Jacob Whitesides is ready to tackle the UK on a month-long tour, and this won’t be the 17-year-old singer-songwriter’s first achievement. Having just signed a new record deal and receiving the honour of being MTV’s Artist To Watch, the talented teen has already racked up 5-million followers on social media.
Having achieved so much at such a young age thanks to his acoustic covers on YouTube, it’s only natural that Jacob is being compared to another social media phenom: Canada’s own Justin Bieber. Though the singer is quick to point out his top personal idol – Ed Sheeran.
“He’s carving a path for amazing music to make a comeback on the radio. I love pop music but I feel like the genre is overpopulated – there was so much bubblegum for a while but I feel like Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran are bringing good real music back to the radio.”
Jacob, who’s working on his debut album, is set to release his new EP Faces on Film next month. Apart from his British idols, the teenager who hails from Knoxville, Tennessee also finds inspiration from folk and country music – and his 16-year-old girlfriend and fellow artist Bea Miller.
“I’m still finding myself as an artist, I’m still experimenting a little bit,” said Jacob. “This next EP I’m really, really happy with. It’s mainly singer-songwriter because I love to tell stories, I love songs that are heavy on lyrics.”
“A lot of things inspire me,” he added. “I’ve been in relationships in the past but I’m feeling a lot of new emotions with my girlfriend that I’ve never felt before – as far as love goes, the pain of being in a long-distance relationship. She’s an artist so we have to balance our super hectic schedules. It’s been really painful but it makes us stronger as a couple. A lot of these new feelings are displayed in my EP.”
Jacob’s most personal song to date is probably Ohio, which is based on his thorny relationship with his estranged father.
“Every song is personal but Ohio, on my first EP, was on another level,” said Jacob. “I really opened up about the lack of relationship I had with my father. We stopped talking about four years ago and I haven’t had a father figure in my life since.
“I wrote Ohio and it was really awesome to be able to share that with my fans because a lot of them can relate to not having a parent in their life. It’s really one of my favourite songs to sing live.”
Jacob started learning how to play the guitar when he was 13, and built up confidence by performing in local bars and restaurants with his musician dad. The sporty youngster – who played football, basketball, tennis and ran track, but never excelled in any that he turned to music – also received his parents’ blessing to drop out of school.
“I started homeschooling when I was 13,” said Jacob. “I wasn’t really doing the social media thing yet, I didn’t have any fans, but I knew that public school wasn’t the place for me. It was draining my creativity and so both my parents supported me in being homeschooled and they really gave me a chance to focus on getting good at guitar.
“Eventually I started singing and playing – singing came along later because I was really shy and didn’t like to sing but I started playing with my dad locally in bars and restaurants.
“Playing in those bars where people really don’t care about your music really gives you an appreciation for when you get to a concert and people are singing your original music – it’s been a great journey but I definitely didn’t have an interest in music as a kid until I was a teenager.”
While he may not be on speaking terms with his father, Jacob can rely on his younger sister Sierra and his mum Becky for constant support.
“They always like to surprise me,” said Jacob. “My mum is the funniest and sweetest person I know, my sister’s like my best friend so it’s great having them around.
“My sister’s developed quite the social media following – she has over 175,000 followers on Twitter and over 100,000 on Instagram, I can’t keep up with it. She actually had to drop out of public school, she’s homeschooled now because it all got too much.
“People would harass her at school – there’s so much going on, it’s a shock to my family as well as it is for me. But it’s amazing and they love it just as much as I do – it’s all worth it.”
Jacob’s new EP Faces on Film is out worldwide on 23 October.