Jade Morgan Kelly on stage fright & new track, Reason to Stay

Singer-songwriter Jade Morgan Kelly landed herself a spot on the River Stage at this year's Isle of Wight festival after winning the festival's Hot Vox competition. She gets candid about stage fright and the realities of being an unsigned artist, and reveals the inspiration behind her new single Reason to Stay.

Which artists inspire you to make music?

My favourite artist is Anne Marie. She was doing that new kind of pop that came out that had a lot of honesty and a twist to it, and that's what drew me to her. She saved me in times where I've been going through rubbish things. Her music has always just been something that I can turn to.

How would you describe your music style?

I consider myself a pop-dance artist. A lot of people do hate on pop, and yeah, we might be a little bit more commercial and mainstream, but there are so many other genres that are mainstream which are amazing. 

I still have to work at the art that I'm creating just as hard as any other genre. I was a little bit nervous to be a pop artist because I didn't want to be basic or anything like that. Bubble gum pop is really cool, but that's not the sort of pop I want to do. That's why it took me ages to find out who I wanted to be.

This year you landed yourself a spot on the River Stage at the Isle of Wight festival after winning the Hot Vox competition. What was that experience like?

Hot Vox collaborated with my uni [BIMM London] for a livestream, and from that I got another opportunity to do another live stream that helps unsigned artists. It was filmed professionally and was live-streamed, and when we were gradually getting out of lockdown, Hot Vox contacted me and asked me if I wanted to do a gig for them. 

Because I had that relationship with them, they ran a competition for unsigned artists to compete to play at the Isle of Wight Festival. I said, “Sure, why not? I'll give it a go”. I did not expect what happened!

I woke up and I couldn't talk; I let myself get in my head.

How did it feel to perform at the Isle of Wight festival as the winner of the competition?

I was absolutely petrified! I was so scared. This was a massive learning curve for me doing something big for the first time, and for my first festival, it was quite a big stage for an artist who hasn't got a fan base really. 

I woke up on Saturday morning and I couldn't talk. I had no voice! I do think it was a lot to do with fear and stress. I really put a mental block on myself. 

When I was at uni, we’d learn about stage fright and mental blocks that stop your voice, and I always say, “I don't have stage fright”. I get nervous, don't get me wrong, but once I'm on the stage, I'm very comfortable. But I woke up that morning and I couldn't talk, and unfortunately, I did let myself get in my head.

How do you feel looking back on that moment now?

I didn't have the best voice for myself, which I do look back on. What frustrated me the most was once I was offstage, about an hour later my voice was fine, so I knew it was all in my head. It was mentally quite draining because I was really annoyed at myself.

I walked off stage, which should have been the happiest moment, and I couldn't stop crying. I was hyperventilating; I was really disappointed in myself. But then when I look back at it, yeah, okay, I may not have sounded my best, but I really pushed through it. 

I know for a fact that if this happens to me again I can push through. So as much as there's that little voice in my head going, ‘You were rubbish, you lost your voice”, there's a big voice going, “Look at what you did”. 

That's a big step for me mentally because as an artist, you always look back and you think, “I could have done that better”.

Relationships aren't meant to be easy. They're not meant to be like a dream.

Tell us about the inspiration behind your new single, Reason to Stay.

It was about how relationships aren't meant to be easy. They're not meant to be like a dream – it's going to be a bit of a roller coaster. Me and my boyfriend had a bit of a bump in the road, and that really took a toll on me. 

I remember during that time when I was really really hurt, I physically could not write anything. I had my little notebook and I wrote everything down that I was feeling, and nothing was coming out of me. It was really frustrating.

I went to the studio and I really wanted to do a garage song, and I flipped back into that time. I felt like he couldn't find a reason to stay with me, so I thought, “Well, if you can't think of a reason to stay with me, then you just shouldn't be with me”. That's where it stemmed from.

The verse is talking about that person in your life going, “I don't think it's working out”, but then you go, “Fine. But just know you're gonna regret that” – and being a little bit big headed. The chorus to Reason to Stay took me so long. We had the melody, which was so strong and catchy, so you needed to have that ace lyric. It's the one I'm most proud of, lyrically.

I thought something was missing from the track and I messaged my friend Mark (artist named Jarki Monno) and said a feature would be perfect on it. I don't think the song would be what it is without it.

It's hard being an unsigned artist. It can be really mentally draining.

How do you navigate releasing music as an unsigned artist in a crowded industry?

I'm not doing this career just for myself, I'm doing this for my family as well, because of everything they've done to help me get where I am. I'm very lucky to have such supportive parents; they're the ones who really pushed me into doing my music. 

It's hard being an unsigned artist and it can be really mentally draining. It's time consuming, but not in a bad way. You're broke all the time; you're working so hard and you're putting so much in sometimes to get nothing back, and that's fine. 

I’m able to say that as an unsigned artist, I played at the Isle of Wight Festival, but it's really hard as an unsigned artist to keep that mentality going. You've just got to hold on to why you're doing this.

Do you have any upcoming live shows?

I have my first headline show on November 18 at The Grace in Islington. I've got to get people down there and I've got to make sure this show is the best show that I've ever done. The Grace is such an amazing venue to have my first ever headline show at. 

I'm really excited and I'm really nervous at the same time, but it's going to be amazing!