With talent pretty much oozing out of him, J.J.’s managed his own solo career and played every instrument you hear on every one of his tracks (impressive!). It certainly hasn’t hurt that BBC Introducing has also lent their support on a few occasions.

This past July saw the release of the official video for his single “Collaborate” which received a whopping 50,000 views in its first week! He’s also since released his second single “Let Me” and…AND…signed with Marshall Arts Talent Agency who also represent some artists you might recognise. Do the names Elton John, Lionel Richie, Taylor Swift, or Pink ring a bell?

Yep, we thought so.

J.J. is definitely on the rise to superstardom – you heard it here first!

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“If anyone ever tells you it’s wrong to dunk a Yorkie bar in a cup of tea – you don’t need that type of negativity in your life!”

Q&A With J.J. Leone

What was your “a-ha!” moment?

There has never been one specific moment, but rather lots of small moments that have all added up! I will never forget the reaction I got when I was on tour in Spain – just seeing how music can bring people together is amazing, and no matter your culture, creed or origins, music is a universal language. There have been times where I’ve been broke, haven’t eaten for a couple of days and don’t know where I’m going next, but I could write one melody line that really gets me excited whilst in the midst of all that – I think that says a lot!

Who are your influencers?

My influencers have always been people with longevity, I’ve no interest in being a one-hit-wonder and making a track that can fall into the current ‘pop’ market place for a small bit of success. I also really respect people that write their own songs, and are just real musicians in their own rights. Prince is a pretty big one for me, just because he was a real professional in every instrument he played and he wasn’t afraid to try new things and push boundaries – he has so many songs that all sound completely different depending what mood he woke up in on that day!

Plus he didn’t really give a damn what people thought, and that’s pretty admirable considering this is such a subjective industry! Stevie Wonder as well, who has been around for so long and he’s probably released about two songs I don’t like?! Cody Chesnutt is a seriously underrated musician for me; his album ‘The Headphone Masterpiece’ is a real work of art… and he recorded it entirely in his kitchen! He’s a big inspiration for DIY musicians.

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For those with a passion, what’s your advice?

If you’ve got passion, you’re halfway there! Work like a dog at it, and good things will come. Don’t always look to outsiders for help, if you have something you feel strongly about and you can portray that and believe in yourself, good things will come!

Biggest indulgence

I’m actually not a massive fan of being in crowds, I’m more of a nature kind of guy! I really enjoy travelling to different places, but not on the tourist-y route seeing a place for what it actually is. On my days off, you could probably find me walking by the sea, through a field, or just curled up in front of the TV with plenty of junk food! I’m not really a big ‘labels’ kinda person, and I actually really enjoy my own company.

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Where do you find your inspiration?

From absolutely anywhere! Most of my songs are written about interactions with people, and the feeling you get from someone. For that reason I love people watching (weird, I know!)

When the going gets tough you…

Work harder! Nothing ever comes for free and nobody has a god given right to anything! Sure, it helps if you have some backing from somewhere, but in a difficult time you can either give up, or start writing the next chapter of the journey!

One singer who you believe has the X Factor

Right now, I’d say Christine & The Queens – she can do it all! I saw her on ‘Live with Jools Holland’ not long ago, and she can dance, [has] got a great voice, no autotune and really interacts with the crowd. She looks at home on the stage!

One word to describe you?

Driven. I’ve always had the ethos of hard work instilled in me since I was very young. I’ve had numerous hustles since I was 12 years old and I’ve never been given anything for free. I’m pretty good at never taking ‘No’ for an answer!

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What does the future look like….

The future looks like the benefits whatever you’re doing today! For me, I’m always busy writing new songs, for new EP’s and albums, I’m starting work with my agent in October on the live side of things can people can expect new shows and a lot of new music to come very soon! I always set myself daily goals, and right now, I’m hitting them so I’m happy with the way things are shaping up! There are obviously some things I can’t say yet, but expect the unexpected!

Who would you like to woo with your voice?

I’d like to woo Shakira, if only she’d give me the chance! I mean, what has a superstar footballer earning mega bucks got that I haven’t?!

Your life mantra

‘It’s not about the size of your pencil, but how you write your name’

If you were a brick in a wall which brick would you be?

I’d be the wobbly brick in the middle, trying to separate myself from all the other bricks!

The best piece of advice you have ever been given

It was by a family friend who, without knowing it, probably convinced me to follow my passion for music. My mum wasn’t really happy with my choice to study Music at College, she’d rather me get a qualification in something to make me more employable! But we went out for dinner with this guy and after a long discussion, he said:

‘You should do whatever makes you happy, for happiness is in short supply. If it’s what you want to do, as too many people work jobs they don’t like, imagining dreams that they never pursue.’

It even changed my mum’s mind!

What are your pre- and post-performance rituals?

Before a show, I will always sit in the corner of a room quietly! I don’t really speak, and it’s not nerves, I just try my best to soak up the atmosphere as early as I can to get my head in the right place! I will always remember one time I supported Suzi Quatro at a gig to ten thousand people in the UK, and I done exactly the same thing! I was in the green room, waiting to go on, and Suzi and her daughter were there! They called my name, I’d done my set and came off. I walked back into the green room and Suzi said to me ‘from now on we’ll call you the shy soul boy! I don’t know what it is kid, but you’ve got it!’ That meant a lot to me! After a show, I love meeting people properly, but beforehand I do just keep myself to myself!

Some other fascinating bit of info about you that we definitely need to know:

My first ever accolade in music came when I was 13 and I won first prize in my school talent show. I was almost blinded in my right eye only three weeks ago! When I was born I was the size of a three month old baby. The best job I ever had was working at McDonalds, I have once been chased down the street by a woman who mistook me for Tom Hiddleston (before I had a beard!), and if anyone ever tells you it’s wrong to dunk a Yorkie bar in a cup of tea – you don’t need that type of negativity in your life!

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