Interview: Jade Jackson on “Wilderness,” Recording with Mike Ness, and Fans

Interviews

photo by Matt Bizer

After wrapping up the tour promoting her well-received debut album, Gilded, California’s Jade Jackson decided to dig a little deeper for her second record. She’d suffered a serious fall during a hike 7 years ago, resulting in shattered vertebrae, an allergic reaction to medication, time spent in a wheelchair, dependence on painkillers, and the depression and abject loneliness that followed. Now 27, she’s able to talk (and write) about this frustrating, yet illuminating time in her life and how it informed the writing on her brand-new album, Wilderness.

Americana Highways: How are things going so far with the promotional push to the new album?

Jade Jackson: Great, in my eyes. We’ve done a fair amount more press than we did for the first album. I don’t really know the business that well, but I know that means more people are hearing about this one, listening to it, and talking about it. So it’s been really good!

AH: You’re on a break from touring. You have a few dates, mostly in California. Are you heading back out nationwide after that?

JJ: We got a last-minute offer to open for Chris Shifflet for four dates. My drummer and my bass player had prior commitments, so we weren’t going to do it. So I asked my guitar player, Julian (Ness), “Do you want to just do a duet thing,” because the set’s only 30 minutes. We’re going to start rehearsals for that and just do stripped-down versions of the songs for that little run. Then, we have our studio release party this month. Then, after that, I think I get most of August off. Then, in September, we’re going to hit the road for a European tour, then have a couple days off in between, and then hit the road for a pretty big American/Canadian tour.

AH: I’m out here in Denver, and I saw you a couple of years ago open for Social Distortion. Toward the end, Mike (Ness) came out and kind of spilled the beans that you were getting over a cold or sore throat…

JJ: Oh, no! OK, If you’re talking about that, that was my very first tour with Social Distortion. I’d been playing for 10 or 11 years, wanting and dreaming about touring. I finally got the opportunity to do a national tour, and I didn’t know how the business worked. I felt like this was my shot, this was my chance, and I didn’t want to complain, my manager would call and ask, “How are things?” and I’m like, “They’re great!” But the truth is…when we were staying in Idaho, I had a cooler where I was keeping my vegetables and stuff, and I ran out of ice. So we scooped some snow into my cooler with a shovel that, apparently, the people at the house had used to scoop their dog sh!t with. I got a major bacterial infection in my intestines. I went to the ER twice. I didn’t tell anyone – only me and my band knew. They though I had the flu, so they just gave me fluids and didn’t treat me properly. At that show in Colorado, I was on nine days of no food, just sicker than a dog. Mike saw me at soundcheck that day, and was like, “Whoa, are you OK?” I was just spinning. I told him what was up, and he said, “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” “I didn’t want them to kick me off the tour! I want to be tough!” So he called in a “rock doc” – a doctor that comes to the venue. I hadn’t eaten in so long, they couldn’t find a vein. So this guy was backstage right before the show, just stabbing my arm, trying to get a vein, but he couldn’t get one. I was so sick that show. I remember there was a stool behind me, and I would turn around and grab onto it, and then turn back. It was bad! Now after I’ve toured a couple of years, if I get that sick, I’ll just say, “Yo, I’m sick! I need help!” But at that point, I was just new to the game, and I didn’t want to get kicked off the tour and seem weak, so I just sucked it up. That was brutal. 

AH: From first to second album now, and you’ve worked with Mike Ness on both of them, how much has your involvement in the process changed?

JJ: To be honest, I thought it would have changed a little bit more than it did from the first album. I thought maybe I’d showed what I could do in the studio, so this time I’ll get more of a captain’s seat in the whole process. MIke – he’s great, he’s very particular. He almost goes into the project knowing exactly every detail of what he wants. As it was with Gilded, I did a lot of learning and absorbing and watching him work and asking questions. As far as deciding exactly which vocal line to take or mixing and matching all the stuff on the board, I kind of sat there with my notebook and took notes of what they were deciding, but I didn’t have as much involvement as I may have liked. But maybe that’s good, because we’re our own worst critics, and I would go in and sing the same line for three hours. I would hear it, and I’d be like, “I can do it better!” And they’re, “No, this is great.” And I’m, “I know I can do it better!” So, I had to trust Mike a lot. Now, listening to the album after it’s been recorded – it’s been recorded for over a year now – now I listen to it and understand, But at the time, I was, “No, I can do that better!” It was quite difficult and a vulnerable thing as an artist to just trust somebody like that. But I did, and I’m happy with the results. 

AH: I would imagine that, the further away you get time-wise, the more objective and appreciative you’re able to be about how it came out?

JJ: Oh, for sure. I always, when I’m singing or playing, I have this idea, and it’s different in my head than when it’s on a recording. So when I hear it on a recording, it’s kind of like hearing yourself on somebody’s voicemail. You’re like, “I sound like that? Uhhhh.” You kind of cringe. But the more space you put between you and that process, the more you can listen to it objectively and be, “Oh, wow. I’m proud of that. I worked really hard, I did the best I could.” And I’m always thinking about the next record, so I’m moving on, and I’m happy with this one. 

AH: That’s the healthiest way to approach it, I suppose.

JJ: I hope so. That’s how I’ve been handling it all, mentally.

AH: A few of the songs on the album – “Long Way Home,” “Loneliness,” “Now or Never,” just to mention a couple that I noticed – there are a lot of songs about compensating for a broken heart, it seems. What brought that about?

JJ: Hmm, that’s a great question. Ever since I started writing, I was infatuated with and obsessed with heartbreak, loneliness, depression. I gravitated toward those stories, because I grew up on Hank Williams and Johnny Cash, and it’s all about losing things and being lovesick. And that was the music I grew up on, so it was something I was very familiar with. I think it’s interesting, when you’re familiar with something, you’re comfortable with it, and you like it, even if it’s pessimistic or whatever. I just love that kind of music, and I gravitated to and wrote that kind of music before I even went through any of that stuff. So, with Wilderness, it was cool for me, because having written about that stuff in the past, I didn’t connect with it in the same way. But this album, I really feel like I wrote about things that I actually have gone through, and it’s such a different connection with the songs. It was cool to be very open and honest about things that I’ve actually experienced. It was a lot harder for me to record it, though, because I felt so raw and vulnerable. It’s a cool thing – even listening to Hank Williams songs now, I loved them when I was little, and I related to them, and the imagery was great. But now, listening to them as a 27-year-old, as opposed to a four-year-old, I understand what depression is now. I’ve walked through that, I understand what loneliness is, for sure. And I understand what it did to me, how it made me feel, and now I can write from it, and I feel like Wilderness was the album that I was brave enough to be a bit more autobiographical with my songwriting in that regard. 

AH: I noticed in “Loneliness”, you say it’s something we don’t talk about…

JJ: “How come loneliness is something we don’t talk about?”

AH: And of course there are a ton of songs about loneliness, like you were mentioning, but you’re right – we don’t really TALK about it – no conversations. So what inspired you to want to start that conversation?

JJ: In my new bio, I know I’m talking about my back accident for the first time. Physical is one thing, but the mental repercussions from the medication that I was on  – all the prescription medication can really make you depressed when you get off of it, and that’s what I went through, and I was just trying to control something and figure who I was, and I was super-lost. So I went through five years from my accident, and moving forward, the first five years of my 20s, I decided to be celibate, I was super-introverted, I didn’t socialize, I literally just went to work and wrote songs. And that songwriting was my outlet and my therapy, but I think as humans, we crave interactions with people, or human touch. And all these things that I was depriving myself of, because I was really lost, and I didn’t want to rely on anything other than just what I could give myself, and realizing that wasn’t enough, I was just in such a lonely place. It’s interesting when you have those feelings of depression, and you feel like you’re the only one, even though you know intuitively that other people deal with it. And I think that part that really broke me out of that and into [realizing] that other people experience this: I was having a nice conversation, just a random conversation with a friend who, in my eyes, I look at him, he’s married, he has two beautiful children, he just had his sh!t together, had this beautiful wife and a house – none of the things that I have, but things that I looked at and was, “Wow, this guy’s for sure not lonely.” We were talking, and he got real with me, and told me how lonely he was in his own life. And it was so interesting to me that somebody could be lonely even though it looked like they had all their stuff together, and I was like, “Wow, nobody talks about that.” There’s probably so many married couples out there that feel lonely because they’re not communicating, and I thought that was so inspiring to think about loneliness and all the different ways it can come into your life. It doesn’t matter – I could get married or have a family, but guess what – I could still get lonely, and I think that’s really interesting. 

AH: I would imagine that having that perspective would help you personally – it’s got to. But it’s really got to help as a songwriter, too, I would think.

JJ: Oh, yeah. It helped me look at loneliness through a different lens. It wasn’t just me. I wasn’t so idyllic about it after that. I think now with social media and Instagram…I mean, I’m guilty of it, too. You post your best photos, they’re filtered, you’re like, “Great night at Denver’s show! Everything’s great!” But nobody knows I was f-ing crying in the van or was sick. I don’t post that stuff. We don’t do that. It’s not culturally accepted right now. And I think that’s kinda sh!tty! So I think it’s important for us to talk about it. And I’ve been really open and honest with press on this record, because the first record, Gilded, like I said with that tour, how I didn’t want to tell anyone I was sick, because I didn’t want to get fired. I didn’t want to do it wrong. I didn’t realize I could totally be myself. With Wilderness – that’s the step, and this album is just fully being myself and honest about how I’m actually feeling, and what’s actually going on. 

AH: Fan interaction, merch table, signings – all that stuff has become such a big part of the business. But musicians can be not as social offstage as they are on. How do you enjoy that part of the business?

JJ: The boys and I, we say, “This is part of the job.” I know a lot of bands will play their show, and then they’ll go disappear into their green room and decompress. But for us, we’re not at that stage, and probably when we do get to that stage, I’ll probably continue to do what I’m doing. We’ve gotta wrap up our cables, we’ve got to be real, we’ve got to clean up our sh!t, move our stuff off the stage. And then, guess what, we wouldn’t be there if the people standing there in the audience weren’t there. They’re going to go buy merch, why don’t we go stand behind the table and talk to them and answer questions. And sometimes it’s hard when you’re tired. But it’s been so gratifying, because I’ll have nights where my monitor mix is really bad, and I’m “Gosh, I just didn’t sound good. I didn’t play my best.” I feel like I was in my head a lot. And it’s so interesting to me, a lot of those times, I’ll go behind the merch table, and start talking to fans, and they’ll be like, “That was such a great show! It was so awesome!” And I’m, “Wow, guys! I seriously couldn’t do this without you.” You need that. And I love talking to people and hearing their stories, especially when they say, “That helped me get through a hard time.” For me, songwriting’s just my therapy. To share it and be open about it and have people say it helped them, that’s my idea of success. That’s it. That’s what it means to me to succeed as an artist, is to be able to connect with people who are listening to your stuff. 

AH: Do you have a dream collaboration with someone you might want to do, either something that could happen or something you would just love to happen?

JJ: My all-time favorite artist is Bruce Springsteen. Nebraska’s my all-time favorite album. He’s just craftsmanship and songwriting at its finest, and a major inspiration. I think my dream would be to collaborate on something.  

AH: Is there anyone you that you think we should be listening to? 

JJ: I’ve ventured outside of [Americana] a bit, listening to artists. On the road, I’ve really enjoyed listening to The War on Drugs and Phoebe Bridgers, which aren’t considered Americana. But they’re so good! I love those two artists right at the moment. Also, Logic. I never listen to rap. My dad had two rules growing up: in the house, you can’t smoke weed, and you can’t listen to rap music. So I never listened to it. But whenever I put him on in the car – we had a 12-hour drive, and we were listening to him, and I’m like, “This guy’s awesome!” I don’t think I could ever do anything like that, but he has this quality in his songwriting that I really enjoy. And, sonically, The War on Drugs just kills it. 

AH: Anything else you want to say about the album?

JJ: I think that this album is a step in my career to be brave, to look inward and be honest about what’s really going on. I’m really excited about this one and already thinking about the next one! 

For our review of Jade Jackson’s album, look here:  REVIEW: Jade Jackson’s “Wilderness” Will Be Her Breakout; for our interview with Chris Shiflett, see here: Interview: Chris Shiflett on Podcast, Hayes Carll, Foo Fighters and the Ghost of Hank Williams, and for tour dates and more, see right here: https://jadejackson.com



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