Jam Alker’s band, THE JAB just released a new single “Riot.” “Riot” will appear on their upcoming new album “Consume” that will be released Feb. 4th, 2020. Music has always been a passion in Jam Alker’s life. Jam is celebrated for his dark gritty blues-inspired rock with raw emotional lyrics. Jam had a tumultuous upbringing filled with childhood trauma, violence, and abuse. Music was an outlet for him. He wanted to become a successful musician and he did. Jam had money, screaming fans, girls, but there was still a hole inside of him. He found heroin and it numbed that void. As his addiction grew, it dulled his creativity, his passion, his life and he put down his guitar for over a decade. After his daughter was born he realized that heroin would eventually kill him. In October of 2014, Jam entered treatment. He brought his acoustic guitar with him originally as a way to pass time, but it soon became an essential part of his treatment. Songs came pouring out of him that helped him deal with emotions, thoughts, and feelings.
Jam Alker has been sober for 5 years and his music has made an incredible impact on numerous people. His first solo full-length album, Sophrosyne came out in 2017 and chronicles his story of addiction and recovery. Music was so imperative to Jam’s recovery and really aided in dealing with his pain. So he decided to help others struggling with addiction to begin to heal through music. He has worked with Face the Music and Recovery Unplugged, both organizations that help treat addiction through music. Besides touring with his band, The JAB, and creating music, Jam continues to speak and perform at treatment centers, schools, and public events. Culturally Obsessed’s Breanna Hernandez recently spoke to Jam about his life, his music, and his message.
Breanna Hernandez: It’s so great to meet you, even though if it’s through the phone.
Jam Alker: It’s great to meet you as well.
BH: So from what I know, correct me if I’m wrong, you were actually born in England?
JA: That’s correct.
BH: If we could start there, do you remember anything from England?
JA: I don’t actually. I immigrated to the States with my family when I was three years old and it didn’t take long before my family ended up in a small desert town in Arizona where I like to say, that’s sort of the last place that I have any happy childhood memories of. There really aren’t too many of them. It was shortly after that when I was five years that my parents separated and I talk about some of my earliest memories being like my mom’s smashing a whiskey bottle over my dad’s head to stop his violent advances towards her, and then the next day she put me and my brother in a car and took us to Las Vegas. I don’t know how long it was before I saw my father again. She took a job in a casino as a cocktail waitress and from five years old on, I was to a large degree left to fend for myself, five, six years old on the streets of Vegas, about a mile away from the Vegas strip where she then met another violent alcoholic and married him.
One day she took me and my brother out. We came home. My stepfather had been in a violent alcoholic rage and on one of his binges and he destroyed everything in the house, including going in me and my brother’s rooms and destroying our things. You would think that my mom would do the same thing she did with my father and leave him but rather than doing that, she stayed with him and put me and my brother on a Greyhound bus to go and live back with my father who I hadn’t seen in years.
That was when I was eight years old. From 8 until 15 years old, I only saw my mom twice. And I bring this up because later in life I became a heroin addict and I talk about a lot of my childhood trauma and how that sort of formed my addiction and my other types of numbing behavior to get away from the pain that I felt and never processed in my childhood.
A lot of that has to do with a lack of a mother’s love and guidance. One of the best ways that I’ve ever heard heroin described when you’re just trying to describe it to someone who’s never done it is it feels like a mother’s love and that very much resonated with me in terms of the feeling of warmth and comfort that it provided to me that I so desperately lacked when I was a child. So that’s sort of the beginning of my story.
BH: I moved around a lot as a kid too. I know it’s kind of random, but did you kind of feel that you were distracted? Because for me, every time I moved I felt that I was a chameleon. I could be this person I always wanted to be. I became a liar in a way. I felt like I put myself in this whole other world because I was moved so much as a child and it’s just something that people don’t really understand. That’s what’s why I’m asking you. Could you relate to that in any way?
JA: Definitely. Between kindergarten and senior year, I went to 15 different schools. I never was in one place for more than two and a half years. So yeah, you go to a new environment and in some cases, I’d be up to make friends right away. But another environment, I didn’t feel like I connected with everybody no matter what I tried to do. Every time it was starting over, every time it was trying to fit in again and yeah, I think that there’s some lying and manipulating. I mean you’re a kid trying to belong.
BH: Yeah, exactly.
Addiction was an attempt to fill a void
JA: You’ll do whatever you can at that age to belong in some way, particularly when you don’t have any sort of family support to make you feel a part of any type of community.
BH: That’s really refreshing to hear. I felt so alone and isolated as well. And I mean even to be completely honest with you, when I became older, I did turn to alcoholism and other things. I think I read an article that you posted and correct me if I’m wrong, you said it feels like addiction’s a hole that needs to be filled. Correct? That cannot be filled or what were those words again to put it out there?
JA: Yeah, for sure. I think that the hole existed inside of me and a part of my addictive behavior was trying all different types of unsuccessful methods to try to fill the hole. So I wouldn’t say the hole is an addiction. Addiction was an attempt to fill the hole.
BH: Ah, yes.
JA: Just a very, very unskilled and inevitably unsuccessful way of trying to fill that hole or that void.
BH: Yeah. From those experiences, when you did finally find treatment, how long did it take you to finally sit and take the real steps? Was it just one specific day or was there a turning point or a rock bottom in your addiction?
JA: I think that because I do a lot of speaking now in the recovery community, going into treatment centers and I get asked that question about my rock bottom a lot and I really try to use wording other than rock bottom, because it feels like that’s a destination. Where do I have to go to this point? What will be my rock bottom? I’ve met people whose turning point or rock bottom was after one DUI. I’ve also met the people who lived under a bridge for 10 years, eating out of garbage cans. And that wasn’t enough for them. That still wasn’t a turning point. So I really try to look at it as my moment of clarity. Now before my moment clarity, there were plenty of times that I thought I’d hit my rock bottom and then I was trying to change, but it wasn’t a complete surrender.
It was always still trying to hold onto my will and do it my way. The thing that was my final moment of clarity is when I found out that I was going to have a daughter and I was sure that when I was finally a parent that I would be able to stop doing heroin. When my daughter was born within two weeks of her birth I was back on the westside of Chicago shooting heroin again. That was really the moment where I realized that there were no more lines in the sand to draw. Once this happens, I’ll stop. Once that happens, I’ll stop. Being a father, having a beautiful child was not enough to get me to stop. I realized I couldn’t figure it out on my own at that point. And that was when I finally reached out for help and started speaking to an addiction specialist and then eventually going into treatment.
Entering treatment and using music to heal
JA: I was very hesitant at first. But over the course of the next year, I sort of broke down some of my boundaries and barriers and eventually, we decided that treatment was best. October 14th of 2014 is when I finally checked into treatment. And I think the treatment was a one and done kind of a thing, but not because I’m better at it than anybody but just because there was absolutely no other resort left for me. I knew if I didn’t go to treatment the next step for me was death and I didn’t want that. So I went with complete and unconditional surrender and showed up to treatment. I literally did everything that was suggested of me. And when I did that and when things started to finally change in my life, and that was probably the most significant moment of my life other than my child’s birth.
Happiness was the thing that truly changed the trajectory of my life. I brought my guitar with me when I went to treatment and I was allowed to use some of my treatment work as songwriting. And so all of a sudden I was able to use music as a way to start to process and feel the underlying trauma with the things that had created that hole inside of me that I tried so desperately to fill with fame or money or with drugs or relationships that were never filled. Instead, music became a way for me to be able to touch on and start the process and heal the underlying causes of my addiction. And that was when my life really changed.
Helping others with their recovery
BH: Also, correct me if I’m wrong, you do help kind of like a mentor, you do go out to treatment centers and you do discuss your treatment. You do that with music as well, correct?
JA: Yeah. There’s a number of things that I’ve done in my recovery. Part of what I do is go to law enforcement agencies, schools, things like that and then speak about addiction and recovery. I go to treatment centers and speak with the clients at treatment centers and I’ll also share with them some of the songs I’ve written in my recovery about the experiences that I’ve been through and try to show them how they can also use music, or creativity, or writing as a way to be able to help them to heal from the underlying causes of their addiction as well.
And then I also have put out music on a larger scale in helping to create this platform where I’m able to help people on a larger level through social media, through sharing my story. Just recently my band got a deal with Sony and we’ve got a new album coming out and we’re about to tour the world. So these are all gifts of my recovery. Yes to answer your question first and foremost, one of the most important things that I do is going back and helping and to mentor and inspire those who are either still struggling with addiction or are early in their recovery.
BH: And that’s such an amazing part of recovery that I think is missing, you know? I can totally see your vision. If you don’t mind me asking, was it an integrated treatment that you went into? Just because I know, just for people out there, maybe they feel like if I know it’s like some people go straight to mental health facilities, some people go to rehab and it’s integrated. Did you have that sort of help?
JA: Yeah, sure. When you say integrated, what you mean?
BH: So pretty much with me because with me I took family counseling. That helped me figure out my whole family and pretty much they talked about different sorts of treatments, which is integrated treatment, which could be mental health along with medical help with drug addiction. So I’m not really sure if that’s relevant but I did you receive that sort of help, cause I feel like it’s fairly new.
JA: Yeah, so the treatment center that I went to, the division that I was in, or the group that I was in was for what you would call co-occurring disorders, mental health issues along with substance abuse disorder. So I did get some help on both of those fronts. The music part of it was something that was very individual to me. I had a great counselor who decided to look outside the box, saw that I had some musical skills and she allowed me to do some of my student work as songwriting, which was not something that was part of their curriculum. But thank God she was willing to see where my talents lie and how I could use them in a positive way. So that was not part of the curriculum. That was just something that I was able to do individually. Thank God, cause that’s the thing that really saved my life.
BH: It sounds amazing and I’m really honored to speak to you. You know the fact that you’ve said that you’ve overcome all this and now look at you. You have a new album coming out through Sony and you’re going to tour the world. That’s true recovery and I’m very thankful to speak to you. What you said about music really stood out to me. You surrendered, you surrender to it. And that’s the first step in AA is you’ve got to really admit that you’re powerless over it. And that’s something that I feel that a lot of people can’t do. They can, but they feel like they can’t, you know. I think that’s really important that you mentioned that because I feel like people need to hear that and that’s the first thing, is admitting that you’re powerless. That’s the first step and that’s very amazing.
JA: Yeah, for sure. And with respect to the traditions of the 12 step program and the use anonymity within the program, I usually just say that I am also a member of the 12 step program, but I don’t ever talk about that publicly to respect those traditions. But absolutely, it is surrendering fully to the disease and understanding that it is powerful. It was necessary for me to start to rely on a power greater than myself, which I also say, you know when I went to treatment and they told me I had to…they suggested that I find some sort of spiritual connection.
I opened up to that power greater than myself and this music that I began writing came from something beyond me. I’ve said that I feel like an old radio that was finally tuned in with the right frequency and this music just started to play through me. And I truly feel that subconscious contact with a power greater than myself coming to me during the music. So while my interpretation and my experience through music are different than most. It is still based on those very principles that they talk about.
BH: Yeah, you’re right that they do have the anonymity. Actually, just real quick. February was the last drink I’ve had and it’s really just been a whole mind change. It’s been really amazing.
BH: Thank you. There are times that it’s just like all these different stages I went through, you know, anger, regret and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, who am I?” So it’s really a lot of work and I commend you for all that you’ve done and all that you’re doing. Are there any new things we can look out for? You mentioned a new album.
JA: Yes, the album comes out on February 4th, the first single comes out on December 13th. The first single will be out on December 13th, the album on February 4th. The album is called Consume, and the band is called The JAB, short for Jam Alker Band.
BH: It’ll be a really good thing to listen to your album.
JA: You know I have, my first album is out right now. Which you can listen to on Spotify and actually three of the songs that are on that album I wrote while I was in treatment. So if you wanted to check out an album that has a lot to do with addiction and recovery, if you looked up Jam Alker on Spotify, you will find my first album which came out in 2017 and like I said, it was all about my experience in addiction and early recovery. I’d love your thoughts on that as well.
BH: I would love to. I’m on Spotify all day. And one more thing I wanted to mention. I really love your content on YouTube. I really love how you’re showing the underpasses, under the bridges, because I do cleanups. I do beach cleanups, I’m actually doing a Los Angeles cleanup on my roller skates. So I know the risk, I know it’s sketchy being out there. But you know, I think it’s so important to really document what’s really going on that we are so desensitized by. So again, I commend you for the YouTube channel. I love that you’re showing it and it’s a part of LA that we want to ignore. We want to see the buildings and all the good parts, you know? But we ignore the reality of the situation.
JA: Yeah, it’s rough out in LA. I know it’s really bad. But no, that’s great and I appreciate you saying that.
Breanna: Thank you so much Jam, for talking with me. I love this interview. I love what it’s about, I love your music. We’re going to put that out there. Thank you so much.
Jam: Awesome! Thank you!