Interview: Jonathan Brinkley

I understand that your current dream is to be a “rock star.” Is this still accurate? 

Well, “rock star” is really just shorthand for wanting to be free to do what I want, to create, to share my creativity with the world, to follow the moment. But yes, that’s my dream.

When did you first decide on that dream? 

A couple of years ago, when I was a taxi driver in Portland, I had an epiphany: I realized I’d been waiting for the right moment to pursue my wildest vision of myself, and suddenly all my excuses vanished. I decided then and there that I would do whatever it took to make my whole life about music, travel, and inspiration.

How far along the path do you believe you are right now?

Sometimes I feel like I’m right on the verge, and my dream is right around the bend. Other times, it feels very far away. But often, I recognize I’m already here. I have not worked a “day job” for more than 2 years, and that makes me feel very free indeed. It’s definitely all a matter of perspective.

How long have you been a musician?

I have been singing since I can remember. I was born into a musical family, with my Mom and stepdad in a country cover band. It was this strange combination of going to church and singing “Jesus Loves Me” on Sunday morning, then hearing the band’s rendition of “Jose Cuervo” that night. It was a well-rounded upbringing.

There were different types of choirs throughout church and school, I started teaching myself to play piano when I was around 7, and guitar came later, around 19. I wrote my first song at 16.

What fears did you have to overcome to get where you are today? How have you gone about overcoming them?

The fear of not being good enough, not being worthy of the attention and appreciation of others, has pervaded my performing life. I’m still very much affected by it, but so much less so than when I was younger. It held me back from even admitting what I wanted to myself, let alone an audience. It is only in the last couple of years that I have had the courage to embrace my dreams in a way that leads to direct action. There was that moment two years ago when it finally occurred to me that I was in a holding pattern, and it would take a large leap of faith to break free from it. I decided I would do the things that propelled me towards my dream, no matter how uncomfortable. I decided that the gift I have to give the world is worthy of celebration. I decided to stop relating to the hard work necessary for success in the music business as a burden, and start treating it like the dream job I’ve always wanted.

Besides fear, what other obstacles have you had to overcome? How did you get past them?

I think all obstacles probably boil down to fear of one sort or another, but one has been the very loud voices in our culture that tell us that artists are destined to fail, and that making a living with music is about drudgery and “paying one’s dues”. That kind of thinking drives people to drink. Maybe it makes a good blues or country song, but it doesn’t make an artist happy. Our inner artists (we all have them) are playful children, and what we are creating should feel primarily like playing.

Another obstacle has been the absence of adequate music venues in our society. Traditionally, music is offered in bars and clubs. Often smoky, noisy places full of distractions and anonymity, they are more focused on the sale of alcohol than creating a magical musical experience. I have dedicated most of my energy to playing house concerts as an alternative to that world, and have been greatly rewarded for it. People are so much more attentive, they get the subtle nuances of what they’re hearing, and we make a real connection. I’m convinced there is no better way to experience music, for the audience or for the artist.

What is most rewarding to you so far about your journey toward rock stardom?

The fact that I took a great risk–quitting my job and beginning to travel–and it has paid off. I told myself one day, “I will do whatever it takes to live as an artist. Not as a cab driver who is also a musician, not as a food server that’s in a band, but someone who lives and breathes their passion.” And then I acted on it. I quit cab driving and dedicated myself to touring and the production of a new CD. Since that day, circumstances have continually aligned to help me sustain my new way of life.

What is, or has been, the hardest part for you?

It seems to me that my successes come in waves, or bursts. Those times are very exciting, and it feels as though my dream is so close I can taste it. But between the waves, I can get very discouraged. Almost to the point of giving up. Almost. But there’s always a strong, still voice in me that knows it’s all worth it. It’s my dearest wish to hold my dream lightly, and not clutch it.

What has been most surprising to you about it?

Most surprising has been the swiftness and completeness with which great things happen when I am feeling excited and aligned with my vision. To the degree that I have stayed positive, envisioning the future that I want instead of the one I don’t want, I have watched in awe as one success after another manifested.

My tour in Europe last year is such a glowing example of this. For months I talked about all the fantastic things that would happen there. I made vision boards. I meditated on experiences I was calling forth. And I leapt with no idea how it would all work. My partner Jen and I found ourselves in Rome with one gig. And with every step we took after that, the path unfolded beneath our feet, so that three months later we returned home with a lifetime of beautiful stories to tell.

Without needing to share any specifics, of course, how are you feeling about the financial end of things? Are you able to support yourself financially by doing your music full time? What other ways have you supported yourself financially along your journey? What were some of your most and least favorite aspects of these other kinds of work?

What I learned on tour is that I can support myself financially if I keep moving. Gas is cheaper than rent, and it’s easy to book a gig on the road every other night. Between touring stints, I have done a bit of work on various organic farms as a supplement. (I actually love farming, and have often held it as a secondary dream. One day, when travel loses its luster, I’d love to move to the country and grow my own food.) The only drawback is that farming usually happens in rural areas with little connectivity to the fast-paced world of networking, so my performance schedule tends to decline during those periods. What I love dearly about farm life is that it is quiet enough that my writing truly flourishes. I wake up, feed the animals, make a simple breakfast, and a flow of creativity begins. I often have the time to follow that flow until some song, or poem, or other creative idea blooms. I’m so grateful for those times.

My current dream is to settle here in Portland, so I’m looking at my options. I teach voice, piano, and guitar lessons, and feel confident that with a little creative scheduling, I can balance that business with touring. I’m also looking into designing my own vocal and songwriting workshops!

What are your next challenges at the moment?

My biggest challenge right now is gathering momentum for my upcoming Kickstarter campaign to fund my next album. I’ve been traveling and working outside of Oregon, and it can be hard to to get my motivation up to steam once I’m home. Now that I think of it, though, it’s mostly my own impatience that’s in my way. The only deadline I have to meet is my own, and that’s a blessing. But I can be so hard on myself for not meeting it! Two things seem true to me: That in order to fulfill my dreams, I must respect them enough to keep my word to them. On the other hand, stressing out about the whens and hows only dampens my enthusiasm and resolve.

Any words of wisdom or parting thoughts to readers who want to follow their dreams?

Whatever entity made us, creating is what it built humans for. Whatever you’re dreaming up, no matter how outlandish or far off it may seem, it’s that universal spark of genius working in you, through you. Give it the honor it deserves. Whether you consider it “artistic” or not, it is. Do something today that moves you a little closer to your dream, and then do something else tomorrow, and the next day too.

Where can people hear your work, online, via CD, or in person? 

All are welcome to visit my website, to get music, performance dates, blogs, or to keep in touch. Also, good ol’ facebook:

2 thoughts on “Interview: Jonathan Brinkley”

  1. Maren and Jonathan, this is a beautiful, thoughtful interview! Thank you for sharing it. I am inclined to make it a part of Jonathan’s press kit…what do you think? Maren, thank you for following your curiosity and your own creative unfolding here. I appreciate the question, “what fear did you have to overcome..” and the more intimate and bold question about how he is making it happen financially. Jonathan your response, “I decided the gift I have to give the world is worthy of celebration,” is an inspiration. Thank you both.

    1. Thank you so much, Jen! I would love it if this were a part of Jonathan’s press kit; do it! I’m so excited that he reached his Kickstarter goal and will be making this new music to enrich us all. Thanks and love to you both.

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