SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD — In today's music industry, it is often very hard for talented artists and vocalists to break through and find their way. That fact can be applied to all aspects of life, as well.
Scotch Plains' own musician Billy Wilkins makes light of this in his most recent song, titled, "Dark Skies".
On Thursday, Wilkins — born and raised in Scotch Plains — released the track produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Jerry Wonda across all major music platforms, including Apple Music and Spotify. He also uploaded a music video, directed by Max Sainvil, to his YouTube channel. It is Wilkins’ first track backed by EMPIRE/Wonda Music, and eighth career.
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“Dark Skies is a song about overcoming obstacles and not being stuck in the past,” Wilkins said in an exclusive interview with TAPintoSPF. “The inspiration came from being frustrated with trying to break through in the music industry... it can get hard trying to find the right path and so it’s easy to kinda freeze up and not know what to do.”
Wilkins’ latest single is just another addition to what’s been a rapid-growing venture into the music industry, which has so far been storybook.
While playing guitar recreationally starting as an 11-year-old, Wilkins, who extensively studied with Karl Cochran and Stephanie Wrembrel, realized around the age of 14 that he could turn his passion into a career. He practiced at the Scotch Plains Music Center early on, and showcased his talent in winning the 2014 Mr. Spiffy High contest at Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School.
After graduating from SPFHS in 2015, Wilkins attended Berklee College of Music in Boston for a year, but then decided to forgo school in order to focus his energy solely on becoming the artist he wanted to be.
“I left [Berklee] because I couldn’t wait any longer to start working on myself as an artist,” he revealed. “My song ‘All of This’ is actually about deciding to leave school and was the way I broke it to my parents … It wasn’t a hard decision because I knew what I wanted to do; the hard part was just figuring out how start pursuing my dream knowing nothing was certain.”
At first, Wilkins became a regular at local favorites such as Darby Road, Stage House, Sheelen's Crossing, and SRA Studios, often performing with bands like The Broadcasters and Pat DiNizio. But a lot changed for the eldest of three siblings when he released a single titled “I’ll Never Love You” in June of 2016.
The song is basically made up of guitar riffs, background drum beats, and Wilkins’ vocals, but its simplistic yet artistic rhythm caught on with listeners worldwide. In a sense, it grew viral on music streaming platforms like Apple Music and iTunes, and the YouTube music video really took off. It has nearly 5,000 views — very impressive for an up-and-coming artist — and essentially helped put Wilkins on the map.
Then his song “Echoes”, featuring Spencer Gowen, came out six months later, and amassed 2,000 plays on Spotify.
“Those songs were crucial because I learned so much about marketing myself and just making things happen,” Wilkins explained. “If it weren’t for those songs I wouldn’t have had the opportunities that eventually led me to working with Jerry Wonda and so many other amazing musicians.”
The hope for “Dark Skies” is that it will continue the trend of his songs increasing in popularity, and all indications are that it’s on pace to become something very big. As of Thursday night, just 12 hours after releasing it to his Facebook page, the “Dark Skies” music video has nearly 2,000 views and about 50 shares. With a duration of 3 minutes, 30 seconds, the song is available worldwide on all major apps and websites such as Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube.
Wilkins, who relies on a strong local network to do a bulk of the promoting, is confident that the song can skyrocket him up the ranks of current musicians. And he has every right to believe that it can take off.
Evoking a mellow, cheerful vibe created through complex guitar strings and good use of autotune on vocals, the song has a very catchy and free going tone. Despite the use of the word “dark” in the title, which may present a gloomy mood at first, this tune is very free-going and overall bright and uplifting.
“I think what makes Dark Skies and the songs that are going to follow it unique is that they bend the bridges between a lot of genres,” he said. “This is my first song being backed by a record label so I’m really hoping this gives me more credibility/ visibility... especially in trying to build followings on things like Spotify, Instagram, and YouTube to help me gain traction for what’s to come.”
“Dark Skies” is the eighth song that Wilkins has released in his young career. He has also been featured in two tunes. He will play the Seaside Heights Boardwalk (Carteret Avenue Stage) on August 7 and at the Stage House in Scotch Plains on August 10.