When you allow yourself to be in the spotlight, it just doesn’t mean performing. It means potentially making an impact on someone who needed to see you to feel seen themselves. Those of us in America who are far from white know all too well that representation in the media has major issues and while things are getting better – there is still a lot of work to do. That is why artists like Wyn Starks continue to be an integral part of the musical landscape. Black, queer, and talented as hell – Wyn Starks stopped by to talk to ZO about the artists he looked up to, his 2021 release, ‘Black Is Golden,’ and more.
Kendra: Listening to songs like “Who I Am” and “Tomorrow,” it’s clear that you are someone with an anthemic approach to music, creating songs that people can sing for inspiration daily, but growing up – what songs or artist did you look to for that inspired connection?
Wyn Starks: Growing up, I always had music around me. My mom was always singing to us and we always had music playing throughout the house. I listened to everything from Motown, 80’s pop, rock, gospel, and R&B. I loved it all. Some of my favorite artists were Whitney Houston, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Mariah Carey, Brandy, and Stevie Wonder to name a few. These artists really inspired me. I would literally study their vocals for hours. They’re certainly responsible for me discovering my own sound and approach to music.
Kendra: Aside from musical connections, I wanted to touch on representation. Being a Black, queer artist now – there is more representation in pop culture but back in the day – we barely had fully realized Black representation. Can you remember the first time you watched a movie or show where you thought, omg that’s me!?
Wyn Starks: I grew up singing in church and always loved music so I knew I wanted to do this from a young age. However, I felt limited in what I could do because I lived in a bubble and spent most of my life trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations of me. I had to fight through lies and insecurity to get to a place where I believed I could do this. I had to discover who I was and embrace that. Truthfully, I’m still learning how to love myself. I’m definitely inspired by Black artists that challenged gender norms like Prince, Little Richard, Tracy Chapman, Frank Ocean, Billy Porter, and so many others.
Kendra: And how does it feel being someone younger kids can look to and see themselves?
Wyn Starks: I remember when I would disappear for hours listening to and studying some of my favorite artists. The thought that I could be that for someone else reminds me why I do this.
Kendra: Along with being anthemic on so many different levels, songs like “Tomorrow” also have what I call the choir magic. Meaning, I see this being a staple in middle school choir classes for years to come. Did you participate in any sort of choirs growing up?
Wyn Starks: Yes, I sang in a few choirs growing up: church choir, school choir, after-school choir, and community choir. So you’ll definitely hear some of that in my music. I like to take all the music that inspired me and incorporate it into what I do.
Kendra: “Tomorrow” is like a lot of songs coming out right now in that it seems to be a response to the state of the world since March 2020. We were tossed the wildest of curveballs and are still kind of in the thick of it. Other than creating music and performing, how have you managed to find ways to stay sane amidst the chaos of our current reality?
Wyn Starks: Yes, this year has been one of the hardest of my life. I’m sure that’s true for so many of us. I lost my twin brother this past November, which was the hardest thing I have ever gone through. Honestly, I don’t know how I was able to get out of bed most days, but I do it for him. He was one of my biggest supporters and he really believed in me. I do this music in his memory. The last song on the album is dedicated to him. It’s called “End of the River” and talks about being able to reunite with the people we’ve lost.
Kendra: On that track, you worked with Andreas Moss, and you also have a couple of other collabs on your September 2021 release, ‘Black is Golden.’ Are these old friends, new friends, how did you come to work with these amazing artists?
Wyn Starks: Yes, I was honored to have some of my favorite people on this album. I’ve been friends with these people for years and it felt great to have them a part of this journey. Andreas [Moss] and I have been friends for almost 20 years, so being able to do a song together meant the world to me.
Melanie Pfirrman is one of my favorite singers and an amazing person, so I was over the moon to have her on “Not A Waste”. Fred Williams is my brother from another mother [laughs], he actually produced most of the songs on the album along with a few other producers and writers.
Being able to collaborate with him on “Sparrow” was really special because we wrote that song in response to the killing of George Floyd and other black brothers and sisters [at the hands of systematic racism]. It was really special for me. Little did I know how much more it would impact me after losing my brother. Being able to do music with people I love and respect helped me process my emotions and get it out on paper.
Kendra: While there are a lot of beautiful ballads on ‘Black is Golden,’ you also showcase this vibrant, dance side as well on songs like the title track, “Dancing My Way,” and “Perfect.” Do you find yourself channeling different sides of yourself when you perform the more upbeat tracks?
Wyn Starks: Yes, absolutely. I never saw myself as a dancer. I mean I love to do it in my house or when I’m out with friends, but never would I have imagined I’d be dancing for one of my videos. That definitely got me outside of my comfort zone for a bit. I thought I was in over my head [laughs], but Johnny Nelson, who did the choreography for the video, was awesome and patient with me [smiles]. So now, when I perform that or any uptempo song I feel more comfortable on stage performing them because of that experience.
Kendra: With the album out at the end of September, what else can we be on the lookout for this fall from you?
Wyn Starks: I can’t tell you how excited I am to share this album with everyone. It’s been a long time in the making and I can’t believe it’s here. I’ll be going on tour in November opening up for the awesome Delta Rae, so I look forward to that. I’ll also be doing a few shows [here] in Nashville as well, so I’ll make sure to keep everyone posted on that.