by Rebekah Postupak
John-Robert Rimel of Edinburg may only be a 15-year-old sophomore at Woodstock’s Central High School, but he’s appeared on The Ellen Show twice and has performed on WHSV TV and Q102, as well as at the Rockingham and Shenandoah County Fairs and many other events. His haunting tone and wide vocal range have consistently stunned producers and other industry professionals.
- At what moment did you realize music would be your life?
My family was already somewhat musical: my grandfather was a drummer, my father was in a boys’ choir, and my cousin’s a top-notch drummer. But what really got me started was the 2010 Relay for Life, when I was nine and had a chance to sing on stage. I sang Train’s “Hey, Soul Sister” acapella, and was just so pumped to be on stage. That’s when I knew.
Since then I’ve learned a lot from working with instructors at JMU, Scott Zane Smith, Brenda Witmer, and David Newman; and also with Robby & Lisa Meadows of the Shenandoah Jamboree Show at Shenandoah Caverns. And now that I’m taking music theory at school with Ms. Hunsberger, suddenly everything is starting to make sense to me musically.
I’ve got two buddies I play with now, Tim Aumiller and Robbie Phillips. I love playing with them; they’re so inventive. In March we just performed together at PhilPhest on Madeira Beach, FL, for melanoma awareness.
- What kind of music inspires you?
My heart is in alternative—Ed Sheeran, Twenty One Pilots, The 1975, James Bay—so soulful. As my voice started changing, I got into The Kooks and started experimenting with voice cracks. I worked and worked on it until I got them where I wanted them. I also took choir, and that made a huge difference.
- How did you get on The Ellen Show?
In 2014 Ellen’s team came across one of my videos and called my father. He pulled me out of class to tell me, and I’m like, “Is this a joke? I was just working with integers.”
The hardest part was not being able to tell my friends, even once I was back. All I could say was, “We stayed in a nice hotel. There was a McDonald’s with a thirty-minute time limit.” And that was it. I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about how I got chauffeured around, or how amazing Ellen was. She’d ask me questions, but her eyes—they were crystal blue and mesmerizing. Her staff was the sweetest; I must have gotten a thousand hugs.
I still have the keyboard she gave me. I wouldn’t sell that for the world.
- And from there you caught an award-winning producer’s eye?
Yes; I had already met with him a couple of times on our L.A. visits, and he asked me to come out and work with a team last summer.
I spent most of that time with songwriter Jamie Hartman, who is also working with Sawyer Fredericks, winner of last year’s “The Voice.” We focused a lot on lyrical content. With pop music, the first time you listen to it, you want to know what the song is about. But if people look for a deeper meaning, it’s there in the lyrics. That’s the kind of thing we wanted to accomplish with our own music.
- What’s next for you?
I love it in the Valley; there’s so much to be inspired by here. But I definitely want to go back to L.A. and finish up some of the projects we started. I’ve been working on a lot of new ideas myself. I want my album to have diverse sounds, like “alternative-pop-rock-soul-R&B” all mashed up.
My dream is to make my music timeless, like David Bowie, or Queen, or Journey. And I want to push the pop industry in a different direction, with my own original take on alternative pop rock music. I also want to be part of my album’s writing process at all costs, for it to reflect my vision. It’d be really cool if nobody understood it now, but like in ten, twenty years, people are like, “This guy was on the right track.”