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Jake Wesley Rogers
October 27, 2021

Songwriting, Storytelling, and Dropping Keys

with Jake Wesley Rogers

On this episode of Unlocking Us

In this deeply special episode, I’m talking with singer-songwriter, activist, and artist Jake Wesley Rogers, whom I discovered on TikTok. It was love at first listen—and I mean, I fell madly, truly, deeply in love with him and his art, as well as how it made me feel, how it made me dance, and how it made me sing. He takes me to church. His songs are relatable and universal, he is pure light and love, and I cannot wait for you to hear this conversation.

Transcript

Brené Brown: Hi, everyone. I’m Brené Brown and this is Unlocking Us. And oh my God. I have such a deeply special episode for you today. I’m talking with singer, songwriter, activist, artist, Jake Wesley Rogers, someone I discovered on TikTok. I mean, fell in love, madly, truly deeply in love with him and his art, and how it made me feel and how it made me dance, and how it made me sing. I cannot wait for you to hear this conversation.

BB: Before we get started, let me just tell you a little bit about Jake. He is again, a singer, songwriter, activist, storyteller, artist. He has been inspired by the authenticity and artistry of his heroes, like Lady Gaga, Stevie Nicks, Florence and the Machine. He is a poet and a lyricist. His songs are relatable and universal. He’s just… He’s light. He’s light. Is that the right word, Barrett?

Barrett Guillen: Yes. He’s light. He’s love. He’s joy. He’s happiness.

BB: And he’s sorrow, and he’s pain, and he’s truthfulness, and… Oh, yeah, everything about him. He’s just a poet. In 2020, hit songwriter Justin Tranter signed him to his imprint at Warner Records, and his music has just blown us all away. He had millions of streams right out of the gate. His debut song, “Middle of Love,” oh, I could sing it for you right now, but I won’t, immediately started conversation among audiences, peers, and the press. It paved the way for his debut album Pluto, which has been led by the single, “Weddings and Funerals.” Oh, God, yeah. I just, I can’t even say enough, y’all. He has sold out bicoastal dates on his 2021 headline tour well in advance. He has graced the stages of Lollapalooza, all kinds of music and arts festivals, and Tony, Emmy, and Grammy award winner Ben Platt has hand-picked him to open his 2022 tour. So y’all, just let the goodness shine on your face today because this is Jake Wesley Rogers.

BB: So every now and then I come across an artist or a thinker, and I think to myself, “I’m just glad I’m alive the same time this person is alive,” and that’s what I think about you.

Jake Wesley Rogers: Thank you, Brené. [chuckle] Thank you so much. This is so surreal. Immediately when you posted on Instagram, I called my mom, but she was already asleep because I was in LA and she was in Missouri, and I just kind of sat in my car and cried, so. [laughter]

BB: Oh. Yeah, no. I watched your TikToks and your Reels, and I follow you on Instagram. And finally I was like, “Okay, I’m just going to reach out, and it’s going to be so weird, but I’m going to do it anyway.” Yeah, so. Hi.

JR: Well, hello. It’s such an honor. So thank you for reaching out. [chuckle]

BB: Okay, so I’m really excited about this first question because it’s where we always start. Will you tell us your story?

JR: Yes, and I knew you’d ask that. [chuckle] And I still don’t know where to begin, but I was born in Missouri, in the heart of the Bible Belt. And I have a brother and my mom works in radio, so I was going to a lot of concerts as a kid. Always around music, and I was pretty obsessed with art from a young age. I was kind of the one that would put on shows in the living room, like put on a Britney Spears DVD and just dance for my family. [chuckle] It was pretty clear who I was, but the Bible Belt didn’t affect that part of me at all.

BB: God, praise God.

JR: Literally, praise God. And I loved visual art as a kid. I loved painting and drawing and that sort of side, and I quickly got into theater. I think my parents didn’t really know what to do with all of my energy, my yearning to be on stage, so luckily, they were smart and put me in theater.

BB: What age were you when they put you in theater?

JR: Like, seven, seven. I was a lost boy in Peter Pan. [chuckle]

BB: Oh, wow. Yeah, no. Like, that’s a critical age. What did they make of your talent when you were little? What did they make of your talent and who you were and who you wanted to be and when you came alive? What were their thoughts about that?

JR: They were always ready to drive me anywhere, to take me anywhere, and it really, it kind of affects me in a deeper way now, just knowing the sacrifice of driving 30 minutes to the city. They would get home from work at 5 PM. They would drive me to rehearsal at 6 PM. I’d have rehearsal for four hours. They’d go back home and then they’d come back and pick me up. And thinking about that now is just mind-blowing, the sacrifice of that, but it was so crucial to me because I think the theater saved me in a lot of ways as a young gay person in Missouri to be around other people like me. A lot of people ask me, “What was it like to grow up like you there?” And I think because I had that safety net, there were still those things, but I always had the people. I always had the people like me where I didn’t really feel othered. I’d go to school and I’d feel othered, but I always knew at night, I had that to look forward to. Yeah.

BB: Okay, so you go into theater, seventh grade. I want to know everything. [chuckle]

JR: Theater, seventh grade, and that was… That was an interesting time because that’s when I realized I was gay, and it sort of blew up at first because I was messaging this boy on Facebook at the time, who was also at the theater and my parents saw the messages, and it was a complete shock. It was a complete tidal wave. I think a lot of things have changed since then. That was 2008, and the progress we’ve made is miraculous, and I think at the time, my parents didn’t think you would know that at that age. And that was kind of one of my earliest memories of like, “Oh, I feel different” and not in a good way and not in a safe way, and that’s actually kind of when I started writing songs.

JR: I was listening to so much like Lady Gaga and Adele and Regina Spektor, these kind of outspoken, eclectic artists and I was kind of forced back in the closet for a few years, but in my art and in my music, it was always this safe place. And I think because my parents, they grew so much in that time, but they also always respected me as an artist and for some reason, I was able to tell them things in music that I wasn’t really able to tell them in real life, so I think songwriting kind of saved me during that time. Yeah.

BB: Wow, yeah, no, a place to put your heart. Yeah.

JR: Yeah. A safe capsule because I think I heard Alanis Morissette say songwriting is cathartic, but it’s not healing. And I think what she meant by that is, it’s this release. It’s this otherworldly feeling. We’ve all felt it when we’re listening to it or making it, but it doesn’t heal, it doesn’t really do all the work, the work kind of comes after, and songwriting for me has always kind of been that, it sort of feels like a premonition sometimes. For instance, I can write a break-up song a year and a half before breaking up with someone, and then I look back and I’m like, “Oh, I guess that’s how I feel. I guess that’s how I felt then. It took my ego a while to get there.”

BB: Is it prophetic sometimes? Are you like, “Oh shit”?

JR: It does feel that way, but it also kind of feels like a useless magic because it’s not like I do anything with it. I write the song and it feels really good, and then it takes the therapy and the meditation, and the living and everything to actually actualize it. So I think that’s why music for me is so mysterious because it’s almost like it exists somewhere else.

BB: I think that’s true. I think maybe it exists on a different plane, because sometimes when I listen, when I listen to your music, I go somewhere that’s otherworldly. Mostly to a place that I want to live, when I listen to your music.

JR: Thank you. That’s all I want and that’s what I found so many times. I remember listening to Lady Gaga in middle school, and my mom would take me to the concerts and we’d be all dressed up. In that place, I could be whoever I wanted to be, and that’s the freedom of it and that’s truly what I’m interested in as a creator. Through your work, I have learned and now I’ve seen firsthand that any time I’m honest and authentic and true, it just opens up this Pandora’s box of beauty, of people who don’t have the same story, but obviously have the same story and it’s pretty miraculous.

BB: It’s like everything you say, I could just make into a quote that I need to really examine for a long time as a researcher, like, “People that were not the same as me, but were clearly the same as me”. When I listen to your music, I say, “Oh, he’s singing to me, he knows” and I’m like your mom, I could be your mom, I’m probably older than your mom, but I’m like, “He’s trying to tell me something, he’s telling me to let go of this thing,” and it is miraculous and it is a “mystery that I think should never be revealed.” Music.

JR: I agree, I totally agree. I think one of the most profound examples I’ve found recently of this is, I get messages definitely from people who either are gay or trans, or some sort of experience that’s a little more aligned with mine. But a couple of months ago, I got this message from this person and he heard my song “Jacob From the Bible” I think just on Spotify or something. I’m paraphrasing, but he basically said, “I heard your song on a playlist and I thought it was a beautiful song, and then I listened to it again later and I realized it was a gay love story,” and he was currently in the fundamental Christian mindset.

JR: I’ll never forget what he said. He said, “It made me ask the question: How could something so beautiful be so evil?” And yeah, I still get chills when I think about it, because that person, before he heard that song, literally thought I was evil, and I never made that song for someone like him. But it reached him and it made me think of these cages that we put ourselves in. I was in the closet, I was in that cage, this person was in the religious cage, and I think it’s kind of the job of the artist to just drop keys, just to leave a key. That’s what I feel like I’m trying to do, you don’t have to pick it up. You don’t even have to acknowledge it, but if you want it, it’s there. And I’m trying to figure out what cage I’m in because I’m still in one. I know, I am. We all are.

BB: Yeah. And I think sometimes we’re in cages of our own making. There’s definitely reality, there’s definitely homophobia and heterosexism, and this incredibly violent anti-trans stuff that we’re in right now, and then there are cages of our own making. I know Laverne Cox and I talk often about perfectionism as a cage. You drop keys in so many ways.

JR: And you drop keys. You’ve given me some big, beautiful keys, [laughter] some hefty ones.

BB: Keys. It’s so incredible to me how you distinguish catharsis from healing because I think we lose so many people and I lose myself sometimes, in thinking that the catharsis moment is the heavy lift of healing and transformation, but it’s just the portal to the work.

JR: Exactly. Yeah.

BB: Like you’re saying, it doesn’t take you through the messiness, through the hardness, through doing the therapy, it’s an amazing insight from you.

JR: It has become apparent over and over again, it’s like the catharsis is almost the gift, it’s the Aha, but it doesn’t do the work, it’s like that, maybe the catharsis is the key in a way. It’s leading us to what we need to do, the hard shit, the coming out again at 16 and saying I am gay and my parents saying, “We know, we love you. We’re here” and it just… It takes courage, I guess. As you know, as we know.

BB: Yeah, it’s like vulnerability and courage to use the key, then vulnerability and courage to walk through the door, and then vulnerability and courage to stay on the other side of, give me a fucking break, like, can you just gave me a magical moment? Do you know what I mean?

JR: Can I just live outside for a little bit? Can I have no walls for a while?

BB: Yeah, no walls for just a brief second maybe. Tell me about high school. There’s a line in one of your songs that tells me a lot about high school.

JR: Do you want to know how much I didn’t like high school?

BB: Yeah.

JR: I didn’t finish high school. I homeschooled my last two years.

BB: Right on.

JR: Yeah, my friends joked about that lyric because they’re like, “You didn’t even go to high school,” they’re like, “How can you hate something that you didn’t do?” And I was like, “Well, I tried it and I just, I didn’t like it.” But high school is interesting in a lot of ways because when I was 15, I was on America’s Got Talent and that was like this burden gift. That’s the word I’ll use in a way, because when I was that age, I thought that that was my way to success, I thought I need to do one of these shows to do that, and obviously my parents were like, “Yes, let’s go, let’s audition” and I ended up making it on the live shows and it’s one of those things where… Once I was done with it, I went back to Missouri and everybody in my small town, they’re like, “Oh my God, you made it, you’re doing it.” And then on the inside, and I didn’t have the words for this yet, but I was feeling shame, I was feeling like… I was feeling shame that I didn’t go further, I was feeling shame that I did it at all, I was feeling shame that I put myself out there, that I’m back in Missouri and I thought that all my dreams were going to come true, it was just this weight of shame, but I did learn one very important thing.

JR: And that was that this road, any quick fix is never going to be the path. The path is very narrow and those things don’t lead to where I want to go. And I’m glad I learned that so young. It was hard to learn that so young and I even feel a little silly complaining about it because it was a beautiful opportunity. But I came back at 15 and I was like, “Oh, Jake was on TV. Jake’s doing this,” and then I stopped going high school and just homeschooled, and I think I’ve really committed though then to this path of the artist. I don’t think I knew that. I don’t think I knew that that choice I made then was like, “Okay, that didn’t work, but I think I know what can… This is going to be a really, really long road,” and it has been. It has been. So high school, it was interesting in that way, but I did that and I also dated… My first real relationship was with a preacher’s son which…

BB: Well, wow. Yeah.

JR: That’s a whole nother podcast. But it was like this clandestine experience with Jake doing music and it was really a hard, confusing time, so… Yes, to quote myself, I really fucking hated high school.

BB: The lyric stands.

JR: The lyric stands, yes.

BB: And I just want to validate, not that anybody or anything needs it, but you don’t have to go to high school to know that you fucking hate high school.

JR: It’s something.

BB: What a volatile mix of shame and insecurity, and meanness and armor and… Yeah, I remember going to my 30-year reunion. And my husband was like, “Do you want me to go with you?” And I said, “No, I don’t even know how long I’m going to stay. I just, I need to go… ” because it’s like a river. I thought there was this big river behind our house but then when I saw it as a grown-up, it was like a little creek, and I’m thinking maybe it wasn’t as hateful and terrible as I thought, so I just need to go and reality check, maybe that rushing river is just a creek. And so I went to my high school reunion, and I was there for 30 minutes and I came home and he’s like, “What do you think?” And I was like, “It was a big raging river of shit, it was exactly what I thought. I was there.”

JR: Oh my God.

BB: And then made up I guess what your experience was like, I had physical safety in high school because I just was kind of like everybody else, just miserable on the inside, and I thought, wow, what about this experience, and you have no physical safety, emotional safety? And so yeah, your words are powerful.

JR: You know, your story just reminds me that those experiences are always within us, we can be 30 years outside of high school, and you’re just triggered, you’re triggered right back to it. And I think I got sort of a pass in high school because I was the one that did music, because I think people I’ve learned are okay with you being different as long as you’re entertaining or as long as you are giving them something. And I think my flamboyancy, all of that fashion, it was given a pass for the most part because I could sing and I could sing the national anthem at the volleyball game, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. All of that, I sort of found my way to fit in…

BB: Yeah, and as long as you were in service of other people.

JR: Yes, Exactly.

BB: That’s really powerful and really maybe its own form of violence, I guess, in some ways, do you know what I mean?

JR: Perhaps yeah, that you have to make yourself a commodity if you’re different, instead of just being different, and I think that’s a lot what I was exploring in these songs I just put out was really embracing that. Because that’s the joke, that’s how funny it is that we all feel like that, even the boy wearing Abercrombie and boat shoes felt that, and so even though they looked at the same, they didn’t feel the same, I’m assume… Maybe they did. I’m sure there are some people that do, but I’m not friends with them.

BB: Yeah, I’ve never met a person that didn’t have a cage. So…

JR: Yeah.

BB: But some people deal with their cages maybe by deciding that they’re going to spend their lives dropping keys, and other people deal with their cages through rage and making sure other people are more caged than they are, I think that’s…

JR: Right, throwing away their keys.

BB: Yeah, yeah. Hiding keys. Yeah, tell me about the first time you saw Justin Tranter.

JR: Oh. [laughter] I mean, I can start crying thinking about that. I was in London, writing actually all these songs, I was writing Pluto and whatever, and I got this DM from Justin, which blew my mind because Justin Tranter, if anyone doesn’t know, is an incredibly, incredibly powerful and successful songwriter and activist, you’ve heard his songs. You may not who his name is, but you have heard his songs and…

BB: You can sing along to his songs, whether you know him or not.

JR: Yeah, exactly, and I actually saw his band open for Lady Gaga when I was 13. He was in a glam rock band called Semi Precious Weapons. So that’s kind of where it began and then fast forward 10 years and I get this message from this person I really admire and he had heard my song “Jacob From the Bible” and he was just saying he loved it, and I was like, “Okay, good,” kind of like when you messaged me, I was like, I was happy with you not knowing who I was, but this is cool. [laughter] I was very happy being a passive bystander and enjoying your work, but this is great.

JR: But it turns out he had just started a label, a record label and I didn’t even know that. And when you asked the first time I saw him, this is one of the most humbling moments in my life, because I was so nervous to meet him and to write with him. I remember I went to Starbucks near his house an hour before I was supposed to meet with him because I was just so nervous to be late or it’s one of those moments where like, “Oh, something happened with the calendar, it was actually right now,” I was like, I’m not going to do that. And I remember, I put on a little playlist… I don’t think I’ve ever even told him this. I put on “Rolling in the Deep” and then probably “Edge of Seventeen” or something and…

BB: Oh yeah.

JR: And I just walk in, and I remember he opened up his big beautiful door, and he just put his arms up and that moment really changed my life, really changed my life.

BB: I have goosebumps.

JR: Yeah. It’s hard to put into words the feeling of, “Thank you, God, thank you universe for bringing us together” because I was writing on my own. I was… At that time, I hadn’t… Really no proof, I didn’t really feel like I had any proof of what I was doing was good or meaningful or whatever, and he kind of met me with all his power and his force, and said, “No, you’re going to do this, and we are going to tell your story because there are gay rock stars and pop stars,” and someone listening to this might be able to correct me, but almost none of them have been out from the beginning, it’s only once they’re too big to fail, it’s only once they have a massive song where no one can deny them. And I think that’s kind of the next step is to be able to be us from the beginning. So I think that’s something that he’s really encouraged me to do and it’s something that he ran into a lot of trouble with, with his band, he was telling me he didn’t get to play in any late night shows because he was just too femme, too whatever, all this stuff, and it’s like, “Okay, but we get to do this now, so let’s not mess this up.”

BB: I feel so much hope when I hear that and I feel so much grief when I hear that, about a world where you have to have the wind at your back to be who you are versus the wind is at your back because you are who you are. Do you know what I mean?

JR: Mm. And maybe it is the latter. Maybe that is there, but a lot had to change first, people had to pave the way.

BB: Yeah, it’s the macro example of the catharsis plus the work, you know what I mean? It’s like we had moments in history where we confronted our heterosexism and our homophobia, but then there were decades of the work. Yet, I see you now and I think that’s why when I see you, not only am I completely transported by your music, your music is so emotional, Right? Is that fair characterization?

JR: That’s me, baby, yeah. Yes.

BB: It’s so emotional, like when I… I don’t know if it’s because I saw your TikTok, but when I sing it, I’m not just “Hate on me,” I’m like, “Hate… ,” I’ve got my fists up and then I put my head down, and then I come back up like this with my hands in the air, and like, “You might as well hate on the sun… ” You know what it is for me?

JR: What?

BB: Ironically?

JR: What?

BB: Church.

JR: Oh my God.

BB: Your music is church.

JR: Now I’m crying…

BB: Church of love.

JR: Church of love. That’s one of the best affirmations because church, for so many, has not been that. And I think that’s what church is, is coming together to get to the heart of the matter and to feel something deeper.

BB: Yes.

JR: And I’d love for music to be that. Music has been that for me for so long and it empowers me in a way… I remember just being a little kid and always feeling so shy, I think back to being a little kid and I felt like I was like a little monk, but then I’d step on stage and it’s… It gives us wings and that’s all I want, that’s all I want is just to drop some keys and build some wings.

BB: Yeah. You’re doing it, man. You really are. I’m a faithful, spiritual person. I’ve got a great relationship with God, a questionable relationship with church, but I see God in you. When you are in your full power and you’re singing those words and you’re telling those stories, that is a spiritual experience.

JR: Thank you. Thank you. I don’t know… I’m just going to pause. I’ve got nothing to say…

BB: Yeah. It is, and I’m in full hallelujah praise mode when I’m singing along with you, so it’s not pretty, but it’s real.

JR: Well, it’s funny because I feel like when I wrote that chorus, “Hate on me,” I started laughing because I was turning to the person I was writing with and I was like, “Is that the stupidest thing I’ve ever said?” it was doubt because I was like, to say, “Hate on me,” and then he’s like, “No,” but I was afraid in that moment, I felt it so much I think that I was afraid to say that. I was afraid to be that bold and that whatever self-lovey or loving, really because I hadn’t felt it before, and I think in writing too, the times where I’m sort of kind of laugh or I’m surprised are usually, those are the best moments. That’s catharsis.

JR: I never thought I’d write a song that said, “hate on me” in it, I can put that on as sort of some armor. If I get any comments or whatever, it’s like, “No, you might as well literally hate the sun,” like that is how foolish it is to pass judgement onto someone else, is by hating the thing that gives us light, so.

BB: I swear to God, I should’ve not shaved my legs today because I’ve got goosebumps for like the fifth time, there was no point in it this morning at all, even though I was trying to look spiffy for you. I’ve got that lyric a lot as a shame researcher, “Hate on me, hate on me, hate on me, hate on me. You might as well hate the sun shining just a little too bright.” Fucking, that’s church. Sorry.

JR: Let’s go to church!

BB: It is. Well let me ask you this. Who inspired you? Who took you to church? Who took you to that place when you were young, listening to their music? Which artist took you… Transported you to what was possible?

JR: I’ve talked about her a lot. But Gaga did, Gaga did for me. It was her ugliness, not her being… She’s beautiful, but just her embracing of those ugly things of the darkness and the thing that makes you different and singing about that. I remember hearing “Born This Way” for the first time and I was like, oh my God, I get to live in a world where this song is on the radio and that was the step in the direction. And then in high school, I took a very deep Stevie Nicks dive and I’m still swimming in those waters, and that’s just a different thing because that for me was just like… Oh she put it all on the line, in her words, in her life, in her art, in her fashion. Everything. She was the art and is the art, and I think that helped me a lot. And then I started getting a lot… Literature is always just… And books have been my biggest inspiration the past few years, and finally reading authors like… finally reading Walt Whitman, Maya Angelou, and Oscar Wilde these voices that led a generation, and I feel very carried by those people, and I think about them all the time. So all those people. They’re at our church.

BB: They’re at our church. This is a church I would go to. Yeah, the procession would be “Edge of Seventeen” and then we…

JR: Yes.

BB: Will do a little “Poker… ” Yeah. This would be good.

JR: Yes.

BB: Tell me what it was like doing… I could barely watch it, I had the biggest shit eating grin the whole time I was watching this podcast with you and Elton John. Tell me about this podcast. He was enamored.

JR: Oh my God, Brené, here’s what I’ll say, they said, “He’s going to call between 9:00 and 9:30,” I was sitting there in the hotel room, my manager was like on the other side of the room. It was like 9:20, and I was like, “Can I jump out of that window right now?” I was like, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this!” but I did it. Those are the moments where you are like, “Oh, I’m literally going to be split in half if I do this,” those are the moments where we’re just expanding, and I feel like I expanded, and I also feel like I have a knack for, and my body does this really beautiful thing, where it just kind of hides things from me until I’m brave enough to confront them, and I think that’s one of those things. And I’m probably going to wake up in a couple of months and have a heart attack… And on the other hand, to get an affirmation from him, I was like, “Well, I guess I don’t suck.” That was my…

BB: I think that’s a safe assumption.

JR: That was my first thought, and then I just thought, “Oh, this is really, really cool.” Talk about someone who paved the way, who put it all out on the line, and continues to, and continues to support new music and be edgy, and I’m 100% okay with people comparing… Like it’s almost humbling thing to be compared to someone like him, because at the end of the day, he’s probably the coolest person that ever lived, so.

BB: I could never argue that with you, yeah. Yeah. And I’ve heard the comparison. I think the biggest compliment I could probably ever give you from my brain is that I think you defy definition. It’s just something deeply spiritual about you, but I do think… He was so impressed with how tall you were plus the platform shoes. It was such a sweet moment because he’s like, “Wait a minute,” because you know, he was digging your shoes like those platform shoes. Because he was like, “How tall are you before the platform shoes?” and then, are you 6’4″?

JR: I’m 6’4″. Yeah.

BB: So do you hit seven feet with some of your shoes?

JR: Yeah, I think I have. And I love it, that’s how I’m reclaiming my power and my dominance over my life, is just by making myself taller and taller and taller and taller.

BB: Yeah, you are the epitome of the Amy Cuddy power pose, man, you’re like…

JR: I’m trying, honestly, if you have any tips for heels, I’m still really getting used to them, doing… The pair I wore on my first Late Night Show, they were a size too big. And the whole performance, I was just like, “Don’t fall. Don’t fall. Don’t fall. Don’t fall.”

BB: No, you rocked it, I watched.

JR: We’re getting used to it… Thank you. Thank you.

BB: I can give you no tips because I hate to fall into a social worker stereotype, but I’m a solid clog girl, and so I can’t. I wish I could…

JR: I can’t wait for my clog phase.

BB: Oh my God, come on, you cannot be like… You’ve got to have a clog phase.

JR: Do you do Danskos or are you open?

BB: Do you see… Do you like… I love this guy. “Do you do Danskos?” Oh hell yes, I do Danskos.

JR: Maybe I’ll get a pair, I’ll get a pair.

BB: I do some Danskos and I’ve got a Swedish brand, I’ll send it to you. I’ll slide back into your DMs and give you the Swedish clogs.

JR: Dude, I would adore a pair of Swedish clogs from you.

BB: Yeah, no. I just need to get your size, I’m going to send you some really…

JR: Beautiful.

BB: I have some patent leather red ones, only you and I can pull those off.

JR: Can I please match you? I really…

BB: Oh yeah.

JR: Okay.

BB: We’ll do it at the same time.

JR: Beautiful, beautiful.

BB: Okay, so before we go, I want to mention some songs, I want you to give me a sentence or two about what they mean to you.

JR: Okay.

BB: “Weddings and Funerals.”

JR: It’s, I think, a love poem to my grandpa who was dying because of heartbreak from losing my grandma, and it made me look at my relationship I was in and think about us at 85 and think about, am I going to die if this person dies? Can I survive without this person? And that thought scared the shit out of me and led me to that song.

BB: God, it’s so beautiful.

JR: And ultimately, ending the relationship, but…

BB: And ultimately ending the relationship.

JR: Yeah, yeah, I think that seeing my grandpa go through that, I stepped out of the patterning, I feel like. I stepped out of the patterning, so that’s, when I feel that song, that’s what it makes me think of, stepping out, paving my way.

BB: I heard the grief about your grandpa and then you know what I left that song thinking? That there are 100 weddings and funerals in the course of every relationship. I saw the exterior of that song, but I also felt the interior of that song. Within one relationship, there are so many formal proclamations of commitment and love, and so many deaths…

JR: Yes.

BB: Contained even in one relationship.

JR: You’re so right.

BB: Yeah, there was something about “Weddings and Funerals” that you know who it reminded me of? Leonard Cohen. Do you know Leonard Cohen?

JR: I love Leonard Cohen. Yes, yeah.

BB: Yeah. Yeah. Incredible.

JR: Thank you. Thank you.

BB: Okay. Of course, yeah. Okay, “Middle of Love.”

JR: Talk about a funeral… That song is one of the funerals, literally the first line, “Look at us showing up to the funeral” was like, “Oh, we’re having a fight and it’s so complicated because I love you so much.”

BB: Yes.

JR: The truth about that song is that the fight happened at a Sonic Drive-In.

BB: Did it, really?

JR: Oh yeah, yeah. And it was one of those, this could either be a funeral or lead to another wedding and it led to another wedding, and it was beautiful for a time after that. So when I think of that song, I think of, I guess, the weddings and the funerals of that relationship and of how much I loved and how hard I loved, and how hard it was to love, and how hard it was to leave, but how much love there was in leaving. So that’s kind of what that feels like to me now.

BB: What is it about the chorus of that song that is just… How do you do that? I’m going to stay here for a second. How does that work? It’s like a magic combination of notes and music that makes everybody like, “I’m in the middle… ” How do you do that? How do you capture that churchy… Do you do that on purpose?

JR: You can’t think about any of those things when you are writing.

BB: Oh, that’s what I thought the answer was going to be.

JR: Sadly, you can’t. But I will bring Justin Tranter back into this conversation, and you know I wrote both of those songs with him, and he has this intuition when it comes to melody and to lyrics, and to trusting whatever is happening, I think that’s it, is trusting the ride. And that’s why I love working with him because I am someone who, I will write something and then I will immediately attack it with the “hate on me” line. I wrote it, I was like, oh, that’s beautiful and then critic stepped in. And Justin being so free and open and smart, frankly, says, “No, that’s fucking great. Let’s do it.” I remember when I wrote the lyric, I was like, “’Middle of Love,’ that’s kind of a simple title, where is the depth in that?” And Justin was like, “No.” And that’s my work, right? That’s my work. Yeah, trusting what’s happening, but I think collaborating with someone who does encourage that and does say like, “No, this is really good, this is worth fighting for.” And… Yeah, and I think that’s the hardest part. And I think I’ve actually heard you talk about that, when there’s comparison, when there’s any sort of intellectual attacking, there’s no room for creativity.

BB: Oh yeah, it kills it.

JR: Creativity exists in this place, where you’re not thinking about anything like that, but I’m someone that, a lot of time, exists in the other place but I’m lucky enough to be able to clear moments where I can find that sacred energy and not compare myself and not try to make something that sounds like this or that, or whatever.

BB: Okay, I want to ask you about two more because this is just… Yeah. “Pluto.” “When I was a kid, Pluto was still a planet. I’m still kind of sad about it.” It’s so funny because I don’t know how you thought of that line, but I remember… You’re going to think this is so crazy dumb, but I remember having to tell my kids that Pluto had been decommissioned as a planet, and I remember, my daughter’s 22 now and my son’s 16, and I just remember… It was a moment, like people were really sad about it, and my son had a big mobile of all the planets, and he said, “Well, it’ll stay a planet in this room.” And so when you started your song that way, I was like, I’m not going to make it through this.

JR: Yeah, I think and what I remember feeling was exactly what you’re talking about is like, oh, they can’t take him away. And for some reason, I made him a him. I don’t know, he just seems like a little sweet planet.

BB: Yeah, a little sweet guy planet.

JR: He’s all the way out there, he’s the coldest one, he’s the darkest one, and then suddenly we said, “Actually, you don’t belong anymore. Actually, we’re just going to… We moved the finish line,” and I think… That’s actually what I had in mind. I’ll never forget the day I wrote that. I was in London, it was Halloween, so almost two years ago, and I was working with this songwriter Eg White, who I was so nervous to write with. This was before I even met Justin. I love Eg White. He’s written some of my favorite Adele songs, Florence and the Machine songs, these kind of people that I was obsessed with, and everybody was like, “Don’t be late to meet Eg White,” and he’s always done at 6 PM, no matter what and like, you know.

JR: So I bought a witch hat that morning and I went over, I was on the Tube in London and everyone was in their suits, I forgot that people don’t wear Halloween costumes in the morning. I always forget that, actually. I was so excited. And I go and I show up right at 10:00. And he’s like, “I like your hat.” I’m like, “Thank you.” We ultimately wrote “Pluto,” which surprised the hell out of me. And that’s what I love, when I’m surprised, when the song surprises me. I was really getting into astrology at that point, and I came up with the title “Pluto in Sagittarius” because this is a… Whatever. Basically, if you were born from 1995 to 2008, your Pluto is in Sagittarius. And I was thinking about those people, my generation, of like, we were told Pluto was a planet in second or third grade, and then in fourth grade, they said it wasn’t. And he was like, “I don’t think we can put Sagittarius in the song.” And I was like, “That’s probably fair.” And then we ended up working until 8:00 PM, way after everyone said, because he loved the song and then I went out into the streets of London and everyone was in their costumes. And it was like this kind of moment of like, “Oh, I’m not a freak. We’re all freaks.”

BB: We’re all freaks.

JR: We’re all freaks, and sometimes we just need an excuse to be a freak.

BB: Oh my God. So I knew there had to be a great story behind this song because it’s just… It’s got too many layers and it’s too good to not have a narrative that’s as wild as the song.

JR: The day feels almost mythical, in a way, like in my memory, but it’s also like the line that always gets me the most… And I don’t really know why I wrote it then, but it was… “I think of my mom, she loves me no matter what, that really fucks me up.” And I think why I wrote that is because I had seen so many queer people in particular around me that have been completely disowned that… I had a friend in college that he was like, “Give us our car back, you’re off our insurance. You’re off our phone.” And I was like, “Oh my God, I have parents that didn’t do that,” and there was this sort of guilt. It does fuck me up, it does fuck me up to be loved unconditionally, and that’s something that I need to work to allow my… Because I don’t think it’s our nature or my nature to be okay with that kind of love, and that’s kind of my work right now is to allow myself to be loved in that way. It’s not easy, it’s vulnerable, it’s scary.

BB: It’s not easy to be loved like that, and I think… And maybe the most unconditional, being loved like that unconditionally, what it asks in return is self-love…

JR: Totally.

BB: And that’s a big ask.

JR: Because if you are being loved, yeah, you must love yourself in order to have that love, and… Okay. I’m taking notes for my therapist… [laughter] Taking notes…

BB: Oh I just take your songs and we just go through lyric by lyric. Okay, last one I want to ask you about before we get to rapid fire. Hold on, I’ve got all my lyrics right here. Oh my God, geez, this song. If you’re a church, this is like the… I don’t even know, this is communion or something here… “Cause of a Scene.” “I’m quite good at secrets. According to my horoscope, I spend my life conflicted. Heavenly bodies made it so.” God dang it.

JR: That song sort of makes me want to throw up still…

BB: Really?

JR: In that it is the closest I feel I’ve ever gotten to me in a song. It’s the most understood I’ve ever felt by something I’ve made. And it’s so cathartic to sing and so painful, too, because I think I wrote it when I was really starting to understand patterning and what love could do to someone. And oh God, and singing the bridge, especially now that I’m playing shows, it’s like every time just kind of hurts because my grandpa and my ex had the same name, and they never got to meet because my parents didn’t think it was a good idea. And I honored their request and now they’re both out of my life and it’s not easy. It’s definitely not easy but I’m glad I have it to sing.

BB: The song really is the communion song. It is the breaking of the bread. You’re at the rail, man.

JR: Well, it’s so hard to ask for what you need, I’ve found, and that’s what the song’s really about. That’s what the song is… I had my horoscope read and they said, “Oh, you’re really good at keeping it inside, of bottling it up, this planet, this planet,” and I was like, “Oh God.” It’s your work to let it out and then ironically, I let it out in a song.

BB: Yeah.

JR: And to wear it on the sleeve is not easy for me. It’s really not.

BB: No, there’s emotion in this song, when you sing this song, it’s hard to not cry when you sing this song. It’s hard for me not to cry when I listen to you sing this song. The only thing that helps me is I’m usually acting it out in however you sang it in my living room. And my family is like, “Oh Jesus God, this is… ”

[laughter]

JR: I used to dance to Britney Spears in my living room. And are you saying you dance to me in your living room? [laughter]

BB: I totally do. No, I make a fists, and I strain, and all the veins in my neck come out, and I’m like… “I’m blue like the color… ” I do the whole thing it’s like, yeah.

[laughter]

JR: Well, I don’t know if your kids will be listening to this, but would you please record that for me because I really want to see it. [laughter]

BB: Oh God, hell no.

[laughter]

JR: You’re like, No, no, no, no. I was like, no just personally I really want to see this, I really want to see this.

BB: No. I might. I might send you something just with me, me doing you, but it’s so emotional.

JR: I would treasure it. I would treasure it.

BB: Alright, you ready for some rapid fires?

JR: I think so.

BB: I’ve got to ask you before we do this. Your clothes are fantastic. Where do you get them?

JR: Anywhere, everywhere. I love thrifting, but lately a lot of the costumes… I’ve been able to work with designers and stuff like that, kind of crafting. But that’s one thing I just loved as a kid, I would have these little journals where I would design outfits, and I really feel like… My mom said recently, she was at this photo shoot I was doing, and she’s like, “Oh, your inner child must be so happy right now, because when you were a kid, you just loved putting on my clothes, putting on your dad’s clothes.” I love it. I really find a lot of power in it, so yeah.

BB: It’s beautiful, it’s art, right?

JR: It is art, it’s art. It’s wearable art.

BB: And I did get out my little tea thing to see how heavy it would be to wear it as an earring. I have to… [laughter] Because when you do your TikToks in your… What’s that thing called, like a little tea holder? What’s that thing called?

JR: Like a steeper, tea steeper.

BB: Tea steeper. And you’ve got the tea steeper [laughter] in the cup and then you sit up.

JR: It’s funny, it’s funny to me, I just love to spread the light and…

BB: You do.

JR: That was my first… I made three TikToks last year, and I did not want to be on the app, I was very resistant towards the app. And I made a TikTok where I had the tea and the earring, and then I was reading these sentences from this New York Times article where they’re talking about how Abraham Lincoln was most likely gay, and in the end, I say the tea is done. And that’s the first thing that ever went viral or anything, and it freaked me out so much that I deleted the app for three months. But then I took it back and now I just, I woke up this morning and I was like, Brené Brown knows who I am because of TikTok. Thank God for TikTok. I’m not mad at TikTok anymore. [laughter]

BB: Yeah, no, I just… My husband will literally be like, you’ve got to go to bed and stop watching him on TikTok. I was like, “Look, you find your liberation, I’ll find my liberation.”

JR: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

BB: Yeah, okay. Ready? Number one, fill in the blank for me. Vulnerability is…

JR: Courage.

BB: Okay, you, Jake, are called to be very brave, but your fear is real, you can feel it in the back of your throat. What’s the very first thing you do?

JR: Call my mom.

BB: Can we make hearts come out of the podcast app when he says that? Okay, what is something people often get wrong about you?

JR: My height… I don’t think they think I’m this tall.

BB: The last TV show that you binged and loved.

JR: The Sopranos.

BB: Oh man, did you love it?

JR: I do love it. I do, yeah.

BB: Okay, one of your all-time favorite movies.

JR: Not even just because it’s Halloween, but Scream is my favorite movie of all time, and I really couldn’t tell you why, I really, I just… There’s no rational thought for it, but it is. Yeah.

BB: That’s great. Okay, a concert that you’ll never forget.

JR: Lady Gaga, Monster Ball.

BB: Favorite meal.

JR: Chicken tenders. [laughter]

BB: You’re doing right by your generation, Jake. [laughter]

JR: I don’t even eat gluten anymore, but it’s still my favorite meal. [laughter]

BB: Yeah, that’s fair. Okay, what’s on your nightstand?

JR: Lately it’s changed a lot because I haven’t had a consistent one, but I really love to keep Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman on my nightstand and a little crystal.

BB: A snapshot of an ordinary moment in your life that gives you real joy.

JR: My hour I take in the morning to meditate and do yoga.

BB: Tell me one thing that you’re deeply grateful for right now.

JR: I am deeply grateful to be… I’m back in Nashville right now and I’ve been in LA for two months and there’s no differentiation in the weather and I’m just so glad it kind of feels like fall. Really, it’s really making me happy.

BB: The seasons?

JR: Yes.

BB: Yeah. Okay, before we get to your mini mixtape which I was so curious to see, do you have any news to share with us about Ben Platt?

JR: Ben Platt! [laughter]

BB: This is like… Oh my God.

JR: Yeah, I’m going on tour with Ben Platt next year. It’s like 27 dates North America. So everyone should come. We’re coming to Houston. I’m pretty sure…

BB: Oh, I’ll be there.

JR: Okay, cool, cool, cool. I’ll see you there, I can’t wait. [laughter]

BB: Yeah, I’ll wear my red clogs, just so you can…

JR: I’ll wear my red clogs. [laughter]

BB: We asked you for… We make you some mini mixtapes of all of our podcast guests on Spotify and we asked you for five songs you can’t live without. So “Strong Enough” by Sheryl Crow, “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga… Oh God, “The Joke” by Brandi Carlile, come on.

JR: Excellent.

BB: “Dancing on My Own” by Robyn and “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac. In one sentence, what does this mini mixtape say about Jake Wesley Rogers?

JR: “I like to have fun while I cry.”

[laughter]

BB: You are such a gift, and I am so grateful for your art, your music, your unapologetic authenticity, and the light that you shine in really hard dark places. You make the world better.

JR: Thank you, Brené Brown. You make the world better, you have made my world better and that effect has allowed me to shine in this particular way, so I’m so grateful for you. Thank you for having me.

BB: My pleasure.

[music]

BB: Was that just… How did it make you feel, Barrett, that conversation?

Barrett: It made my heart burst.

BB: Yes.

Barrett: I loved it.

BB: Yes. He’s a key dropping, heart bursting…

Barrett: He makes the world a place I want to live in.

BB: Yeah, that’s how I felt like when I saw his TikTok.

Barrett: Yes. [chuckle] Me too.

BB: “Hate on me, hate on me, hate on me, hate on me. You might as well hate the… ” Okay, you just have to listen. Okay, so where do you find him? You can find his music on Spotify or wherever you listen to music, we’ll also link to everywhere you can find Jake. His website is jakewesleyrogers.com. He’s on Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Facebook. He’s @jakewrogers on Twitter. Again, we have episode pages for everything, all the episodes on Dare To Lead and on Unlocking Us.

BB: On Episode Day, my entire Instagram is going to be dedicated to Jake. All my stories are going to be Jake stories, everything’s going to be all things Jake, just because we all need to shine on and no one does that like Jake. And we’re going to end this episode with probably one of my favorite songs, Pluto. And I want to thank Jake for letting us play this and I want to thank Warner Records for also letting us play this, and just find a place with a sun or a lamp hit your face, and take it all in. I’m grateful for y’all. Thank you for being here. Thank you for Jake, for just making my day and my month, and making my heart grow two sizes too big. I’ll see y’all next week, and man, if there’s ever a podcast where I remind you to stay awkward, brave, and kind, this is the one.

[music – full length song, Pluto, performed by Jake Wesley Rogers]

BB: Unlocking Us is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown. It’s produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and Tristan McNeil and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Tristan McNeil and music is by the amazing Carrie Rodriguez and the amazing Gina Chavez.

[music]

© 2021 Brené Brown Education and Research Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Brown, B. (Host). (2021, October 27). Brené with Jake Wesley Rogers on Songwriting, Storytelling, and Dropping Keys. [Audio podcast episode]. In Unlocking Us with Brené Brown. Parcast Network. https://brenebrown.com/podcast/songwriting-storytelling-and-dropping-keys/