TJ Jackson is back in the news with his new album entitled “Acoustic Sessions 1” and his first solo tour in Europe next June and July. This is the perfect time to ask him about both events, and also discuss the story of the 3T band and his memories of the 90s with Michael Jackson that made him the artist he is today. I will cherish this interview forever since this is the very first time I have had the opportunity to talk to a member of the Jackson family, either for my books or for this website.
Can you share with us the moment when, as a child, you realized that quite a few members of your family were actually very famous artists, please? Was it obvious then that you would follow the same path?
As a kid, there are glimpses and little sprinkles of signs that your family is different. That’s what I remember – that every now and then there was a glimpse of some type of madness or amazing achievement that made me think that there was something different. Because when I went to see my friends, they didn’t experience this, they didn’t know about this. But my family was so humble that they never really sat us down and said: « Look, we’re this and that, and we’ve done this.» They’ve never said that, so we feel our family is so normal, but we also see things that they are not because of the way people are loving them. I think the very first time I really understood it was around the Dangerous Tour. I was 14 years old and I remember the album premiering on TV and the next day, when I went to school, everybody was talking about it! So that was the first time I realized my family was very, very popular. Then, we went to Asia with my uncle Michael for the Dangerous Tour – we went to Singapor, Japan, and Thailand, I believe, or maybe Taiwan. We went to many of his shows, and to see the love that these people had for him, although they didn’t even speak the English language, that was mesmerizing and mind-blowing! That’s what helped influence us to want to do music. It was too powerful for us to see and such an impression at our age, 13 or 14, that I thought: « Ok, this is definitely what I want to do!»
I would like to discuss the song “2300 Jackson Street” by The Jacksons, since your brothers, your cousins and yourself took part in this very symbolic family song. Do you remember how the studio session went? Did you take it as a game, considering your young age, or did you realize how important it was?
First of all, it was definitely an idea from the family, something that our family wanted us to do. One thing I love about my family is that, although they’ve been very, very successful, they’ve been very, very into their kids and developping their kids for what they want to do. We all wanted to be musicians so we used to have something called talent shows and we would perform for the family. My brothers and I, 3T, we performed and played instruments and did a show, and then Jermaine’s kids would do dancing and singing – we would all sing for our family! So they saw our love for it and around “2300 Jackson Street”, they wanted to put us in a song to show us how it was done and to capsule an important time in our lives. They didn’t really have to say anything – we all knew instinctively that when we go in there to record and shoot the video, we had to be serious and do the best we can. You know, it’s interesting because I never had a talk about how to do something or how you behave when you’re in front of the camera. Maybe because we saw them doing it since birth and we just wanted to be them, so we mimicked them. But we never got sat down and told: « When the camera’s on, you do this or that, and you behave this way… » I don’t remember ever having that conversation, and I truly think that it was something that we, as Jacksons, know.
Following the Jackson 5 and The Jacksons, it was an ambitious idea to put up a new Jackson band with your brothers and yourself. Can you tell us how it happened and how your family responded to it?
I think a lot of kids want to be like their father or uncle or big brother, and for us it was the same – we wanted to be like our father and uncles. They were who we looked up to and who we loved and who we grew up with. Especially around the Victory Tour, they did stadiums all around the US, they did performances in baseball stadiums, and we love baseball. So we knew the stadiums because of baseball but our family was able to sing there and change so many people’s lives by watching! We got to see that and it was very cool! Our family performed in Dodgers stadium for 7 nights and it was so powerful to see how the fans loved and respected our family! I was only 5 years old at the time but my father always says he remembers us coming home and performing with brooms and mopes, acting as if we were The Jacksons! We would do everything we saw on stage, and he would correct us and say: « No, this is wrong… » Very nicely, you know, it wasn’t mean but laughing about it. Then, he saw that we were doing it over an over and over, so he said: « You guys have to do your own thing! It’s very sweet that you do our music, but make your own music and if you really want to be musicians, do it yourself! » So we did, and started calling ourselves the 3T’s. Our mom would call us the 3T’s when she wanted us – instead of saying each of our names, she would say: « 3T’s, come downstairs! » or « 3T’s, it’s time for dinner! » One day, I think I was about 15 years old, my uncle said: « You should drop the ‘s and just go with 3T. It’s stronger that way, it’s cooler.» Whenever my uncle said something like that, we went with it and he was right! Making music with my brothers is something that reminds me of my childhood, and it’s a beautiful memory, and something I always love to do – it’s a beautiful thing.
Regarding “Brotherhood”, when I’m going through the leaflet of the record, I can feel your uncle Michael’s complete support for the project, with his own musicians, technicians and arrangers involved. Did you realize how supportive he was at the time or later on?
I didn’t realize at the time how supportive he was. I knew he was always willing to help and he would always bring us into sessions or video shoots – he always did that kind of stuff to make sure that we saw how it was done. I remember going to the “Smooth Criminal” video from a day of school. A car picked us up and we went to some place in L.A. like a bar. It was the “Smooth Criminal” dancing scene with the lean and everything. I didn’t realize at the time what it was and the importance of where I was – I just thought I was seeing Uncle Michael work. Same thing with “Scream” and the dance sequence with my aunt Janet. And also on “Moonwalker”, when the bunny is chasing him. But I didn’t realize how powerful those images would be. There were many things like that when our uncle Michael took us under his wing and I didn’t realize it at the time. We never really felt any pressure that we had to do well because our family did well, that we had to live up to the expectation. I always felt that we needed to do our best because that’s how we were raised to be, whether it was music or not. Same thing with baseball – we played a lot of baseball and I wanted to be the best at baseball, so we practised and worked hard at it. When you practise and work hard, and you have a healthy mindset on why you’re doing what you’re doing, you can survive it very well and do very well with it. I think that’s what we had, even with music, even with the Jackson name. We didn’t feel that pressure – I don’t know why. I feel more pressure today than I have ever actually.
Do you have special memories of his precious support?
More specifically to the 3T time when we came out, there are images of all of our pictures from the album cover with different poses, and he would circle some of them meaning « This is the one » or « This is great ». That’s how we chose our cover because whenever our uncle Michael said « This is the one », we listened. I didn’t even realize at the time that he was doing that but today, it shows you how involved he was in our career – he helped pick a lot of the stuff from the visuals to the music. “I Need You” is a perfect example. We didn’t want to do “I Need You” because when we first heard the song, it was just like a cheap piano synthesizer and one voice so it didn’t sound like it’s souding now. We didn’t think it was quality enough. But my uncle Michael said: « This is such a great song for you! » We thought he was kidding, we didn’t think he was serious, but he said: « I’m serious, you guys have to do this song. If you don’t do it, I may do it. » So for him to say that, we knew we had to do it. Then, he asked if he could sing on it. He was just so involved in our career and this is something I am so grateful for today. It just showed how much love he had for us and how much he wanted us to win. It’s something that means a lot to me and that I will always cherish. I tell Prince and Paris specifically that their dad was so there for us and such a big figure in our lives. Not only for what we wanted to do, to help our dreams, but also as people. I will always be there for them too because I love them and also because I feel like I owe him that – to be there no matter what, in every situation because I feel the best ways for this kids.
« I Need You » is an Eric Carmen cover and I am happy you tell me the story about this song. Can you tell me more, please?
We got a demo of the song. Actually, we got demos all the time from our A&R who would give us a CD or a cassette with a bunch of songs other writers wrote. On it was “I Need You” and we just went right passed it. Apparently, my uncle got the same demos and he said: « You guys have to do this one song. » But we didn’t know he got demos and listened to them. When we sang it, he asked if he could also sing on it because he really liked the song. He was recording songs in a studio that was very close and after his sessions, he came to listen to us perform “I Need You”. By the time he got there, we had finished it but he asked if he could do the ending. It was Denniz PoP and also Max Martin, one of the most successful writers and producers of all time now, but back then I think it was the first big project he was producing. He has done everyone from Celine Dion to Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears, The Weeknd, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry… I’ll never forget it because after the first take my uncle sang, Max Martin and Denniz PoP stepped outside and they were crying because of the impact that my uncle’s singing and voice had on them… It was like the moment they realized their dream came true. They had always said they would make it when they record Michael Jackson and they did it! It was just a beautiful moment because I got to see from my eyes how big and impactful my uncle was through how these producers from Sweden responded to hearing his voice and singing. It was in those moments that you realized how powerful my uncle was!…
For quite a long time, I believed that Michael had sung his own complete version of “Why”, but technician Brian Vibberts told me that he only sang the chorus since he really wanted to give the song to 3T. Can you give us more details, please?
Yes, there is a version of “Why” with my uncle. First of all, he played two songs. I think it was in New York City at The Hit Factory where he was doing a string session for “Childhood”, I believe. On a break, he brought us to the back room and said he had some music he wanted to play and share with us. So he played “You Are Not Alone” and “Why”. He said he could only keep one, and he wanted to give the other to us. He asked us if there was one we liked more, or one we thought he should do or we should do. We loved them both! He said Sony thought he should keep « You Are Not Alone » and he asked us: « Do you want “Why”? » We said: « Yes, we’d love to have “Why”! » You know, Babyface and R. Kelly at the time were very big artists, very respected writers and producers so we thought we were hitting the jackpot and getting the best writers in RnB music! Our uncle Michael wanted to stay on it and sing the chorus. The reason why I know there is another version is because, in the bridge, when Taryll is singing the words, we had no idea what the words were, so we had to listen over and over to how my uncle sang it, and try to figure out what the words were. We still couldn’t figure it out so he just tried to sing it just like him and hope that the words would just come across. But some of those words, Taryll didn’t even know what they were so he was just trying to sound exactly like my uncle since we didn’t have the lyrics. If this was now, I’d have it on my computer but in the 90s, there was none of that. It’s probably on some tape or CD somewhere in storage, but there definitely exists a version. I know for a fact there is at least the bridge and I’m pretty certain there is a whole version. Because when he firstplayed, we wouldn’t have known what the song was without the vocals…
Lately, you started a solo career with EPs “Damaged” and “Obsessions”. Was it something you found necessary to evolve as an artist and compose on your own?
Yes, I’ve always done music. I think all Jacksons do music, whether they do it privately or publicly – we all love to make music and sing. I mean, most of us, like 90 per cent of us, and I’m no different. Taryll was doing his own music and projects so I didn’t know how long we’d wait for 3T so I started to write for other artists and then I wrote enough songs where I thought maybe I should just release a song or an album. I just started going ! My family was enjoying it and I was enjoying it – it was very fulfilling for me creatively to build a project, not just musically but with image and to plan it, it was very satisfying. Here I am, three years later, continuing on and loving it! It wasn’t the original plan but since I’ve been doing my own music, I’ve loved it and it’s something that I think I’ll always do. It doesn’t mean I won’t do 3T anymore but I think I will always also do my own music because it’s too fulfilling and something I feel my fans deserve, and I promise them I’ll always do music and I will.
You have just made a new album entitled “Acoustic Sessions 1” (with acoustic versions of the songs from the previous EPs) that is about to be released. Can you tell us about your musical exile in Nashville and far from L.A.? How was that good for you and was it a way to breathe new life into your artistry in an acoustic environment?
I had a busier and more stressful life that it was really hard for me to create the way I wanted to in L.A. So I would fly to Nashville to get away and to write. Nashville is called « the music city » so a lot of great talents and musicians are in Nashville. A friend suggested that I go out there and write, just to clear my mind, because it’s healthy for the soul. I went out there and started doing it, and I fell in love with the city. It’s a beautiful city, people are so sweet and nice, they’re so talented and humble, but also quick with what they do, great and passionate. I just fell in ove with the process. I promised myself that for the most part, my music would be made in Nashville. That gives me the opportunity when I come to L.A. to be a dad and to work on other things, to be a family person, to be as best of a guardian as I could to my cousins. Every three months I would go away from a week to two weeks to refill my soul and make music – that’s what I have doing for over five years now and it’s been very healthy for me, so I think I will always do that.
You mentioned a cover of the song “Human Nature”, although your musical influences are multiple. Is it a choice that you made both on the emotional and the musical levels, since you only had an abundance of choices among your uncle’s discography?
I definitely wanted my acoustic sessions and all my acoustic projects to have a cover. I love a lot of music that’s already been released in the 80s, and 90s, and 70s. I was going through names of who I should cover – I was thinking maybe George Michael or Phil Collins or a Beatles song or maybe Marvin Gaye. I was singing a lot of these songs and my producer said: «You should cover your uncle. It’s your very first time doing a cover and that’s the artist you said influenced you the most.» For some reason, I had never thought of a family member – it was not something I wanted to do. So I was like: « Ah, I don’t know if I want to cover family… » He said: « Why? » I didn’t know if that was the right thing to do, so I said I would try it but I couldn’t guarantee I would continue on… He asked me to give him a song that I would like to cover, and there are lots of songs I could have picked but I ended on “Human Nature”. We tried it and I ended up really enjoying it. It was a way for me to pay tribute to my favorite artist who happens to be my beloved uncle. When performing it, I wanted to make sure I captured what I would sing back so many times as a kid because I wanted to be and sound like my uncle Michael, but at the same time I wanted it to be unique and have some parts of me. I’m very happy with it because it reminds me of what I would sing hundreds and thousands of times growing up, in the shower or in my room, like millions of other people. It was also emotional because it’s such a beautiful song and I felt a connection with my uncle while doing and recording it. I felt some type of guidance and it was a very powerful experience that I had never experienced while making music before on so many levels. It’s one of my favorite songs of all times, I’m singing something my uncle sang, I could hear his voice singing it, I felt some connection with him just being proud of me and my journey, and where I am in life… I don’t know if you’ve heard it but at the very end, there is an « I love you » I say and that’s a message to my uncle. No one’s really mentioned it and it was louder first but I wanted it more discreet so we turned it down a bit. It’s a way of saying « I love you » to my uncle Michael.
You are coming to Europe soon to play your new songs in an acoustic concert and in an intimate atmosphere. How do you foresee that first solo tour?
I’m excited for it – it’s going to be great fun, and a beautiful experience! This is probably the most nervous I’ve been as a musician. I’ve only performed with my brothers for 3T so it’s going to be different and challenging. I don’t know how I will feel without my brothers but I’m very excited to sing to my fans, not only TJ songs but 3T songs and also some Jacksons songs and other songs that have influenced me. So I’ve been waiting for this day to perform and connect with my fans in person because there is nothing like it. It’s the highlight ot me of being a musician. Each and every night is going to be special. Making music is something I feel so privileged to do. I respect what it is and I love the art of it.
Tito is the guitar player in The Jacksons, so as one of his sons, you were kind of meant to play the guitar too. Has your father encouraged you to learn how to play it and to do that acoustic tour?
My father used to try to teach me the guitar when I was young but I never wanted to learn it – I just wanted to play baseball and play the drums and sing. It wasn’t until 3T, around 15 or 16 years old, that I got into the guitar and realized that, for me, it was an easy tool to write music with. So I started to ask him questions like « What kind of guitar should I get? » One day, he said: « Do you remember I used to always try yo teach you? » I was like: « Yes, I know, I’m so mad at myself ‘cause I would be so much better! » I saw my father play guitar at a time I didn’t want to play but as I got older, I did. I started playing a lot, and writing music, and singing with it… It’s my favorite instrument and something that I feel helps me become a better musician – it’s part of me. I love the sound of acoustic guitar so much that it’s one of the reasons why I wanted to do the « Acoustic Sessions » album. I think music can be made and appreciated in different ways. Stripped down with simple instrumentation is another great way to enjoy music. I will do future projects that are just acoustic because I think it’s a beautiful sound and something I enjoy to do. I’m looking forward to performing but I don’t know how many songs I’m going to play guitar on the show. For some reason, I feel like being hands-free and being able to point and encourage is more exciting for the audience, but I will play at least one song because it’s the way I have always envisioned performing these songs.
Since Michael Jackson’s passing, your father and uncles have been back on stage and the audience can feel their wish to pay tribute to him. As a solo artist and with your brothers too, has Michael’s passing changed the way you go on stage too?
I think we will always pay tribute to my uncle. He was such an important figure in our lives, not only as musicians, but as people. I say it all the time: my mother was murdered when I was 16 and if it wasn’t for Uncle Michael, I don’t know what I would be. I could be on drugs, I could be down – I don’t know. There are other people, family and friends, but he in particular really helped me recover. He helped me learn there was a better way to process and to move on, and I’m forever thankful and grateful for him. And as a musician, he is definitely my biggest influence so it makes complete sense to pay tribute to him. I’ve been to many shows from Chris Brown to The Weeknd where they pay tribute to my uncle Michael, so it only makes sense for us to do it as well. Just because we are his nephews, it doesn’t mean we can’t honor him. I love my uncle Michael and I will always cherish him, and we will always pay respects to him, and one way to do that is by performing his music and sharing it with our audience so they can enjoy it and sing along and dance. Every single performance I am at, as long as I can do more than three songs, there will be at least some type of tribute to my uncle Michael. In the rehearsals, when we play “I Need You”, we can hear his voice and it’s very emotional for us too. It’s a very powerful thing because his voice is so distinct and passionate and strong, but also beautiful and innocent – we feel all of that and it hits you quickly. So we feel the same way as the audience does.
Can you please pass a message to your fans that will come and see you on stage in Europe at the end of next June and July?
I love each and every one of them and I’m so thankful for them, for supporting myself and 3T and the Jackson family. It’s been challenging to do music for various reasons – from the media to the business, to the personal challenges… But it’s been the fans that have kept me going and inspired. I am forever thankful for each and every one of them. I love you and I miss you and I’m excited to see you!
Thanks to Touria!