Closing his 2021 chapter with a gut-wrenching collaborative EP with Travis Barker, Jack Kays has morphed into a very different artist — peeling back layers of bleach-blond aesthetics to expose the artist beneath. Tackling difficult topics of depression, anxiety and addiction through devastating emotional serenades and pop-punk tinges, MY FAVORITE NIGHTMARES commences a new chapter for the rising star. With a bright future ahead of him, Kays ruminates on what this sonic progression means for his career, the joys of working with Barker and his plans for the new year.

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Your EP MY FAVORITE NIGHTMARES rounded off your year. What does this change to your signature sound mean to you?

This EP is about duality. It’s a reflection of my own head, and the purpose of it is to make people feel comfortable with their own dualities. The idea is that we all have multiple versions of ourselves. There’s two sides of every person — there’s the side we let everybody see and the side that we keep under wraps or we only let a few people see. I want people to listen to this music and feel more comfortable with the sides they don’t let people see because it’s all natural. It’s all part of us, and it’s not always pretty.

Your lyrics are always refreshingly open, but is there ever any concern that you could trigger listeners by depicting this bleak reality?

As someone that deals with their own mental health issues, I get really frustrated by how censored people feel they need to be about mental health when people are so taboo about them. It makes me feel like I’m doing something wrong with my disorder, and that’s not the case. It’s totally normal. I think the more we can be candid and talk honestly about it, the better it gets for people.

How did you cross paths with Travis Barker to collaborate on this EP?

He DMed me on Instagram about my song “MORBID MIND” at the time, saying, “Hey man, I love your song. Text me!” He said he wanted to sign me to his label DTA, but he knew I was talking to Columbia, so he was like, “Either way, I wanna work with you so bad.” Then a month later, we were in the studio together.

What’s it like working with him not on just one track but a whole EP?

Travis has been super cool throughout this long process. He’s been very excited to work with me, and he’s the most humble person. I grew up as a little punk kid, and I’ve been playing drums since I was 3 years old, so it was a really intimidating experience the first time I got into the studio with Travis over a year ago, but he doesn’t make it feel that way. He still put me in a position where I was able to create my best art. I really enjoyed the process. He’s the busiest guy in the world, but he’s carved out a ton of time for this EP, so we’re both really excited to see it come to the finish line.

Would you consider working with Travis again?

I don’t have any songs with him left in the can, but I wrote one recently, and I listened back to it a couple of days ago and thought, “Wow, this would be perfect with him drumming on it.” So I’m gonna send it over to him and see what he thinks.

Is there anything you want to avoid this year?

I really care about my mental health and keeping a routine. I like to do things that make me feel good, and that’s one of the best ways to keep yourself happy and keep yourself going. However, sometimes I get so stressed out or caught up in something that I let that part of me go, and I stop taking care of myself or having my routine. I’m not sure if that’s a form of self-destruction or my anxiety, feeling like I can’t do those things, but I’m sure we can all relate to that. I wanna stop letting myself get in the way of doing things I love.

How do you want the 2022 version of Jack Kays to look, as opposed to the exposed aesthetic of your 2021?

I like to do different looks for my cycles, so with MIXED EMOTIONS, there was this blond hair, and I was wearing wool pants and Doc Martens. [I] thought it looked like a singer-songwriter thing. I shaved my hair for this one because I wanted to be super bare, and I thought it looked really edgy. Now I want this next music to reflect me, my perspective and the stories I want to tell, so I just wanna look the most like me that I possibly can. I know I’m growing out my hair, and I wanna start getting my scalp tattooed. I don’t know what I wanna do, but Travis said it didn’t hurt that bad.

Will the bleak sounds of “OUTRUN MYSELF” carry into your next release, perhaps a full-length?

I think the way I want to go next is still more EP-driven, but the one thing we can expect is a lot more acoustic music. I really can’t keep my hands off my guitar, and I don’t feel like writing anything else. This new stuff is really next level and some of my best songs. I’m really excited.

What are your first plans for the year?

I’m on tour in January. Then my girlfriend and I are going to spend a month in her native Turkey afterwards. We’re both serious introverts, and this whole EP release process has been a lot on us, a lot of interaction and brainpower going into it. I’m someone that really cares about mental health, and it’s No. 1 on my list of priorities, so we’re going to isolate ourselves for a month for a little reset before we have to come back and hit the ground running again when I really want to get this acoustic guitar music out. My goal in life is to have enough freedom to be bored all the time. I write my best songs when I’m bored.

This interview first appeared in issue #402 (22 for ’22), available here.