Once a budding Latin pop star, Jay Ratinoff recently underwent a transformation. Receiving a second baptism as an adult, he legally changed his name to Jay Ratinoff and dove headfirst into a brand new musical project, with a brand new fire fueling his approach. Ratinoff released his first album under the same name in October of 2020, and his sophomore record, Let It Out—featuring the singles “Light Me Up” and “Another Day”—is coming up, with a release scheduled for September of 2021.
Read on for our interview with Ratinoff, where we talk songwriting, musical influences, and the new record.
What initially drew you to music and songwriting?
Ratinoff: I actually wrote my first song when I was five years old. I would always play around with melodies. Since I was really young, there was always music around the house. I used to listen to Neil Diamond; my dad was a huge Jethro Tull fan—inevitably, it was always going to be a part of me. When I was 13 or 14 years old, my mom got me a guitar and I started learning how to play the chords, and then I started writing my own little melodies. Later on, when I was about 20, I had a cover band called Ferrari. After that, I was like, ‘oh, maybe I could start writing my own songs.’ And I moved to L.A. and recorded an album back then. That’s kind of how I got started.
What led you to pursue this reinvention of yourself, and how did it spark a new urge to really dive into music more passionately?
Ratinoff: I just wanted to do something different. I think back then, I was doing a lot of Latin pop songs—which I loved—and I felt unconsciously a need to do something new. And it felt really good when I changed my name. Back then, I had a few people tell me ‘you have over 200 thousand views on your videos, why would you want to lose all that and start over?’ I don’t know why, but it felt really good to remove the safety net. It was kind of scary, but it just felt right. After I did it, the feeling was like emancipation. That’s what triggered it. And as soon as I took this step, I started writing all these new songs. It felt amazing. It felt like a door that hadn’t been opened before had opened.
What does your songwriting or creative process look like?
Ratinoff: There’s not really any magic to it. I just sit down and start working. I start imagining a chord progression, or I start playing around. And then eventually, something clicks. The trick for me is I have very little patience. You have to put in the work. And then you know. Immediately, you know when something’s going on and then I end up writing a song in 15 minutes, but of course, after an hour of doing things. I have this ballad called “Better” on the album. I remember laying down in my head and thinking ‘I’m tired of feeling like nothing ever works.’ I was like ‘oh, that’s nice.’ I picked up my guitar immediately, and I was like ‘okay, I think I have something.’ But those moments are a gift from someplace else.
Let It Out will mark your second record—when you sit down to write a record, what does that process look like?
Ratinoff: When we decided to do the second album, it was like ‘okay, I have no songs.’ And then, that’s what happened. It was in the middle of the pandemic. Luckily, I had just learned how to record my own demos.
I go to get some coffee, come back, and I’d be in front of my computer with instruments, headphones, writing songs, coming up with melodies. I remember that after like two months, I had written like 20 songs. It was a really great process because I never felt before the pressure of having to write songs. It was a really great thing. I think sometimes the need to create, it’s like you feel empty. I have nothing. When you feel that emptiness, it’s like oh wow. The ideas start flowing. I think the pandemic really helped me in a very positive way.
Both your debut and sophomore record will be released during the pandemic—what kind of influence has the pandemic had on your music?
Ratinoff: It’s very impactful. There’s actually a song there that’s called “Another Day.” When I wrote the song, I didn’t even intend it to be on the album. I remember that I had labeled it as ‘pop-punk-experience.’ Looking back on it, it was during the week, I was driving around and there was a moment where I was like ‘what day is it?’ Everything just looked dead. That’s how it was in the moment. I think that really impacted me.
And also in the song “Light Me Up”—I usually liked going to karaoke. The bars were closed; the only place I could sing my heart out was my apartment. The neighbors were complaining about me. There’s a part there that says ‘if your neighbors don’t like it, they can bite.’ I think that I felt all this pent-up frustration. You know, the album is called Let It Out—it’s like this emancipation of all the frustration, just coming out. It was a great thing.
It sounds like the making of this album was a very cathartic process for you.
Ratinoff: Very, very, cathartic. Because in the two months that I was just writing, it was correlated with the fact that I learned how to do my own demos. Once I learned a few things I was like ‘okay, now I’m going to let it out.’ That triggered me as well. The frustration of not being able to go out—I felt so empowered, even with all the frustration.
How was the experience of making this record different than that of your first record?
Ratinoff: I always worked with my friend and it was very easygoing. With (my producer) Wes, it was like baptism under fire. I was there to learn. I didn’t really have much of a say with the production part. He would make me do a lot of takes. He really pushed me, a lot. With Wes, I became a better songwriter, a better performer. And I became more knowledgeable. I was there to learn—I never slacked off in the studio, but this one I was working with Wes. So he was at that level and I had never worked with somebody that was that level. It was basically baptism under fire. I knew it was gonna be really tough on me, but I was like, ‘I’m here for the album, not for myself or my ego.’
There is interesting production throughout the record—vocal affectations versus stripped songs—can you speak to the decision-making process behind the production you went with?
Ratinoff: With “Light Me Up,” I remember when I was singing, I did a first take, and then Wes said ‘for this song, I really want you to go all the way.’ And it was funny because I thought that I was going all the way with it. I still did five or six takes, but little by little started opening it up. I saw my voice almost as an instrument, almost as a distorted guitar. When I heard the sound effect while I was singing, that just opened up—it gave me, in the moment, the edge that I needed. It’s almost like when you put some reverb on a guitar. It was using the voice as an instrument to be a part of the whole song. And it’s really cool because the voice, it’s not at the forefront. It’s at the level of everything else. It’s almost like getting lost with everything. I have to credit Wes with that. I didn’t know what he was doing, and it was a cool thing. It triggered me—I became a ferocious monster.
On that note of treating your voice as an instrument, when you go to lay down vocals for a song, how much thought goes into the way you sing a track? Or do you just sing with the kind of emotion that feels right?
Ratinoff: I really get lost in the music. It’s really an interesting thing when you have in your frame of mind, I’m thinking ‘okay, I have no idea what I’m going to do.’ Those scary moments really work for you, rather than against you. I think that it’s a great thing to feel that fear of what’s going to happen. The moment that you remove the safety net—and we’ve heard this a thousand times—I never know how it’s going to turn out, I just try to throw myself at it. It’s not always easy, but there’s no other way.
Is there a theme or emotional throughline that ties this record together for you?
Ratinoff: I think it speaks a lot to the new me, to this kind of new persona. It’s always been me, it’s just a different part of me now, with this record. I’m still discovering new things from the songs. This album has been really something new to me. It’s been opening up a lot of doors. It’s still kind of a mystery, and I like it, because it makes me want to keep discovering my own music.
“Destiny Waits” has a great vibe and feel to it, and an interesting build as you move from the verses to the choruses—what’s the story behind this song? What inspired it, and how did it come together?
Ratinoff: I was trying to write a ballad. I wanted to write my version of “Faithfully” by Journey, which, for me, is my favorite rock ballad. I actually started with this chord progression, and then I ended up doing it as a chant. I remember that I wrote it in the morning. It was almost like a plea of desperation. Even in the demo; it was almost like I had this bark in my voice. I was looking and searching for something. “Destiny Waits” is definitely one of those empowerment songs, where it’s like, even though I’m in the dark, I feel like there’s gonna be a light at the end of the tunnel. I think I would describe it as a plea, as a prayer, as a chant, wanting something bigger in that moment. It’s kind of like that Rocky moment.
With the record on its way and new singles coming out, what’s up next for you? Ratinoff: I’m going to Los Angeles and I will be rehearsing to do live shows with a really cool producer and engineer, because we’re gonna start doing shows in September. That’s really exciting for me—because of the pandemic, nobody was really touring. So now that things are starting to open up, it’s gonna be a really great thing. I’m really excited to start performing my own songs.
You can listen to Ratinoff’s Music here.