September 18th, 2014 Last Updated on: October 31st, 2016
Rosebud Rocks! Jim Robertson sure does! The Singer, Songwriter and Guitarist shows his stunning talent in the band Secondhand Socialites. As the bassist and backing vocalist for Lost In Irrelevance, Jim Robertson rocks as part of a melodic death metal band. Two bands, one man, who shares his perspective with us at Powwows.com!
Q) Great to visit with you! Introduce yourself to us, please?
A) Heh, I can try. My name is Jim Robertson. I'm the twenty-two year old singer, songwriter, and guitarist of Secondhand Socialites. We're a three-piece alternative rock band out of Mission, South Dakota, smack dab in the middle of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe reservation. I'm also the bassist and backing vocalist of Lost In Irrelevance, a melodic death metal band. I work at Sinte Gleska University in the community greenhouse, pushin' dirt and caring for flowers.
Q) Sounds like a lovely way to have a life and to pursue your passion! How did you step out and find out that music was your path?
A) Well, it started before I can even remember. My dad was a working musician since the early 80's. When I was about fourteen, he taught me as much about the guitar as I was willing to learn. I worked a summer, bought my first guitar, and started teaching myself how to play, sing, and write songs in every style that I could. My heart still belongs to punk rock, but grunge, metal, old school rock, and pretty much every form of music that involves the guitar all struck my fancy. It wasn't long before I played in my first band, at age fifteen. I formed my own band later that year and we called ourselves “Grand Cadaver.” It was like a metal/punk fusion, since that's all I cared to play at the time. In 2011, I formed the first incarnation of Secondhand Socialites in college. The original drummer and I eventually parted ways, and I started spending more and more time with Lost In Irrelevance, a band I kinda thought of as my “plan B.” Then, in late 2012, I met James Davis, the current drummer of SHS, and I felt absolutely compelled. He's the best drummer I've ever worked with, and we gel amazingly when it comes to writing songs. We put out our self-titled debut album on the ninth of June this past summer, and we're still going strong; we're still recording, jamming, and doin' gigs to promote the album (including one set for the 20th of September, this Saturday in Pine Ridge)
Q) Awesome! What are some of the highlights of your career so far?
A)Well, I've done a lot of recording since I was a teen, but having a real, physical CD with an insert and graphics and artwork etc. was probably the biggest thing so far for me. I did all the engineering and mastering on it and have since been told by a professional music engineer that “there's no way (I) should have been able to make it sound so good,” considering that I had literally no equipment (other than three borrowed mics), no money, no studio, and no professional mixing tools. Every show is a moment in a highlight reel for me, really. But that would require me writing a book just for this one question.
Other than that, it's the typical stuff. First time playing live, coming in second at a local battle of the bands with Lost In Irrelevance, being set to win talent show this past year but being disqualified for being a “professional, not amateur” contestant in an amateur competition… Ya know, that kinda stuff.
4)How do you balance your tribal heritage with your music? Does being Native impact the way that you live and the way that you make your music?
A) In some ways, it couldn't matter more, and in other ways, it doesn't matter at all. I have absolutely no problem with being proud of who I am, nor do I have a problem with other people being proud of who they are; but, I think there's a razor thin line between being proud of your heritage and exploiting it. Too many showbiz people in Native America use their heritage in the wrong way: To curry favor, to get attention, and to make a profit. Such acts are presented as “Native pride,” but actually hurt some of us in Native America by subjecting people like me to prejudiced judgments based on the stereotypical image such people perpetuate. I get, “Oh, you're a Native musician, huh? Do you make Native rap music?” or “How come you don't wear feathers and stuff on stage or in pictures, or have really long braids if you're so Native?” That's not me, and that's not a lot of the talented people in my slice of Native America. Only some.
I'm all for Natives stepping into the national arena when it comes to art, music, business, etc., but I think it defeats the purpose by flaunting the fact that you're Native. Being a “Native rock band” is fine, but what's wrong with being a rock band that just happens to be Native? I try hard not to exploit my Native side as a gimmick. I want to be known as a musician, plain and simple, no matter my ethnicity or culture.
Q) So, how does that desire “to be known as a musician, plain and simple” influence the message you hope to transmit through your tunes?
A) Human beings are always looking for a way to find understanding and spiritual freedom; the trick is to be true to yourself, and you'll be hard-pressed to find a better way of doing that than following the ways of your own people.
As for the music, I hope my music does for other people what Nirvana did to me when I plugged in “Nevermind” and was finally old enough to understand what the music and lyrics actually meant in the grand scheme of things. Music is a unique magic that heals the soul, excites the mind, and soothes the ears. It has the power to make 10,000 people jump, scream, and sing in harmony out of pure joy, as well as the power to bring just as many people to complete and utter silence in the face sorrow. Green Day's album “American Idiot” still makes me cry to this day every time I listen to it, because it's one of the most profound statements of my generation; it speaks to hope, hopelessness, growing up, love, loss, and trying to make sense of an increasingly tumultuous and complicated world. I can only hope to engage in such a meaningful human activity half as well as some of my heroes.
Q) You're speaking about heroes, while many young people are probably looking up to you. What do you have to say to our Native youth about tradition and talent?
A) Is that so? Ha ha. Well, I'm not in the business of telling anybody what to do or encouraging people to do anything other than what they feel is right. (I'm a punk rocker, after all.)
All I can say is this: while it's important to preserve the old ways, YOU are the generation who can and should make new traditions for our people. We are a dynamic, modern people who need to coexist with the rest of the nation and the world. Just look at Pine Ridge, here in South Dakota. It's a haven for an entire generation of young people who love metal, constantly putting on concerts to showcase the local talent and give people something to look forward to and enjoy. That being said, don't forget the way of your people. I point to Pine Ridge because it's done in a reasonable, respectful way to everyone involved. Move forward along with the rest of the world, but remember your roots.
Q) Did remembering your roots ever help you to survive a struggle in your life?
A) Right around the time I split with the original drummer of Secondhand Socialites, I dove into alcohol. It was a bleak, depressing time. I eventually came home from SDSU to go to the local university, I did odd jobs for money, and subsequently spent it on getting some kind of cheap high. I was stupid enough to think that it made me a better songwriter. I wasn't grounded. I forgot the real me.
Obviously, this has a happy ending. The past couple years, I've found myself again. I reformed my band, got a job, and am right on track for going back to school.
Q) Congratulations on making wise choices! Since you have been on both sides of tough times, what kind of advice would you offer about avoiding destructive actions and acting wisely?
A) One of the most important qualities to me is being able to forget about the you that walks and talks with the rest of us in this world and tapping into your potential, alternate self when you do your work, whether it be writing a song or playing live. It's important to be someone else on stage. Another important thing is to be humble. Unless you are working, ditch your ego. Nobody wants to deal with a chauvinist.
The most destructive? Procrastination and ignorance about how to be successful in your field. Never shirk off the next step, whatever it is, and inform yourself on how to make money doing what you do. I've spent a lot of time researching and learning from other people about how to engineer, how to market an album, how to get gigs, and more. Do the same for yourself. Don't sit around in your home town doing local shows and being like “Why hasn't someone signed me to a label yet?” You have to do it all yourself, to start with.
Q) Okay, so who is getting it right, in your opinion? Who are some of your favorite musicians? Why?
A) Well, my top five favorite bands are Social Distortion, The Distillers, Green Day, Nirvana, and the Pixies. All of them have punk rock in common, but they all do it in such an original and exciting way. It's not JUST punk, ya know? It's punk and country with Social D, for instance. Otherwise, my favorite musicians and bands run the gamut from Buddy Holly to Cannibal Corpse, Elton John to the Casualties, and The Beatles to The Ramones.
Q) If you could offer any advice to someone who would like to learn more and possibly start performing,what would it be?
A) Do it with your friends, because everything becomes work eventually, no matter how fun it is at first; at least you can work with your friends. Also, don't try to impress other people too hard because it only distracts from what makes your performing career special; please yourself first, and THEN worry about pleasing your audience.
Trust nobody, because everybody else only cares about money and fame; don't get used by a dirty cheat. It's a world of thieves.
Q) That's an interesting perspective! What else would you like us to know that we don't already know about you?
A) You can find my band on www.Facebook.com/SecondhandSocialites. You can download our self-titled album from pretty much anywhere online, such as iTunes, Amazon, Spotify and more. You can also buy the physical CD at www.CDBaby.com by searching the band name.
Q) Many thanks for sharing with us today!
A) As always,
“We hope you enjoy the noise, Ladies and Gents.”
-Jim Robertson, Secondhand Socialites
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