Jake Wesley Rogers on his Elton John cosign and the best advice he got from Justin Tranter
You could say that Jake Wesley Rogers is the love child of Elton John and David Bowie, but that would be too easy. The Nashville-based glam-pop star may sport an angelic, puff-sleeved jumpsuit onstage with bold eyeshadow or glitter-encrusted sunglasses, but he’s heavily influenced by artists like Joni Mitchell and Brandi Carlile. The combination is what’s made Rogers, 25, an expert at making both propulsive, arena-sized anthems and soul-baring power ballads. Ultimately, what he wants his fans to get out of his music is “the feeling that they're not alone,” he explains in a conference room at Hotel Fraye by Hilton in Nashville.
Over the past six years, Rogers has gone from nascent indie-pop star to signing a record deal with Facet Records — the label helmed by songwriter Justin Tranter — in partnership with Warner Records. His career has been steadily gaining traction ever since. This year, he had an opening slot on tour with Panic! At The Disco and MARINA, landed a song in the end credits of Billy Eichner’s movie Bros and released his latest EP LOVE in late October.
Ahead of his show in Nashville, Rogers spoke to AP about life on tour, his affinity for fashion and his dream collaboration.
You've been dubbed Gen Z's Elton John, and you've been interviewed by him. What has it been like to be associated with such an iconic artist?
Well, it first made me realize that I must not suck completely. If Elton likes what you're doing, then you must be doing something right because he's the GOAT. But I think it's important to recognize the lineage of everything, and that we don't create in a vacuum. What we're making now is because of people who have paved the way, and that's how I view it. People love Elton because he makes them feel more magical. When you listen to Elton and see him, you feel like you can be who you are, and that's something that I desperately am trying to do in my music by being who I am. Toni Morrison says, "The function of freedom is to free someone else," and I believe that, and I think that's why we love Elton. I think that's why we love larger-than-life characters — because it does that.
Tell me the story behind your latest single "Hindsight."
I had written it with Justin Tranter, who signed me to my label deal at Warner. I write so many songs, and most of them no one will ever hear for very good reasons, and that was one where I was like, "Oh, that's a really fun song." Then, Billy Eichner had texted Justin because they were finishing his new movie Bros. and they needed an end credit song, and he just asked if he knew any young LGBTQ+ artists. [Justin] was like, "Well, we wrote the song literally two days ago, and [Billy] was like, "This is absolutely perfect. This is exactly what we needed." So it's one of those amazing timing things. It's the end credits in the movie Bros. We start the set with it on this tour, and it gives a glimpse of who I am, which is [someone who is] very emotional, but upbeat and hopeful.
What's the best piece of advice Justin has passed on to you?
More than anything, it's important to have people who believe in you. From the moment I met him, he instilled a feeling of "this is going to work. Your story should be told." I don't really know if that's advice, but it's essential as a young creator to have that feeling of "I'm supposed to do this," and "I can do this."
One of the things that makes you a really exciting artist is your style. How have you been able to experiment with different looks on tour?
Stage costumes are my favorite thing to create. I have three costumes on this tour, and they're all very different. One's this angelic costume; the other one's very devilish and red. It changes the energy of the performance. What you wear changes how you feel. This is why I love dressing up because it can bring more confidence, and it can bring whimsy to the day. I love wearing a lot of colors—just making people smile, too, is fun. A lot of times I look like an art teacher retired in Florida, yet I'm a 25-year-old man.
You’ve partnered with Hilton and have been able to stay at their hotels on tour. How has that made a difference for an emerging artist like you?
Touring is a huge expense, and to have a partnership like this right now is helping all of us, the band. It's helping us to know that we can be comfortable on the road because we're not on a tour bus yet. So we're in the van all day, and our backs hurt a lot. The beds are comfortable.
[Photo by Alex Stoddard]
You went to school at Belmont, how have you been able to experience Nashville differently by staying at a hotel and visiting rather than living here?
It is weird staying in a hotel here because I lived here for five years, and when I'm here I'd stay with a friend. But Nashville is kind of like an ex that I have to run into a lot. And I'm not really mad about it, because I'm always interested to see how they're doing, and I think they're just a deceive me too. I'm just gonna keep this metaphor going. I could have loved you [Nashville] forever. But I think it's we're better off as friends.
Which artists or authors inspire your work?
I feel more influenced by authors. Walt Whitman electrifies me on a very deep, artistic level. Maya Angelou does, reading her memoirs around the time I started writing my story was really important. Joni Mitchell for the same reason—her truth-telling—and Brandi Carlile, as well, for that reason. When I heard her album By the Way, I Forgive You for the first time is around the same time I started really writing autobiographically and I don't think I would have done it had I not heard that record
Following your tour with Panic! At The Disco, do you have plans to release a full-length record?
I'm absolutely working on the first full length. I don't know when it will come out, but it's being worked on. I would hope in the next year, for sure, and we're working on my first headlining tour.
Who is your dream collaboration?
Stevie Nicks. We're manifesting that right now.