Jayda G Tackles "Intense" Moments of Family History: "It's Very Raw"

The Canadian-born producer explored her father's life, and discovered herself in the process

Photo: Nabil Elderkin

BY Chris BrysonPublished Jun 8, 2023

Jayda G is ready to release one of the most personal works of her life. A collection of entwined stories, eras and emotions, Jayda's new LP Guy (out June 9 on Ninja Tune / Pirates Blend) is a danceable, heartfelt tribute to William Richard Guy, her father who died when she was 10 years old. Knowing he was sick, he recorded 11 hours of videotape discussing his life. Jayda knew they existed, but it wasn't until the pandemic's forced free time and existential quandaries — as well as the 20th anniversary of his passing — that she set out to explore them.

"In terms of actually tackling the material and looking at it and mulling it over, I didn't really know how I was going to do that and make an album out of it," says the Canada-born, London-based DJ, producer and biologist in a Zoom interview with Exclaim! "All I knew is I wanted to do it. And it wasn't until the pandemic where I was able to actually kind of pull it apart and see even how to approach it. It was quite difficult at the beginning, because it's very raw."

That rawness hasn't been without its reward, as it has enabled Jayda to get to know her father from an adult perspective, something she finds "amazing and sad, and good in the end," and which has unfurled many more layers of understanding who she is. 

Across Guy, William recounts experiences like a previous wife's infidelity, growing up in poverty in a tough Kansas City neighbourhood and dealing with bullies and authorities, being a nighttime radio DJ unwittingly caught in the 1968 race riots, and moving to Canada, where he married Jayda's mother and pursued self-improvement for himself, his family and his community. Finally taking the time to really sit in the stories her father left, Jayda realized how amazing some of them were. 

"Lonely Back in O" is about his return from fighting in the Vietnam War and his stationing in Thailand. "He paints this crazy picture of him getting off the plane and seeing his wife and seeing two other kids and being so confused," Jayda illustrates. "I was reading that amongst many other stories where you're just like, 'Wow, like, that's fucked up. That's intense.'"

But Jayda saw greater significance in this story: "It's just amazing how these things happened and my father was still such a charismatic and upbeat person, and especially as he got older, he really started to look at himself and work on himself to become a better person. It was this overall message that you do have a choice of how these things can inform you, how to approach life," Jayda opines. "You don't have a choice in terms of the things happening to you, but you do have a choice in terms of how you want to move forward in terms of their impact."

The videotapes were accompanied by journals, and collectively showed Jayda that self-betterment and self-examination are a family ethos, providing insight into why she and her siblings are the way they are. "Which is pretty cool," she muses, "to see how the impact of someone's decisions ends up really instilling a certain value system within you." 

Albums openly confronting death and grief are uncommon in dance and house music, but Jayda handles the task with expert care. She took notes from Kendrick Lamar – known for artfully and captivatingly tackling heavy subject matter – and Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation 1814 for its ability to be danceable with lots of purposeful vocals. "Production-wise," Jayda remarks, "that is such a dance album. Even though it's made in the '80s and is considered a pop album, it's still very much dance." 

With co-production by Jack Peñate (SAULT, Adele, David Byrne), Jayda's vocals are a standout feature across Guy, woven with excerpts of William's tapes, creating a dialogue of sorts. Over an undeniable groove, "Scars" has Jayda singing, "I've got scars / But I promise you I'm growing," like a euphoric affirmation, inspired by her father overcoming bullies and finding self-worth and self-love. "Blue Lights" is spurred by his efforts to evade police during the race riots: "The blue lights ain't gonna save ya." 

On "Your Thoughts," she sees "how things repeat themselves with time" over a galloping beat, and she revisits a similar notion on the gripping "Circle Back Around." "You keep teaching me / But it wasn't meant to be," Jayda proclaims over flittering funk on "Meant to Be," while the penultimate "Sapphires Of Gold" finds her "falling in love with living" atop instrumentals reflecting the joy she's found. Despite weighty source material, Guy feels designed to uplift.

And while Guy hosts many emotional and thought-provoking moments, the most moving is "15 Foot," its closing piece. "I could barely make that track," Jayda says. Her mom Leora started writing about William's death for Jayda about a month before he passed. Months later, Jayda's mom described grief as 15-foot waves. It highlighted for Jayda "how when someone that you love dies, you don't really lose them, and grief is something that you learn to live with. It's something that never really goes away." But within the pensive downtempo rhythm of "15 Foot" — a contrast to the poppy house, soul, disco and R&B variants that precede it — there's acceptance.

In Jayda's live DJ sets, she boasts an unmistakable passion for her craft, often dancing as hard behind the decks as those in the crowd — just look to her recent Boiler Room set for an example. Musically, she mixes old and new for enthralling results. "I find there is an energy and a vibe from the '90s that really speaks to me and that I love to play, and there's an essence to it that you don't hear as often with newer productions," she explains. "And I love it when kids think it's new, but then it's not. I just always hope that gets people digging more, because there's so much music out there. There's so much — you just have to try a little bit to find it."

From growing up in Grand Forks, BC, to stays in Vancouver and Los Angeles before moving to Berlin and eventually London, Jayda feels at home in the UK's deep dance music history and the genre's mainstream acceptance, and the shifts she's made only seem to have benefitted her career. She even earned a Grammy nomination with her Fred again.. collaboration "Both of Us. "I think that was definitely a shock for everybody," she says of the song's success.

Guy isn't the only project with special meaning that Jayda's excited to release this year. Jayda has also been continuing her environmentalism efforts by working on Blue Carbon, a documentary airing on CNN that examines blue carbon ecosystems and their effects on the planet and combines music, science, climate justice and dance culture with an original score by Wu-Tang Clan's RZA. An environmental toxicologist whose acclaimed debut LP, 2019's Significant Changes, delivered conservationist messages, Jayda describes these systems as great at pulling carbon from the atmosphere into the ground, thereby being effective at combatting climate change. 

But that's where the story starts. From there, they explore these ecosystems, learning how they work and, more importantly, about the people who live and work within them. They talk with stewards of the land: locals, Indigenous people, governments and researchers.

For Jayda, the experiences were life-changing. "Especially with the BLM movement, people are starting to understand a little bit more about how systems work," she offers. "It's the same thing when it comes to climate change. It's very much a product of the way our system works and how the system is not for everybody. It's for a very specific type of person, and everyone's kind of thrown off the wayside, and that includes the environment."

Jayda visited Miami, Vietnam, Senegal, Colombia, Brazil and France to host Blue Carbon, although she doesn't recommend being a full-time touring DJ while trying to film an environmental documentary. "It was intense," she says. "But now here we are in 2023, and it feels like I get to release these projects, these babies, that I've been working on for so long out into the world."

For all the joy and energy Jayda brings to the world, she's earned some much-needed time to herself. "I recharge my battery by being by myself," she says with a laugh. "I'm a very strong introvert. All my friends are always just like, 'How do you do this? We know you. This is a lot.' And I'm like, 'It is.' Somehow this is the path of life that has happened to me, and I'm very, very grateful for it."

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