JJ Adrian's Musical Odyssey: Navigating the Ups and Downs of Los Angeles' Dynamic Music Scene
JJ Asuming-Tawiah has endured the ups and downs of what it takes to be a musician in 2023.
Known professionally as JJ Adrian, he moved to Los Angeles in 2016 to write an album alongside longtime friend and producer Eli Heisler, who he met three years earlier while attending Berklee College of Music in Boston. But building a career in Los Angeles did not come without its struggles, none more difficult than leaving his family.
“Not knowing when you’ll see your loved ones next is tough. As much as we want things to change right away, sometimes you have to be patient with how things are,” Adrian said.
Adrian attributes his love for music to his parents, John and Charito, and older sister, Kimberly.
“My sister was the singer in the family. When we were younger, she would do all of these pageants and talent shows where she would sing. I really looked up to her and wanted to be like her, so I decided to start singing, too,” Adrian said.
Family karaoke sessions influenced his singing career early on and motivated him to work hard to become the singer he is today.
“Filipinos love music. They’re some of the best singers in the world,” Adrian said. “Growing up and hearing my family sing — it was more intimidating performing in front of my them than anyone else. I’m grateful for the time I had to brush up on my skills singing karaoke.”
Being a musician of Filipino and Ghanaian descent came with its pressures. While his parents considered karaoke a fun activity, pursuing music as a career was an uncommon path.
“They’re both really traditional cultures, so there were many cycles that my sister and I had to break,” Adrian said. “Becoming a singer wasn’t what my parents wanted. But after seeing my passion for it, getting into Berklee, and receiving scholarships — if you ask them today, I they’re both happy and grateful that I’m pursuing music.”
While in Los Angeles, Adrian and Heisler assembled a decent-sized catalog of songs that later led to a signed deal. Everything seemed to be moving along until March 2020. Shortly after the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, Adrian returned to Vancouver.
COVID-19 may have halted his plans, but Adrian was able to spend time with his family and partner Megan, who helped him persevere through severe ups and downs in his career, including a broken hand in 2021 that delayed his musical journey even further.
“Megan taught me a lot about opening up instead of holding everything in. You have to talk it out, and you can’t hold everything in, or you’ll explode,” Adrian said.
The numerous hurdles he faced during the pandemic became blessings in disguise and brought about opportunities for self-reflection and new collaborations. Adrian started seeing the songs he and Heisler produced through a new lens.
“It’s been cool revisiting the songs with Eli so many years later. We could have released everything in 2018, but I’m happy that we took our time with it and have been able to go through life and add new elements for things that we couldn’t see or hear back in the day,” he said.
Adrian’s mission is to create more than just an album but an uncompromising vision in which he stays true to himself, much like the musician he looks up to most, Frank Ocean.
“I really love his storytelling, the vulnerability in his music, and how expansive his music catalog is. He doesn’t stick to one sound. He experiments,” Adrian said. “[Ocean] inspires me a lot in terms of going after it and not compromising. That’s one thing that the music industry can make you do is compromise your vision.”
Come April 2023, Adrian plans to work with Heisler in Los Angeles to complete his album As Soon As I Can and release his debut single “Joyride,” which he describes as “a fun little summer bop.”
“The album talks about patience. There’s a big difference between ‘as soon as possible’ and ‘as soon as I can.’ ‘As soon as possible’ means that you’ll drop everything to get things done, regardless of whether you’re ready,” he said.
Aside from the album, Adrian hopes to begin working on his passion project The Vancouver Son, an ode to his family and hometown.
“Growing up, my dad worked three jobs. He delivered newspapers, moved trash, and worked for Canadian Post. It’s an ode to him and the hard work he instilled in my sister and me,” Adrian said. “I would love to bring Eli out to Vancouver for a month, cook up something, and be inspired by the city.”
With his hand healed and an itch to perform, Adrian has been able to connect to the Vancouver music scene and perform more than ever before.
In 2022, he was selected out of 200 applicants to become one of 15 artists to participate in Music BC’s Arc Program. The government-funded music program involved a two-day seminar led by industry professionals, a week-long retreat with producers based throughout Canada, and the opportunity to perform at Rifflandia Festival.
For Adrian, the most impactful part of the program was its focus on mental health and community.
“They brought a therapist there who helped us one-on-one and in group sessions throughout that week, we were able to write, and we were able to learn about mental health, which isn’t really talked about in the music industry,” Adrian said. “All of us bonded over very similar feelings. It was cool to have that aspect in the program where they prioritized mental health and gave us tools to remind us that it’s a tricky industry.”
The 100 Fest program concluded with live performances on Victoria Island from all 15 artists, who shared the stage with DJ Dillon Francis and even former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal.
“As long as you’re okay, as long as you’re happy, as long as you like the music you’re creating and it fulfills you, that’s all that matters,” Adrian said.