We had the good fortune of connecting with Jay Denton and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jay, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I think that for creatives and entrepreneurs, risk is about as important as oxygen. Nothing can be started or created without it, and when it comes to building a career you have to embrace it and make any ally of the discomfort and even fear that comes with risk.
In my journey, I hit a crossroads where I felt like I either had to keep working my side job (which I also happened to really enjoy), and just make music on the side until “something happened”, or I had to go all in. Really, either way I knew I needed to go all in – which in my case meant I was going to pursue a career in special forces, or start my own studio from scratch. At the time I couldn’t even afford my own room in an apartment, so I set up a little corner desk in a room with two twin beds in it and started producing music in headphones in the corner, and spent everything I made on gear and making records.
That’s when things started to happen for me – because I truly believe that necessity breeds innovation, and that when we have to find a way, we do. Or at the very least, when there’s no back up plan, we’re far more likely to pushing through the obstacles and setbacks to get where we need to go.
Once I got even just a little momentum, I moved to a far better studio setup, and every step along the way kept building it out and putting everything I had into growing my team, and the vision of my studio, ENDURE Studios.
Facing risk can lead to excitement or paralysis, and I find that by making risk a part of everyday life, we condition ourselves to be able to face bigger and bigger risks without freezing. In my case, I don’t see the current levels of success with my studio or my career as the end of my risk-taking. Rather I see it as the foundation to take greater risks now, and even greater ones in the future. I am a bit of a glutton for punishment, I know, and much of my risk-taking has led me to fall on my face over and over again, but I suppose I’ve gotten used to the taste of concrete enough that I don’t fear it anymore
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I think that what sets me apart from other artists is that I didn’t start out as one, and I arrived at a career as a creative in a rather unconventional way. Therefore I’ve got a different perspective on what I want to build creatively, and what I want to accomplish with my career.
As an athlete growing up, being a professional artist or songwriter was about the furthest thing from my mind, and even when I moved to LA for college, I thought I was leaving sports to do something in international relations, or global crisis outreach.
What I found in college was the impact of mainstream culture on global events, and how powerful things like film and music are to convey stories that matter. In particular through the Invisible Children movement and the film, “Blood Diamond”, I saw the way that film connects us to global events in a way statistics never could. That is what sparked me thinking about my love of music and film as potentially not separate from my international interests, but potentially directly linked – if I could find a way to connect them.
Music, and in particular songwriting, had been a passion of mine for years by then, but I wasn’t anything like the other musicians I knew in rock bands or singers I knew that were pursuing careers. On top of that I didn’t know a thing about the music industry, didn’t know that songwriting was its own career path, or how to get started. It wasn’t until I’d graduated college, worked for several months in India and East Africa, came back to LA and started becoming a Krav Maga instructor, that my songwriting really became a part of my career pursuit.
Because of those factors, I think I’ve always approached music a bit differently. To me, having something to say is the foundation of music – more than the sound, the style, the singer, the instrument, etc. All of those things can be learned, but having a story to tell, and an authentic reality to convey…that is what it’s all about in my book. I always talk with the artists I work with about the importance of us being as genuine and authentic as we can be when we write and record – even if we think that no one else will ever connect to that part of our story, it has to be real.
I’ve seen this in a particularly powerful way in the global albums I’ve started making. In 2019 I traveled back and forth to Beirut, Lebanon to write and record an album with Syrian refugees (and one Iraqi refugee), that I then featured alongside some LA artists I work with here. Working with people from literally opposite sides of the world, different languages, life experiences, and world perspectives, it’d be easy to think their stories wouldn’t fit together, but they did – and in a beautiful way. By being honest and vulnerable in the music, the artists from that album found common ground where they may have least expected it.
Overall I’d say the international element is what sets my vision apart from others I know in the music industry. My goal is to go to conflict zones and destabilized regions all over the world and make records with artists there who have a voice and a story to tell, but don’t have a platform yet – and to connect them with artists in the mainstream music industry through these global albums. This year I plan to go back to Uganda, South Sudan, and Rwanda to make the next global ENDURE album, and I couldn’t be more excited for it.
As my studio grows, and the work we do continues to build, though, I still hold onto that mindset I developed through sports as a kid, and through martial arts/fighting as an adult – that talent is never enough. Sacrifice and hustle count every bit as much as ability in the pursuit of becoming truly great at something, and at my studio I try to always push myself and my team to keep risking and pushing the envelope.
I always say that strength lies on the other side of adversity for those willing to endure it, and I think that perspective informs everything I do as an artist, a creative, and an entrepreneur. There are so many musicians, writers, and singers that are more talented than I am, but I don’t think I’ve ever found any as stubborn…
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’ve lived in multiple different parts of LA from the south central area, to mid city, the west side, and now I’m up in Sherman Oaks – so at this stage I’d start us up here in the valley and move from there.
Breakfast is about one of my favorite things in this world, and Nat’s Early Bite up on Hazeltine and Burbank blvd is my spot in the valley. They do everything well, but the Guadalajara skillet or the chilaquiles are my jam. I’m also a coffee addict so the Coffee Roaster on Ventura Blvd might have to happen at some point in the morning…
Then if we’re talking true vacation style, we’d have to hit the beach so I’d get a crew together and head to Will Rogers where it’s not too crowded (and you can find parking), and we’d get some rounds of beach volleyball going. Naturally Mexican food should follow beach volleyball so I’d say dinner at El Cholo on Wilshire afterwards.
If we were tired of driving then for night life I’d head back up to Sherman Oaks and go to Mr. Furley’s on Ventura Blvd – which not only has pool, darts, and shuffle board, but they also carry Shiner Bock beer – which is a rare and sacred find out here to anyone from Texas. Another spot I love near me is The Local Peasant on Ventura – it has some great signature drinks and a cool atmosphere.
At some point on the trip we’d have to do a downtown day and grab some food at The Pantry, walk around LA live a bit, and then at night get to The Edison for the underground speak-easy style bar experience, and either The Perch or The Standard for the LA rooftop hang at night.
One of my best friends also rides a motorcycle, so if he were here we’d take bikes out to the Santa Monica mountains and ride “The Snake” – a windy section of mountain roads where you really get to lean into the turns well. Then we’d grab some food and hang at the Rock Store over there. This particular friend of mine is also into boxing, so I’d take him by the Krav Maga Worldwide training center – either in West LA or Sherman Oaks – where I’ve spent countless hours and taken countless punches over the years, and we’d get some training in. Those centers have been a life blood to me in LA, and whether it’s training, teaching, or connecting with great people, I’ll always be a part of the KMW family.
I don’t get down south to Manhattan Beach as much as I used to when I surfed regularly, but if we had the time, I’d definitely want to get down there, hit some waves at El Porto Beach near the endearing power plants, and grab pancakes at Uncle Bill’s Pancakes. You can tell I’m obsessed with breakfast…
I could go on and on – and that’s what I love about this city. There’s always a new place to find, a new part of town to explore, and plenty of hidden treasures.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I’ve been inspired by so many people over the years who have pushed through obstacles, had a vision that they sacrificed everything for, and kept going when it would have been so much easier to quit.
Some of the first names that come to mind at the moment when I think about those who have shaped my career directly are Sam Childers , Tom Douglas, David Hodges, (then) Staff Sergeant Noel, Erwin McManus, Sharon Lloyd, Jocko Willink, and Dallas Willard. I could go on and on, but I’ll focus on these few.
I got to spend some time with Sam Childers (played by Gerard Butler in the film “Machine Gun Preacher”) in South Sudan and his home base in Pennsylvania and see what he was able to do rescuing kids from the LRA in East Africa. My conversations with Sam starting my senior year of college were instrumental in my decision to start my own thing rather than join the military.
Tom Douglas is a Nashville songwriter who’s music career took off later in his life, and I still remember one morning over coffee when he told me that he got where he is because he “out-lasted the others”. That concept has been part of the DNA of my studio, ENDURE Studios, ever since.
Staff Sergeant Noel, who has probably climbed the ranks since then with the USMC, was one of my platoon sergeants in Quantico when I went through officer candidate school with the Marines. The way he led, in particular balancing both personal excellence and holding a high standard for others, inspired me as I was finishing college and figuring out what was next.
I used to train songwriter/producer, David Hodges, in Krav Maga a couple times per week at his home studio in Los Angeles. Though I was there as a fight trainer, not for music, I saw the way he build a studio setup and a creative community around it, and that in many ways is what I’ve modeled my studio here after. He probably has no idea that those mornings beating each other up had that impact…
Erwin McManus, the founder of Mosaic in LA, has always showed me through his teaching, his writing, and his presence, that seeking excellence and seeking character not only can go together, but that they must go together to attain the highest levels of either.
Jocko Willink’s book, “Extreme Ownership”, was a big influence in the way I think about life and building a career – and the concept of self ownership in my life, business, struggles, and actions. His attitude of never pointing a finger at others, but rather doing whatever it takes to make the situation better, and learning both from successes and mistakes, has inspired me as I keep learning as I go.
Finally, Sharon Lloyd and Dallas Willard were professors of mine at USC, and in those pivotal years when I was figuring out what I really wanted to do with my life, their teaching and our conversations fundamentally shaped the concept I was developing of connecting mainstream culture with global purpose. Ideas are truly powerful things, and the spinning-top (shameless film reference from “Inception”) that they left in my brain back then, has been formative ever since.
Linkedin: Jay Denton