THE FIRST TIME JOY OLADOKUN’S VOICE WAS DESCRIBED TO ME, a friend compared it to “a warm blanket.” While I wasn’t sure what that meant at the time, after hearing Joy’s single “Poison” off her first full album, Carry, the description made perfect sense. It’s hard to decide if it’s her mellifluous voice, profound lyrics, or delicate melodies that are the star of the show. Every note of every song is sung with intention and is full of soul, energy, and truth. Move over, Adele: Joy is an up-and-coming singer/songwriter that the world is on the brink of falling in love with. Oladokun spoke with Lady Clever about being an independent artist in today’s commercial music scene, mining her life for songs, and overcoming insecurities. She’s proof that raw talent truly rises to the top.
Can you tell us about the inspiration for Carry?
The album is totally centered around relationships. I feel like this past year I’ve been stretched relationally in a way I never thought possible, and these songs are the product of me processing what it means to love myself and others well.
What is the significance of the album’s title?
“Carry” is the name of a song I wrote for my niece the day she was born. I was in the hospital waiting, and I just wanted to have a song that marked that moment for our family because it felt so significant. I asked myself what I would want a person who is new to this life to know about what it means to be human, and the idea that “we were made to carry each other” came to me. I’ve spent so much time foolishly going at things alone, and I just wanted this little girl to know from day one that that doesn’t have to be the case. There’s always some one out there who is ready and willing to help.
Tell us about your process for writing songs. Does the music come to you first, or the lyrics — or is it simultaneous?
Both kind of crash into my head at the same time. I think the music and the message are married, so I work pretty hard to make sure the song sounds like what it says.
How do you determine which of your experiences would make good songs?
I try to write about and capture everything. Songwriting is kind of like keeping a journal to me. I can tell you where I was and what I was trying to process when I wrote each song.
With the state of the music industry today, what has been the most difficult part of being an independent artist?
The most difficult thing, by far, has been not caving in to a certain style or sound because it’s hip right now. I think sometimes it feels like people won’t listen to your music if it isn’t auto-tuned, or if it doesn’t have slick samples. I had to come to a point personally where I realized that while I had the capability to do all those things, that sound isn’t authentic to who I am and the music I love.
What has been the most liberating part of being an independent artist?
CONTROL. Hahah. I feel like an expressive part of my childhood is being restored right now because I have the freedom to do and say what I want, how I want, when I want. I try to take that freedom seriously, but I’m also taking advantage of it as much as possible.
What would you say is the part of the music-making process you’ve had to work at the hardest?
Not letting the fear of failure or not being liked stop me from putting things out into the world. The week before the album release was one of a lot of emotional difficulty because it really is the most vulnerable project I’ve worked on. I had to come to a point where I could listen to the songs and know that even if everyone hated it or no one listened, it was still a project I could stand by and be proud of.
How did the Kickstarter campaign for Carry came about?
I had just graduated college and quit a job that I was convinced I’d be working for the rest of my life, and I had a dear friend challenge me to spend a year doing something that I would regret for the rest of my life if I didn’t try. So I started working a few background vocalist gigs. Even though the gigs were incredible, I was wrestling with discontentment because I still didn’t feel fully expressed. I started searching my heart and praying about what I could do and (this may seem like an odd thing to say), but I just felt like God gave me the permission to try something wild. I sat down with some people and told them I wanted to try to raise money for an album, and every one I talked to was like “why not?” I was convinced we weren’t going to hit the goal, but we raised like 75% of the funds in the last 24 hours. It felt like a miracle. As far as I’m concerned, it was a miracle.
You’ve mentioned that it took you a long time to feel comfortable with your voice. What allowed you to be more comfortable?
As a person, I’m like 70% awkward all of the time. It’s a winsome awkwardness, but it’s awkward all the same. That being said, there aren’t a ton of things I feel really comfortable doing, but there is something about the act of singing that makes me feel like I’m right where I’m supposed to be and that I have purpose. Singing has helped me through some of the darkest times in life, and I started to realize that the struggle was what made my voice sound the way it does.
Is there a particular song on Carry that means the most to you?
I love them all equally, like children. I even took great pains over the order of the songs because each message is so important to me. If I had to pick one though, it’d be “Animals & Angels.” I wrote it the week I moved to LA (which was a year ago as of last week). I was in this tiny apartment, I had no furniture, and I felt excited and alone all at once. I just wanted to capture the hope and the fear I felt in that moment. Not only hope for work and stuff, but the hope I had for friendship and romance and family. I won’t lie to you, I listen to it often.
What do you want listeners to take away from your album?
That love is work and pain, but it’s worth it. I also hope people listen to it and feel loved. Writing songs, at first, is about me processing and healing, but putting a song out there is my gift of love to whoever is willing to listen.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received while making this album?
That just because something isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it isn’t good.
What is a piece of advice you would give to female artists or musicians?
I would say that you should own and celebrate your femininity and the femininity of others. I’m not necessarily talking about the cultural norms we associate with being a woman. I think there is something so beautiful about our gender, and the spectrum of emotions and character traits that it represents. I think, as women, we should walk confidently in the brand and expression of womanhood God gave each of us individually. By doing so, we open up doors for ourselves and for the next generation. I never would have picked up a guitar if I hadn’t seen a video of Tracy Chapman singing at a charity concert when I was younger. She looked like me and thought like me, and she wasn’t wearing a flowy dress. Just jeans and a turtleneck. And she was singing about justice. That’s just as feminine and powerful as Adele in a ballgown belting “Someone Like You.”
I’ve realized I have a lot more to say about this than I thought. *laughs* In short, do you, and do you as loudly and proudly as possible.
Have you experienced any discrimination for being a female artist & musician that you think wouldn’t have come up against if you were a man?
I think, if anything, I had to ask for things loudly and more often than I felt I should. I get it. I’m young and I’ve got a soft and sweet speaking voice, but I also know what I want.
I also don’t love being called “honey”… 😉
Same! Trust us — listen to this album once and you will be Carry-d away!