Jayli Wolf is an Anishinaabe/Cree Pop Singer, Songwriter and TV Actor based in Toronto, Canada who also speaks and writes about her experiences leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses. I met Jayli through my manager, a fellow Canadian, and was immediately struck by her strong and mystical image on social media and the depth of her music. Jayli has debuted an impressive and powerful solo music project and masterful, cinematic video for her first single Child of the Government (really, you have to see it). I chatted with her about the “Sixties Scoop”, re-discovering her Indigenous heritage, and moving through depression, shame and guilt related to her sexuality.
Your music video for “Child of the Government” feels more like a short film and illuminates the story of your family history through lyric and visual storytelling. You and your boyfriend Hayden conceived, shot, directed and edited the entire music video yourselves in addition to writing and producing the music. Can you talk about the challenges and accomplishments throughout the process?
I really wanted to bring this video to life exactly the way that I had envisioned it in my mind, so I took on a lot of the responsibility! That was the hardest part – everything else went smoothly.
I couldn’t have done it without my hometown community helping me out to scout locations, find props and be willing to act in it! Having Hayden as my team member and cinematographer and my best friend Tessa doing a lot of the wardrobe and makeup was such a blessing! :)
Why did you choose to release this project independently?
It was vital to me to keep creative control and do things on my own terms. I didn’t want to change my sound for anyone.
Also, the more I learn about the business side of music – the more it just makes me want to have ownership over the art I create. It’s important as a musician to know your streams of revenue, to build personal relationships with industry professionals, and to be aware of the business side of things.
“Child of the Government” is about your family’s experience in the “Sixties Scoop”. What is the “Sixties Scoop”? How has the experience affected your family?
The “Sixties Scoop” is a term related to a time that spans from the 1950s into the 1990s, where the Canadian Government and the Catholic church stole Indigenous babies and children away from their parents to be raised by non-Indigenous people. Some children were even sold, and sent as far away as Australia.
My father was one of these babies. The adoption papers say he is not eligible to be status: Indigenous. So they stripped him from his blood, and his true identity. He was fortunate to be adopted, but many weren’t.
Once A Tree, your music project with Hayden has received incredible response. How does your solo project as Jayli Wolf differ and what prompted your musical evolution?
Thank you! It has been such a rewarding journey creating with him.
My solo project is sonically very different from what we have created with Once A Tree. It fuses different genres, it’s darker I would say. Creating this project has been so cathartic for me, because I am telling more personal stories through it. It’s something I have wanted to do for a long time. It might sound a bit funny, but I believe I went through a spiritual awakening – and I just started creating. This project feels so true to me.
How does your queer/bisexual identity influence or affect your relationship with your boyfriend? Tell me about how that impacts how you move through the world…
When I met Hayden he was still in the cult, mentally and physically. I was a little further on my way out, I had already had meetings with people outside the religion. I had begun deprogramming from it all. Hayden was getting in some trouble within the religion. He was also in a really bad place mentally. I saw myself in him. I remembered the feelings of guilt over not being good enough. I told him to come visit, to take some time away from his day-to-day life.
The night I met him time stopped. It really did that whole thing that happens in movies… I knew he was special to me right away. So within the first few days that we were hanging out, I told him that I was Bisexual. And like I said before, the religion conditioned us to believe being queer was one of the worst sins.
I was shocked by his response because he didn’t care at all. I think he said something like, “Ok cool.” I told him about how I had relationships with women. He just listened and didn’t judge at all.
We have a very open relationship, in all ways. We ‘ve been through so much together that we both want to see each other live life to the fullest. I can be so honest with him, and he knows that he can bring anything to the table as well.
Do you find there is a social stigma associated with being in an open relationship? Is it different in the queer community?
Anytime I have seen an article or a video on open relationships, the comments have been largely negative. I have mentioned it a couple times within groups of friends and my close friends are completely receptive about it. But outside of that a lot of people make the assumption that open relationships are unhealthy.
I would say a lot of people just don’t understand it, and that’s ok. It’s not for everyone.
Does your experience as a bisexual person impact your experience as an artist or the music you make solo and collaboratively?
As an artist, I am finally in this place where I don’t feel the need to hide who I am. I always felt so torn between my earthly desires and my old faith. The rules of the religion were so constricting, and I wasn’t allowed to be myself. I will no longer allow anyone to make me feel shame over any part of my true self. I hope that comes out in the music that I am creating.
Tell me more about your experience within the queer community, outside and in music as a bisexual woman?
Having grown up in the Christian doomsday cult where being queer was one of the worst things you could be, when I think of my bisexuality and my teen years, to be honest I mostly remember the shame that I felt. I remember thinking that maybe I would not make it into paradise, because of my bisexuality. Paradise was our earthly hope, as we did not believe that all go to heaven. In paradise, we were to have 1000 years to clean up the bodies of those destroyed in Armageddon, welcome back the faithful ones who had died prior, and grow to perfection. I just believed that if I could be good, and make it into paradise – God would take away any desire I had to be with women.
As a teenager, the first woman that I had a relationship with was also in the religion that I was raised in. It was an awful thing to have to hide.
I wish my experiences were unique, but they aren’t.
You just filmed for a lead role in a movie called The Exchange starring Justin Hartley, Ed Oxenbould and Avan Jogia! What has it been like juggling an acting career while debuting your independent music project?
It’s been so fun!! I absolutely love being busy with projects that I am passionate about. :) Wouldn’t have it any other way!
Does your passion lie more in acting, music? Both equally?
Music is my everything. But I love acting as well! It is so much more collaborative. Lots to learn in both arts! When I got my start, I lucked out. I sent in a self tape for a TV show. I didn’t even have an agent – and I booked it! I was so nervous, but fell in love with being on set.
When should we look forward to new music from Jayli Wolf? What is on the horizon for you?
My debut EP ‘Wild Whisper’ will be released this year. I am very excited for it to live in the world. My first single drops March 30th! And what’s on the horizon? I hope more of this. Interviews like this. More life like this.
I hope so too!! Thank you Jayli :)