One of the basic pillars TWM was founded on was using our voice to call attention to musicians doing their part to make the world better. Rob Jamner is one of the best examples of this. His song, “Never Again,” draws inspiration from current events, specifically the uptick in xenophobia in the United States. As the grandchild of two Holocaust survivors, he is doing his part to prevent history from repeating itself.
Please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about you.
My name is Rob Jamner. I am a songwriter and poet from Louisville, Kentucky. These days I live in Berkeley, California, and I perform my songs all around the Bay Area. I also work as an educator on an urban farm and as a guitar teacher. When I am not writing or practicing music, I like baking bread, hiking, and swimming.
When and how did you get started in music? When did you realize this is what you were meant to do?
When I was a kid, I thought everyone played a musical instrument. My parents are both professional musicians, and I grew up with the sounds of flute and piano echoing around the house. I picked up the cello when I was six years old. In middle school I switched over to guitar because I was starting to get into folk and rock music. I also began writing short stories and poems. It all came together in high school, when I realized I could combine my two favorite things — music and writing — in the form of songwriting.
How do you incorporate your influences into your sound in a unique way?
I approach songwriting as a lifelong learner. I listen to music in just about every genre, searching for songs that excite me and challenge me. When I start working on a new song, I try to give myself permission to be a beginner, to step outside of my comfort zone. I have always been interested in finding a balance between catchiness and sophistication. I want people singing along to my songs, but I also want to surprise them.
What does music mean to you?
Music is a powerful thing. Many songs have strong ties to memories, and when I listen to them it feels like I am traveling back in time. I turn to music when I am going through a period of depression. I also turn to music when I have a reason to celebrate. I started writing songs as a way to connect with other people, and that is still what keeps me going.
You have an EP, Holding Stones, coming out February 22, 2019. Tell us a little bit about that. What can we expect?
Holding Stones is a five-song EP that goes on a journey of healing. The first three songs follow characters trying to cope with different hardships, and the last two songs swell with compassion and gratitude. I recorded Holding Stones at Tiny Telephone studios in San Francisco over the course of seven days. It was my first time working in a professional recording studio, and I felt some anxiety about turning my songs into something permanent. Luckily, I had a wonderful team of musicians and engineers to support me through the process. You will find a wide range of music on Holding Stones. The second song, “Eventually,” is an angular jazz tune that thwarts expectations. The final song, “Traces,” is a mostly straightforward folk ballad. Everything else falls somewhere in between.
In the lead up to the Holding Stones, you’ve commissioned five video artists to create short films based on the songs. Where did this idea come from, and what are you hoping comes from presenting your music in such an uncommon way?
I love the idea that my art can serve as a prompt for other artists. For Holding Stones, I commissioned five video artists — Jesse Israel, Marica Petrey, Sair Goetz, Jared Swanson, and Andy Strong — to create short films inspired by my songs. Aside from a few guidelines, I gave them total creative liberty. It took a lot of trust on my end, but it really paid off. All of the video artists have become deeply invested in their projects, and I think the results are amazing. I hope that our works of art create a conversation with each other, turning into something more powerful than the sum of its parts.
You just released a video for your song “Never Again.” This song is beautiful, and it really hit home due to current events. What are you hoping to inspire with this call to action?
I hope that “Never Again” inspires people to stay vigilant, and to do whatever they can to support refugees. We are seeing an alarming trend of xenophobia in the United States. The lives of refugees are at stake. It’s easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed, but there are a lot of ways to effect change. We can to donate to organizations that support refugees. We can reach out to refugees in our communities. We can participate in local activism. We can vote for candidates who support refugees. Every act of compassion, no matter how small, makes a difference.
You are the grandchild of two Holocaust survivors, and I know “Never Again” is inspired by the scary parallels we’re currently seeing in the world. What would you say to someone denying those similarities?
I would point them to a 2015 article in the Washington Post called “What Americans thought of Jewish refugees on the eve of World War II.” According to the article, about two-thirds of Americans believed that the United States should deny entry to Holocaust refugees. Some people were worried about how the economy would be affected. Others feared that there might be Nazi spies among them. As a result, most Holocaust refugees were turned away from the United States and sent to their deaths. When we read about the Holocaust, we wonder if we would have done things differently, if we would have made the right choices, no matter how unpopular or dangerous they were. Right now, we have a chance to prove ourselves. Just like in the 1930s, we are facing a massive refugee crisis. Just like in the 1930s, xenophobia and isolationism are on the rise in the United States. We have to ask ourselves what we can do to break the cycle.
The proceeds from “Never Again” are being donated to the International Rescue Committee. How did you choose this group, and how can more people get involved?
There are a lot of organizations that do wonderful work with refugees. I chose the International Rescue Committee because it reaches refugees all around the world, and continues to support them as they resettle. The IRC is transparent about how it uses donations, and it is making a difference in a lot of people’s lives. You can go to their website, rescue.org, to make a donation.
Any final thoughts?
I think that just about covers it. Thank you for being so thoughtful with your questions!
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