BY LESLEY HASTINGS
When I chatted via Zoom to rising country artist Jackson Dean for Country Lowdown last July, shortly after the release of his album “Greenbroke”, there was already a big buzz about this exciting talent. Hailing from Maryland, the 22 year old relocated to Nashville a few years ago where he kicked things off with a publishing deal and is now signed to Big Machine Records. Jackson is earning a reputation for his insightful, lyric-driven songs delivered with a gritty voice that belies his age. Add to that a killer band who have been together from the start of things and there’s no wonder that he is becoming the name on many people’s lips.
He has recently joined the likes of HARDY, Blake Shelton and Carly Pearce on their stateside tours as well as played prestigious festivals including Austin City Limits and Stagecoach and was nominated in the “New Male Artist Of The Year” category at the recent ACM Awards.
At last the UK got to see first hand what all the excitement around Jackson Dean is about as he was over here last weekend to play the inaugural “Highways Festival“ in the stunning Royal Albert Hall. I was fortunate enough to grab 15 minutes of his time before he took to the stage (for an absolute killer set, by the way!) such a pleasure to interview and I hope you enjoy the read.
1. LH Hi and thanks so much for your time today. Welcome to the UK, welcome to London. Is it your first time here in any capacity? Hope the jet lag’s not too bad, I see from your Instagram you’ve been seeing a bit of the city.
JD Yeah it’s a long flight! We got in about 10.30am but couldn’t check in to the hotel so I walked around then got to bed around 6pm and slept a full 12 hours which was great! It’s been fun, it’s different to walk everywhere and navigate all the crazy drivers!
LH Coming the wrong way!
JD Ha, yeah!
LH Have you tried any of our traditional food and drink yet?
JD We got a couple of little pies, some fish and chips last night, a nice Dark and Stormy….
LH That makes you a proper Brit now!
2. LH So much has happened in your crazy busy career since we last spoke it’s impossible to chat about everything, but I must congratulate you on your recent ACM nomination. What did that mean to you at this stage in your career?
JD It was cool! There was a good group of dudes, it was one hell of an honour to be even thought of for that category. I know I’ve been doing a lot and going 100 miles a minute but it was really cool and a lot of people were pulling for me and that makes me feel good! It tells me they believe in what I believe in and are seeing things at least a fraction of the way that I see the world, which makes my heart feel good. Having that nomination is not just about me either, it’s about me and my men, my label, my management. Everyone that’s standing with me. Those things just don’t belong to one person.
3. LH So, we’re backstage at the Royal Albert Hall where you’ll be playing later, have you done your sound check yet? What do you make of this beautiful building which is a real bucket list venue for many artists. Not too shoddy for your UK debut!
JD Yeah we did! It’s an amazing building. I walked in and it was a bit quiet in there, Stephen (Wilson Jnr) had just finished up (I love him, he’s going to be making music that’s around a long time, I wish he’d have started earlier honestly) But anyway we walked in and I went to the front of the stage, Sean’s getting his drums set up, I just kind of started humming “49 Tons” by Fred Eaglesmith ….. it started coming back to me off the back wall . I don’t do that everywhere I go , but we just did six weeks out with Blake and that’s where I heard about this place. There’s a lot of people we’ve opened up for who haven’t even played here and that’s pretty wild! It’s another one off my bucket list for sure!
4. LH But you’re no stranger to iconic venues are you…..your recent live album was recorded at the Mother Church, Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium no less. That was your debut there I think?
JD It was! Carly was gracious enough to give us 45 minutes and the whole record is the set, top to bottom. It was not the original plan to put out a record of it, it was supposed to be “Wings”, “Heavens to Betsy” and “1971” tagged onto “Greenbroke”, like a deluxe version, then Borchetta got hold of “Fearless” from that night and loved it, he and I talked for a while, had some other persuasion, and we put out the whole thing. It’s a very special record because the last time just the four of us put anything out was “Ain’t No Saint” back in Baltimore, recorded at Magpie, a little studio right across from the prison. Yeah it’s very special, there’s no click and it’s just what happens when we get hold of these songs, they evolve over time and get better and better. There’s a couple of 4 minute songs that turn into 6, some big epic jams in there that deserve to be out in the world. For lack of a better term, it’s just badass when you can do that.
5. LH You’ve just said that the last time you and the band recorded together was way back, and you also mentioned the track “1971” which I gather you all wrote? So that must have been extra special both to perform it at The Ryman and have it captured for ever?
JD I think we wrote that when we were about 16! We were at band practice at my house and got done early, I lit the wood stove and we just pulled up chairs …..I think it came out in about an hour and a half. It’s the longest running song in our set, the oldest song that we have. You can’t capture the energy of it unless it’s live, we tried but it didn’t happen, didn’t have the right feel. Some things are meant to be captured that way, there’s no other way around it, it was the only way it was ever going to get done. They are ecstatic that it’s out.
LH And do you still get to write together?
JD Oh yeah!! We’ve got two coming out in this next record, “Aphrodite “ and another called “Big Blue”.
6.LH And you also mentioned “Heavens To Betsy” on the live album, another that isn’t on “Greenbroke“ and is my new favourite of yours. Can you tell me more about the writing process behind that one please?
JD Yeah so it was me, Benjy Davis and Driver Williams (who plays lead guitar with Eric). Driver walked into the room and had that title , and we didn’t really know what to do with it. I didn’t know what it meant, or how the phrase was used in conversation, I just didn’t grow up around the term….
LH I’m not at all familiar with it either …..
JD So the way I understand it is like ( clicks his fingers and sighs ) oh huh, heavens to Betsy …..a bit like Oh God…..
LH Ah kind of like an exclamation of surprise? I’ve never heard it, possibly it’s an Americanism…
JD “ Americanism” …. I love that …. but anyway I took it literally … Heavens (he points up) to Betsy (points down)
LH Like your up in heaven, talking to Betsy on earth…
JD Exactly. That’s how I write sometimes, I have to be able to conceptualise the picture of what I’m singing about in my head. My picture the whole time writing it was this guy sitting on the edge of heaven on his CB (radio) looking down on his daughter. It’s all about him seeking redemption from her. I’ve seen that song hit people square in the eyes before, it’s a hell of a visual. That second verse just kills. We’ve been playing it for about a year and a half.
7. LH Oh no we’ve only got 2 minutes left! So, let’s skip to what’s happening next with your music, you mentioned a new album on the way, is that all done and dusted?
JD Not quite. We just did 5 days of tracking in Black River, we just made some serious noise for 5 days straight . It was awesome! We did 12 tracks and we’re going back for more. It’s a lot of music, and I’m really excited to drop some of these words on the world. As much as music is escape it’s also about looking at things in the eye, it’s about acceptance, and when you look at things in the eye that’s the only time you can go and be better. That’s the kind of song “ Heavens” is. There is not one song about tailgates and beers and all that. That’s not the record we’re making. I’ve got 3 days when I get back to go and hopefully finish up these 12, get them polished up and ready to go, but my God I am so excited!
LH So the album will be those 12 tracks definitely, but you mentioned more? A double album? An album and a half?
JD Definitely those 12, and yeah more like an album and a half, some bonus tracks. There’s some shit in there that nobody in my genre, of my calibre or dare I say even above me would dare to do.
LH Can’t wait to hear it.
8.LH I really do need to wrap this now, but you’re back here before too long to play The Long Road Festival and some headline shows aren’t you, that’s with the band as well I assume?
JD Absolutely, everyone’s coming and I’ve been told we’re doing pretty good on the pre-sales. It’s pretty awesome as we haven’t even played here yet and it’s incredibly humbling. I’ve been dreaming about this for a long time, not just me but my band too, they are like my family. It’s really special and that tour is going to be awesome!
LH Hopefully we’ll get to chat again when you’re back…
JD Absolutely! I’d love it!
All tour dates and more artist information can be found at jacksondeanmusic.com