Jordan Woods-Robinson, musician, actor and entrepreneur, took some time from his very busy schedule to chat with me about his life, music and upcoming projects. Currently appearing as Eric on The Walking Dead, Jordan has had a very diverse career which he shared with me during our chat. From bluegrass musician, to Blue Man Group, his accomplishments and approach to life is one that I am thrilled to share with you!
Getting to Know… Jordan Woods-Robinson
PC: Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions! Can you tell me about your background in music and which instruments you play?
JWR: I grew up as a bluegrass fiddle player in the States. I started playing violin classically when I was four. However, living in Tennessee where there is a lot of bluegrass music, I began to play with a teacher my parents found. Eventually, I was working with him professionally. He would work in different theatres around East Tennessee and whenever he would need to go away for a little while he would bring me in as his backup fiddler. I began doing that when I was eight, and did that up till I was eighteen. From there, I went off to university for theatre. Now I play fiddle, mandolin and guitar. Practically anything with strings I can figure something out on it. Then I started playing percussion for Blue Man Group.
PC: I was just going to ask you about Blue Man Group, can you talk about your involvement with that?
JWR: Blue Man Group was my dream job. It was within my five year goal when I graduated from college, my girlfriend, now wife had seen that Blue Man were having a casting call. I remember her saying “you should totally skip class that day and go to the audition”. I said, ‘I’m not skipping class!’ Either way, I ended up at the open call and that turned into an audition. That turned into a call back, and everything getting more and more promising.
Then Blue Man said, ‘everything’s great, we want you to go into training but we don’t want to pull you out of school in order to do that’. They told me to go ahead and finish all of your studies and keep in touch. Then we will bring you in to start working with us when you’re done, and they did exactly that. Within about two weeks of graduating I was in training. Now I’ve done shows in New York, Las Vegas, Boston, Chicago and I worked on a Norwegian Cruise Line, doing the Blue Man show for a while going around the Mediterranean.
PC: On our website we are going to be exposing new music, I was reading about your SOS Studio and I was wondering if you could talk about what you are doing for new singers and songwriters?
JWR: I would love to! Actually, I’m putting SOS Studio on the back burner right now. I’m not putting it away as it’s something I’m very passionate about. While I am working on my new album, I’m letting SOS Studio take a little break.
We have a team of songwriters and musicians who are working together to help each other to finish their music. Basically, someone will come in with an idea for a song and they will share it with the rest of the group. Everyone adds their musical part – whether that be bass or drums, trumpet or vocals or accordion – they add their part, then we have an engineer take all the files and mix them together into a song. The songwriter then gets that back and they have a finished song.
That’s the process I’m using for my new album. Just in order to make sure I’m putting as much time into one thing as possible, SOS Studio is kind of dormant right now. My new album is my first full-length album of completely original music that I’ve ever released. We’re shooting for about 14 songs or maybe 12, by the time we get everything recorded and cut down and it’s a mix of… do you know Mumford and Sons?
PC: Yes, I do.
JWR: It’s kind of like Mumford and Sons; it’s got that folk and Celtic music feel. They have similar structures to them but this is a little more rocked up. It’s got some heavy guitars, heavy drums, and lots of big vocals. So, it’s a little more epic. The name of the album is ‘Anthem’. The idea is every song would just be this big anthem that anyone would be proud to have represent them. I am really excited about it and that I’m recording it with my network of musicians. I record something in my home studio then I put it up online, and I have a drummer that lays down his part. I have a bass player that does what he does, and then I have my wife singing vocals along with me. Everyone puts down their ideas, we save it and move onto the next song.
Once all the songs are done, the engineer will take all the files and mix them together into an album. Then we will be set. We’ve also been doing a crowdfunding campaign.
PC: Yeah I was just going to ask you about that.
JWR: The crowdfunding has blown me away! It’s incredible. I’ve barely lifted a finger and we are already at about 60% funded in about three weeks. Great response, lots of people are very excited about it and there are some great packages in there.
PC: Yes what is your top tier reward?
JWR: The highest reward amount is $2,500.00 and that is for a personal concert in your living room with a whole bunch of friends. You can invite enough people to have a whole party there!
PC: Sounds good!
JWR: The lowest amount is only $5, and that gets your name on the front of the album, which was important to me. I’ve never done a crowdfund campaign before, and I was little nervous getting into it. You could either receive this amazing support like I have done, or you could just hear crickets. It’s a little nerve racking but I’ve been really lucky so far. I recognized that anyone who does contribute to this, is actually making this album happen. You know if one person didn’t support and another didn’t support we wouldn’t have an album; there wouldn’t be anything there. So, it’s very important to me that on the front of the album, the very first thing you see is the representation of all of these people made it happen. All the names right there.
PC: Yeah that will be great for anybody who has contributed to see that.
JWR: Yes, absolutely! I’m talking to some designers because I want to make sure that it comes through loud and clear.
PC: Okay let’s talk about your acting career. You play the part of Eric on The Walking Dead, can you tell me how you came to get that part?
JWR: As an actor in the southeast, which is anywhere from Florida up to Tennessee, there’s a whole range of states that are all considered local hire. That just means if a show like The Walking Dead is filming in Atlanta, then anyone from Tennessee down to Florida is welcome to audition for it. I had been doing the Blue Man Group for nine years, and I’d been fortunate to do a number of other television and film projects in the southeast. I got an audition for the role that turned out to be [Ross Marquand’s character] Aaron. When the producer asked me to audition, my wife and I were on vacation at the time. We filmed it in her grandparents kitchen and sent it off. As soon as we got back from vacation my agent called and said you’re in the running but I need you to send a better quality video tape. I didn’t get the part of Aaron, but they said they would like me to audition for this new character and that’s what turned out to be the role of Eric. I had to travel up to Atlanta the next day, so it was a huge whirlwind getting everything organized to get up there.
When I arrived, Ross was one of the last people I met on set. I met Norman Reedus (Daryl), then Chandler Riggs (Carl) and then a number of other people. Everyone was very welcoming and supportive. I didn’t meet Ross until that night. We only had a few hours of talking and getting to know each other before we had to go on set the next day for the reunion scene in the warehouse. The one where Eric and Aaron find each other again. We basically focused on just getting to know each other. We talked a little bit about the story, about our life together, and the experiences that we’ve gone through. We didn’t run any lines, or get into character. We just got to know each other as people. We figured the writing was so strong and the characters were so strong, that Ross and I should get to know each other and care about each other as friends. We were thinking that once we got onto set it would all just take care of itself, and I think it did. I think it was a beautiful scene, the writer and the director and all of the design that went into putting all that together were just wonderful. I get lots of feedback from people just saying, that scene sticks out to them even a year later.
PC: Yeah I think that’s why you’re so popular, because it really does stick in your mind.
JWR: Awesome, thank you.
PC: I see how great you are on social media interacting with your fans. Is that something that’s really important to you?
JWR: Yes it is, it’s very important to me. It’s something I enjoy doing as well. I enjoy reaching out. I like knowing that I can be there for the fans but I can give them a little bit of a glimpse of life behind the camera. I like knowing that they’re there for me to. With Blue Man Group, it’s so funny. It’s this incredible show, but because it’s completely anonymous once you put on the blue make up. No one ever knows who you are. I can do a show, then walk back out into the same audience and no one will even look at me. It’s a little bit selfish, but it’s also humbling to know this many people care about the show that much. They want to have a real connection with someone they have seen portraying one of their favourite characters on one of their favourite shows. It’s a great way for us to reach out using social media. I never used to be a super fan of Twitter but now it’s one of my preferred ways of reaching out to people. I think it’s a very powerful way to connect with those people you might not have a chance to connect with otherwise.
PC: That works equally for the fans, because I’ve connected with so many people I wouldn’t have normally been able to. It’s helped me connect with some of my favorite musicians as well. Can you tell me more about the first album or single you bought and do you remember where you bought it from?
JWR: Ooh, good first question! I remember the first CD I ever received was a Christmas gift from my parents. They bought me one of those Walkman CD players, and the album was Phil Collins “Both Sides Of The Story”.
PC: Good album!
JWR: It’s a great album! I used to listen to it all the time. I love Phil Collins, I think everything he does is wonderful. That was definitely my first album. Then, my first concert was Eric Clapton when I was 13 or 14 years old. It was a great experience!
PC: Tell me who’s your Guilty pleasure? Music you secretly enjoy.
JWR: There is an album I really love by Jay-Z and Kanye did together, “Watch the Throne”. Yeah, that’s my guilty pleasure, Kanye West and Jay-Z.
PC: Who knew?! Which song do you just have to play at full volume?
JWR: Oh do you know Glen Hansard from The Frames and Swell Season? We were listening to some of his music last night and that’s the stuff you just have to crank up. Just one guy and a guitar most of the time. But yeah Glen Hansard, I’d listen to that at full volume anytime.
PC: Which song or album soothes your troubled mind or heart?
JWR: It’s a soundtrack for a… this is really gonna date me. There’s a soundtrack my parents used to play when I was younger for the movie ‘Some Kind Of Wonderful’. It’s totally from the 80s. It’s all indie bands, like almost emo bands. It’s the kind of music I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of on the radio, but whenever I put it on I just love it. It’s very nostalgic for me because of my parents playing it when I was younger, but I think it’s a great album. I’ve grown up with it and it’s definitely something that whenever I put it on I just feel relaxed.
PC: On that note, which movie soundtrack do you never get tired of listening to?
JWR: There is a soundtrack I listen to a lot from the ‘Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ the new one with Ben Stiller. It just came out maybe three years ago, but I think the soundtrack to that is absolutely gorgeous. I put that on for either turning my brain on or off. I listen to it a lot when I’m working and it just helps me to focus but in a relaxed way.
PC: Three pieces of music you adore or three styles of music you are partial to?
JWR: Definitely Mumford & Sons style of genre, I will rock out to that all day. I like to listen to Cyndi Lauper. Arcade Fire, oh and REM. I’ll put four in there. I own just about every REM album, most of the Arcade Fire albums, and yeah I love buying the others as well.
PC: What about other styles like Country, or Punk?
JWR: I don’t usually buy country. I will listen to it to learn it, but if I’m going to buy something, it’s gonna be more indie rock. So maybe like Arctic Monkeys or Coldplay. Though Coldplay is more mainstream these days and The Killers, they have gone a little more mainstream too. I like that darker sound, not dark but that dirty kind of gritty sound.
PC: Last concert and best concert you have attended?
JWR: There is a tie for best concert. One of the two best, was when I saw Glen Hansard in concert. Just the amount of intimacy there was in the room, it felt like we were sitting in our living room playing. The second best was Coldplay for the exact opposite reason. It was a huge spectacle and it was just massive and just thousands and thousands of people in the theatre, everyone had glow wristbands. Coldplay was the best biggest concert and Glen’s was the best small and memorable concert.
Most recent concert was probably a local friend. Not someone who anybody would know, but some of my musician friends will put on local shows and support each other. I am living in Orlando now, and there is a pretty good artist scene here. Especially knowing all the people who work in Blue Man Group. A lot of people are doing side projects so the opportunity to go and support them. It’s not something I get to do very often, but always feels good when I do.
PC: What would be your most frequently worn Band T-Shirt and is it an original?
JWR: Favourite band t-shirt? I don’t know if I have any right now.
PC: Yeah there seems to be a divide, people I speak to either have a whole pile of t-shirts or they just don’t wear them at all. Which song would you like to be played at your Funeral?
JWR: Oh my. Well it’s not a song. I’ve always loved Shel Silverstein’s, “Where The Sidewalk Ends”. So it’s just a poem but I’d like for that to be read.
PC: Final music question. When I interviewed Charles Baker who played Skinny Pete in ‘Breaking Bad’, we talked about him being able to show off his real life piano skills in one of the episodes of the series. Would you like The Walking Dead to be showcasing your skills on the fiddle?
JWR: Yeah I’d love to! If I ever have the opportunity to do that, to pick Scott Gimple’s ear about that, then yeah I’d love to. I think it would be great to hear some music. I think where the show is going, I don’t know if we’re going to have time to sit down and play some music. But I think it would be a very welcome thing and I’d be happy to do it.
PC: Yeah I think that would be really good! Let’s bend his ear on that one. How would you describe your perfect day?
JWR: That’s actually a good question. It would change though, it’s probably changing right now. My perfect day would be to sleep in, because that doesn’t happen anymore. Sleep in, and wake up feeling refreshed, feeling creative. Then to either be creative by myself, or with my children. But if I woke up and I had no other obligations other than just being able to create and to co-create with others, then I would be very happy about that. Oh, and eating, I’m a huge eater! There has to be food in there somewhere.
PC: Sounds good! Finish this sentence, I cannot possibly live without…
PC: Thanks for the interview it’s been absolutely great to talk to you.
JWR: Thank you Paula, you too, I really appreciate it!
To follow Jordan and his journey on the new album released, but sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook, stop by his newly redesigned website, JordanWoods-Robinson.com and be sure to check out his Crowdfunding Project! If you happen to be in the Orlando area, stop by and see one of his shows at Universal Studios as a member of the Blue Man Group!
[Update: since this interview Jordan has left the cast of The Walking Dead but can be seen in season 7 of Homeland and in season 1 and 2 of the show Good Behavior]
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. Any opinions or views expressed within the interview are the subject’s own and publication does not imply endorsement of any such opinions or views by Absolute Music Chat or its personnel.