Recording artist Jaki Nelson hit the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart today with her soulful Dancing With Strangers single, logging in at #46, marking her third time on the charts. This make-me-wanna-get-up-and-dance tune was produced by GRAMMY-winning producer Dave Audé who has more number one hits than any other producer on the Billboard Dance Club Songs chart. The single was remixed by superstar DJ Hector Fonseca, who has over 20 number-one Billboard remix hits himself, for artists including Lady Gaga, Rihanna, and Sia.
Dancing With Strangers is one with staying power, and we’re expecting this one to continue going up on the charts. Jaki has a wonderful story to tell in her music and about her life, and her fresh new Billboard Dance Club hit definitely takes The Vivant’s “Playing at the editor’s next party” award for this week!
This is very exciting news about your new single, Dancing With Strangers, making its debut on the Billboard Dance Cluib chart this week. Congratulations for that!
It’s a great song, there’s so much power and energy there. I love everything about it. Tell me about what the message is behind it, and what the song means to you.
The message behind the song is, it’s about going through a breakup and making your way through the layers of grief and sadness and turning that into something that can be fun. Something that can really help you keep going. A lot of people would say that dancing with strangers may not be the healthiest version of that, but it certainly helped me a lot.
It certainly is a fun piece of music. I’ll never admit it to anyone, but this is one of those songs that’s going to be stuck in my head and I’ll be singing it in the shower for the next week.
Excellent, that’s the point!
The music video too, is just stunning. The costumes in the video are amazing and creative, and a little daring, especially in some of those club scene montages. This is something I think a lot of people don’t pay attention to, or it’s behind the scenes and they don’t think about it. But the costuming and wardrobes can really make a video. Where did you get the wardrobes from? Did it come together spontaneously, or did you work with a designer or wardrobe specialist?
Believe it or not, we did not work with anybody. We literally just told everyone to wear black strappy things, and that was it. People just came and put on whatever they brought, and it was like, Oh my God! You guys look amazing! It looked so put together. There were some people that brought a ton of stuff and it just all went together. There’s a skirt that I’m wearing at one point that was actually a guy’s who had brought it. It was supposed to be a different article of clothing, I’m not sure what he would do with it. But for me it was a skirt, so I used it as a skirt. It was definitely, surprisingly well put together.
It is! You would never know from looking at the video that it was such a spontaneous thing. It looks like everything was coordinated, everything is just so perfect from a visual perspective.
Thank you! We got really lucky. And we also used people that understand what we’re doing, they’ve seen all of our performances. They understand the brand and the trajectory.
And you worked with a lot of great people on this track, too, like Dave Audé who produced it, and Hector Fonseca who remixed it. And those are fascinating people in their own right, with a lot of Billboard number-one hits under their belts. What’s it like to work with people like that?
It’s amazing, honestly. I didn’t work personally with Hector, although I have worked with him in live shows. He brought all the stuff out there after we had already done everything. With Dave, it was really eye-opening to watch him work. He’s amazing! He understands the business and the market so well. He can just bring out a ton of ideas, and all of them are going to be fantastic. It’s just a matter of picking out which ones you like the best.
This is your third time on the Billboard chart, first with What We Wanna Do, then Uh-Oh, which is another one of my favorites. That one peaked at number nine, it must be a big thrill every time that happens.
I almost died last time! I swear, I was standing in the studio and having a casual conversation, and my label sent me a note that we had broken into the top ten. I literally gasped and just about passed out. I loved it!
What do you do personally when you make the charts? Is there a ritual, a celebration you have when you first get that news?
I immediately call my parents. They’re the first call, always. And we talk about what happened, and what that means, and how to maximize that even further and what it means going forward. I talk to them a lot.
You come from a musical family. Your father was a rock-n-roller and he toured with The Beach Boys I understand?
What’s it like being from a musical family like that? How did they encourage your musical career?
We always had music growing up. I took voice lessons and piano lessons from the age of eight. I took dance classes. It was never taboo at all. My sister was in a touring country music act when I was growing up so it was a natural progression. When I was at the end of high school I discovered the wonders of producing music, and that was mind blowing for me. None of my family had worked on that side, but I absolutely fell in love. I never thought I was going to produce, I never thought I was going to be a musician. I just thought I was going to do music on the side, and then do something, I don’t know, reasonable with my life. But I just couldn’t resist and it seemed like it was pulling me in that direction. And they have always supported me, so that made it a lot easier.
It’s great to have the support of your family. Are other members of your family still doing music? Is your dad still a rock-n-roller?
He does a little show here and there. My sister still does shows every once in a while with her old country band, and she joined an a capella group recently. So yeah, music is still there for sure. We usually have a full band set up in my living room at all times.
Was music education and training always part of your early life?
Absolutely. When I was about 13, I was taking voice lessons, and my mom walked into the studio and looked around and had all these business ideas and she ended up buying the business and running the music school for the next ten years. So I just took all the classes, I took piano and voice, music theory, production, songwriting, recording guitar. I took everything for years.
It’s great to have support when you’re taking those sorts of classes. I speak from experience, I got my degree from University of California in creative writing and Russian literature, and that’s the sort of thing that prepares you for a lucrative career in food service usually.
Absolutely. All the teachers I had were either recently graduated or graduating from a really great music school. My piano teacher, he does all the music for a Netflix show. So all the people I have been learning from were actively in the music industry.
When you were a teenager you were also a professional horseback rider until you had an accident and a horse threw you. What was it about that accident that was the turning point in your career that made you decide to move into music in earnest?
I had had a lot of falls. I had a horse fall on me, all kinds of things happened. But at that moment, my aunt was thrown from a horse and she had an accident where the orb of her eye was broken, and she had to have surgery to get her eye put back. She’s fine now, but it was a crazy ordeal. At the same time I had my spleen removed because I had a really bad accident and ended up having to stay in the hospital for a week. I couldn’t run, I couldn’t walk upstairs, and I couldn’t do any physical activity for four months after that. That put me in a position where I just had to sit still for a second, and I had all this music understanding and I knew what I was doing, so I joined a band. That’s what I could do at the time, and it was a really fun experience for me. I just loved it.
I also saw you performed at San Francisco Pride. That too, must have been a great experience. There was a huge, huge crowd there.
Oh my God, it was amazing! It was insane, absolutely ridiculous. I’m still in awe of the fact that it even happened.
What’s your favorite thing about San Francisco and about the Pride festival?
My favorite thing about San Francisco is that my uncles live there. They’re married and they have this amazing place on the water, and it’s so nice. I really love going up there and hanging out with them. My favorite thing about Pride was the peace that I experienced when I was up on stage. I wasn’t expecting it and never experienced it before, but absolute, utter zen as I’m on stage in front of this many people. It just felt like this is exactly where I am supposed to be, and I’m going to get here again.
How many people were in that crowd?
They said approximately half a million. I couldn’t even see the end of people, it just kept going.
I read a story in Billboard Magazine, it was your coming out story about how you came out publicly as a bisexual on the stage, at Club TigerHeat in Avalon. It was a great story, and I understand your mom was in the audience, and that made it even more interesting. What was that experience like?
I was terrified! I stressed myself so much about that I literally got sick. I was up there with bronchitis. I didn’t know it yet, it was still developing, and I was like, why am I like dying right now? It was literally just stress. I was so freaked out about it. And my mom was in the audience, and I said the thing, then went out into the audience and said “hi” to her. All she said was, “I have a lfight in four hours and have to go to sleep, good night, you did great!” And I was like, what? Wait! Hold on! And I ended up waiting another month until we actually had a conversation about it.
So what was her eventual response?
At first she was concerned about a number of things, one of which is my safety. As a bisexual person there are a lot of issues in that area, and she is also bisexual. I know she understood, and I understand the community and the responsibilities that come with it. So that was a conversation we ended up having, and she got to the point where she was okay, and then she was excited!
I saw you also performed at Fashion Week, both in LA and New York. Next month is New York Fashion Week, are you planning on being there?
Not so far, next month I’m on the West Coast, Downtown LA, Six Flags, it’s really fun out there on the mountain. And so much more.
What’s your favorite thing about Fashion Week?
I love seeing all the young girls that are living out their dreams. They’re so excited to be there and they’re backstage, and so excited to have this opportunity to do what they’ve always wanted to do. They’re so young and adorable, and I love it.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
We really want to go on tour, so bad! Before we put out any more music I think we really need to go on tour.
Great! We’re 90 miles from Chicago, so let me know when you come through the Midwest.
I was just in Chicago! I was there for Market Days.
Big difference between Chicago and LA, what do you like about Chicago?
I loved it! I thought it was fantastic. I thought it was so cool, the people are really nice. They have this Midwestern demeanor but it’s still very city. So I really enjoyed it and I like how much the city seems to care about its people. It’s astounding how much effort they put into making the city nice.
Dan Blacharski is editor-in-chief of TheVivant.com.