ASBO Meets: Orpington’s Pisces Princess of Pop Josie Man

Josie Man

If there were ever a time when the world needed the healing, relatable and honest music of Josie Man, it’s now. In a society where adhering to trends seems endless and clandestine forces seem set on division, Josie’s music is a paragon of how to lighten dark mental spaces, exercise gratitude and unify the heart and mind. Half Chinese, half British, Man was born and raised in Orpington, Kent, where after struggling to fit in, she eventually found her voice through music. Teaching herself to play guitar and piano via Youtube, Josie began songwriting, garnering the attention of labels almost immediately. Josie released her first single entitled ‘Colours’ in 2019, which detailed her personal experience of being laughed at for her clothing choices, ironically one of the many reasons she stands out from the rest. 

Gentle by nature, Josie consciously chooses to showcase both the beauty and reality to be found within everything, a comforting message that encourages her fans to practice self-acceptance and own their differences. Despite her chicly kitsch, tattooed pixie-pop appearance, both Josie and her music have an edge. Not because they contain controversy or extremities, but instead because they paint a realistic portrait of life for young people today in the face of social media, self-love and societal pressure. 

To Josie, her message and morals are more important than the short-lived enjoyment that comes with fame. Her success is undeniably a direct result of staying true to her identity through both criticism and celebration. With her candy-sweet colloquial lyricism, dreamlike whimsy and one of a kind personality, Josie is on a mission to make the world a little kinder, imploring us to celebrate our differences with every angelic, hushed tone.

“I write about love all the time. It’s not always good love, but it’s all I can ever really think about.”

I know you claim to be a bit of an introvert and are extremely family-orientated. So I wanted to start by asking about your background growing up. What are some of the ways that has influenced you as an artist, and do you think being this way helped you discover yourself?

One hundred percent. I think my upbringing really shaped me into the artist I am today. I’ve always been in my own little world, which works for me because I think it’s quite easy to get overly involved in the music industry, and it’s really quite scary. Part of me enjoys taking a step back and just hanging out with my two best friends or family back home. There are six of us at home, so it’s a good balance of people to be around, and we are all close. I grew up just outside of London in Orpington, so for me, it’s really important to be able to go out into my garden and put my feet on the ground. It’s just what I’m used to I think!

Josie Man

You only started writing music in 2019. It must be crazy to know your music has already found such a vast audience so early in your career. Do you think your musical journey had had a deliberate direction or is it gradually evolving in whatever direction it finds?

It’s most definitely evolving as I grow. I’ve come to realise that I really don’t like plans, not in the sense of being told what to do, but I prefer to let things progress naturally rather than setting all these high expectations. As I continually grow as a person, my music follows suit, which is quite a comforting thing. I don’t like being told to do things a certain way because then I feel like I can’t do them. It has to come from an authentic creative place inside me. 

So you recently released ‘One Of Those Days’ written with and produced by Oscar Scheller. The track follows on from your last release, ‘Cuts And Bruises’. Can you tell us a bit about the story behind it? 

So we actually wrote that track in 2019. I remember it was a really gloomy day outside, and we were talking about life and how bad days happen, but when you wake up the next day, it’s a fresh start. It’s so important to remind yourself in those darker moments that by tomorrow or the following Sunday after, things will usually work out fine, and nothing lasts forever. Focusing on that is really comforting because it’s hard to see things that way when you’re in the thick of it. The only way you get through it is to know that eventually, you will get out of it, so we wanted to write about that.

I know you’ve co-written most of your material to date with your close friends Hannah Yadi and Josh Scarbow, as well as Tommy Baxter and Starsmith. What is your approach to choosing collaborators when it comes to your music?

For me personally, I have to feel comfortable in a room. It’s never about who’s got the biggest writing credits or has worked with the biggest people to me. I have to connect with someone, and if we can have a fun time and be relaxed while doing it, even better. I’ve always found new sessions quite daunting, so I like to have someone familiar with me like Hannah or Josh. Hannah’s literally like a mum to me in the studio, haha. I feel really confident around her. She understands me on a deeper level and really listens to me as an artist. So for me, it’s about being with people that don’t want to override what you’re thinking and turn it into something that doesn’t mean anything to you. Creating should be fun. You should never dread it. I’m lucky to have found a group of people that I love working with. When I feel brave enough, I also like to work with some new people, but I usually stick with the same writers because that’s what works best for me.

Your message as an artist revolves heavily around self-love and kindness, but we all have those days when those things seem impossible to find. What has your process of self-work been like to get to the point where you’re constantly re-finding that sense of lightness in life?

Great question. I think the thing with self-love is that people believe it’s something you attain and then keep forever, which isn’t the case. It can be frustrating because, at the beginning, you do all this work only to realise how quickly your feelings can revert. It’s something you have to try and practice every day to keep the momentum up. I’ve found that writing things down really works for me as well as dancing (literally the best thing ever). When I’m feeling down, I dance, and my body feels free, so it’s important for me to do. I also think that not worrying if you’re not feeling okay is necessary because part of self-love is accepting that those times will come and go no matter how great your life is going. Even when you’re feeling bad, it doesn’t mean that you’re doing bad. It’s simply what’s going on in your life. It’s so important to accept yourself, it sounds like an easy thing to do, but on the contrary, you have to keep practising it and be willing to take action.

Fashion-wise, you are an absolute chameleon, evolving hairstyles, colours and references on what seems like every post. Is your approach to style thought out, or does it depend on how you feel on the day?

My fashion has always been based on how I feel on that day. I literally feel like I can’t leave the house unless I have dressed for myself. I have to feel like me and look in the mirror and love what I’m wearing. I’m definitely not down with any trends. I don’t understand how people even keep up with them, haha. Fashion, for me, is all about doing it for myself rather than other people.

The music industry has changed so much in recent years, some say for the worse. Do you have any rituals or mantras to deal with the stresses of being a young female in the creative industry?

Yeah definitely. I went through a short period of being severely overwhelmed a while back and just felt like I didn’t have any control of what was going on day to day. Looking back, I’m glad I went through it as it taught me a lot about how I work and that I can only do my very best, and if people have a problem with that, it’s not my problem. If people want me to be doing more, I remind myself that I can only do the best I can at that moment, and whatever that is is good enough. Being in the music industry, I think there’s a hyper-focus on statistics, numbers, and streams, which is very draining and discouraging to focus on as an artist. So I think to myself, we’re all human. Just because someones got more or less doesn’t mean they are better or worse. 

My label has been great, and I feel fortunate because you hear these horror stories about how labels control artists, but they’re very understanding and encourage me to reach out and try new things despite me liking to be in my comfort zone.

Josie Man

You’ve been associated with the self-love movement for a while, especially on Instagram. What are your thoughts on the toxic positivity that sometimes latches onto the movement?

I agree it’s very toxic and false. We’ve all been through those times where we say we are fine when we aren’t, which is ultimately a disservice to our feelings. I didn’t want to put that message out to my listeners because it’s not real life. Social media, by nature, allows us to view people that look like they love themselves and are happy, and it makes you feel even worse because you think you should be feeling that way too. It’s all about where you are at, you have one life to live, and that’s yours, so don’t compare your journey to others.

What advice would you give to young people struggling with the adverse effects of things like social media and societal trends?

Social media is not real. I’ve experienced it myself because I get these shoots back from magazines and press while sitting at home, and I see them and think, I don’t even look like that most days! Also, people need to realise there’s so much more to life than what’s online. It’s not real life. It’s an electronic entity that we all get wrapped up in far too easily, myself included. There are so many other things that are way more important. You have to take time away to breathe.

What’s one of the most important things you’ve learned along the way?

I think my thing was learning how to set healthy boundaries because I never want to hurt anyone’s feelings. It got to the point where I was hurting my feelings so that someone else wasn’t having theirs hurt, and I’d end up doing things for other people that didn’t feel authentic to me. I realised I had to start making boundaries even though the thought of being so assertive made me feel sick at times. I know what it feels like to be stuck in a place where you feel like people are treading all over you or where you aren’t living your life the way you want to live it. It sounds selfish to us to focus on ourselves, but just because society tells us it’s negative to focus on ourselves before others, you should. That way, you have more love inside of you to share with others. If you’re in a low vibration and you’re doing things that don’t make you feel good, you’re going to give that off as well. 

Josie Man

Despite your music having a generally upbeat feel, there are some hidden, more profound meanings within the lyrical content. What are some of the key themes you touch upon in your new music?

I guess in essence, they talk about life being short, the human experience and growing up. How life is this weird experience to both enjoy and suffer through, both of which are a part of it all. For example, one of the upcoming singles is called ‘By The End Of The Night‘. I wrote it at a point where I was not feeling like myself and was quite sad. It talks about how I felt that the only time I could cry fully by myself was at night. It’s a very vulnerable song and comes from a hurt place, but it also talks about how it’s important to cry. Sometimes you want to cry by yourself and let it out and act fine the next day. It doesn’t make you weak. It makes you human. I think as we all grow older, we learn that the world is quite a deep and scary place, and while it’s often amazing, it’s not always fun. 

Can you tell me an interesting or funny story about one of your recent co-writes?

Hannah and I are both very spiritual. We love meditation, so we decided to do a mediation with our producer Josh to rebalance his Chakras in the studio, and we literally wiped his brain! We couldn’t finish the session because he was thrown off, so we thought we broke him. We all write quickly together and wrote another one of the singles ‘Big Blue Sea’ in about an hour.

What does being an artist mean to you, and how does it help you through life? 

I think, for me, it’s about releasing music that helps someone release an emotion. Music is so powerful that it can move cells in your body and vibrate specific frequencies. It goes past just listening. So for me, I just try to make music that people might like, you can fixate on wanting to achieve something by a specific time but I think a lot of the time, that sets us up to get let down by our own expectations. I just like to go with the flow and do my thing.

Many people don’t understand my process, which can make me feel a bit weird, but it works for me, and while unorthodox, my way of coping with things a lot is to just not know of focus too much on them. I use perspective and say that I’m just one person on this planet, making my problems seem a lot smaller and less stressful.

I truly believe and trust that things will happen at the right time. They often just fall in place. When you look back, and these things keep happening repeatedly, that’s when you truly start to trust the process and know that your hard work will pay off, even if that just means doing your best. Whatever the outcome, it’s better to give your best rather than letting yourself down or comparing yourself to others.

What can we expect next from you? 

So I’ve got new music coming out, which will hopefully feature some great visuals alongside it. We’ve had some great ideas! Then hopefully some gigs and tours. I am playing quite a few festival slots in the UK, which is so exciting. I love singing live and haven’t been able to do so because I started in 2019, and then 2020 hit, and the pandemic happened. So I’m so looking forward to performing live and connecting with my audience in person.

Words: Connor Aiden Fogarty

Images: Lewis Vorn @lewisvorn

Stylist: Doug Broad @dougbroad_

Hair and Makeup: Maya Man @mayamanartist