Shon Jay knows how to create a groove-fueled musical time machine.
The Southfield indie artist mixes retro R&B with current pop-inspired textures on “Nothing Is Forever,” his eight-track debut EP that drops today. He magically transports listeners to a personal sonic world that fuses late ‘70s, early ‘80s vibes with catchy 21st century melodies.
Jay, aka Shon Johnson, teamed with his father Lamont Johnson, a renown electric bassist from the Detroit-based funk group Brainstorm and a solo artist, to record and produce the beautifully crafted EP.
“There’s a heavy old school element in the entire project, but then I’m bringing my youth and whatever naiveté I want to try to recapture as I hit a career path,” Jay said. “We worked together to go through his catalog of songs that I’ve known since I was four or five years old.”
Jay and Lamont Johnson recorded “Nothing Is Forever” from September to December with Todd Johnson at Throne Muzik in Southfield. Together, they weave a powerful relationship theme throughout the Lamont Johnson-penned project – it exquisitely captures the rollercoaster of emotion with falling in love, becoming a couple, drifting apart, breaking up and moving forward.
The EP’s latest single, “Dreamin’,” includes a laid-back Earth, Wind & Fire feel surrounded by soul grooves, electronic finger snaps and gleaming synths.
“It has such a mellow mood, and it has ups and downs in terms of delivery for the notes and the melody. It’s very intricate and smooth. To do both, I would say that was the most challenging song to record because of how all over the place it is with intonations,” Jay said.
“That song is supposed to make someone think about what they’re really looking for in life and what types of things they want and how easy it is to obtain, but they just really need to go out and get it.”
With his father’s encouragement and support, Jay revived his musical passion after spending eight years in college, including four at the University of Detroit Mercy’s School of Dentistry, and rediscovered his creative side while recording “Nothing Is Forever.”
“When I was close to graduating from college, my dad heard me singing once in my room at home, and he complimented me on how much better of a voice I had compared to high school,” said Jay, who graduated from Wayne State University in 2015. “He started leaning toward the idea of doing something with me musically whenever I was ready to do so.”
Jay tapped into his musical roots while growing up in Southfield with creative parents and siblings and learned the drums while playing “Rock Band” video games. By age 15, he received a drum set for Christmas, formed an alternative rock-heavy metal band with friends in high school and started writing his own songs.
Jay continued to pursue music at Wayne State University, recorded acoustic covers with his college roommate and shared them with family and friends on Facebook. He also performed at talent shows through his fraternity and formed a short-lived R&B, hip-hop duo called Supernova.
“It dwindled to a hobby of sorts because I wanted to get more comfortable with my singing abilities, and I kept it to myself,” Jay said. “Over time, I became more comfortable with just going ahead and throwing it out there.”
Jay rekindled his musical fire on several “Nothing Is Forever” tracks, including the dancey Stevie Wonder-inspired EP-opener, “Sista Fine,” and the old and new school vibes of “Gone Away/Feel.”
“That song was originally called ‘Gone Away,’ but I felt like it was just so split evenly. Once I put my voice into it, I didn’t even want to touch the second part of the song because it was so perfect to me,” said Jay about the track written originally by Lamont Johnson. “Why fix it if it’s not broken? I broke it, and I just felt a split title would be more appropriate, and he was cool with that.”
Jay and Lamont Johnson also reimagined two covers on the EP – Daniel Caesar’s “Best Part” and Andy Grammer’s “Amazing.” Lamont Johnson heard Caesar’s tune on an NPR “Tiny Desk” episode in 2018 while Jay had been playing Grammer’s song on his acoustic guitar since age 12.
“For ‘Amazing,’ my dad arranged it using a drum machine back when we were living in an apartment. We had a little bit of a head start, but where it ended up, it’s much better than what it was before,” Jay said. “Luckily for me, I don’t think many people know about that song because it was released by Andy Grammer on a Target-exclusive version of his album at the time.”
With “Nothing Is Forever” hitting major streaming sites today, Jay relishes having one foot back in the music scene while spending his final semester in dental school. He recently performed at a University of Detroit Mercy talent show and played electric guitar with a full-backing band.
After graduation in May, he’ll likely relocate for a full-time dental position, acclimate to working life and return to songwriting. It’s simply a matter of taking his musical time machine to a new stratosphere.
“Once I get my feet down, then I’ll get some new inspiration,” he said. “I have a very loud voice and a very in-your-face personality so that’s just been my advantage.”