Pursuing Passion: An Interview With Jason Farlow of The Last Real Circus

by | Nov 28, 2022 | MUSIC

Chatting with singer-songwriters is one of my favorite things to do, so I was very excited to sit down with Jason Farlow. Based right here in RVA, Farlow is a folk-rocker and the founder and leader of The Last Real Circus. Right now, the band is working on their new album, to be released next year. But Farlow’s back story is just as interesting, something I discovered when I sat down with him at Get Tight Lounge for an interview. His story is definitely worth the read — it was certainly worth the conversation. Enjoy!

Jonathan Facka: You’ve been in the RVA music scene for a long time with your band, The Last Real Circus. But today I want to talk about you. There are many things that people might not know about Jason Farlow. There’s a bit of mystery sprinkled into your aura. So let’s start with where you’re from, and what led you to become a musician in the first place?

Jason Farlow: Well, let’s see. I was born on the eastern shore of Virginia, on the Lower Peninsula part that’s over there. I lived there til I was about five years old. Then my father moved the entire family to Richmond. So that’s kind of where we grew up, me and my three older brothers. My two parents grew up in Chesterfield, just south of Richmond. So I went to elementary, middle school, high school here. But then I also went down to the Outer Banks, where I also went to elementary, middle school and high school. So my parents were in and out of divorcing and not divorcing a lot of my childhood. They would sit me and my brothers down and say, “Hey, look, we’re getting a divorce.” And then two months later, not getting a divorce. But my father was building a marina down on the Outer Banks in North Carolina when I was growing up in Richmond.

Facka: NIce, I love boats.

Farlow: Boats are fun. We definitely grew up around boats; it’s what my family would say is kind of their their livelihood. That’s always been fishing, boating. Me and my brothers, we might have another take on that. But we’ve always been in that beach community, with my dad being down there building the building the marina. I used to spend some of my months down on the Outer Banks. And then my parents would argue, and then I would get shifted up to Richmond, where I would then go to school and maybe finish out fourth grade and fifth grade for some of the year, and then get switched down there and finished up elementary down on the Outer Banks. And it was literally that way all the way through college.

Facka: At what point did you get into music? Did you take it in school or anything like that?

Farlow: So my father, as a way to entertain me on these trips back and forth… he had a drum set, he was a drummer, and he used to break down this freaking drum set all the time. He would always play it, break it down, take it down the Outer Banks, set it up, play it. And I just really got into that. All my brothers tried. They were fucking horrible — like, they never caught the bug. But my dad was the guy who, like, really had that musical ear. He just knew music, you know? He had grown up with Motown or whatever, but he could listen to it and in two seconds, he made the beat, he knew the key they were singing in, and he was just so good. And I wanted to emulate my dad, obviously, at the time. So I started playing the drums when I was about three or four years old. And I did not touch another instrument or anything until literally my freshman year of college, which was in the year 2003.

Facka: What were you pursuing in college?

Farlow: Acting was actually my first major for my first three years of college. Fun side story. My best friend growing up on the Outer Banks, him and I were in theatre together in high school down there. And we lived together during the summers, but now he went off to Hollywood. He wrote the movie Peanut Butter Falcon.

Facka: Oh, my friend told me I need to watch that. Apparently it’s amazing.

Farlow: It’s so awesome. It was up for an Oscar with Shia Labeouf and Dakota Johnson. And I mean, he’s got his own story to tell, but that is a guy that really wanted me to pursue it. So when I got into college, I was just like, “Man, I’m going to be an actor,” and I pursued that for my first three years.

Facka: Awesome. And then where did life take you after school?

Farlow: After school? Ironically, my first go at college, my last semester, I was in a really toxic relationship. So I actually dropped out my final semester, and I went to work for my brother Troy, who at the time was running for delegate of Virginia, down in the 97th precinct. So I went and I was his field campaign manager for my first year out of college. Was knocking door to door. And this is right at the height of the Iraq, Afghanistan campaigns kicking off, right in 2005, 2006. And I knocked on this door, and this lady had answered the door, and she was in this whole dress uniform. And I was in my little tie as well, preppy white boy. “Yeah, my brother is running for office,” and she started asking me these questions I just had no fucking answers to. And she said a comment to me. Something along the lines of “You haven’t lived any life yet until you’ve picked up a rifle and defended someone other than your own.” And the way she said it just fucking radiated with me. So I ended up going down to the recruiter’s office a week or two later. And I was having my first child on the way at the time, with my ex-wife. I decided to join the army right then and there. And that was what I started doing right after college.

Facka: So at this point in your life, songwriting hadn’t really emerged for you? You’ve been writing songs the whole time?

Farlow: Yeah, I’ve been writing all along, really. My freshman year of college I was in this dorm room. This guy was playing the guitar and he had three or four beautiful women around him. He was playing this John Mayer thing, and I was just like, “Man, how do I be that guy? I want to be the guy with that acoustic guitar, and sing!” I’d always been singing on the back end — you know, being a drummer, just keeping time singing to myself. And he was the most amazing dude, man, I still to this day talk to him every once in a while. But he gave me this guitar and said, “Hey man, if you ever want to make it in the world of music, you’ve got to be a songwriter.” Like, you’ve got to write your own music. And he showed me these little tricks and trades of how to write lyrics down in ways that he saw the world, and how he, really, color-coded things in his brain. And so that’s really when I started songwriting, right then and there.

I went home that Christmas — I had a 28 piece drum set. Every year for Christmas, my dad only got me, like, one piece of drum equipment. And I’d saved it all my life, right up until freshman year of college. So I went home, sold off my drum set, went and got two guitars and an amp — two acoustic guitars, not even electric. And from there, I just started writing my own music, and really got into covers. I know that’s probably what everybody started doing, but that’s actually what I started doing in college: bartending and doing singer-songwriter showcases. Doing cover shows, doing the one-man shows.

Facka: Sick. At what point did you settle down here in Richmond and decide to make music? What transpired on the way? Like, were you deployed or anything like that?

Farlow: Yeah. Well, I did three deployments in my whole stint while I was in the army. Afghanistan and Iraq. Was injured by an IED when I was in Baghdad in the green zone. IED had hit our Humvee, and you know the rest. [When it] was over, man, I woke up and kind of didn’t know where I was. Teeth were missing out of my mouth, and had some scrap metal in my shoulder. But yeah, man, it was interesting, because when that did go down, they wanted to put in for a Purple Heart, and wanted to do all this crazy stuff. But people think, like, “Oh, you get injured, you get a Purple Heart,” or something of that nature. But I didn’t. I received something called CAB, a combat action badge it basically means I was engaging with the enemy face to face. But yeah, there’s definitely a lot of life lessons that I learned being in that being in that role. For sure.

Facka: It’s extreme. You have an amazing story.

Farlow: Yeah. At a pretty early age. But the military clicked with me, man, right when I joined. I had Forrest Gump replaying in my head. All I had to do is sit down and shut up. And just, you know, “Yes, drill sergeant!” And for some reason that always clicked with me. I did well, I was a non-commissioned officer when I was in. I was a platoon sergeant of 75 guys, and I lost, sadly, two to three people underneath my command. And I lost some good friends of mine, and [that was] something that was definitely shitty to go through. But I look back now and just take [it] with a grain of salt. Like I said, I’m just happy that I’m here. And not a lot of people, I don’t think, experience that. Trying to recover from something like that.

Facka: So you’ve got Koala here. I really love your dog.

Farlow: Thank you. Yeah, she’s my service animal. She helps with my shellshock and vertigo that I still get from my deployments. But yeah, man, she’s a lifesaver.

Facka: Wow. So you’ve got a baby on the way, and you have a teenage daughter. How has being a dad, and your preparation for a new child, played into your productivity?

Farlow: I think it actually adds a lot. It’s a blessing. You know, I always wanted another child, so I’m happy to be having another kid that’s on the way. But yeah, I think it actually drives me a little bit more, you know? Like, I don’t know how to say this… When I was in the army — and I spent all my 20s in the army — I spent all that time for my daughter and a woman who I was having a child with. I loved her, and, you know, we love each other, we just knew we weren’t meant to be with one another. But we’re raising this kid, and it was just this thing of, I wanted — and I want — my kids to look at their father [and] go like, “You know what he did? He pursued his passion, and he did what really makes him happy.” And I think if they take from that lesson, that they can be happy just pursuing what they love, then I’m making the right example as a father. And I think having a kid on the way honestly just inspires the shit out of me. Just to write more, dive more into what I’m doing, to book more shows, to ask for more money… For me, as a songwriter, it’s tough. And I mean, you know, when I switch to the band role, I’ve got five, six other people that I’m trying to get… you know, they don’t always get fed, and that gets frustrating, but at the same time, we’re rolling in for a bigger reason.

Facka: Shifting gears here. What do you think it is about Richmond and the amount of talented lyrical songwriters that live here? And where do you typically draw inspiration from when writing songs?

Farlow: Great question, man. Ironically, where we are right now used to be the Roxy. This was where I first played my my first ever solo show. Point being, this is the rich Richmond diversity in the music world. I mean, you take hip hop, you take rap, you take singer-songwriter, you take country, you take Americana, Folk, rock bands, EDM… I personally draw my inspiration from every last one of those people that are in Richmond. They’re living their true selves, they’re sharing their story in a musical way, and an art way. I definitely draw my inspiration from these people. Like, J. Roddy is always an example. You want to be J. Roddy Waltson. Now he’s got Palm Palm. A guy that I used to butt heads with, but now I’ve grown utmost respect for, is Landon Elliott. Actually, he’s got his own thing going, but I would say my number one inspiration here in Richmond is definitely Jon Russell. I mean, he’s always been that guy that, even before I had the chance of meeting him, being a fan of the Head and the Heart and just watching how they progressed as a band, watching how he tells his story in a positive light… he doesn’t necessarily always talk about trauma in his storytelling, but he always talks about something positive and uplifting. Much like that of The Lumineers, or something like that. So for me, that’s where I draw a lot of my own inspiration from, of what I want to be. I don’t know if that’s what I’m actually projecting just yet. But it’s definitely where I see my writing coming from.

Facka: Right on. RVA is definitely a melting pot. And, you know, we all drive each other. It’s very unique. You like to give back to the music community by working behind the scenes to represent artists and give them a platform. Your marketing skill is top notch. Where did you learn these skills, and what do you enjoy most about helping others achieve their dreams?

Farlow: Well, I got my first degree in marketing. I went to school right here at VCU. I got my marketing degree from there. I ended up finishing while I was deployed. But then, I actually went back to school for a second degree where I was. I was living on the streets in DC for about two years, trying to make it as a musician. And I ended up using my post-9/11 Bill to go back to school. I went to Full Sail University, and I got my degree in music audio engineering with a focus, actually, in talent management. So when I went there, my eyes really opened up to like, “Oh shit, there’s real work and business that has to go on the back end of just being a musician.” So for me, when it came to maybe putting my personality into an email, putting in that extra effort of actually showing up to an event to say, “Hey, I’m here to say hello,” and network. That’s really where I gotta manage these life skills. Just going out there.

And you gotta mingle, you gotta make those connections and network with the right people who give a damn about what you’re doing and saying. Being humble about it. I know when I first came into the game, I probably was like, “Man, I got this. I’m a musician, I’m talented, I’m good in my own head, like, I got this.” There is an arrogance. But you always know in your brain, “Yeah, man, I’m not good. I’m not good. And I’m never gonna make it.” And I think once you decide to get over that little hurdle, and you get out there, and you network the right way, that’s where artists can thrive. For me, that’s where I’ve always felt the best. And to take on a new artist that doesn’t know how to write that email, or even know how to prep themselves up to be in the game of music, how you’re really going to make money in the world of music…

Facka: That’s hard to do.

Farlow: It’s super hard. And I think, for me, there’s a passion of going, “I don’t want to be a person with knowledge to offer, and not be able to offer that to someone who’s really looking for it.” Not that I even asked for money, per se, with Boxcar Productions, my company I’ve just started up. It’s been behind the scenes, we just announced recently, and we’ll see where that goes. But yeah, it’s tough, man. It’s fucking hard work out there; it’s a tough game in the world of booking and marketing. And I wish most artists took it more seriously.

Facka: If anyone’s gonna do it, it’s you. Your drive — you don’t see people with that drive like yours very often. You’re the quintessential frontman, you got swag and energy, you got the look, you got the charisma. What do you think the most important thing about wielding a microphone is?

Farlow: A good band behind you.

Facka: So I guess you just feel the music and go with the flow. You jump up on the bar. You’re definitely an entertainer — a great one. I’ve seen you live and I enjoyed it. People should see you live. That’s what I think.

Farlow: Thank you.

Facka: What do you think the future of music looks like? Where do you think music will be 10 years from now? As in, like, streaming and live performances?

Farlow: Great question, man. I think live streaming is kind of back to the norm pre-pandemic a little bit. Like, sure, you can stream something. You can look at large events, like if you buy a ticket for Red Rocks. [if] Red Rocks gets sold out, that artists automatically gets to nugs.tv, and then they’re putting on their live stream, and they’re constantly a pay-per-view event. As a touring musician, in the past two years out of the pandemic, I can tell you personally, I feel in my heart that the industry might be oversaturated.

Facka: Yeah, MIGHT?!? [laughs]

Farlow: Might be a little too oversaturated with musicians, touring, trying to put [people] on chairs every which way they can. We’ve had a taste of that. And rightfully so, coming out of the pandemic. We’re all eager and, fuck, we’re all hungry. We haven’t been fed, we haven’t been able to go to work, in two, three years, you know? So I get it. But even being on this past run in October with the guys and having Mane out with us, and Night Spins, it was tough, just seeing the crowds that we typically would have, and then coming back and going, man, we didn’t really grow our audience there. But we also know that, like, we didn’t lose anybody.

It’s not because of lack of marketing, or anything of that nature. It’s just, a lot of the cities are now oversaturated, with too many options. Every single hour of the day. Now it almost feels like you can go into a city and see music being played live at one o’clock in the afternoon. Like we’re in Nashville walking down Broadway. And again, I don’t know if that’s a bad or good thing, you know? I don’t know yet. But I do think that the market will be too oversaturated. And I think it’s the artists that continue with it, that actually learn the game of “Hey man, were just going to make a living at this.” You’re not going to be Adam Levine and famous, that everyone knows about. But you’re gonna be a working class musician, making a great living and making people happy sharing your art, and — more importantly — [making] yourself happy. So the musicians [will] still be out there. But fuck, we’re going to be oversaturated as hell. Oh my God.

Facka: And then there’s TikTok. What do you think of TikTok? Looking for a hot take here. [laughs]

Farlow: TikTok. That’s the clock app. You know, there’s a lot of apps going on. TikTok is amazing. I would love to be sponsored by them. I think that TikTok is great, because it’s real, and it’s to the point. However, it’s just another face of Instagram and Facebook. And I mean, now like there’s this app BeReal. Have you heard of this?

Facka: I probably shouldn’t. But go ahead.

Farlow: Its fucking Instagram all over again. What it is: a notification that comes to your phone. Like, right now we get a notification. And it says, take a picture. So you take a picture with your phone. Yeah. It takes a picture of what’s in front, takes a picture of your face, and it post the pictures side by side. And then, in that moment, it’s there, and it’s only there for 24 hours. But tomorrow, you get a text at like 10am from the app, and it says: get real [in] 60 seconds. And you just take a snap of what you’re doing right then and there, to keep it real of what you’re doing.

Facka: So do you think that’s what the future holds? For like, a decade from now? Just more social media? Or do you think there’ll be some kind of market crash on the whole idea?

Farlow: Nah, there won’t be any kind of crash. A lot more fucking apps, a lot more inventions, and a lot more shit that musicians sure as hell don’t want to deal with, but we are dealing with.

Facka: Right on. So what’s next for Jason Farlow? What’s next for your band? What do people have to look forward to?

Farlow: Well, speaking of apps… Ao I’m still part of ShowX. Actually, I moved up within the company ShowX. [It] was founded by Lincoln Schofield, who used to work for the Ryman Auditorium, Mercury Lounge and The Cutting Room in New York City, all these great places. But yeah, now I’ve taken over as the director of touring for them. So I get to work mobile and do all that stuff. I help onboard venues for the app. And then at night time, the band and I, we’re prepping for the recording studio all this month, next month. And then we’re putting out the album, some singles, and an EP in the next three or four months. And then by March, we’ll be back out on the road, heading down to South by Southwest and doing the touring season again. So yeah, man, new album next year, maybe new sounds too.

Facka: Well, I’m a fan. I’ve been a fan. I’m really looking forward to what you do next, and I’ll be staying tuned, following your Instagram and doing all that. And I really appreciate you talking to me today.

Farlow: I appreciate it, man.

Keep up with what Jason Farlow is doing as part of The Last Real Circus by following @thelastrealcircusofficial on Instagram. Find their 11:11 EP, featuring single “Nottoway,” on streaming services, and keep an eye out for new material coming in 2023.

Jonathan Facka

Jonathan Facka

Jonathan Facka is an RVA musician and podcast host. A pioneer and innovator in visual media and an award winning songwriter who loves talking with other songwriters about music and their writing process.

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