Video sharing social networks continue to be the format of choice for launching and discovering new queer artists. We’ve seen how well it worked for JORDY and his song “Long Distance.” TikTok lightning is striking again, this time for gay singer/songwriter Jake Wesley Rogers. With more than 155,000 followers and two million likes on the platform, as well as mounting YouTube video views (the official video for “Middle of Love” has nearly 330k views), Rogers appears to be virtually unstoppable. Add to that a deal with major-label Warner Records and a slot on the 2021 Lollapalooza roster and Rogers’ future looks brighter by the minute. Plus, you know he’s the coolest of cool because he drinks tea! Jake was kind enough to speak with me during Pride month 2021.
Jake, since we’re talking in June, I’d like to begin by wishing you happy Pride
In what ways are you planning to observe Pride month 2021?
It’s felt like a different Pride for me in a few ways. Obviously, we’re still getting back into normal life slowly. This year, releasing music this month, I pretty intentionally wanted to be more reflective and honor the path that has led us here. And also just be aware of how far we have to go still. Not making it sad, by any means, but just at least in my art and my music just acknowledging the fight isn’t over. We have so much to be proud of.
For those not in the know, would you mind saying something about why you go by three names — Jake Wesley Rogers?
[Laughs] I don’t know if anyone’s ever asked me that. I mean, it’s my name. I’ve been on this path for 10 years. I started when I was 14. I chose that, but I don’t really know why. I knew I didn’t really want a stage name. I like how the full name sounded. Jake Rogers feels like absolutely, very typical. There’s probably like 400 million Jake Rogers in the world. Jake Wesley Rogers also has good SEO. Not many other things are going to come up when you search that [laughs].
There are probably a lot of people who got their first glimpse of you when you competed on season seven of America’s Got Talent. Looking back on that experience, how would you rate it?
On what scale [laughs]?
Pick a scale.
On a learning experience scale? 10 [laughs]. On a recommendation scale? Never [big laugh]. I had to learn a lot of pretty heavy and big lessons about the entertainment industry pretty young. How the quick rise and the sudden attention is never grounded or gratifying. Actually, the true path of the artist is long. It’s intuitive and lonely and hard and amazing and rewarding, because of that. I had learn when I was 15 that all the things you think you want you don’t actually want. The real beauty of being an artist is in the creation. That’s the meat, and everything else is bonus. I’m also saying that because I have to remind myself of that every day. I’m kind of saying it to hear it.
Your early YouTube videos were covers of late 20th century standards —Psychedelic Furs’ “The Ghost In You,” Yaz’s “Only You” and the Pretenders’ “I’ll Stand By You.” Aside from the “you” theme, what was it about those songs that you found appealing?
I will give you very non-glamorous answer. I wish I had a better one. When I signed a publishing deal with Sony/ATV in Nashville I was working on my music, but in the meantime, the person I was working with said I could do some covers and they sent me a long list. I guess I picked “I’ll Stand By You” because my mother loves the Pretenders. She raised me on them. “Only You” and “The Ghost In You,” I actually wasn’t familiar with before I was sent a list. I fell in love with those songs. That’s kind of the reason those are the first songs. It’s not an amazing story, but it is what it is. They did really well streaming, so that opened doors. I’m grateful for them being there, for sure.
The religious imagery in your work, in songs such as “Momentary,” “Holy Man” and “Jacob From The Bible,” is right up front. Please say something about that, particularly from the perspective of a queer artist.
I think it’s immediately ironic, which I love. But it’s also not ironic; it’s really earnest for me. I grew up in the Bible Belt, but I didn’t grow up fundamental by any means. But, obviously, that was all around me. I don’t know why, I can’t shake it [laughs]. I think it’s because I just find it beautiful and I find the heart of it and the truth of it beautiful in a completely secular way. It’s kind of like the mythos of it. And using it to paint a queer story is something perhaps I wish I would have had when I was younger. I think on the one hand it’s the turning on its head of everything that was around me growing up. But it’s also quite earnest in its depiction. Like in the “Momentary” video, being crucified. Really believing that sacrifice is the engine of love and using that imagery to relate that to Marsha P. Johnson, Oscar Wilde and the list goes on and on. These people, in a way, sacrificed their lives, their freedom, for us to be on this phone call today, to be able to talk openly about this stuff.
Very insightful and very true. I’m so glad that you mentioned Wilde because one of the things that I have loved about your TikTok videos are the literary references, including Mary Oliver, Toni Morrison, Walt Whitman and, of course, Oscar Wilde. Can you please say something about the role of literature in your life?
Day-to-day I feel like I get fed more from poetry and prose writing than music during the past year. I think I hit an end with listening to music and writing music. I just kind of stepped back and started diving into poetry in a way I never have. Walt Whitman, in general, is wildly interesting to me. How openly queer he was over 150 years ago.
He laid the groundwork for so many that came after.
Exactly! It really feeds my soul. Even though my medium is music I think finding that common ground in poetry and literature breaks up the…when you’re making music all the time, it can be hard for me to find inspiration from music. I have to look to different art forms
Because of the importance of Tik Tok and YouTube videos, when it comes to your creative process, is there a specific order. Does the visual precede the audio or vice versa?JWR: I’ve been writing this project for the past 2 1/2 years, and for the project before that, “Spiritual,” I had made a mood board before I even had the song. I think that’s just because although it’s music, visuals are pretty close behind in importance for me. I think they just inform each other, and they take breaks from one another. I make the mood board and these beautiful images really inspire me and I just let them marinate. Then I sit down, and I write and I explore the world and write from the heart. Then the visuals come back. It’s like, “OK! We get to make a video for this now.” They kind of go hand in hand. I grew up with Gaga. She was my number one in middle school. Obviously, her visuals were almost more important than the songs. That’s how I make art. It’s been thrilling to make these videos lately. Some of the new videos we’re making are so fun!
Would you mind saying something about what the major label love you have received from Warner Records means to you?
On a queer level, I think I recognize that to be given a platform like this, a budget like this, is novel. Not that I’m by any means the first, but in the past few years to see a major label supporting these explicitly gay visuals is new. It isn’t a new thing. I had it growing up. I had (the) Katy Perry “Firework” video. There were gay people in it, but it wasn’t her.
You had Rufus Wainwright.
Yeah! I love Rufus Wainwright so much. Sooo much! He was coming out 20 years ago, so you can imagine the kind of pushback he got from people. But, thank God he did it. Then, in general, just as an artist on a more human level, I guess I’m keenly aware of the privilege of having this label behind me. I really hope every day that I’m using it in a way that spreads the message I want to spread. Not getting too caught up in whatever downside there might be. I’m getting to make the music I’ve always really wanted to make. There are a little bit less road-blocks in the way.
You are performing at Lollapalooza in July. There are a number of other queer artists performing as well, this year, including Brittany Howard, Orville Peck, Miley Cyrus, Kim Petras and Tyler, The Creator. What does it mean to you to be included, not just on the Lolla roster, but in such a line-up?
It is such a line-up! It’s gorgeous! It’s my dream. Performing is my favorite part of all of it. I could be on a tiny stage behind the porta-potties and I’d be like. “Hell, yeah [laughs]!”
Hopefully, you won’t have to be.
I don’t know. I haven’t seen it yet. I say that and I think, “Maybe I just predicted that [laughs].” To be on the same poster with these people is endlessly cool and shocking to me [laughs].
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