What's your first memory from your early childhood?
Well, my first memories that were really coherent and together were from Colombia, South America. I lived in a city called Medellin in Colombia. My parents were doing humanitarian work there. It was an English school project and a humanitarian project. They're helping in different ways in the local community. So, I remember very clearly coming to consciousness there. Before that I was in Canada: I was born in Canada. I lived my first years in Canada. So we were in Columbia for two years, and I think I remember pretty much that whole time. From 5-6 years old. And then, when I went back to Canada, I remember I went into first grade in Canada and I was six years old.
What did the toys look like in your childhood? Now, we have all these digital toys.
- We had no electronic toys when I was quite young. I had wooden blocks and I really loved them. I could build towers that were as high as myself. I remember I loved finding ways to balance the blocks, so that I could build it higher and higher, making the construction more stable. Then, a little bit later, we got Legos and it was interesting. Legos were already there when I was quite young, because I remember that. That's the next toy I remember clearly playing with.
Did you have a dream toy?
I dreamed about different Lego sets. I really loved Legos. Legos were my favorite toys. They were similar to wooden blocks. You could connect them, and they would stay connected. I played with Legos from the time I was 6-7 years old up until I was a teenager. And then, when I had my kids, I got them a lot of Legos and we played Legos together. Legos has been a big part of my life because I could use my imagination to create anything. I remember when Legos came, it was a sensation, it was a new thing and everybody was doing Legos and it still is today. So nothing really has replaced Legos. It's like an actual real toy. Even adults play with it.
One electronic toy I did have when I was a bit older. I was 7-8 years old. When we got back to Canada for Christmas, I got a train. There's an electric train with tracks and you could build it on the floor. It was very simple: you just pressed the button and it turned on and it just went by itself. You pressed the button and it stopped - very simple, but I could be quite creative and make landscapes for it. Those were my favorite toys.
Which subjects did you like in school?
In school, I loved graphic art. I didn't like music in school because it was really boring. Graphic art I liked in school because I could be very creative on my own. The music lessons we had in school were pretty boring. I felt that at school, most kids didn't have any musical background. So we were doing things that were so basic. I didn't get much from music in school, but art was great. And I loved language. I loved English, linguistics, even when I was quite young. It (school) was tedious: I never liked school. But when it was an English lesson, I felt good about it. I felt like I'm learning about these words, new vocabulary. It was always interesting to me. I was also always interested in social science. Math, I hated it.
So, you were more humanitarian?
Yeah, totally humanitarian. Science classes: I didn't like them. I thought they were just kind of pointless. Math - math is interesting. What I didn't like is that they forced us to do a lot of exercises. Like 50 equations, 70 equations. I did the first five and I was like "Okay, I got it. Why do I have to do 50?" It was a torture for me because I didn't like it, I tried to forget it. I didn't progress in math because I also think that I don't have a mathematical mind: I have more of a creative, artistic mind. However, later on, I started to love math, but in the beginning it was pretty difficult.
Describe your first day of playing the guitar.
I was 6-7 years old, and my dad decided he would teach me to play guitar. He actually bought me a half-size guitar. And I started learning. I don't remember actually the very first time. I do remember that I had some songsheets. I was playing the songs, following the songsheets. I don't remember having to learn rhythm or strumming. I think that just came naturally because I naturally have good rhythm. I remember playing the very first songs. I was seven years old. I started to learn, and I thought it was really interesting for about a month, but then I got tired of it. I just wanted to go outside and play. And my dad was disappointed because he got me this guitar and he really wanted me to learn, but I just was: "No, I'm not going to do this". When I was 10 years old, we had a school program like a beginner guitar program. I was like: "Oh, interesting. I know how to play some guitar. So I'll go". I went there, and somebody said, "Okay, Jesse, show us what you can do." I played the songs that I had learned. I remembered them, and I remember that the teacher said," Wow, that's really good. You're already a guitar player." That stuck in my mind. That inspired me. I was grateful that my daddy taught me the beginning of guitar. Then, I started doing it and I got another guitar. I started learning, and right away it was quite easy for me. I was always at the front of the class, and I started performing quite quickly. I realized very quickly that this is something I can really do well. It gave me a lot of self-confidence. It also helped in my friendships with my peers: they respected that I could play guitar really well. They would come to me and ask me to help them, when they were struggling. I realized, "Wow, here's something that I can really do." And since then I've never stopped. I just kept going.
What was an average school day when you studied at school?
This is pretty much the way it is today. Lessons started at nine o'clock.I used to walk to school or ride my bike. This was in Canada. I did first to sixth grade in Canada. Then, we moved to Mexico to an English school. My parents worked in different English schools there. So I studied there, and every school was a bit different, but the Canadian schools… I didn't like them. They were these big state schools. They're just very impersonal. Very few teachers that I felt cared about us or about our education. They were just doing a job. There were a few good teachers. I appreciated them. I was always very happy when there was some teacher who gave us a little more personal attention and I thrived on that, but it didn't happen very often. And there were some pretty rough kids - bullies. I was very small for my age when I was young. I was always one of the smallest kids in our group, and I always felt bad about that. And then, when I was a teenager, I grew and now I'm one of the taller people around. But it was tough, so school wasn't a happy experience. I didn't like it. When we moved to South America, we went to these small private English schools. I actually liked that much more.
Did you have any family customs?
We did, yes. My dad would often read stories with us. I remember I really appreciated that. In the evening, we get together and read different kinds of stories, interesting stuff. They were fun stories. We had lots of really good children's books. My mom too; my mom read to us, but for some reason, not as much. My dad usually was the one to read with us. We'd all gather around and look at the pictures and it was really a wonderful and special time. Before sleep or even on the weekends, in the afternoon or something: we just sit together and read and it was very enjoyable.
My mom would do a lot of the cooking, and she made really good food. My mom did a lot of artwork with us. She's a professional graphic artist. That was back in the time when graphic arts were done not on computers. They were actually done with paper with rulers. She did graphic arts for advertisements, magazines, and things like that. She studied graphic design. And so she taught us that. We would sit together and do art with her, read with my dad. My dad would take us out for long walks. That was another tradition: we would go for what we would call "nature walks". That means: go to some mountain or forest - not a city park but nature. That was British Columbia. It's on the west coast. It is very natural. Canadians in general are very respectful of nature and really try to preserve it, but in British Columbia - even more. We lived at Vancouver Island, and then in Vancouver. It's surrounded by mountains and forests. Anywhere you are in the city, you drive 20-30 minutes and you're in the mountains and forests or by the sea. Just a lot of nature, and we make good use of that. I'm very glad for that. So I was raised being out in nature. In the summer, we'd go camping. We would drive out, and there were lots of camping areas and lots of trails that the government makes, they're government nature parks. There are so many beautiful parks. Because they're available, people do that a lot. We went out and camped at the beach and the mountains - everywhere. I grew up appreciating nature deeply and understanding how valuable nature is and how valuable our connection with nature is. I did all of those same things with my kids. I have three kids. Two of them are adults. Now one is 17: almost an adult. But when they were younger, all three of them, I would read with them, take them on nature walks and I would go camping. Because those are the things that really affected me. I also taught them music, and actually all three of them are involved in music. My son is actually doing professional music. My daughter is a good guitarist and a very good singer. My wife was also a singer. We have a lot of music going on. It is just really good.
How did you celebrate family events, for example, birthdays, New Year, Christmas?
We had a party, we had a cake. My mom would usually bake her own cake. My parents were both part of the hippie culture. They met each other because they were both hippies and they were at this hippie commune: the friends and hanging out and smoking marijuana, and stuff like that - having a good time. The part of the hippie culture was eating healthy food and trying to minimize the effects of processed foods: sugar, and things like that. When we were kids, we rarely ever got to drink Coca-Cola or anything like that. We rarely ever got to eat store bought sweet things, because they were unhealthy. When I went over to my friend's house, I would ask him, "Hey, can I have one of those?" And they're , "Sure, here" I remember thinking it was so good because we hardly ever had it. Now, I'm really glad too, because they raised us on a very healthy diet, close to nature, and reading books. We also were not allowed to watch television very often. This was back when we had old TVs: it was an old, black and white TV. But even then, we were not allowed to watch it very often: only when we had specific programs that they thought were good for us. They tried to bring us up in a very healthy environment and they did. I think I'm very glad for that now because I turned out a pretty healthy person. I even got COVID and didn't get sick.
What was your dream profession in childhood?
I wanted to be a teacher and a social worker, like helping underprivileged or at risk children, as a social worker. And in fact, I have been. Here in Russia, especially. In South America, I did some volunteer work, but in Russia, I've actually done quite a bit of social work, which I really loved. When I was quite young, I didn't have ideas of becoming a professional musician, but eventually, I did become a professional musician, but that wasn't actually a dream that I had. I did it because I actually needed to make money. My music skills were the thing I could use to make money: in South America and then, in Russia. When we first got to Russia in the nineties, we needed money. We had a group of guys: my wife, and some other guys. We got together and did music. It was good music, people paid for it. That helped us to hone our skills, become better musicians, etc. Then, I've started working with music and education: developing programs, educational programs. Using English and music to teach both at the same time. That's the idea. So it all came together little by little: with different projects, over time and eventually it became useful.
How did your life change at the beginning of the nineties? Perestroika and all that stuff. Did it affect you somehow?
- No. I just heard about it in the news. In 1989-1990, we started hearing news, "There's changes in Russia, Perestroika, Glasnost" I thought, "What does that mean?". And little by little, I started hearing about these changes. When I was growing up, it was: here's the United States, here's Europe, and here's the Soviet Union. Maps were just as big red blotch of red, the Soviet Union. I had no idea what they actually were. I mean, I knew that there were countries, but I didn't know what they were, except for maybe Ukraine. I thought it was all just one big mass. And then, the collapse happened. I started hearing about these other countries and about the changes. Honestly, I wasn't that interested. I was in Argentina. I was so far away from it. I remember feeling positive about it, but in 1995, a group of volunteers came from Russia. They had gone to Russia and they came back. From the United States. I was living in the United States at this time. Some of them were my friends from South America. They told me about it and said, "Hey, we went to Russia, it's amazing. We're collecting another team. We're going to go back and do it." They were doing humanitarian aid.
So this nudged you to move to Russia?
Well, I started thinking about it, and they invited me. If they hadn't invited me, maybe I wouldn't have come. I had already done quite a lot of volunteer work. I was familiar with it, so I thought, "Interesting!" I also thought, "Oh my God, that's the former Soviet Union. That's on the other side of the world." I had never been across any ocean until that time. Honestly, I was a little worried about it.
Did you have any stereotypes?
Yes, I did. I didn't realize that so many people live in apartment buildings. I thought most people lived in Russian little villages: I had seen that on films. Honestly, I hadn't thought that much about it. Russia, the Soviet Union - it wasn't a big part of my thinking. I was "Well, I'd never been there. I'd never been to Europe or anywhere in the east." It wasn't too real to me until I went somewhere. Then, I arrived in Russia at the beginning of 1996.
Did you study in college or university?
I did. I studied in a college in South America in Argentina, and that was an English language college there. I studied some pedagogical studies, social work, and music program - all of which I have used. The subjects that I studied were useful. And I did other practical studies about simple engineering which have been helpful. I was pretty happy about that. Some philosophy, which I thought was really interesting and I still study that theology.
Was there something special in your college years? Some student life or university community.
For me, our music group. In college, that's when I started doing professional music with a group of students who were also very good singers, and we started doing country music. It's something we could do well in Argentina, and it's something that the Argentine people appreciated. For them, it was kind of exotic and interesting. Argentine people just can't do that very well. That gave us our edge, and we started working on that, practicing: we practiced a lot. That became a pretty big part of my life: our music group and our practicing, and then, performing. We actually made some pretty good money. That's when I realized, "Okay, I can make money doing music." That way whatever happens, I can always make music and make money doing music. And in fact, I did. After a while, it became my main profession for quite a while. Even here at Letovo, that's my main profession. Music really has become my main profession, I'm glad that I focused on that. I'm glad I took it seriously.
How did you move from your parents and started to leave separately?
I started living apart from them in Mexico when we were at this one school, where they worked. Then, they decided to go back to Canada. I really liked the school, and I wanted to stay there. They (parents) said that I could stay there as a border. I stayed and lived there, and they went back to Canada. That was grade 8. I've lived with my parents after that. I could go back to visit them. Although there I couldn't go back every quarter: It was too far, I'd go back once a year. I was there for like two years and then, I went back, so I was fine. I was very happy at this school and have a lot of good friends. I enjoyed it, so I never felt really attached. I mean, I love my parents very much, but it was fine for me being away from them.
When did you actually start working as a teacher? When was your first teaching experience?
My first experience was actually in Russia, in Perm. That's where we first started our volunteer work. There, we started working with some schools, on a part-time basis, we would come in and teach classes using English. I started using songs right away, because I thought it was a great way to teach English. We worked at English camps. They had language camps during the winter or during the summer. So they would invite us, and I started developing my methodology:how to teach English as a second language. I started using music right away and I realized that it was very effective,so I kept developing that. And then eventually, I started teaching full time in Chelyabinsk, in an English private school. I was an English teacher. I taught just English, but I also had a separate music and theater program. I became very involved, and that's great. I enjoyed it.
Why did he choose Letovo? How did you find this school?
Arseniy Petrov found me. He heard about me. I was in Moscow at that time. I was teaching at another school, and that was the very first year of Letovo, and he was looking for music teachers. He called me through someone else that he knew and asked me if I would like to come and take a look at this new school. He thought that maybe I could help with the music program. That was in October of the first year of Letovo. I came in and I was very impressed by the structure of the school, the programs here and everything: it was very good. I was already teaching at another school, but I came and started doing after school, three days a week. Then, I started to get involved in an English department as well.Then, the next year, they asked if I'd wanted to be full time. I said, "Sure!". I quit my job at another school and came to work here full-time, and now I'm very involved. I have a lot going on and it's great.
Do you prefer getting up early?
Yes. I usually try to go to sleep early and get up early because in the morning my mind is clear. I'm a morning person and that's when I do my study. I have my books that I study, like theology, philosophy, history - some more serious stuff. I drink tea, I make some tea and I just read my books in silence and peace. Nobody's bothering me. I love that.
How did you face the new millennia?
I think I was worried when it was the year 2000. My thoughts were not very positive because I saw the trends. The global trends in the world were really going rather down than up: more pollution, more problems. I didn't think, "Wow. The year 2000. Everything is going to get better now!" I thought then things were probably not going to get better. They're probably going to get kind of worse, and I was right.
Did 9/11 affect your life somehow?
Yes, it did. Nine 11 was a very interesting event. I was in Perm at that time. I was at home with some other volunteers. Somebody was watching TV, and they called me. I saw the two buildings on fire. They kept showing the airplanes crashing in. I was l, "What is that?" The world trade center. I knew what that was. I had been there. I had gone to the top of those buildings before they crashed. That was in Russian. I didn't speak Russian at that time very well. But then, they started letting the English news play directly from the American news. I started hearing about this: terrorist, planes, and stuff. I just thought it was unbelievable. It was hard to believe, but there was in front of my eyes: the buildings fell. I was just shocked. I definitely felt afraid, at first. 3000 people died; these buildings were destroyed. It was a big-big thing. It felt like the end of the world. What's going to happen now? What will change? And indeed, something did change. That was the beginning of this surveillance era. By that, I mean like cameras everywhere, governments checking on your emails.
So, 9/11. That happened. And then just after that, that same year, in the very next month we had already planned to fly to the United States to visit my relatives for Thanksgiving. We flew to the United States, and we were fine. It was more nervous flying: we were flying to the United States and just know a month and a half after that happened.
Were there additional checking for the flight?
Yeah, there were. There was more and more security everywhere. Everybody was checking: more metal detectors. Before nine 9/11, there was no security check. Now, you go through this big security check: you have to take off half of your clothes and put all your things and liquids and all this - none of that existed before 9/11. After that, lots of security. Surveillance everywhere, which has had a very negative effect in fact. I don't think it's helped to make the world safer.
What is your favourite music genre?
Oh, different, I like classical music. I listen to quite a bit of folk, folk rock, old-school rock: sixties and seventies rock. Beatles, all that kind of early rock stuff. Folk music, some Latin music. I listen to some Cuban music, kind of Latin stuff. I never listen to pop music. Except when I'm working with my students.
Do you remember how fast foods appeared? People were not used to go to fast food in the 70s,80s, yeah?
In the eighties they did. The fast food trend, I think it really started somewhere in the seventies, because I remember when I was a kid, there were already McDonald's and Burger King. They were there and we would sometimes go there: not very often because my parents didn't think that food was good for us. I remember going to McDonald's, when I was a kid. There probably weren't as many places. Now, it's become much more popular. It's had a very damaging effect on society, on people, on health.
Are you good at cooking?
- Yes, I enjoy cooking a lot. I cook often. I do some Italian pasta dishes. I like making Asian stir fry dishes with meat, vegetables, and rice. Chicken. I do different kinds of chicken dishes like roast chicken. Mexican food. I make Mexican food because I lived in Mexico.
Do you have a pet?
Yes, I do have a cat. Interestingly, that's the first cat that we've had, since my wife and I have been married, my wife was always allergic to animals, so we never really wanted one. But eventually she wanted to get one - now she's not allergic. He's a great cat. It's a breed called Russian blue. We all love him. He loves us. We really love each other. He's only a year and a half, so he's still kind of young, but he's a great cat.
What's your favourite song or music band?
The Beatles, of course. I really love a lot of their songs. The Beatles probably has the largest amount of songs that I really love. A lot of other bands have separate songs that I love a lot. It's difficult to say which song is my favorite.
Did your music preferences change?
Not too much. Even when I was younger, I didn't like the eighties pop music. In the 1980s, I remember the changes: I suddenly started hearing these kinds of synthesizer sound, unnatural instruments. The whole pop revolution happened in the eighties, and I never liked the way it sounded. I was brought up on good old school rock, rock and roll, folk music, country music - all very very real, authentic, sincere kinds of music. With all that eighties pop and synth.
Can you distinguish any modern band that you enjoy?
Probably not one group. I like individual songs. Imagine Dragons has some good songs. Linkin Park does have some good songs, and a nice style: a good solid rock kind of style. I like Nickelback. That's a rock group. It is more modern, but even their music has old school rock. No electronic stuff. Just straight rock instruments. Green day too: no unnatural things. I've always liked that.
Do you have a favourite author, maybe a favourite book?
I like a lot of books. I collect books: the one collection I do have is books. I've really appreciated the Russian classical authors, especially Fedor Dostoevsky; I've read two of his books. Tolstoy. Chekhov. I've read some of his short stories. Boris Pasternak. I've read Dr. Zhivago. Great book.
Do you read this in English?
- Yeah, I read only English. It would take me kind of too long in Russian. Charles Dickens, Jules Verne - these are the classical guys. And then, a little bit more modern, like Ray Bradbury. I really love Ray Bradbury's work, quite a lot of his work. Tad Williams. He's a contemporary science fiction writer. CS Lewis: his Narnia and other works. He's done some really wonderful work. It's very deep and more philosophical. "The Lord of the Rings" too. I love all of Tolkien's work. It's absolutely wonderful. I definitely read quite a bit of fantasy. I guess most of the fiction I read is fantasy. I don't enjoy reading crime too much. I read a couple of crime novels, but they leave me with bad feelings. But fantasy, it's so far removed, it's in a different world. I don't have to relate to it. I can just take it for what it is, so I enjoy that.
Do you have a person you admire?
There are a lot of people whom I deeply admire for what they've done for what they've given to the world. One such person is Jordan Peterson. He's a psychologist. He was a professor at Harvard university. Now, he has a podcast. He has his written books. He tours the world, giving speeches. He is one of the most popular speakers in the world. And he is a person who I can describe as absolutely sensible and logical in a world that is becoming less sensible and less logical every day. Our world has become such a senseless place. And it's just so confusing. People like Jordan Peterson, people like Joe Rogan, he's another person who has a very popular podcast where they discuss current events. Ben Shapiro's another person. These people are able to just be honest about life, ask honest questions, and have a dialogue, and speak their mind without worrying about whether they're going to maybe hurt somebody's feelings or be politically incorrect. These are people who just say, "Look, this is like this, this is the way I think it is. And I'm going to say it is like that. If it offends somebody, I am sorry." I admire them very much for what they're doing. I think they're helping the world right now to maintain at least some sort of normalcy and rationality.
How did the internet come to life?
I've always been very skeptical of new technology. Ever since I was a kid, we had a radio and a black and white television: I grew up with those things, and they were natural to me. A car, a telephone: we had a rotary telephone.I wasn't really skeptical of those things, but then, new things started to come in and replace them. I was never excited about it. I never thought Then, the internet came in and some friends said, "Now, we can write to each other across the world." And I was like, "What are you going to say that you can't say in a letter that you post?" You receive a letter from the post in an envelope and you feel it, you open it and there's your friend's handwriting. It's such a pleasure to receive, but that was destroyed by the internet. When cell phones came in, I was right away skeptical. I thought this was going to harm communication because people were going to get so used to talking on this device in their pocket, that they're not going to talk in real life as much anymore. For me, real life has such a deep meaning and deep importance, and all of the modern technology that's been coming into our society in the last 20 years has been devaluating humanity, not improving it. The latest of all our technology and my most hated is the dreaded zoom virus. I despise it. Zoom is destroying education. It is destroying people, meetings, and exchanging ideas. It's horrible. What a horrible thing to unleash on the human population.
Do you remember any censorship in your childhood?
No, not really. When I was a kid growing up - I grew up in Canada, the United States, South America - it was just as free as it could possibly be. Freedom was the way it was. That was life. Life equaled freedom. Freedom equaled life. That means you can travel wherever you want. I mean, maybe you have to get a visa, but you're free. You do what you want to do. You can say what you want to say. I remember before all this politically correct stuff came out, you could insult people, and it was fine. And people would creatively insult people. It was actually good to hear. I think some degree of political correctness is important. For example, people used to insult someone because of their race. I think there's only one race - the human race. Maybe there were some racial slurs against black people. Obviously that's wrong. I think that's why the politically correct movement started. At first, they wanted to try to protect people in legitimate ways, but then it went way too far. And now, you can't say anything to anybody about anything. We're just eliminating conversation altogether. People are afraid to talk. When I was young, though, it was very free. I grew up in a very-very free environment in many-many ways.
And the final question for today: what's your dream?
My dream is that in the world, more and more people will come to recognize the value of humanity and that we need to protect and cherish our human liberty and our inherent human rights. These are our inherent human rights of dignity, freedom, liberty. That more and more people will value that, and that we will value nature, our unique societies and global societies, unique cultures. That we can unite to appreciate humanity and appreciate nature and to try to bring more balance to our world, which is really not doing very well. At least, it already is happening in small communities in different places. I want that to spread. For now, my dream has been kind of crushed because of all of these oppressive measures of all of our governments, including the Canadian. The Canadian government has been very oppressive with this whole pandemic thing, even though it was hardly a problem there. In Canada, it is happening right now, it's called the freedom rallies. These are being led by truck drivers. Interestingly, in the United States and Canada, truck drivers are an incredibly important, essential part of society because they transport everything. The truckers are kind of a breed of people. Truckers are by nature extremely free. The reason a lot of them want to drive trucks is so that they can be on the road, traveling, seeing new things. So the truckers have gotten together just this week, and they're driving across Canada to the capital, Ottawa. They're going to stage a big demonstration there. They're protesting the vaccine mandates. They're saying that vaccines are fine: nobody's against the vaccines, but people are against vaccine mandates coming down from the government, and people losing jobs, for example, because they refuse to take a vaccine, which according to the constitution, they shouldn't have to take. They're fighting for freedom. They're fighting to help Canada. After two years of government oppression and tyranny, people are getting tired. These are democratically elected officials over there, tyrannizing and oppressing the people who pay their salaries. That means they work for us. Not the other way around. They are our employees, and they're actually called public servants. They're there to help and serve us, people. And now, that's completely turned around the other way. Now, we're paying the salaries of people who are tyrannizing us. It was okay the first year (of COVID-19), I guess, because people really were worried. After two years, we understand - it's not a dangerous virus. So that's going to start happening more and more. And hopefully, we will be able to bring back freedoms to our countries, our schools, our lives. We shall hope.