Robin Jackson

Robin Jackson m4thMusician, Songwriter, Facilitator and Social Architect

Robin Jackson has told fantastic cabaret tales with Vagabond Opera and blasted out the jams with The Marchfourth Marching Band and The Everyone Orchestra when not giving up the funk, teaching voice workshops, or belting out colorful originals with his own project, the Robin Jackson Band.

With a degree in ethnomusicology and an unflagging musical curiosity, Jackson has lived and busked around the world and is a master of a myriad of instruments.

He is also the co-founder and director of the Joy Now Arts Project, a dynamic youth program supporting the next generation of artists.  An award-winning songwriter, teacher, activist, and spirited impresario, Jackson has built on his colorful, bohemian upbringing and dedicated himself to creating and supporting music around Portland, OR where he lives on an urban farm with his cat and a circus.

My personal practice is….

I look at my whole life as a personal practice these days. I tend to be fairly disciplined with myself. When I really believe something is for my highest good, I’ll do it (or make a very sincere effort).  For the sake of this interview, I’ll talk about my physical/mental practice and my musical one.

First, my body and mind.  I begin most mornings by doing something physical. Usually 20-30 minutes of yoga, alone in my room. I do a minimum of 90 minutes of intentional, high energy physical movement a day, and each morning I decide what form that will be in. I go to the gym three to four times a week and dance or ride my bike.

For my mind, I write myself positive affirmations and put them above my desk, in my car and on my dresser. The statement “Our thoughts create our reality” pretty much sums up my personal philosophy and I think of that statement every day as I have it pasted onto my steering wheel.  I brain dump all of my big thoughts on a sheet of paper before bed and then in the morning, during my power hour, I make a big list of dreams and actions for the day and the week.

As a songwriter, I am always practicing. Even if I’m not actually at the piano, I’m thinking about it all day. I’m noticing situations, people, emotions and words that might make a good song and I sing, hum or speak them into my voice memos on my phone. I have about 200 memos right now. Writing is a practice. It takes work and dedication.

How did you discover your practice?

All of my practices stem from the same place: A desire to be an open, loving, healthy and alive human! I was raised on the left coast in a very open minded and alternative arts sort of community. My parents were hippies. “Yoga and meditation” was as common a phrase as “milk and cookies” for me growing up. So I was influenced and introduced to the importance of a healthy body/mind/spirit at a young age. I really got into Yoga when I was living in New Zealand on an intentional community and spent a lot of time doing it. I discovered the Gym by turning 30!

I found positive thinking by going to a bunch of personal growth seminars in my early 20’s and reading TONS of books by people like Wayne Dyer and Pema Chodron. This period of my life laid a big foundation for who I am.  As a songwriter, I really found the “practice” of it around age 26 when several close friends encouraged me to create a solo album. I’d been playing music all of my life and touring full time. It was time to focus on my own craft of it though at this time.

Why do you practice?

If I don’t do yoga or sweat for 30 min each day I am miserable (and then usually everyone else around me is, too)! The release of endorphins and muscle building and release is an essential ingredient for feeling good each day. I write songs because that is my mission on earth.  I like performing them and often feel like I don’t have a choice. It just comes through.

How frequently and for how long do you practice?

Physical movement every day, 90 minutes minimum.  I write songs when the muse is in the house OR if I start feeling the itch and then I’ll block out a chunk of time for it…like, a week.  I usually go through songwriting “phases” where it’s sort of this underlying mode I’m in and I’m sort of in a daydream with everything else in my life.  I have to be present and romance the song.

What’s something that gets in the way of your practice?

When it does, it’s usually because of some work situation or special thing I need to do for someone else, but not from lack of internal conflict.  It is a discipline to cull the negativities of my mind. And I usually slide on my positive affirmations and notes to self when I take on too much in my life.

Songwriting is the trickiest for me. It’s HARD to write songs a lot of the time. Laborious. So I don’t feel motivated often. As Dorothy Parker put it: “I hate writing, I love having written.” I relate, unfortunately. Who wants to dwell on the intricacies of a break up long after it’s over just to finish the %&*#!song?!

What supports you in staying committed to your practice?

The results. Hands down.

Same with my mind. When I care to it, I notice the difference in the results of my LIFE.

For songwriting, ahhh! I was having a hard time with this and I needed an actual accountability motivator, so I created an event called the Songwriter Soiree which is a regular gathering of songwriters who share and inspire each other. This event alone motivated me to write an entire album.

What role does your practice play in your work?

I’m a self-employed artist, so my daily practices are fully integrated into my work life.  I need to release tension in my body to have a clear mind, which will then help me to create the self-motivation, confidence and inspiration needed to create songs. Lately I’ve begun writing music for the Joy Now Arts Project marching band (the youth program I direct) which was a really refreshing outlet for my music.

Describe someone you know who’s practice inspires you.

The first person who comes to mind is my friend and bandmate Eric Stern (Vagabond Opera). He is a musician who really commits himself to his craft. He is a consummate songwriter and composer and has written so much music. And his dedication, self discipline and work ethic have much to do with it, I imagine (and his talent, of course). I have always admired his approach to his work and have wished to emulate that more in my daily practice.

A practice you’d like to explore is…

I’d love to commit to doing a free write at the beginning of each and every day, like in The Artist’s Way. I think that would be great for me and what I’m wanting in my life. I’d also really like to deepen my practice of partner dancing.

Anything else you’d like to share about practice…

Also, for individuals like me who are self-employed or have a lot of malleability and variation in their days, I find that having a consistent ritual of some sort is very helpful. It is great to give my mind and body something to come back to and build on over and over again. Otherwise I notice that I can lose track of reference points in my life. I get overwhelmed, and my health goes down.

I think a lot of people can scare themselves off with these huge commitments they seek to establish. I began with 10 minutes on my yoga mat a day. I’d set a clock. I began to notice I was craving an extra five minutes, so I made it 15. I kept it there until I stopped wishing to get off the mat. Now it’s 30 minutes and I crave 40…

And sometimes, it’s just about showing up and seeing what happens without expectation. I might grab my guitar and feel nothing for 10 minutes and stop, or fall asleep on my yoga mat. At least I got there. That’s all I’m committed to first and foremost. And it’s a good place to start.

Check out more on Robin and his musical adventures here and here and here.