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NEWS > OA News > Featured OA: Music for the soul

Featured OA: Music for the soul

Despite only leaving recently, JJ Wallace (OA 2020) has packed in a huge amount since leaving St Albans School – touring around Europe and performing at this year's Glastonbury Festival.
11 Jan 2023
OA News
OA JJ Wallace
OA JJ Wallace

We recently saw you on stage at Glastonbury supporting Celeste – how did this collaboration come about?

Back in January I was performing with one of my good friends DoomCannon at Ronnie Scott’s in Soho and Celeste was in the audience at the time. A few months later we got in contact while I was still at university, and I was made aware of all the shows and festivals we were going to be doing throughout the year which was exciting. 

You’ve also been on tour around Europe – who were you supporting and where did you visit?

My most recent European tour has been amazing. This run was also with Celeste which was great because all the band already knew each other which made travelling very comfortable. We performed all over Europe with some highlights including Primavera Sound in Barcelona, NOS Alive Festival in Lisbon, Stuttgart Jazz Open and Nice Jazz Festival just to name a few. One of the great things about the tour was the ability to not only play in front of a variety of different crowds but to also explore vibrant cities. 

Do you ever feel daunted before going on stage, particularly when playing in front of such large crowds?

Surprisingly I didn’t feel nervous before any of the shows regardless of crowd size. I was apprehensive before the tour began as to whether I would get nervous before going on stage, however as soon as I get on to the drum kit I feel at home, almost as though I’m in my own little cabin. This helps because at that point the crowd doesn’t become a daunting prospect at all. In fact, seeing large crowds eagerly waiting for you to perform makes the show even more exciting, especially since, as the drummer, you get to see thousands of people dancing to the beat that you are playing. Glastonbury, however, was a bit different as it was aired on national television and knowing that all your friends and family are watching at home was a little bit daunting at first. However, like I mentioned, once I get on the drum kit, I don’t think about any of that, and all nerves disappear.

You play quite a range of music, including pop, jazz and gospel. Do you have a favourite genre?
It’s hard for me to categorically name a preferred genre of music because it seems to be constantly changing. Gospel has been in my life since the beginning, so I’m in my comfort zone when I am playing that, but recently, I have been playing a lot more jazz and hip-hop fusion music. There is an incredibly exciting London jazz scene that is continually growing and some of the music emerging is a fusion of traditional jazz with hip-hop influences. I would say this is currently my favourite because there is a lot of scope to experiment and express new ideas and creativity within the music and my playing.

How old were you when you started playing the drums? Has music always been an important part of your life?

I first started playing when I was around 18 months old. However, I didn’t start with conventional lessons. Coming from a very musical family, being able to feel and understand different rhythms almost felt like second nature from an early age. Music has always been a major part of my life, my mother is a singer, and much of my extended family are involved in music in some shape or form. When you grow up in that environment you begin to pick up musical technical skills and maturity almost without knowing it at the time. Music continued to be a major part of my life from junior school up to high school as I started to gain experience performing and being a part of orchestras and other ensembles. 

How did your time at school support your musical ambitions and how did you balance schoolwork with music?

My time at the School was great for my development. From the day I joined in First Form, the Music Department were very supportive, from allowing me space to individually practice drums at break times and after school, to guiding me with musical software skills to help me produce new ideas. I especially spent a lot of time with Mr Craig who really helped to expand my musical brain and improve my technical skills, like reading music. In all honesty, I became accustomed to balancing a lot of work as I was constantly having to juggle sports, music and academic work in school. This has turned out to be a blessing as I now feel comfortable balancing a heavy workload at university alongside my music career.

You won the title of UK Young Drummer of the Year in 2018 whilst still a pupil - how did you prepare for the competition and what did it mean to win?

I had entered the competition the previous year and made it through to the top ten. I think that this experience was beneficial for me as it gave me the experience of playing under pressure and in front of a relatively large crowd. When I won the competition, I was in the Fifth Form, so it was quite a busy year also preparing for my GCSE exams. My preparation for the competition did not change any of my daily routines, it just meant that in my practising sessions at school before the final, I was constantly polishing up my solo and my interpretation of the backing track we were required to perform. I never saw drums, or music in general, as a competition so the feeling of winning was different to that of winning a competitive sporting match; however, it felt wonderful proving to myself that I could play at a high standard and to have industry-recognised legends acknowledge my playing and speak highly of it. 

What advice do you have for budding musicians?
I’d say that it is important to keep constantly working on your technical ability as well as opening yourself up to a wide variety of genres. One would also gain a great deal from playing with other musicians whether that is just random jams or even starting up small bands. This helps to enhance your musicality because you learn how to bounce off other people’s ideas in a musical setting and you can develop the ability to not only know what to play, but when to play it. As with all walks of life, it is not only your playing ability that matters it is also who you connect with, and I found that putting out content of playing on social media platforms can allow you to network with musicians and artists from around the world. 

What are your plans and ambitions for the future?
As I am currently in my final year of undergraduate studies my immediate focus is on my university degree; however, beyond that I am looking to continue with live performing. I have thoroughly enjoyed my summer of touring and performing in front of massive crowds and would love to continue travelling the world whilst playing at this stage in my life. Beyond that I have interests in music management and even aviation, which I would potentially look to pursue. Without looking too far into the future I am currently incredibly content with how my musical career has started and I want to continue capitalising on opportunities as they come. 

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