Jarrod Dickenson shadowy picture by Tatsuro Nishimura; doorway picture by Patrick Glennon
Jarrod Dickenson Brings More Rock To His “Big Talk”
Jarrod Dickenson’s new album Big Talk arrives on February 3rd, 2023, featuring Jano Rix (The Wood Brothers) on drums and keys, Ted Pecchio (Doyle Bramhall II, Tedeschi Trucks Band) on bass, JP Ruggieri on guitars, and Claire Dickenson on backing vocals, as well as some other guest appearances. For those who were wooed by Dickenson’s previous album, Ready The Horses, you may know that he struggled with a label over rights to that collection, but with Big Talk, he returns as self-producer for an independent release.
Something of that self-motivated energy and drive impacts the album title and permeates the new album, including a more rock-oriented attitude, however, Dickenson was also affected by having a longer period of time to work on demos and build orchestration for these tracks due to the pandemic period. The result is very fully realized sound alongside lyrical perspectives that many can relate to in a world that continues to be conflicted, confusing, and at times more than an individual can handle alone. I spoke with Jarrod Dickenson about staking his claim on Big Talk, both in terms of its ideas and sound traditions.
Americana Highways: When did the writing start for this group of songs?
Jarrod Dickenson: Most of these songs were written in the year or two after my last release. There’s one song that I had written five or six years ago with a good friend of mine Seth Walker. The song is called “Home Again.” That’s probably the oldest on the record.
AH: Was that already a time when you knew you’d follow up with self-producing and remaining independent?
JD: When writing it, I don’t remember thinking too much about who would be in the producer’s chair. That said, I produced the last record as well, Ready the Horses. That was a little different in nature since that record was very much live and very much off-the-cuff. That was just me and a bunch of friends in a studio in the southeast of England. We had been on a month-long tour and as soon as that tour ended, we got into the studio and laid it down. There were a few overdubs on vocals and percussion but it was a very improvised recording.
This album is rooted in the same style, with live, full-band takes, but particularly with how things unfolded in early 2020, I found myself with more time on my hands than I was used to. Because of that, I sat down and made very detailed demos for the first time in my life. I was writing out specific guitar parts, background vocals, and things like that. Before I didn’t really have the time to do it, so that would be on-the-fly, in the studio. I had time to think about particular arrangements, so it was a pretty easy thing to slide into producing and take the demos into the studio. I still left plenty of room for improvisation in the moment.
AH: To go back to Ready the Horses for a moment, when you recorded that, were those songs that you had been performing on that tour already, or was it a totally different group of songs?
JD: It was a bit of both. Maybe half of the songs on the record were ones that we’d been playing live. There were a handful that were also brand new and I’d never played live. We just felt them out in the moment.
AH: That’s amazingly brave!
JD: You could call it bravery, or you could call it not having a lot of money to be in the studio. [Laughs]
AH: You’ve been out playing and will be playing soon again. Have you been playing the songs from Big Talk yet?
JD: Three or four of them have been part of our live set. A handful of them have been intentionally held back to keep things exciting for fans. That’s not easy for me! I’m always eager to play the newer songs. We’ll be adding quite a few more in soon.
AH: Do you feel that spending more time with the demos influenced the variety of musical traditions we see in these new songs? I think the differences here between this album and your previous album are not massive, but I do see some developments.
JD: In terms of sonic qualities, it’s very much in line with what I’ve done previously in that it’s still a rock ‘n roll band with drums, bass, guitar, organ, and vocals. That’s the core of all of it. I think the difference on this one is a different attitude to the songs, a bit more intensity. But that may be based on my experience on my previous record, where I made an album, shopped it around, it got picked up by a major label, and then that experience was, as often is the case, a pretty lousy one. It ended with a year-and-a-half long legal battle with me fighting to get the rights back to the album. The frustrations from that spilled into the songwriting. Naturally, without thinking about it, it was a lot more defiant, and at times angry. That’s just down to life experiences and what comes out of that.
AH: It’s possible that we have musical associations of certain sounds with certain attitudes. Blues and rock, particularly, have aspects we associate with certain moods, like defiance.
JD: I think you’re absolutely right, and I think it’s a subconscious thing. I wasn’t necessarily setting out, thinking, “I’m going to make a rock ‘n roll record this time.” But those were the emotions I was feeling and somewhere deep inside, if I was feeling frustrated and defiant, this was what that sounded like. It comes from thousands of hours of listening to music. [Laughs]
AH: Inadvertently, this album is exactly the right mood for right now. I think everyone can relate to a lot of these feelings, still living in a very conflict-driven world.
JD: I hope the songs are something that folks can latch onto and help express their emotions in a healthy way.
AH: There’s a certain perspective in several of these songs that feels like an individual taking stock of a bigger world view, and maybe feeling small, but still staying focused on how they feel about things. That champions the individual when facing a lot of craziness, which is very universal.
JD: Absolutely. If that’s what you take from it, I take that as a great compliment. Not all the songs are autobiographical, but it is one person trying to figure things out and how they fit into the larger picture.
AH: There are major differences between the songs. The songs that are more on the defiant side are like “Buckle Under Pressure.” Something that some of the songs do is admit limitation or reach a turning point, so there’s a realism there rather than idealism. “Prefer to Lose” and “With Any Luck” show more awareness of faults or limitations.
JD: From my standpoint, I’d never want to try to fool the public into thinking that I have it all figured out. Very much not. I don’t think any of us do. I think all any of us can do it try to be better, keep trying to be more open-minded, keep trying to be open-hearted. It’s about calling things out when you see them, but not necessarily from a standpoint of “I’m right and you’re wrong.” It’s about whether we can continue to do this all a little bit better each day.
AH: The video for “With Any Luck” is interesting because it has a retro feel, but also a confessional feel, and a little hopefulness in the brighter colors.
JD: We’ve tried to make each video a little different. The video for “With Any Luck” was filmed in Waco, Texas, which is where I’m from. A good friend of mine owns the bar that we filmed that in called Sloane’s. It’s very much an 80s-themed bar, and I think the name comes from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I pretended to be a bartender and wore a shirt that would match. That same friend owns a vintage Ferrari and he was silly enough to offer to let me drive it for the video. I wasn’t sure it matched the working class vibe of the song, but when else was I going to get to drive down the road in a Ferrari? It was a fun one to do.
AH: It’s symbolic of freedom and making a decision. [Laughs]
JD: And not of being terrified that you’re going to crash your friend’s Ferrari… Any number of things could have happened!
AH: There’s an interesting connection between the song and the video that may be coincidental, but some of these lyrics feel like the kind of thing you might say to a bartender.
JD: That was sort of the thought behind doing it in the bar. You’re lamenting to the bartender. I’m a huge, huge fan of the TV show Cheers, much to my wife’s dismay, since I watch it embarrassingly often. But I’ve always loved the idea of someone going into their neighborhood pub and releasing their frustrations to their trusted bartender.
AH: Something that I think is a helpful idea in the song is that sometimes you have to change your course in life. Sometimes sticking with something is not the right decision, even if you’re the kind of person who usually sticks with things.
JD: Absolutely, there are times when it’s not admirable to stick it out. Making a change takes courage, but sometimes it’s the right move.
AH: The video for “Buckle Under Pressure” looks pretty complicated to make. Did you have some help?
JD: We make our own videos, but that one was all my wife [Claire Dickenson] who edited. We filmed it in a couple of different locations. The same friend has a coffee roasting company in Waco, Texas, called Apex. We knew that we were going to try to create a 50s to 60s variety show vibe for my parts, and we needed a big space. So we set up in their coffee roasting warehouse with gold tinsel from Target set up as the kind of background. We filmed me playing and singing to the song.
Then, we filmed my wife as the housewife sitting having a cocktail, watching TV, and stumbling upon this video. For that, we had this old TV that we found from the 50s that we thought would look great. She had the incredible task of putting me in the TV screen. She really had to make about four different videos to make this one. It was a mammoth task, but I think it turned out great. I’m sure she never wants to see it again!
AH: I like all these videos, but this one gets very high marks. It’s beautiful. I really love how the TV is black and white. I was particularly mesmerized for no good reason by the bizarre trigger-control to the TV. What is that?
JD: That was a strange thing that we discovered. We found that TV and thought it was cool, and had built a basement bar at our house, so we thought this TV would be a funky piece of furniture for it. When we went to pick it up, the lady gave us the remote, and to me it looked like a garden hose nozzle or something. We looked into it and it turns out that it’s the first wireless TV remote ever made. It came out in 1955 and just looks like anything any of us have ever seen. We knew that we had to use that somehow in the video.
AH: It affects the feeling of the video, being green and gun-like. She’s also sharply dressed and looking great, so the fact that she’s using this remote gives her a sense of power and agency here, but maybe it’s the song that’s gets her thinking and moving. You get this feeling that the music is liberating but that she had a role in choosing that. That song also has a lot of Rock guitar to it.
JD: It does, and that one was written very much in response to the struggles with my record label. It’s 100% about that. It was my move into Rock ‘n Roll territory to write that song.
AH: I got that from some of the lines like, “We could’ve been friends.” I knew there was a good chance it was about the music industry, though it’s left open as a relationship that didn’t work out.
JD: It was veiled, but very thinly veiled!
Thank you so much for chatting with us, Jarrod Dickenson.
You can find more about Jarrod Dickenson, including music and tour dates, here: https://jarroddickenson.com/home