Metro Detroit-based musician JonPaul Wallace gives SEEN the lowdown on his viral YouTube videos
Four years ago, around the time he was graduating from high school, Metamora native JonPaul Wallace decided to rewrite the lyrics to “7 Years,” the 2015 hit by Lukas Graham that touches on growing up and getting older. Wallace’s rendition of the ballad — which he performed at his 2016 graduation from Lapeer High School — ended up garnering millions of views on YouTube.
Now, Wallace is back with an updated cover of the same song, this time recorded on the campus of Oakland University, where he recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in finance and marketing. We caught up with him to find out about the inspiration behind the new lyrics, how he hopes the song will bring together the class of 2020, and what he’s working on now.
by Alexandra London
Photos courtesy of JonPaul Wallace
1. Tell us a little about yourself and your professional background. I am a full-time musician, but I recently earned my bachelor’s degree in finance and marketing from Oakland University. In my music career I have recorded in studios in Detroit, Nashville and New York City, although most of my time is spent writing in my mini home studio.
This was especially true during the quarantine. I have performed at a variety of venues including Aretha’s Jazz Café in Detroit, the Arts, Beats & Eats festival, Hyped Up Live Sessions and, most notably, my graduation from Lapeer High School. To make some spending cash, I also work at my family’s pizza and ice cream shop, The Parlour, in Hadley, Michigan.
2. How did you get started in the music industry? My older sister, Rocky Wallace, is a singer as well. When I was young, I admired her talent and thought, “I could do it better.” Although if you ask her, she will say I cannot, in fact, do it better.
3. Your unique rendition of Lukas Graham’s “7 Years” at your high school graduation ceremony in 2016 went viral. What inspired your lyrics and can you share more about that overall experience? I was obsessed with “7 Years” after the first listen. I loved the way the song took you through the journey of life and made you feel nostalgic for the past and optimistic for the future in the same 4 minutes. I knew right away I wanted to cover it, but the original lyrics say, “once I was 20 years old,” and I was only 17. I wanted to change it to be more authentic to me. One day when I got home from school, I just started listening to it and it clicked that I wanted to gear the new lyrics toward graduating, which I would be doing in just a few months. I sat down at the piano and wrote the entire song in an hour. Everything I had been feeling throughout the year just poured out. After I finished writing it, I made my whole family come and listen. By the end of it, we were all crying.
4. You have recently released a new version of the cover song that focuses on the COVID-19 pandemic and how it cancelled graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020. Can you share more details about the song? Graduating college amidst the current pandemic had me feeling a very different array of emotions than when I graduated high school in 2016. I was disappointed my ceremony was postponed, and I knew I wasn’t alone in that feeling, so I wanted to do something to unify and bring hope to the class of 2020. In writing the song, I wanted to say that although we cannot celebrate together in the traditional way, we should still be proud of ourselves for our accomplishments.
5. You’ve done dozens of covers on your YouTube channel. What has been your favorite song to cover so far? My favorite YouTube cover I’ve done is Watermelon Sugar by Harry Styles. I composed a different arrangement for the song with a lot of background vocal parts and it was fun to create.
6. Who do you look up to in the music industry and why? I look up to Billie Eilish and FINNEAS for creating such a unique sound and doing it from a home studio. I also look up to J. Cole because he speaks his truth and does a lot of work to better his community and educate the world about issues that don’t get talked about enough. In addition, I greatly admire Chelsea Cutler because she is such a talented singer and writer who has producing credits on a lot of her music.
7. In addition to all of your viral success, can you share any other career highlights or moments you are most proud of thus far? The entire journey of following my passion and finding myself as an artist has been a blast, but one of the highlights was recording at BMG studios in New York City. It was my first experience in a top-notch studio, and it was kind of surreal. There is also one show that stands out. I performed at my college, Oakland University, in 2019. It was the biggest crowd I had performed in front of besides my graduation. Everyone was so receptive to my music and the energy was incredible.
8. Any new music in the works or projects you are looking forward to working on? I have a string of new singles I am finishing that will be coming out this summer with my label, New York City’s Zen Bulldog Entertainment. With those singles in mind, we have an exciting surprise we’ll be announcing soon.
9. If you weren’t a musician, what would you be instead? I also have a passion for business, and I think if I was not a musician, I would take on a bigger role in my family’s pizzeria and grow The Parlour further. In fact, I still plan to help with the family business after I establish my music career.
Now onto some fun…
10. What’s currently on your playlist? I have been listening to Kehlani’s new album a lot, as well as some Chelsea Cutler and some throwback Bruno Mars.
11. Dream artist to collaborate with? The list goes on, but I have always wanted to collaborate with Stevie Wonder on a song that brings the Motown feel to contemporary pop music.
12. What was your favorite TV show as a kid? I was a huge fan of Avatar the Last Airbender (and honestly, I still am).
13. Three things you can’t live without? My alone time, my mini studio and pizza.
14. Dream vacation destination? I have always wanted to go backpacking around Europe.
Local Love Questions…
15. Your current favorite local spots for breakfast, lunch and dinner? I don’t go out to breakfast very often, but my favorite spot for lunch is Mancino’s Pizza and Grinders. For dinner, my go-to local spot is The Rocket in Pontiac. They make a dangerously good burger.
16. Favorite spot to hear live music around Metro Detroit? One of my favorite venues is the New Way Bar in Ferndale. I had a gig scheduled there before everything was shut down, and I was disappointed when it was cancelled, but I hope to play there when it is safe to do so.
17. Your go-to for a good cup of coffee? I love ABeanToGo in Lake Orion, Michigan.
18. Favorite thing to do on a weekend? When I’m not performing, I love going out on the lake to ski, wakeboard and tube.
19. What do you love about Detroit? I love Detroit’s tenacity. Detroit tends to get overlooked and talked down [to] in the media, but this city is so strong and it continues to produce such amazing things.
20. Favorite quote or words to live by? “Expect the best but be able to adapt to the worst.”