Wyn Starks is an artist who defies the boxes people try to put him in. Black, queer, soul, pop — these labels are all meaningless as soon as Starks begins to sing. His multi-octave range and pure emotion in his voice collide beautifully with his retro pop sound and hopeless romantic sensibilities to create truly unique pop music. Add to that his recent coming out, which has led him toward a path of complete self-acceptance, and you have yourself one intriguing artist.
We caught up with Starks on the eve of the release of his album, Black Is Golden, to find out more.
Congratulations on the release of your album Black Is Golden! Can you tell us a little bit about why you chose this title?
Thank you so much! I am very excited about the release of this album. It’s been a long time in the making but I can’t wait to share it with everyone. So, the song “Black Is Golden” was written in response to the injustice and racial inequality when it comes to Black people.
When I say Black is golden, I think about so many artists, activists, and everyday people that have inspired me. People like Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, James Baldwin, Bayard Rustin, Cornel West, Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Prince, and my mother Cheryl Ann Johnson (just to name a few).
It’s important we acknowledge their contributions to society, music, and the world. I stand on their shoulders. I hope that through this album I can inspire someone in the same way. That’s why I decided to call it Black Is Golden. It’s a celebration of people who have inspired me on this road to becoming Wyn Starks.
What are the main themes of your songwriting on this album? How do you feel they/you have progressed since you first started releasing music?
Like I mentioned, this album has been a long time coming so I wanted to take people on that journey. “Circles” was the first single I released, which was super emotional because it was the first single I released as Wyn Starks, and it just felt like me. I felt like I finally discovered my sound.
When I released “Dancing My Way,” it was about moving to the beat of your own drum and getting people to do the same. “Who I Am” tells the story of me becoming the artist and person I am today, and finally being able to love and celebrate that. So I feel like with each song I started to pull from all the music and experiences that inspired me growing up. Since moving to Nashville, I’ve written so many songs with some amazing artists and producers so that in itself has made me grow as a songwriter.
Another massive congratulations on your coming out — what was it about now that made you feel comfortable to define yourself as such? How does it feel to release music now as a queer artist?
I can’t tell you how freeing it is, but honestly it was scary at first. For so long I lived my life trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations and what they wanted from me. I grew up thinking something was wrong with me and that I wasn’t good enough and that I needed to be fixed. It took me a long time to get to this place of loving and accepting who I am. I’m still on that journey but I’m so glad I get to take people on it with me through this album.
What are your hopes for anyone who listens to your album? If there was only one thing people could take away from your music, what would it be?
I remember being a kid and just disappearing for hours listening to music. I would stumble upon that album where every song hit and I could listen to the whole thing. I hope this album can be that for someone. If I had to choose one thing people take away from this album would be to love yourself unapologetically.
What made you choose “Tomorrow” as a lead single? What inspired the song?
I got to do it with my longtime friend Andreas Moss, so it was cool because we know each other’s stories. This has been one of the hardest years of my life. And I’m sure that’s true for so many of us. So much loss and uncertainty. I lost my twin brother this past November. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever gone through, but it was his belief in me and this album that kept me going. For me, it’s about looking to a better tomorrow by remembering and celebrating the light he was.
You sit at the intersection of being Black and queer in America. What does that mean to you? How does your music reflect your identity?
It means everything! I’m finally able to be me unapologetically. Although we have a long way to go in our society pertaining to equality and acceptance I hope to be a source of inspiration to someone else. Every song on this album came from the heart and I hope that people feel that and it resonates with them.