Born and raised in Minneapolis, Wyn Starks had a deep love of music as a child and knew from a young age that he wanted to be a singer. Influenced by artists such as Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and Prince, he developed a love for the sounds of pop, soul and R&B, in addition to Gospel music. Growing up singing in church, he later toured for a few years as a Gospel back up singer. He started feeling a pull, however, to develop himself as an artist and work on his own songs, outside of Gospel music. When the opportunity arose to move to Nashville, at the recommendation of a friend, he made the move, feeling the need to move somewhere as diverse as his art. Six months after moving to Nashville, Starks signed with Curb records and joined the roster of Sidewalk Records, who are under the umbrella of Curb and house more of the labels pop/soul artists. Being in such a diverse city, he began working with many different song writers he clicked with artistically who helped him to grow as a songwriter and broaden his sound. Surrounding himself with a diverse support system of friends with different ideas and beliefs helped him to not only grow professionally as an artist, but personally, as well. In recent years, Starks felt comfortable coming out as queer, and has since been living as his most authentic self. In 2019, he released his debut single “Circles” from his 2020 debut EP, Who I Am, with tracks from the EP being featured on American Idol and “Dancing My Way” being featured on the hit CBS show Love Island. As an artist who has always had a love for social/racial justice, his sound deepened to include tracks of justice and racial equality, all while maintaining his unique blend of classic soul and progressive pop sounds. Most recently, Starks released his album Black Is Golden, which serves as both a rallying cry for people of color and an inclusive call to the dance floor for all races. Its broad mix of music — including gospel ballads, rhythmic bangers, soul classics, and dazzling pop anthems — strengthens the album’s central message of diversity. With plans to tour with Delta Rae in November (find tour dates HERE) and write more music for his next EP, Wyn Starks is an artist you want to follow, as he is only getting started! You can connect with Wyn Starks via the following links. Photo credit: Anna Haas.
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You were raised in Minneapolis and sang in church growing up and loved the power of Gospel music, along with pop and soul and R&B, and have talked about how you would sit for hours at home listening to those types of records. What can you tell me about your childhood and cultivating that love for music as a child?
Yeah. So as you mentioned, I grew up in church singing and always listened to all kinds of music. My mom sang to us when we were kids all the time and my grandma was actually a singer. She never did it professionally, but she used to sing in blues clubs. So my mom just grew up singing a lot, so she would sing to us and we’d have music playing through the house…everything from Motown to 80’s pop. I’m an 80’s baby! So we kind of listened to everything. Some of my favorites were Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and of course Whitney Houston, one of my favorite vocalists, and Prince, of course. I’m from Minneapolis! I would sing in choirs, which helped me to kind of get an ear for harmonies, and then I started writing music more in my teenage years. It was really my move to Nashville that helped me to develop as an artist.
You started out singing Gospel, but later branched out into more of a pop/R&B/soul sound and have said that you wanted to move somewhere as diverse as your art. What can you tell me about that decision to move to Nashville and how it helped you to discover your true identity and self-worth, both personally and professionally?
Before I moved to Nashville, I actually went to school for a short time for music. Then I traveled on the road singing background for a few years, and that was more in the Christian genre. I kind of got burnt out doing that, because I really wanted to start developing as an artist with my own music. I still wasn’t sure what that looked like and so I got connected with some people in Nashville and was asked to be featured on a song and went down there and sang on the song. I knew after that, that this is what I want to do and this is what I want to be. A place had opened up he was like “Hey! We’ve got a place opening up! Come move here!”. And I was like “Ok!” (laughs)! At the time I was living in Dallas, for like a year and a half. I just went on a little, like…I guess I could call it a hiatus. I was still, of course, writing, but I just wasn’t sure what the next step was for me. And then the door just kind of opened up from that point. Once I moved here, I met some really cool people and was meeting other writers, so I started developing also as a writer after moving here to Nashville. I started growing as a writer and even personally just found who I was and was loving myself and valuing myself and becoming a better artist and writer.
In recent years, you have come out as gay. Did that coincide around the time you moved to Nashville? What has that experience been like for you, to be able to live feely as your true authentic self?
So I identify as queer. But, like I said, I grew up in church and they were not very accepting of that, so for a long time I just thought it was wrong. To be honest, it’s really just been in the past 5 years that I’ve come out. That for me was so freeing, for sure, but I still had to work through a lot of trauma from life and stuff, and still am. That’s where in a lot of my writing, some of it comes out. It was finding those people, when I was going through that, who were like “Dude. We love you and who you are”, and just being around different people with different backgrounds and beliefs and learning that I was ok. I’m still on that journey, honestly. I’ve come out to a lot of my family but still I haven’t come out to fully yet to some. It’s been a cool journey, though, in just finding myself and learning to love myself.
About 6 months after you moved to Nashville, you signed with Curb Records and Sidewalk Records, which is under the umbrella of Curb Records. How did that opportunity come about and what has your experience been like with them? What can you tell me about that pop/soul/R&B community in Nashville that you are a part of?
When I first moved to Nashville, I knew that I didn’t necessarily want to do Christian music. I just wanted to do music that I love doing. I started kind of getting into that and just writing a lot of music and writing with different writers…mostly with my friend Fred Williams. That really helped me to cultivate my sound. Once Curb heard these songs, they were interested and I signed with them. During that time, I started to develop my sound even more. I would work with a lot of other writers, who were great writers and great people, and with Fred, he helped me really to find my sound. Then I could have a clear direction when I was in these writing sessions. So that whole process was cool and then just hanging out over at Curb. Joel Timen really allowed me a lot of creative freedom to do that, which I appreciate a lot. He really was the conduit of really getting this music out. I released my first single in 2019, which was “Circles”, which was huge for me because it was a whole different me. It was me coming out as Wyn Starks. My real name is Wayne, but my artist name is Wyn. It was cool to just be able to present, like, a new birth almost!
You released you debut EP around that time, which “Circles” was on, along with songs like “Dancing My Way”. What can you tell me about that debut EP and combining the old school sounds you grew up listening to with more progressive and modern sounds?
It’s funny, because when we did “Circles”, and having grown up listening to Motown and soul, I wanted to mash in all of the things that had influenced me. I got onto a retro-pop playlist and was like “Wow. That’s a cool way to describe my music, as retro-pop”. It’s kind of got this throwback sound, but current. So I thought that’s what would best describe my music. But it’s growing and I’m meeting a lot more people who do similar music as me, and I’m starting to find that community. But I didn’t have that at first, and especially going there and mostly what I knew was contemporary Christian and country, and dealing with Curb, who have a lot more country artists. With Sidewalk, it’s kind of under the umbrella of Curb. They’re more focused on people like me. The pop and soul side. So it’s cool they are able to give more of a focus on us, you know, who are part of the label but are the more pop and soul artists. So that was really cool, just being able to connect with a lot of people in Nashville who are similar to what my sound is.
You’ve also talked about merging being an artist with being an activist. In what ways have you tried to merge those two aspects of yourself?
Growing up, my teacher was like…I knew I always loved music and wanted to sing, but when I was younger, I wrote a paper about how I wanted to be a lawyer and fight for social justice (laughs)! I forget how old I was, but it ended up being in some paper or something, this paper I wrote, about how I wanted to be lawyer and fight for people and justice. My principal, whom I talked to recently, she said she was so proud of me pursuing music but always thought that I would do social justice. I was like “Well, I get to do that in a way through my music”, with the platform of music and songs like “Sparrow” and “Black Is Golden.” “Sparrow” was written after the George Floyd incident happened, and I’m from Minneapolis so it hit really home for me, where I really just wanted to get back to that part of myself and that fight for people, you know what I’m saying? Especially being in a marginalized community, and being an African-American and also a queer African-American male. It’s just something that’s important to me, because I wouldn’t be where I was if it wasn’t for people who fought for me to be here. I want to be able to do that for somebody else, you know? That’s why I like to incorporate that in my music.
With regards to your track “Sparrow”, it reckons with the themes of hope and anger. How do you reconcile those themes within yourself as a Black man in America and what gives you hope in these times?
Oh, man! I will say, this year for me has been a really…I lost my twin brother in November and it was the hardest thing I’ve ever went through in my life, and I’m still working through that. There’s just a lot of loss that has happened this year for me. “Sparrow” even took on a whole other meaning for me. I think that music is what has kept my head above the water, because I also recently lost one of my nieces, as well, so that was really hard. So there’s just been a lot of loss. Life, whew! It hit me with the one-two, but music was good to me. I feel like that is what’s kind of given me hope. And then just how much my brother believed in everything I did. He was one of my biggest supporters, so I kept going and doing it for him. It’s a miracle for me…the album was a huge accomplishment for me because I don’t even know how I was able to do it. I don’t even know how I made it out of bed some mornings, much less finished an album. I realized it was just my brother and just thinking about him gave me the strength to keep going. I also have a good team and managers, too, and days where I couldn’t really hold it together, they were right there holding me up and standing in for me at times when I just couldn’t do it. They were a huge support for me during that time. So yeah, that’s what’s given me hope. Just having good people around me and music. Music is such a powerful thing and I really realized that more than ever.
Music can heal!
Absolutely it does! It heals me, you know? It’s healing me I should say.
You recently released your new album, Black Is Golden. What can you tell me about the writing and recording of the album and the message you hope people get from listening?
I’ve been so inspired by so many artists, a lot of which are Black artists. So we wrote this song (“Black Is Golden”), with all that’s going on and my love for social justice and stuff. I wrote it with my friend Darren King and said “I think I want to call the album Black is Golden”, because of all of those artists who inspired me. I want to be that for somebody. It kind of encompasses just me, as coming into this person I am and loving myself and being able to be out there and have a voice for my community. It’s important to me. I just thought it would be a powerful statement to make, so that’s why I decided to call it Black Is Golden. I was able to write with a lot of really cool people in Nashville and it was really cool to connect with a lot of the writers and producers on the album. People who get you. My thing is that I feel like your writing space should be a safe space for you to say what you want to say, and I felt that in a lot of these people, so that was really cool. And it wasn’t always like that (laughs)! Not every session was like that! It was kind of picking through and realizing who my tribe and my people were. It’s been a fun process.
You also recently released the music video for the title track “Black Is Golden”. What can you tell me about the video and the idea behind it?
Again, my friend Fred Williams, whom you hear a lot about, he’s one of my closest friends who produced most of the album and also shot the video. We originally had a different idea for it, which was more focused on skating. He has a song out that I just love called “Collide” and I just love sci-fi fantasy and superheros-that’s my world right there. I recently shot this video another way to have my family in it, most of my family. And so we were talking about “Black Is Golden” and I was like I could make a character for my niece to be in it and so they’re in it and I met Malik through friends and call him my new nephew now. So they’re in the video, and Fred and I were talking like “What if we did this with superheroes?” and from there on we just came up with these ideas like “What if we did a 70s theme?”. And then we were like “Are we in over our heads right now?” (laughs)! It ended up really coming together and it was fun making it and especially having my family in it was really cool. And like I said, I love the sci-fi fantasy world and superheroes. Those people that inspired me and their superpowers, it’s like they got imparted into me. I look at them like superheroes, these people that I’ve looked up to. And so, I thought it would be really cool to have that aspect be a part of it. The way that that they get these powers from the comics, I kind of feel like I’ve gotten that from these people that I’ve looked up to, these heroes of mine. And it’s given me my own superpowers and understandings. That’s kind of how I looked at it. Even as we were making it and looking at it when it was done, I was like “Wow!”. It all kind of made that much more sense.
You’ve talked about always exploring yourself as an artist, so what have you discovered about yourself along the way in your career so far? What are your goals as an artist going forward?
Oh god. I’ve learned so much about myself. I think for a long time I doubted myself and had a lot of insecurities and stuff. I’ve really learned how to come into being more bold. I think that has a lot to do with the people around me who push me and encourage me and say “You can do this! That’s a good idea! Don’t doubt yourself!”, and really just being able to be comfortable with my idea. Even with the bad ones. Just throwing ideas out there. A lot of times in life I would be too scared to even put an idea out there, or say anything, but now I do. Especially after losing my brother, I realized how fragile life is and to just cherish every moment. And so that’s what I’m trying to learn to do more of and to just be the best me that I can. It took a lot to be able to look in the mirror and see the things that I feel I have a struggle with and problems with, but say “It’s ok”. You identify it and we can get through this. It’s still a journey, but like I said I feel like I’m kind of taking everyone on it with me, which is really cool. And I get to hear a lot of people’s opinions, the good and the bad. That’s just part of growing.
What’s next for you? What do you have coming up?
I have a tour coming up in November and will be opening for this group Delta Rae, who are really awesome. They reached out and I listened to some of the music and loved their vibe and what they do and thought it would be really cool. So I’m going on tour with them in November and I’m really excited about it. It’s my first tour and I just released the album, so I’l be a lot of those songs in there. I’ve also started working on my next EP. I’ve been in the studio writing and working on a few songs for the next EP, as well!