An Interview With Portland-Based Singer-Songwriter JARROD LAWSON On New Music, Handling The Pandemic and More!
Meet the Portland-based singer-songwriter-pianist Jarrod Lawson! He delivered his sophomore album Be The Change last year on October 30th, via Dome Records. Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s renowned saying “be the change that you want to see in the world,” the triple threat utilizes his Soul and Jazz prowess to fashion a sincere yet lighthearted composition of songs pertaining to love, irreverence, and social commentary. Jarrod Lawson is accompanied by a talented band that benefits from the rhythmic presence of Grammy-nominated percussionist Sammy Figueroa and the feature of alternative R&B trio Moonchild.
Reminiscent of his debut self-titled album, Be The Change consists of eleven installments that span across several decades of his life. “I’ll Be Your Radio,” featuring Moonchild, was conceived after the creatives had a chance meeting and collaborated at numerous gigs in 2017. Meanwhile, Lawson’s offering “Universal Chord” was originally written fifteen years ago; he was inspired by his father’s theorization of the existence of a massive chord, which is formulated by the emissions of celestial bodies. Jarrod Lawson’s trademark layered harmonies and tenor vocal phrasing accentuate his stunning keyboard skills throughout his Jazz fusion arrangements, notably on the lead single “Be The Change,” in addition to “Universal Chord” and closing track “How Long.”
Speaking of his intentions with the album as a whole, Lawson says, “I wanted to say something that would resonate with people from all walks of life – to deliver a hopeful message that would rally the people behind the idea of holding ourselves accountable, that we might hand over to our children a better, more responsible, tolerant and compassionate world than we were given.” Growing up surrounded by music, Jarrod Lawson’s near obsession with the piano blossomed when he was thirteen, as he studied the masters from Chopin to Stevie Wonder. Years later, he received an Artist of the Year award from Jazz FM in the UK.
Connect With Jarrod Lawson Here: WEBSITE
Learn more about Jarrod Lawson in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! So what has this past year been like for you and your music? How are/did you get through the pandemic? Are things opening up now where you are? How do you feel about that? Did you get vaccinated yet?
This past year has been a trying one in many ways, but also, it has brought with it many rewards and things to be thankful for. My partner Evalee and I got together just before the pandemic hit, so when the quarantine was instituted and money was becoming a serious concern, we made the decision to move her into my place. As a result, the following months of global chaos ironically became a most precious time for us, taking care of each other, learning more about one another, becoming closer and more intimate, all while the world was seemingly burning to the ground around us. It was rather surreal and strangely romantic. In the end, 2020 was a year of deep personal transformation, a time of self reflection and an opportunity to courageously peer into the spiritual mirror, acknowledge toxic behaviors that have not been serving me, and put real intention behind ridding myself of them. This is not particularly fun work, but it is extraordinarily rewarding in the end.
Things here in Portland Oregon are almost back to normal. It’s really nice to see folks out and about, spending money, stimulating the local economy, and feeling safe to gather and socialize once again. Many musicians, including myself, are finally doing gigs here in town which has been such a wonderful and gratifying thing to experience after such a long hiatus.
What was it like putting out your sophomore album, “Be The Change” last year during the pandemic? Can you talk about being inspired by Mahatma Gandhi’s renowned saying, “be the change that you want to see in the world” to create the songs on this collection?
Releasing my sophomore album “Be The Change” to the world during a global pandemic was a bit of a frightening prospect, given the fact that touring, as you would normally do following a release, was simply not an option. The album has been very well received though, and given the circumstances, I couldn’t be happier with the reception it has gotten. To be honest, I think that folks are so ready to get their live music fix again that this delay is only causing a growing hunger, which will bode well for me in October when I finally return to Europe for my first post-covid tour.
Back in 2017, I received a phone call from the legendary Sammy Figueroa (who played percussion on much of the new album). We discussed the possibility of working on a project together. He had a dream to fuse my Soul/R&B/Jazz sensibilities with his Latin/Afro-Cuban/Jazz instincts. I loved this idea, and so I decided to invite him out to Portland to hang with me for a few days. I set up some congas in my living room, I got on the piano and we played around with a bunch of ideas. The original concepts for what would become “Be The Change” had already been in development prior to this, but it seemed the perfect time to roll it out and let Sammy put some sauce on it… haha. We shared the opinion that whatever we did together, the music should carry a really powerful message. At some point, the words “be the change” smacked me in the head. I just knew immediately that this was it. An inspiring, hopeful, universal, powerful message that could reach across cultural and racial barriers, a message that anyone could get on board with.
How did Michele Chiavarini get involved to remix your single “Be The Change”? What did you initially think of the treatment he gave the track?
Peter Robinson of Dome Records (my record label) reached out to a few different DJ’s before finding Michele Chiavarini. I think that we knew, as soon as we heard his work, that he was the right man for the job. Also, he was very much a fan of the music, which helps. To take a rather complex composition like “Be The Change” and adapt it to a four-on-the-floor house context, could go very poorly in the wrong hands. Michele, on the other hand, with his extensive knowledge of composition and arranging, approached the remix with a far better perspective than the average. He was extremely respectful to the original composition and I, quite honestly, think he did a fantastic job.
How would you say that “Be The Change” compares to anything else that you have released before? How is it different or similar to your debut album?
I think that “Be The Change” is a much more mature body of work than anything I have released before. Much has happened in my life since 2014 when I released my first record, and I feel like a much more evolved and seasoned human being than I was then. The musicianship on the album is also quite excellent. There are several undisputedly world-class musicians featured, and it has made the album so wonderfully rich and diverse. I think that there are a lot of similarities to my debut album, but I think that this record feels a bit more bright to me in general, whereas, my debut has a darker and more mysterious vibe to it.
What are some upcoming live performances that you are looking forward to now that concerts are slowly coming back? Where would you love to perform at? What do you think makes a perfect show for you?
I’m very excited to be making my way back to Europe in mid October. I have shows booked at the legendary Jazz Cafe in London, as well as several others scattered across the continent. I’m elated to get back out and reconnect with my international audience.
I would love to perform at Royal Albert Hall or the Sydney Opera House someday. Yep, I’m keeping my goals set high!
Ohh man… it takes a lot to make a perfect show. There are so many cogs, but each moving independently, so the probability for disaster is quite high…lol. I guess that’s actually one of the keys though, is to somewhat let go of that independence and surrender to a greater communal consciousness where you and your bandmates are thinking and moving as one.
Can you recall the moment when you thought you could be a musician? What do you think motivates you day in and day out?
Nah, not really. It was more of a slow and gradual realization for me. It took me a long time to believe in myself and my talent.
If you weren’t an artist today, could you see yourself doing anything else? What is something else interesting/funny you are good at?
I could see myself doing lots of things. Marine biology and conservation has always interested me. I could also see myself working in the Forestry Service, or just doing something related to nature. One odd and interesting skill I do have is working with stone. I spent the better part of a decade working as a stone mason here in Portland, many years ago. During that time, I had the privilege of contributing to several high visibility installations in the city, such as the “Fern Wall” at the Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden. It’s extraordinarily taxing, yet artistically engaging work that I take a lot of pride in.
What has been the biggest surprise so far about making music your career? What has been an unexpected or welcome challenge to it all?
The most surprising thing has been just how incredibly rigorous life is while out on the road. As it turns out, touring, particularly international touring is a monumentally taxing line of work. It’s not what everyone thinks it is…that we’re just out there having fun and raking in the cash…if only LOL. Reality looks more like… we’re getting 4 hours of sleep almost every night, not because we’re up partying, but because, after we finish tonight’s show, get back to the hotel by 1 AM or so, we have a 6 AM flight to who knows where, so we’re setting alarms for 3:30/4:00 AM, trying to scrape together some semblance of nutritional intake along the way, spend all day traveling, go straight from the airport to the next venue, sound check, hopefully eat again before the show, aaaaand repeat. It’s not for the faint of heart. And yet, even still, the rewards make it all totally worth it.
What do you think of the power of social media? How active are you on it all? Do you enjoy or have trouble keeping up with it all?
I find social media to be a bit of a tough one. I do use it, but only as much as I have to, for my own sanity. I certainly see the value of it as it pertains to the career of an artist like myself, and I do enjoy having a platform to keep in touch with certain friends and family, but I also think that these corporations have accrued a frightening amount of wealth and power, and should be used with caution and discernment.
At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
I want folks to feel uplifted after listening to my songs. I want their brains to be stimulated and excited. I want them to get chills, to cry, to laugh, to feel inspired and hopeful.