Growing up in Toronto, Colombian-descended R&B artist Jessie Reyez got nothing but encouragement from her parents when she began giving impromptu performances around the house, imitating salsa artists like Celia Cruz. But her musician father had guitars on hand for her to experiment with, until she perfected the swaggering, street-savvy persona on her breakthrough 2016 single “Figures” and its 2017 EP follow-up “Kiddo,” which earned her a Juno Award for Best Breakthrough Artist. “My dad and I used to sing and play guitar in church,” she says. “My parents were amazing, which is why I bring them on the road with me whenever I can. I don’t think I’ll ever pay them back for everything they’ve done for me.”
As much as you love your family, why did you move to Florida after high school instead of going to college?
I hated school for a long time, along with a lot of teachers. And I felt that college pressure, but I told myself that I was going to work for a year and a half until I could pay for my own school, and not to have go so crazy in debt. And this lady customer where I was working told me, “You’ve got to get out of this city in order to start things moving for yourself, you can’t stay here.” And I found out she was a psychic that had grown tired of helping humans, because all they asked about was money, and she was a pet psychic now. So I took the jump and went for it.
And what happened in Florida? You ended up busking on the beach?
I worked every possible day job you can think of. And yeah, I busked on an actual beach. And you can pretty much set up shop anywhere that’s really busy. But I quickly learned one thing: If you don’t have money for a speaker, you’re not going to be heard. I didn’t have an amplifier, so at first I had to go across the street from where all the sound was. But it was cool.
When did music become your career, though?
I can pinpoint the moment. I was bartending, doing a lot of yoga, and I was busking. But something didn’t feel right. And I put on this song by BJ the Chicago Kid, talking about how you cannot let other people tear down your dreams, and I thought, “OK, what opportunities have I overlooked in my life?” I remembered hearing about the Remix Project Academy in Toronto, and so I reached out to them, just before their cutoff. And I made it, flew back home and used my bartending money to sustain me through school.
IF YOU GO
Halsey, London Richards, Jessie Reyez
Where: Shoreline Amphitheatre, 1 Amphitheatre Parkway, Mountain View
When: 8 p.m. July 27
Tickets: $21 to $65
Note: Reyez also appears at Outside Lands on Aug. 11, and at 10 p.m. Aug. 12 at The Independent; tickets to the Aug. 12 show are $30 at www.ticketfly.com.
FiguresJessie ReyezJuno AwardKiddoPop Music