"I just woke up one day and was like, 'I have to release these songs,'" Jon Wilkes says of his new project KOU, which released its new single "Burn" today. "I don’t even care if no one listens; I’ve got to get them out there."
Formerly the drummer for the pop-punk, post-hardcore outfit The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus, Wilkes moved to Houston in 2018, just a few months after Hurricane Harvey had decimated the Bayou City.
"It was a win-win for me," he says of relocating here from Los Angeles. "LA is very expensive, and a lot of the guys working venues there have had that same position for 10-plus years, and Houston is really growing, production-wise."
Between working in music production for Generations AV and serving as Revention Music Center's stage manager, Wilkes has been creating music as KOU, a synth-driven rock outfit that combines his background in percussion and EDM while bringing his voice and ideas to the forefront.
“There was no one in Red Jumpsuit to sing backup,” he says with a laugh. “So I was kind of pushed into being the backup singer while playing drums.
“I came from a musical family," he continues. "Pretty much everyone in my family sings – my grandma sings in the choir; my mom is an alto in the choir; my dad was a praise and worship leader; my sister sings... It kind of runs in the family.”
KOU - which can be pronounced koo as in "coup d'etat" or by stating each letter individually — stands for Kingdom Of Us, and many of the tracks Wilkes has produced under the moniker have been in the works for the better part of a decade.
“I started writing these songs when I was in the back of the tour bus with Red Jumpsuit,” he says.
Released today, "Burn" serves as the debut single from an upcoming full-length album. Through the rest of the calendar year, Wilkes plans to release a new song every six to eight weeks.
"Right now, I have probably 15 to 20 tracks," he says. "Some of them are collaborations with world-renowned guitar players, and the live band features two former members of Red Jumpsuit – Duke Kitchens and Matt Carter."
Once he has released a few more songs, Wilkes says his goal is to do a handful of tours.
"If people want to get behind this thing, then I’ll take it out there and perform it for everybody," he says. "But right now, these songs are for me. I just want to get them out into the world."
Sonically, KOU is meant to look and sound like music from the future, while incorporating elements from the front man's past, namely pop-punk and emo.
"It’s kind of the perfect time for this project, because there’s been a resurgence of emo," he says, pointing to the likes of Juice WRLD, Lil Uzi Vert and even Machine Gun Kelly. "When a hip-hop artist is releasing pop-punk songs, you know something cool is happening in the music industry."
With "Burn" — which Wilkes says will be the first track on KOU's as yet unnamed debut record — the front man hopes listeners will connect with his feelings of frustration with the status quo and hope for a better tomorrow.
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"It’s about realizing as a society that we’ve been consumed by hatred and that we need to be reborn and transform out of that somehow," he says of the single. "In my opinion, everything is about choice. So the idea behind the song is about choosing to step into the light, to purify yourself and be more positive and not let yourself go down a dark path. It’s all a mindset."
He says the song was inspired by the near-constant reports of shootings in the United States, and he hopes it can serve as a reminder not to be consumed by hatred. The track is as thoughtful as it is aggressive, and Wilkes hopes it will resonate with fans and perhaps even inspire a bit of kindness.
"Once we’re able to do shows again, my plan is do a Houston show as soon as possible," Wilkes says. "We did a show last year on a whim and more than 200 kids showed up upstairs at White Oak Music Hall.
"Whatever happens, it’s going to be a fun ride."