Smashing The Stereotypes, Bret Jackson Cares A Lot More Than You Think
2020-02-03 | by ANGELO DE CARTAGENA | MEGAMAN
IF HE HAD HIS WAY, OR THE ABILITY TO TURN BACK TIME, BRET JACKSON WOULD RATHER NOT GO THROUGH WHAT NOW STANDS TO BE A STANDARD RITE OF PASSAGE FOR MANY AN EARNEST AND EAGER INDUSTRY HOPEFUL—PINOY BIG BROTHER.
While it seems to be almost a lifetime ago at this awning of the new decade, a past chapter buried deep in the narrative, with frayed edges eating itself up in the passing of time, he certainly holds no grudge for the infamous yellow house tucked in the Lego-like complex of what is the country’s biggest and most successful multimedia conglomerate. If anything, this was where he first struck a bond with a stranger who would fast become his best friend, James Reid. That and for all things considered, this was his big break, something one could only so much as aspire to. “I think the only thing they really did for me was that it introduced me to this world that I had no idea about. I remember coming out of it being like, what’s an artista? What is this life?” he recalls of his early days in the ‘biz. “I never looked at it that way, because I was from Dumaguete, and I never even watched anything on TV. I just lived a really simple life, and I got thrown into something that I had no clue of. It just taught me a lot though, like, okay—this is what’s going on now, and I guess I’ll just try to like figure it out.” And figure out he did, alone for the most part, navigating the vast unknown with just a flickering source of light in hand, proverbial, of course.
Blue satin button down and trousers by FRANCIS LIBIRAN and gold rings by COLD GOLD
“When PBB happened, they were kind of putting me in this position where they thought they knew who I was and that I do this,” he begins, seemingly dusting off the files of his history he had long kept hidden. “I didn’t know what I was doing, you know? But I went with it.” This meant fitting into a mould made for him to fit into. It wasn’t a natural fit, naturally, but he was young and unaware, as someone is supposed to be at that stage of life. “They were like, okay, we want you to be Justin Bieber. We want you to love this song. We wrote it for you. I’m not saying I know better, but it didn’t feel like it was the thing that I loved so much. It felt different. It wasn’t it.”
BIG ISLAND DREAMS
A far cry from his space of existence in the soothing and still island of Dumaguete, a grasp of calm that he still holds close to his heart, this was where Bret Jackson learned a lot about life from, shaping dreams from the swirl of clouds on the clear blue sky, which peacefully co-existed with the rhythmic crashing of the sea on the shore. “I think the best thing I learned is that it didn’t matter where anyone was from or their upbringing, or what they had in life. It was more about who they were as a person,” he ruminates. “They wouldn’t treat each other any differently, and that’s the biggest thing that stuck to me. It was like, you can’t judge anyone or anything, just respect who’s around you. Even if you’re in a certain place, it doesn’t matter, as long as you have mutual respect for each other. That’s what I held on to.”
This was where he first picked up a guitar, at 14, or 15 to his best memory. “I would just play for hours and hours and hours in my room alone, but I wouldn’t let anyone in, wouldn’t let anyone hear it. I didn’t learn from anyone. I would just play and play and play. Then I would write music and then I started trying to make songs,” he details, orchestrating his lifelong love affair with music, something that was as he says was always with him. “I was just always around it, and I would just hear different things. Sometimes you hear a song and that meant something to you, because that happened during a time in your life. That is the beauty of music: it spreads messages, it spreads good memories or bad memories or sad memories, whatever—it’s just the human life and the human experience, and it’s done through the art of music. And I thought that was great. I always just loved it. I didn’t know what kind of role I would have in it, or even if I had one, because at the time, I’d be like, ‘Who am I to think: Oh, I need to be a musician?’”
But that’s just the thing, whatever that’s meant for you will figure itself into your life eventually, one way or another—even if that means that not being convinced to be worthy of it at all. With a gravity-like force pulling him closer and closer to the orbit of music happened to be in the written, one that would eventually evolve into a symphonic exposition that told his snippets, slices, and stories of life. “I’ve always loved writing. I consider myself a writer more than maybe a musician. Yeah, I love poetry, I love reading, and I started writing songs just about what I was going through as a teenager. You know, puppy love, all that kind of stuff,” he laughs. “That went on for a long time, and then one day, I got the courage to say, ‘Okay, I want to try out at Robinson’s Mall in Dumaguete, and join this thing, and maybe I can play on there, whatever.’ And then I tried and they said, ‘We will call you back.’ But things like that happened: I sang in front of my school, I joined different things, and I just started making music more.”
Looking back, everything he had to go through, which was a veritable eye-of-the-needle sort of thing compared to what the kids these days have access to, was something necessary—although he didn’t quite understand it then. “I guess maybe it was a hardship I had to endure. It was the time that I really got to see the inner belly of, you know, what it was and what the entertainment industry was, what the music industry was, because I had all these preconceived notions like, ‘I’d love to be a part of record label. I’d love to make a music video. I’d love to be in front of a crowd—that’s what I wanted, to share music. You have this idea of what it is, and then you get into it, it’s like, not that at all,” he mulls. “Maybe it had to happen in order for me to figure out that these are the things that are wrong. Coming into Careless now, it’s like, let’s avoid these things and cut out all the bullshit. Maybe, you know, we’re the sacrificial lambs. And then it got to the point where it really got to the point where it was like, Okay, now that I know all these things about the music industry, I’m with my friends that also have the same vision as I do…We kind of have a collective vision…Now what can we do?”
What they did became Careless, an independent music label captained by James Reid, where he stands as head of Artist & Repertoire, housing a diverse group of artists under their roof with musical roots from everything like trap, hip-hop, rap, and R&B. “This whole Careless thing happened like a beautiful accident. None of us knew anything of what we were doing, or anything, but we just knew that we wanted to change things. This is the thing that people get upset about, they always say, ‘You’re not the first people to do this.’ I know that, I really know that and I have so much respect for the OPM scene. There were so many great musicians before us like, the Philippines is so full of great music—it’s amazing,” he explains. “The pain in my heart has always been, why aren’t we as big as these other countries? It’s not the talent thing. We have the talent, it’s crazy…and amazing singers and dancers and writers and everything. Even if everyone started a movement, great, we will do it, too. It doesn’t matter what arrow hits, as long as one does, you know? We need people to break through. We need to make this movement happen because the Filipinos deserve it, as a people and this is close to their heart. It makes sense. This is all I think about, all day every day.”
On James Seafoam oversized suit with acrylic chains by FRANCIS LIBIRAN; On Bret Blue satin button down and trousers by FRANCIS LIBIRAN, and all gold chains and rings by COLD GOLD
Bret Jackson can go on and on about the work that they do, and of course, the music that he loves. Over the course of our conversation, he forcibly stops himself from talking; explaining how he gets so caught up that he often gets derailed in his own thoughts. There’s nothing to apologize for, we reason, adding that if we had our way, we would just sit here, watch him roll out his blueprint for the label he’s focused on, listening to him ramble on and on about this thing that he’s not only extremely excited for, but incessantly passionate about.
“All I want to do is let people create what they want, but also be able to make a living out of it. It’s a dream, but can be a reality. It can be,” he reiterates as if it were a repetitive hook playing out in a song until it fades out. “The only way to show people can be done is to do it yourself—and we have been. I mean, look at Korea. How many jobs could we create, how much could the industry go on with just pure talent of everyone? Some are saying, don’t soil the art. Yeah, but how about we eat also, and take care of our families? It’s not about selling out. Everyone wants to talk about fighting the system, which is true—and I believe that with all my heart. I don’t believe it’s a good system that we live in the whole world, but you live in it. And I’ve always said; try to Robin Hood this system. You have to learn how to play in the system you’re in and play it to help everyone else around you, and maybe if we play it well, we can get big enough to call the shots, and then maybe change it. I’d love that, but right now, all I want to do is try to break into this system and bring out all the gold and give it to everyone else.”
It’s a defiant act of subversion, circumventing the status quo with enough lashings of irreverence to cut through, giving other people a chance to tell their stories, singing their voices out until it goes hoarse. Sure, it will get scratched and worn to exhaustion, but at least they put it out there. “My favorite shows and artists have always gone on stage and died on stage,” of course, this isn’t qualified in the literal sense, people. “They give everything of themselves and they’re there to give a good show to the people. It’s for them too, but it’s for the crowd, really. I always believe a good show should have messages in it. People should go home and not just enjoy the music, but going home with faith in humanity again. I feel like that’s the whole reason we do this—It should be,” he affirms. “A lot of my music just talked about where it was at a certain point in my life. My first album, Island City Poems, was about being drowned inside Manila. I felt like living on an island, but I never see the ocean and I don’t feel the breeze. Literally, it was being imprisoned in the city, but I was talking about is being confined to this artista life,” he shares. “I had so many bad qualities coming from who I was inside. I wasn’t good to myself. Looking back at it, I wasn’t the person that I wanted to be, and I can reflect on that now. In the culture we live in now, it’s like no one’s allowed to make mistakes; No one’s allowed to be human. Sometimes you have to be that and you come out the other side and you want to be something better. That’s what it became, it’s just like my music, I want it to evolve to a point where my message is something people will really listen to. One thing is for sure, I will just want to speak the truth all the time, that way, the words and all that music will be there forever.”
In this premise of permanence through music, Bret Jackson is immortalizing his story of survival, one that follows the swell of success and the settlement of struggles. Tracing it from his crazy childhood being thrown around the government system, his troubled teenage years, figuring out a formative fraction of his life all on his own, “I felt like a survivor then, and I still do,” he says. Even in his music, the skirmishes and scuffles do not cease despite a determination to endure. “When it got to the music point, which was the thing I love the most, it was so hard to get respect from the heroes I look up to the most. It hurt, but just recently, one just sent me a message after listening to one of my songs, where I go to this really deep thing at the beginning of it, and he was like, I completely understand you now.”
At the end of the day, that is all there is to it, however we choose to manifest our expressions, it all boils down to the fact that we just want to be unequivocally understood. When you really simmer on it, there you realize that this is actually the whole point of the human experience and existence. Compelled to comprehend each other, we will eventually get, assures Bret Jackson. “Maybe people will look back and be like, well, he might have not always done the best thing, but he tried. I think that’s all we can do as humans is try,” he contemplates. “All these hardships, you can’t let any of that get in the way. Yeah, take the time to feel the pain and hurt, but don’t let that be the deciding factor of what defines you or defines what you’re going, how you’re going to treat people, and how you’re going to live your life. It is going to feel like a gigantic weight on your shoulders, but that’s just what it is. You can let it weigh on you, or you can try your best to be a survivor and get through it. Maybe it doesn’t get better, but you gotta try and try and try, and that’s all there is, eventually you’ll see the light.”
It might be a long time coming, and Bret Jackson understands, but it is a moment coming. In the meantime, the hustle continues—spitting rhymes, dishing truths, and making a difference, not with less of a care, but a whole lot of it, because this time, for the man behind the music, it matters a whole lot like life itself. –ARDC