Trevor Jackson is a true jack of all trades, a multihyphenate who excels at everything he does. You may recognize the name or face from his standout acting roles: portraying Aaron Jackson on Freeform’s Grown-ish, Zurich on Netflix’s Burning Sands, and even a lead role starring as Superfly on the big screen. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that he makes incredible music, in the form of soulful ballads that will have you feeling the power of love whether you’re in a relationship or not.
Originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, but now calling sunny Los Angeles home, Jackson is a singer, songwriter, rapper, actor, performer, overall creative and lover of life—someone who loves to surf, create art, and spend time with close friends and family. Most recently, Jackson unleashed his debut album titled Love Language, a 14-track body of work that reminds the masses that love is universal, while bringing back that feel-good R&B we all know and love.
On the 23rd episode of Shirley’s Temple, I sat with Trevor Jackson at Matrix Studios in downtown Los Angeles to discuss how music saved his life, debut album Love Language, comparing love to an acid trip, the inspo behind “Pictures By My Pool,” how “Bouts Ta Be” came to be, why aliens exist, collaborating with Lil Twist, what it means to be on Grown-ish, mental health, listening to country music, dating life, and more!
How you been? Did you go surfing this morning?
This morning I did not. I’m going tomorrow. I need it, surfing is my life. What’s new? The album Love Language came out. I’ve still been shooting videos for that.
And we know your videos aren’t regular videos…
I know, we always gotta do something different. I love film so much and television, so I love to create something that’s not just a music video. It’s has to be a little entertaining.
I was watching the “Tiny Dancer” video, it has such a dope message. What was your vision here?
Shout out to Embryo, he directed that with me, my brother, and my whole family. Embryo’s super cool, creative director. My brother Iyn, my family, my mom Cam Baxter’s super involved too. Producing, it’s a family affair. We’re all very creative, we put our heads together what makes sense. Then go back in, edit it, come out right. I never let anything go without me doing a little bit of editing, just to make sure.
So you go through it?
Yeah, I spent 8 or 9 hours in the editing room before. It’s fun.
How do you have time? ‘Cause you act and you make music.
I cut everything off for that. Once I start it, I’ve gotta get it done. I can’t keep going back. I just shot the “Pictures By My Pool” video, “Bouts Ta Be”…
Let’s talk about “Pictures By My Pool.”
I love that song. I was on a young lady’s page, I went down a rabbit hole. I was clicking her friend’s page, her friend’s friends, I realized they all had pictures in front of pools. Different ones, like the whole thing. Are they travelling, whose pool is it exactly? I always see the guy’s shadow in the back taking it. Is that all…? Because I’ve always had trust issues. Why are you really here? Why are you even fucking with me?
The song’s talking about that. “Yo, you just want pictures by a nice pool. You want to get lit for Instagram, you don’t really care. You could care less about what I have to say, it depends on where I’m at or who I’m with.” That’s why the line is “Now she rockin’ Fenty ’cause it’s trendy, never met a ten-piece that’s so empty… She want another follow but got plenty, will that finally make her feel more pretty?” Just getting back down to the roots of what really matters in life. You can get so lost so easily, so I wanted to write a song like that. The video turned out really, really, dope. I’m excited.
You said you have trust issues, because of bad relationships?
No, just in life. You never know why people are around. Now I’m really good at gauging. But before, I’m so happy go lucky. I trust everybody, let everyone in. “Damn, you’re just around because…?” Sometimes I forget the stuff that I do because I’m so down to earth. I be forgetting.
A huge part of this show is mental health, how have you been holding up?
I’m doing amazing now. I feel very, very good. Surfing is a huge part of it.
Yoga is that to me!
Yoga helps too, I do yoga too. I found out I had 3 herniated discs not too long ago. My back’s been hurting for a minute, I said “I’ma finally go to the doctor.” You know Black people don’t go to the doctor. Hey, it’s okay to go check some stuff out. You can go to the hospital sometimes. So I go, they said “yeah dude, you got 3 herniated discs.” Of course, they’re saying do surgery, all this other stuff. But everybody you talk to says “don’t do that.”
When did this happen?
This is maybe 3 months ago? The reason I’m saying all this is to say yoga within a week, I’m like “oh.” Stretching is super duper important so that helped a lot. If you’re hurting, your mental isn’t going to be straight.
Where do you go?
Oh no, at home. I look up YouTube, little 30 minute jawn. My little mat. I realized too you gotta take time for self. So many people, especially now because information travels so fast, people are on the go. “I’m trying to get it, I’m trying to make it,” but forget how important it is to really take time for yourself. Me personally, I still have a hero complex. A save the world complex, and I’m trying to get rid of it. I can’t ever just be chill. I can’t ever take time for me because the world is too important, I have to save it.
The minute I start writing in a journal or taking time to ask myself, “how are you doing today? How do you feel?” Look in the mirror: “Hey man, I’m proud of you. Hey, remember you did that shit? That shit was tight. Congrats on that.” Really taking stuff in. People say “hey, good job.” “Oh it’s alright, I can do better.” Never taking in moments. That’s super duper important to do, helped my mental immensely.
What else do you do for self-care?
Music. I gotta make music man. Music has made me be able to live life in a way that’s difficult for most people. I’m not saying I never get upset or anything, but I’m very peaceful. I’ve realized that anything in my life that’s been negative or didn’t quite make sense at the time, always turns into something beautiful. Music’s been an example of that. I go through some really crazy shit and I write a song about it. I listen back to the song a year later like “heyyy!” [bobs head] I’m so happy in that moment, that came from such a [hard time]. It translates into other areas of your life and allows me not to stay in funks. I’m having a bad day, not every day’s going to be bad.
I had Mozzy on here earlier, that’s exactly what he was saying. His raps, that’s his therapy.
Definitely. It taught me hey, everything works out. Everything makes sense. You’re not being steered wrong, you know? If you have breath in your body, you got something you’re supposed to be doing.
In a 2018 study from the Music Industry Research Association, 50% of musicians reported battling symptoms of depression, compared with less than 25% of the general adult population. Nearly 12% reported having suicidal thoughts, nearly 4x the general population. You’re independent, do you feel like the industry can get to you sometimes?
For sure. Again, talking about the attitude I had before about it, the minute you stop doing it for any other reason than yourself—I’ve been in the industry since I was 8 years old. Very young. As you get older, you start seeing patterns of things that happened. I don’t think it’s just in music, it’s jobs in general. An employee mindset: the person who’s above you or in that position is to make you feel like you need them and you can’t succeed without them.
Even if you do something dope, but “hey, change this one part,” so they can have a hand in greatness. People meddle with your stuff. If you live it like that, it can be challenging. It can get to you. That’s why I’m thankful to be creating the things I love. Even reactions, I know so many friends that go crazy over comments and things they’re reading. You actually sit down and read that shit? What? I got too much stuff to do today. Especially I’m not gonna read it and go “huh” [frowns] the rest of the day. “He said this about me!” It’s confusing to me, I never want to be in that. I always say when you give people the keys to your car, don’t be mad when they scratch that shit. You let people do that: you have a say in how I live my life or you have a say in how happy I’m allowed to be? Then I’m living in a prison. I can’t do that, gotta be happy. Love thyself. Gotta love yourself.
Speaking of love, Love Language out now. I connected you with my girl @itsmariel for the album cover art.
Shout out to Mariel, she’s a monster dude. That’s crazy. I’ve loved her stuff since I saw it the first time. That’s one thing I will say is amazing about social media. It’s like everything though, there’s polarity. I said “yo you’re freakin’ dope, can you please do my album over?” She said “bet.” We met and the type of stuff she’s into — she’s super artist and I love that, ‘cause I’m that. Super into your thing, just flow.
The way she paints is how I feel I am and how I feel emotions are: up and down. Most people won’t even make a project when the whole thing sounds the same. Love especially is never like this. That’s fairytale shit you think when you’re a kid, then you get in a real relationship. “Today, I gotta take her shit. Okay tomorrow, I’m not.” Today we’re going to be good, tomorrow…” It’s called work, love is work. That’s when people trip, if you have an acid trip or you trip on shrooms…
Are you a fan of psychedelics?
I have before, but totally whoa. It’s everywhere, that’s how life is and that’s how love is. Love is the craziest drug of all, it has the most control over you. That’s why the cover’s like that. The heart’s the acid tab on the tongue, I’m trippin’ out.
Were you on acid?
I was not, no. That’s a one-time, go in there. Get in and get out. [laughs] Maybe another 20 years, but it was fun.
I’m obsessed with “Bouts To Be.”
That’s one of my favorites. Shout out to Harvey Mason and Damon Thomas, The Underdogs. I’ve known them since I was 15 years old, they recorded some of my first records. I remember hearing that a long time ago, they had the record. I said “guys, I want this.” They said “no, this one’s for blah, blah, blah.” Then when I’m making this album, “yo nobody sang this song, I ain’t heard it out yet. Let me get that.” They finally let me do it and it turned out amazing.
It’s such a vibe.
“Bouts To Be” is for that time of day when you need to get it going, have a good time.
Did a certain female inspire it?
I mean, sure. I’ve made love fewer times than I’ve had sex. That song’s more about lovemaking so yeah, it was a particular someone.
Your hoodie is fire.
Thank you, Born Art. That’s my company. Born Art stands for you’re born amazing. Everybody’s trying to be everybody else, know that you’re enough. You were born art.
What’s the logo?
The logo is a hammerhead shark. It’s a shark because sharks will die if they stop swimming. Literally, they’ll die. He’s biting on a paintbrush, Fucking up the art game. [laughs] I love it. I’m about to get my own chain soon. I’m very excited, because I gotta do one. I’m mad at myself because for the longest I said “I’m never getting a chain, that’s stupid.” Now I keep looking at them like hmmm, I can get one. I don’t want to go crazy, but I gotta get one.
What is your take on death?
I’m very afraid of it. Very, very afraid of it. It’s crazy, I think about it all the time. The older you get, you’re like “what the fuck is this?” I think that throughout the day often. I see a bird, what type of Matrix shit is going on? Did you see Free Guy? The new movie that came out with Ryan Reynolds, I love him. It’s what we’re talking about, just a mind-F. Very good, I don’t want to spoil it but I loved it. I’m a stickler on a good movie, I haven’t seen a good movie in a long time. That movie was fire. The concept, the message.
Did you go to the movies to see it?
I did. It was amazing, I love the movie theaters, oh my gosh. I gotta be third row back. I see people go sit in the back and I’m like this is the size of your TV at the crib. You’re that far, it’s like this small dude.
What are you working on that you’re most excited for?
Honestly, I’m working on the next album. I can’t say the name of it, but it’s done. I got two in the can, I’m working on the third one. That’s what I was doing before I came here. I have the studio. Everything you heard I recorded in my house. This one after that, the one after that, then this next one. It’s changing. The music is changing, which I like a lot. I’m doing a lot more intimate, I’m very excited.
What about collabs? Are you working with anyone?
Yes, I got in the studio with Lil Twist the other night. I’m a fan of his, I know he hasn’t done music in a while. I saw on his Instagram, he posted some freestyle he did. I said “bro, what the hell? I’m about to do this album and I’d love to have you on it.” He was so freakin’ cool. He said “absolutely bro.” He came, showed love, we hung out a few times. He’s a really good dude. That’s a good one, I’m definitely getting some more on this album. The one after Love Language. I have the cover and everything.
Favorite song off Love Language? Your fans love every song.
Oh yeah, they love it. I’m super appreciative. My fans are super awesome, they’ve been down since day one for sure. My favorite song is “Love Don’t Change.” I wrote that about God, I wrote that about a relationship I was in. I wrote that about my family. There’s few roles in your life that hold that weight, that’ll give you love that’s unconditional. No matter how high or low you get in life, they say “hey, it’s the same. We love you the same.” People get freaked out by that. Even ourselves, we’re afraid are we gonna love us the same? Do we deserve this thing? It’s how I started writing that. I love that song, super powerful.
Getting into the acting, you know we gotta talk about Grown-ish.
I love Grown-Ish. I love being part of a show that does the heavy lifting for me in terms of what I want to do in the world, the voice I want to have, the effect I want to change in the world. They’re doing the heavy lifting in terms of wow, I get to be a part of what I’ve always wanted to be a part of and it’s a collective. Whether it’s the content we’re talking about or the different opinions, it’s what I’m all about, which is propelling. It’s not saying anyone is right or wrong either, it’s always showing the two sides of the table and let’s start the conversation. I’m a huge fan of that. My cast is awesome obviously. I’m learning to eat less food. That used to be what I’d say about my favorite thing but now if I end up going back, I’ll be trying to eat better. That’s something I’ve been doing: eating better, working out.
Surfing’s a workout though?
Surfing’s a workout, yes. Grown-ish is sick. The writers. I always say you guys write it, and I know I don’t even have to act. I just gotta say lines.
Is it easy for you to memorize lines?
I do it right before. I don’t look at it at all. At table reads, people ask “oh he didn’t read it” because I be laughing. Whaaat, that happens?! People ask me, I have no idea. I don’t like to read stuff because your character doesn’t know anything. In the moments that he’s in, he doesn’t know what’s coming 3 or 4 pages down. I don’t want to have that in the back of my head and lead the crowd or anybody sitting there, be right where I’m supposed to be at. But that’s the way I do it, other people can murder the other way. For me, that’s how I like to work. Now, if I have a 20-page monologue, even then I forget. They say “Trevor,” I’m like “what’s the line? Huh, what’d you guys say? Give me the line again, play it again.”
Do you ever forget your lyrics?
No, it’s crazy how quick it comes back too. I have so much unreleased music. The other day my brother played some stuff I did in 2014. Boom! Every word. I hadn’t listened to it in years. Music is tattooed, that’s what people forget too. That’s why I fuck with Prince so much. Music has become not as respected as an actual job. You put a lot of money and a lot of time, a lot of work, a lot of brainpower into making a record, then everyone gets to hear it. Sometimes, it’s not as appreciated or as much work to people.
Does acting move you like music does?
No, it’s only because it’s more personal. Maybe that’s a pride or an ego thing. When you do something and it’s yours, you get to look at it like that’s my shit and I created that? That was nothing and now it’s something? I did that? That’s different.
Who are you listening to?
I listen to country music mainly. All the time.
You don’t listen to R&B at all?
I am R&B. I was born having to listen to those things so they’re always in me. I listen to country for writing purposes. I’m like “damn! So simple, why didn’t I think of that?” When I hear country songs, “ohhh that line is fire.” I listen to Migos a lot when I workout. It’s my workout music. There’s nothing I can’t do when “Straightenin” comes on. I’m looking in the mirror like “alright here we go.” [fake chest press] That’s my shit, that one and “Malibu.” They don’t even be surfing, I surf in Malibu.
Anyone else you listen to?
Drake. Any song Drake drops I’m going to listen to. His verse on that “Seeing Green” is one of the coldest verses I’ve ever heard. This n*gga said “This ain’t gon’ be the first time that I do numbers on two crutches. Seen more plaques than toothbrushes, Until I’m at the pearly white gates… Tryna run a country like Putin one day, but who’s rushin’?” That’s the line.
That’s after Wayne and Nicki slayed their verses!
Drake is something else man, he’s the bar for sure. In terms of quality, every song, he hasn’t put out a bad verse. People can nitpick, try and find one, but it’s better than most people’s best verse. Just because it’s Drake, we hold him to a high standard. I listen to everyone man. I listen to old stuff. Hall and Oates, one of my favorite duos of all time. I’m all around, I like it all.
What are you most excited for next?
I’m most excited for these videos to drop. I have 3 videos dropping before the end of the year, and I’m excited for this new album. “Picture By My Pool” music video is crazy.
A lot of baddies or what?
There’s a few. I had to make sure it was right. [laughs]
Anything else you want to let us know?
Get the album, Love Language out now. Love yourself. Love the people around you. Change the world, and make sure you get some Shirley’s Temple because they’re fire. Follow her.