August 4, 2020
Tune-In Tuesdays #81: Josie Proto on Her Chart-Topping Debut and TikTok Success
Josie Proto reads “STYLE” magazine while lounging in a laundry roomSource: Josie Proto
Recently, we spoke with Proto via Zoom to learn more about the EP, her unexpected success on TikTok, and to learn what her plans are next.
Tell me a little about yourself and your music
My name’s Josie Proto, I am 19-years-old. I’m a singer/songwriter from the middle of nowhere in the UK.
Literally. I live in the middle of four different farms out in the sticks. The only amenities that my little village has are a pub and a church.
I’ve JUST started releasing my own music; I’ve released my debut EP called, “PUB SONGS: Volume 1.” It ridiculously went to #1 on the pop album charts, which is crazy.
My biggest platform is probably TikTok. That kind of happened over night, as well. It was a bit of an accident, too [laughs].
People describe my music as bedroom-pop/Brit-pop/Lily Allen.
I can definitely hear the Lily Allen influence. Then when I heard you mention Allen on the EP, I was like, “OH MY GOD! THERE IT IS!” But congratulations on all of your success so far! TikTok’s a pretty crazy platform, too.
It’s crazy, absolutely crazy. When I posted that first video of “BTEC Lily Allen” on TikTok, I had 15 followers. I think I went up to 20,000 in two days.
It’s silly, it really is ridiculous. It’s so random! And with content on TikTok, I could spend hours creating a video and get like, 300 views. Or I could spend literally a minute on a video of me dancing in my kitchen and it gets like 10,000 to 20,000 views.
I only have two TikToks. My first one was a video where a popsicle had broken off in my mouth and it got 300 views in 30 minutes. I couldn’t tell if that was good or bad. I had no idea what was happening.
That’s what I was like! I hadn’t told anyone I made a TikTok. No one. I had about three people that I knew following me out of my 15 followers. I especially didn’t tell my boyfriend because it felt embarrassing — it’s a place for teenagers!
When it started to blow up, at 3,000 views I was like, “Oh my God, I have to tell someone… That’s quite a lot.” But I decided to just bear with. Then it got to 7,000 views in a couple minutes, so I told my boyfriend. He was shocked!
By that evening, I had 100,000 views.
So, what are some of your core values, both personally and musically?
View this post on Instagram
Working on some more BANGIN tunes for you, and I promise merch will be sent out next week, had an absolute MARE with postage but it’s all sorted now, also ordered some more super cool bits, so get ready for some super cool designs and maybe e v e n s o m e c o o l b e a n i e s woooo
Personally, one of the biggest ones is my family and honesty. I really do try to be as honest as possible, it’s quite important to me to be an honest person.
Another one of my biggest values personally is my pursuit of happiness. Over the past six-months, I’ve aimed to cut out things that weren’t making me happy and aim for things that are to make a positive change.
When it comes to my music, I guess it’s kind of similar. When I’m writing, I try to keep things as honest as possible. Even if they’re not about a real life situation, I try to be as real as possible.
With writing as well, one of the most important things that I try to do is maintain a sense of storytelling. It’s important to me that the lyrics come first.
A lot of other writers and musicians value other things, and I can appreciate when the music is valued over the lyrics, but I was a writer first before I was even a songwriter. It’s just the form of writing that I ended up going into.
I don’t like compromising on lyrics. If there’s something I don’t particularly quite like, if it’s in the music I’ll get over it. But if it’s in the lyrics, I’m like, “No, no. I’ve got to change it.”
What sparked your interest in music and songwriting? I read online that it all started after you got a guitar, but what made you want a guitar in the first place?
I never actually wanted a guitar. I got given a guitar by my grandma, she passed it down to me.
I lived in Dubai for two years when I was about 10 to 11. I had the guitar before Dubai, and I remember it just sitting around while I was in Dubai.
A teacher in my primary school started an after school guitar club. One of my best mates was going, and I was just kind of like, “Yeah, I’ve got a guitar, let’s go.”
I did one lesson and I just sort of learned how to read a chord diagram. Then I got home and I learned how to play “This Train” because it’s like three easy chords. I learned that really, really slowly.
I remember learning it without one of the chords specifically because I couldn’t play it. So everytime it got to that chord I just wouldn’t play anything, I’d just keep singing [giggles].
That’s sort of how it happened. My guitar was there and it was just something to mess around with.
But writing-wise, I remember in primary school that English was always my strongest subject. I was always the teacher’s pet in English. I loved books, I loved reading.
It got to the point where I had read through every book in the house and my mom was like, “I’m going to have to buy books specifically for Josie.”
I remember she gave me either the Anne Frank Diary or “Chicken Soup For the Soul.” I read one of those really, really young because my mom ran out of books to give me that were child-friendly.
Then I kind of lost my passion for reading and went into writing. I wanted to be a journalist, then I wanted to be a script writer. I went through loads of different forms of writing until I realized that I really enjoyed singing.
I was doing singing outside of the school, then I could play the guitar, so I combine the three and ended up writing a song or two. From there, it was just sort of history.
Because I was singing and playing the guitar, I started doing pub gigs. As I was doing pub gigs, I was doing covers. Then I saw a lot of other people doing their own original songs. I was like, “Well I can write, maybe I can write a song.”
After writing a couple songs, I showed my parents and they were like, “Y’know, you could actually play this in a pub.” I was like, “I don’t know about that… Maybe, maybe.”
So I got into playing stuff in pubs and it just sort of kept going. I didn’t think I was going to do it as a career for a long time, it was just sort of a hobby. But people seemed to like it so I kept doing it a bit more until I got into college. Then I realized I could actually make a career out of it.
What is your songwriting process like? I know you’re really into the lyrics, so do those come first and then the melody?
I have the weirdest way that I write song. People find it really strange and I only noticed that after I started writing with other people.
When I’m on my own, I write songs by starting with a concept behind what I want to say. I’m not just going to sit down like, “I’m going to write a song,” and start with that.
Then I kind of write lyrics and rhyme-y bits to that. Maybe it’ll be a couple of lines here and there until I find something that sounds like a cool song or hook.
As I’m writing the lyrics, I’ll start with the rhythm just purely based on how I want to rhyme things. Then that rhythm sort of goes into a kind-of melody.
Then I pick up my guitar and I’m like, “Okay, let me try and play what I’m hearing in my head,” which usually doesn’t work. Even though I write on guitar and I’ve been playing for a very long time, I never learned music theory, so I don’t actually know what I’m doing.
Literally, I just pick around a bunch of chords until I find one that kind of sounds like the melody in my head. If I can’t find it, then I change around the melody in my head to fit the chords ’cause I’d rather be able to play an easy chord than a horrible jazzy chord that’s I’ve got in my head.
So I just build out of that. Then I really weirdly in a roundabout way end up with a song.
Since I’ve started writing with other people, I’ve realized that’s the most unconventional way to write a song. It’s not practical, really.
When I write with other people, usually we go in, we talk about our lives, we talk about what we want to write about. They show me some beats and chord progressions they like, I show them some beats and chord progressions that I like. Put ’em together, make the track, then write over the track.
That’s so interesting because most people are usually like, “I start with this first” or “I start with that first.” I think that’s where I get caught up because I get into a similar flow as you. But when I try to match the sound to the melody I’m like, “THAT MELODY JUST DOESN’T EXIST.”
That’s what I get all the time! Y’know what I always find? That a melody is usually completely, musically incorrect. It goes across like four keys and I’m like, “It’s not my fault! My head thinks like that!”
That’s when the chord progressions with my really limited music theory helps me because it basically goes, “Okay, creative Josie brain, I’m going to bring you all the way back down to the four-chord song because they’re the only chords you know.”
I think I’d be dangerous if I actually knew music theory because none of my songs would make any sense. I’d probably end up with some horrible like… Y’know those classical songs where they sound absolutely horrible but make total musical sense and that’s why it’s such an incredible, amazing piece? Yeah.
So, tell me about your debut EP, “PUB SONGS: Volume 1.” What’s the story behind the EP?
The name came from the song “BTEC Lily Allen” because that sort of started it all.
“BTEC Lily Allen” is a song that’s basically a collection of horrible things people have said to me about my songs. As a coping mechanism, I used to keep a list of them in my phone notes, but I got fed up with adding to this list.
As it got on and I was looking at [music] more professionally, it obviously got frustrating. Until one day, when I got called a “BTEC Lily Allen.”
I got so fed up, I just sort of ran downstairs and bashed it out on the piano.
The very first draft that I came up with for “BTEC Lily Allen,” I’ve got a voice note of me at 4 a.m. singing into my phone like, [slightly angered whisper] “’cause I’m a B—TECH, LIL-Y ALLEN.” That’s it.
Another thing that someone had said to me was, “Your songs will only ever be played in pubs.” That was one of the first times I was recording my own songs and I remember being like, “That was quite a big blow.”
Honestly, that was worse than someone saying to me, “You won’t make it in the music industry.” Because that was like them saying, “Yeah, you might make a little bit of money out of it, but you’re never going to be that good.” It was pretty gut-wrenching.
As I was coming up with the name for the EP, I was talking with my mom. There were so many names, my whole family was in on it.
I remember sitting down and saying, “Oh my God, isn’t it so exciting my songs will finally be played in places other than pubs? Literally proving that person wrong ’cause it’ll be played on people’s phones, in supermarkets, all that stuff.”
And she was like, “Yeah, otherwise you would’ve ended up making just a pub songs album.” And I was like, “Yeah, ‘PUB SONGS: Volume 1’ … [GASP]”
That’s where the name came from. Most of the songs were written when I was 16/17, apart from “Burner.” That was written just before lockdown, which was about February.
Other than that, most of them were written a couple of years ago. “Sliced Bread” was written about four [years ago].
“PUB SONGS: Volume 1” is kind of a summation of my teen years, my teen songwriting self. My angsty, angry, coming of age movie-type album.
I love that you were able to take what other people said and turn it into a great track. When I said the Lily Allen comparison, I meant it in the most complimentary way possible because she’s someone that I’ve always looked up to. I really, really hope that person heard your song while it was top #1 charts constantly just to shove it up there ass. I hope that they get TikTok and see you on there.
[Laughs] I hope so, too. I really hope so. Do you know what makes me laugh, as well? There are a few people who have said some of those things to that are in that song. They’re technically in my life and haven’t made the connection that they’re the ones who said that in my song.
So it’s been funny ’cause other people have realized and been like, “Wasn’t it so-and-so who said that to you? ‘Cause I was there.” And I’d be like, “[higher voice] HMMMM.”
When I wrote that song, it genuinely wasn’t going to go anywhere. I wrote it, showed it to my parents like, “Lol, this is funnyyyy.” It was my angst.
When I put it on TikTok, I only had 15 followers, so what was going to happen? It was never even supposed to be on the EP. The rest of the EP was already planned to get released at some point this year, but BTECH wasn’t on the cards at all.
For that to blow up and be the focal point of the EP, I was like “Ahh, yeaaah.” It makes me feel really good ’cause I dealt with that well.
And “BTEC Lily Allen” was always a backhanded compliment. Straight away, as soon as I got called it, I remember saying, “But… I really like Lily Allen. If I’m anywhere near Lily Allen, that’s a good thing!”
Exactly! I think it’s a beautiful way to grow from it… So, which track on the EP means the most to you and why?
“BTEC Lily Allen” probably means the most to me because it was never supposed to do that. It just wasn’t supposed to be there.
“Burner” means a lot to me because it was one of the first tracks where I was like, “Okay, this is cool.” I would never have put me in the “cool” bracket. I’m not cool, I’m really quite uncool, if anything.
But “Burner” was the first track where I was like, “I could be a ‘cool’ songwriter with this song.”
Because it was quite recent, for me it’s an obvious growth in my songwriting abilities. I think I really realized that I’d progressed when I wrote “Burner.”
“Sliced Bread” is probably one of the oldest songs that I have, so it means a lot to me because of that.
“Sliced Bread” has also been the song that people around my county have known me for because it’s the one I’ve played the most.
“3 Words” I love. That’s an old one, it’s just a lot of fun to sing.
“Wales” means a lot to me because it was one of the first songs that I wrote where I was actually trying to focus on the melody. I wanted to show off my voice a bit more, rather than it just being a song I wrote that I happened to sing, but in reality, anyone could sing it.
They all mean something to me in different ways, but “BTEC Lily Allen” means the most to me — even though it’s the most simple and the first one that I released. I think it just has that special place in my heart and always will.
What would you say was your favorite part of creating “PUB SONGS: Volume 1?”
The videos. It’s got to be the videos. The videos that I made were just like the most fun.
“Sliced Bread” was the first one that I filmed with a proper team. One of my friends was doing film at uni, so he got together this whole team and we had so much fun.
“Sliced Bread” by Josie Proto music videoSource: Josie Proto – Sliced Bread | Josie Proto VEVO
Them throwing bread at me, it was so funny.
When I was filming “Burner,” I filmed that completely on my own.
“Burner” by Josie Proto music videoSource: Josie Proto – Burner | Josie Proto VEVO
I went into the forest to film it. It’s a public forest, so I was like [giggling] in this ridiculous costume with my sister holding this phone, filming me poking my head out behind a tree.
And these dog walkers, [laughing], walked passed. I didn’t see them until they walked straight passed my sister and I lost it. For a good five to 10 minutes I was on the floor, rolling around laughing at myself because it was so embarrassing.
Then someone else walked passed me while I was lip syncing into the camera and it was just, oh God, so embarrassing.
“3 Words” was the hardest to edit, but it was filmed a year ago when I went to film the very first demo of the track with my best mates. I had so much fun with them.
“3 Words” by Josie Proto music videoSource: Josie Proto – 3 Words | Josie Proto VEVO
“Wales” I had the greatest time ever in Wales. That video is just a little travel video for me to look back on and be like, “Oh yeah, that was my holiday in Wales.” It was really cool.
Source: Josie Proto – Wales | Josie Proto VEVO
What would you say was the most challenging part of creating the EP?
In a video sense, they were really difficult because I learned how to shoot an edit solely for these videos.
Because they ended up going on VEVO, I had to work to a professional quality control, which was really difficult because I had no idea what any of it meant.
With “Sliced Bread” and “3 Words,” because I had played them for at least three years with just me and the guitar, listening to them and hear other instruments was really difficult for me.
That’s why I had the most amazing help from my producer Paul. He was so, so helpful. He basically taught me how to hear other instruments — which I now write!
When I write, I do it to a rhythm. But initially I had no idea what I was doing.
And to be honest, I started making those songs and fiddling with them quite a while ago. Maybe over a year and a half ago. It’s been a long time in the making for those songs and I’ve learned a lot since then.
It’s coming up with the art for the album and the art for the merch, tying it all together, and making the videos feel like they’re done by the same person.
That was tricky. It’s all difficult things, but all things I would do a million times over because it’s just so much fun having songs out.
It’s a lot of pressure for the artists, but you’re way more in control of your brand and your image. It’s all really difficult, but you get to create your own brand, your own style.
I have really enjoyed it. I’m actually starting to work on stuff that’s coming out soon and later. Working on that stuff, once you’ve got this sort of brand-identity, it’s so much fun. I get to pick my colors, my fonts, my style.
It’s difficult in the sense that you do feel an obligation to mold to what’s working already. But I’ve always felt like my music never fit perfectly into any genre, it’s a mix of all these different influences I’ve grown up with.
I definitely fit into certain genres, but I could also fit into other ones. I’m not straightforward pop. I’m not straightforward anything.
Having that freedom to mess about and be like, “Actually, y’know what? I feel I don’t need to mold toward a certain thing because this is working.” And seeing how people enjoy stuff that isn’t made for the charts.
When I started writing with other people, I had a lot of stuff that was very obviously chart-pop. But since this release, it’s given me a lot of faith in my style.
Overall, what do you hope listeners take away from “PUB SONGS: Volume 1?”
If they’re older, I hope they go, “Oh my God, this sounds like me when I was 16.” Or they come away going, “Yeah, fuck it, I’m gonna go live in a cave.” Or, “That’s helped me get over an ex,” Or, “Fuck the haters.”
I hope they come away from it feeling something. That’s all I care about. I don’t mind what they feel; they could be angry, sad, happy, melancholy, whatever. Just something because that means that I’ve done something. I’ve done my job.
If they change their mind about something, that’s even better, because that’s a cool thing.
What are some of your overarching goals as a musician?
I don’t really have any. I say that very loosely, because obviously I have some. I’d love to play some big stages, like Glastenbury, for example.
But my reality is I just want to make enough money out of releasing and performing music that I could live off of it, for a start. And then if I gain any other cool experiences along the way, like playing Glastenbury or meeting cool people, that’s just a bonus.
I don’t have the goal to change the world. I don’t even have the goal to be that famous. My 14-year-old self would be like, “Josie stop saying that, you want to be really famous.” But my 19-year-old-self is like, “It’s not all that, being famous.”
If fame comes, it comes. If it doesn’t, I’m not too worried. I just want to make enough money out of songwriting and performing that I could live off of it and keep doing it. And do it how I want to do it, not how other people want me to do it.
I feel like there are so many ways to interpret fame these days because of the internet, too.
A hundred percent. I would love to have the sort of fame-situation of a C-list celebrity. Y’know, where no one cares about their personal life, but they do care about their accomplishments. That what I want.
Yes! Like those people who have those very dedicated — somewhat obsessive — loyal fans, and then the rest of the people just enjoy their music casually and are happy to see them thriving — but don’t want to stalk or attack them in public. That’s the best kind of fame [laughs].
It’s the best [laughs]. I don’t know if anyone’s got any specific tips on how to aim for that specific type of fame, but that would be wonderful. Ya gal needs some help.
But if not, I’ll figure it out. I’m sure.
What’s next for you, Josie? Do you have a “PUB SONGS: Volume 2” in the works, or is it going to be a whole different direction for you?
Even before we released it, I had so many songs already. I’ve got so many ready, I could release them now. I want to release them now, but I’m not allowed [laughs]. So I’ve got A LOT of stuff coming out.
I don’t think there’s going to be a “Volume 2” purely because that middle finger is being used. I could do another one, but the newer stuff I’ve written is a bit more progressive. I’ve moved on.
It’s not drastically different, but it’s definitely different production wise, so I’d like to head in a new direction.
I’m not saying no to a Volume 2 somewhere down the line. That definitely could still happen.
Yeah! Like reflecting on your 20s in the future, instead of reflecting on your teens.
Yeah! For sure, there’s loads of music. There’s like, a crapton of music ready to go. I’m making music videos and that’s pretty much it.
Once I’ve done that, they’re ready to go.
I’ve got some crazy ideas for music videos, some really cool, really cool stuff. I might even have a bit of a budget towards them now, which means that they’re going to be even cooler.
There might be a festival in the works, but we’re looking into that. That’s sort of COVID-dependent. But definitely gigs, as soon as I find some good places that are all COVID-safe and secure. I don’t want to be putting anyone at risk.
As soon as that’s all safe I’ll start gigging because I’m DYING to go gigging, I really am.
But definitely lots of music. Lots.
It’s been so wonderful having this chat with you, but before we wrap things up, do you have any additional comments or final thoughts to share?
Go check out my merch! I’ve got merch now, which is wonderful. It’s all out of my own pocket, but it’s basically the only way songwriters make any money.
Check out my socials ’cause I’ve got lots of cool stuff coming out.
Interested in having content featured in an upcoming blog post or issue of The Burgundy Zine? Head on over to the submissions page!
For all other inquiries, please fulfill a contact form.