I had so much fun interviewing Jake Jackson last year that I decided to do it again, in honour of ‘Josephine’, his second single from his forthcoming album. Our conversation ranged across a whole lot of topics, including making a boat – all will become clear when you read the interview – and Johnny Cash.
So it seems like just the other day that we spoke, and now you have your second single, ‘Josephine’, out. Time just flies.
Exactly right – exactly right. It just flies. This year – this year has flown with the two singles. I mean, just from a musical perspective it’s just – it’s just every day there seems to matter and, sort of, days that you try and stay on top of rehearsal and stay on top of gigs and stay on top of all the bits and pieces we’re doing this for, trying to get organised for another album. So it’s – it’s a bit of an art but it’s all good, it’s all good, I’m not complaining, having a lot of fun.
So when you say – and it’s good to be popular, as I like to say – but when you say another album, because this one hasn’t been released yet …
Yeah I know but you’ve got to be thinking of the follow ups, you really can’t afford – because it’s such a timeline. Like, I mean, realistically, you’ve got to be looking at another year to produce an album, by the time, and the film clips that go with it, the film clips are the ones that take the time. I get – I reckon I could sit down and write another album, I’ve got – I’ve got a second album, sort of, probably about six songs, seven songs in, so I’m pretty good with adding maybe three more songs, four more songs I’ll be fine, but the film clips to each one of them, sort of like an eight-week exercise, it’s a whole other – whole other problem.
Let’s talk about “Josephine” because this is your second single off the forthcoming album, which I note still doesn’t have an exact release date.
It’s not really far away, so I guess I’ll be uploading into iTunes and then changing the dates as it comes up.
Because it’s – even though, I mean, it must be slightly frustrating and you may or may not want to say, but I know that you’ve had this album in the can for a long time now and so it must seem to you like it’s just – you’re really, really keen to get it out.
Look absolutely, I’m dying to get the thing out there and say, well, here it is, this is it and we can start working on promoting our album in its entirety because the album in its entirety has a lot of colours in it, so it’s – it’s not like just promoting one song. I mean, which, of course I love too, but to – to be able to sort of show the whole – the whole palette of what we do in – in – with the album is exciting for me. And you’re right, it’s been – it’s been a year or so at least since we’ve really finished the album but, like I say, I think when you start getting into the – all the add-ons like the film clips, et cetera, they take time and, gee, before I do the next album I’ll have all the – all the film clips ready to go before I even think about it, because that puts so much pressure on us to get them finished. But we’re there and so we’re just a matter of – matter of weeks away before we get the album out and “Josephine” is going well and “The Hired Hand” went famously so it’s all – I couldn’t hope for more really, I couldn’t be more excited about it.
So how did you choose “Josephine” as the second single?
It’s just one of those songs. I’ve got a – I’ve got a mate and he’s got a – actually I’ve got a few mates funnily enough – but I’ve got a mate and one of them in particular, he said to me, he said, “I never want to hear that song again”, because he said whenever the kids get in the car – I gave them an early copy of the album and – and he said whenever the kids get in the car all they want to hear is that bloody song. And I mean it’s like – it’s a problem in one way and of course he liked it, but you can only play a song so many times. And the funny thing is another friend of mine put up on the Facebook site, “You’ve got a new fan with my eight-year-old, all she does is sing your song all day,” which of course is “Josephine”, so it’s obviously a really catchy song that I really love and – and I think it’s a song that people will – will be – find very accessible, it’s not a difficult song to get around. It’s a really happy song and it’s a song about the summer and hey, that’s where we are.
I actually think children are the hardest audience to crack, so I reckon if you’ve got kids wanting to hear it all the time, that’s – that’s a sign of how well constructed the song is. Because I think children, because they – they just respond purely to what they’re hearing they’re not thinking is it cool, am I meant to like it, am I not meant to like it, I think children actually respond to really good pure song structure, accessible lyrics and also especially the melody. So you might have a side career going there, school visits.
Look, I’m not putting on the colourful T-shirts, I’m doing that, I’m not doing the Wiggles, okay, they’ve got their own audience, they’ve got their franchises going. I’m all cool with that thanks. But no, look, you’re absolutely right what you’re saying, children are – are unencumbered with all those things that seem to get in the way of liking things, that doesn’t have to be cool, it doesn’t have to be this, it doesn’t have to be that, it’s only got to be if they like it and there are – they just pick up on melodies and if you can get a child to sing a melody, well then, you’re away.
And so “Josephine”, even though there is a boat in the song, “Josephine” is not the boat, despite what one might think.
No, no “Josephine” is not the boat and it’s not a place, it’s a girl and well, in the film clip, some producer came up to me and said, look it’s a great idea, let’s do the film clip and Josephine can be a place, and I said no, no, no, you’re missing the whole story, this is a – this is a true story. This is about a time in my life when I was building this boat and – and – and it’s a song about the girl of my dreams that’s the take on the boat, that sort of thing. So let’s not – let’s not confuse – not confuse the story. But yeah, no, it was amazing time, I mean I – I had this – I was only 23 and I came back from Queensland and I had this idea of building a boat and sailing around the islands and I didn’t have a lot of money but I somehow manage to do this thing, three years in the making, then I launched it and – and I went sailing and I had a lot of fun. And I never sailed it around the world, but, gee, I did a lot of sailing and I did a lot of the things I wanted to do, which was fantastic.
Did you have any idea how to build a boat before you started?
Absolutely none – absolutely none.
So how does – probably like making an album, you do it for the first time once, but still it’s a huge endeavour.
It’s having been on the farm and, sort of – being on the farm is all about being totally resourceful and being able to do things that – and work things out yourself. There are not many people who work on the land these days that aren’t that sort of person; you need to be a resourceful, intelligent person who can work through problems on your own. Because most people on the land are on their own, and I had a long period of that where working in the country and then working out in the outback and then working – and fundamentally, I became very adaptable and practical and I could deal with problems and I could work out how to build things and a boat didn’t look like a complicated thing to make. You know in retrospect, it isn’t a complicated thing to make, they really – as long as it floats and you don’t sort of damage the integrity of the hull and you keep this thing floating, they’re not that complicated and I didn’t need to win an America’s Cup or anything, I was just happy to go plodding around, so – so it was no technological masterpiece, but it was certainly a very nice sail boat and I had a lot of fun with it.
Well and you managed to sell it to someone else, so clearly it was a good enough boat that someone else felt they could sail it.
Look, I had the opportunity and I sailed the thing, I loved it, I did all that and then I think I had this moment when somebody really wanted to buy it. And he did buy it and it was a beautiful boat, I mean at the end of the day I was pretty handy with carpentry and – and I did a lot of lovely work on the boat and obsessed over it for three years, and you can only do – there’s only – the thing was only 33 foot long, so if you can imagine obsessing over something that’s 33 foot long for three years you can do a lot of work on the thing. So it was a beautiful thing to be on and then – and so this guy bought it and he sailed it off into the sunset with his girlfriend and they did sail it around the world. But you get that and he’d send me these postcard from Mauritius and it was like – it was almost like he was doing it with his – with his tongue poking out, but it was great, it was great.
Well, especially as he seemed to have his own Josephine with him.
Exactly right. No, he certainly had a Josephine and he certainly went off sailing with her, but I mean I did too and I just didn’t go as far as he went. He was a lot braver than me. Maybe I knew more about the boat [laughs].
Or maybe you had other things to do, that’s what I think that happens too.
Look, that’s absolutely right. Look, I sort of did it and was into it and loved it and was all over it and enjoyed it. And then – and I just got to the end of it and I thought, well, I’ve done that and no, I’m not going to sail around the world because I don’t mind the stops but those oceans things in the middle, they’re not so much fun, and the islands are a lot of fun but I had a lot of things to do, I had a lot to get on with and I wasn’t ready at, sort of, 25 to, sort of, settle down into sort of just lying around on a boat for the rest of my days, I was pretty keen to get on with music and keep things rolling.
Well to me the story of the boat and – and – and – of “Josephine” is – the boat was a dream and then you made it a reality and then the song’s about this dream girl, but also building a music career is a dream that you’re making a reality. So I’m actually wondering about the role of dreamers in society, because I think it’s – it’s – it’s been maligned in the past, being a dreamer when you’re a small child and school teachers will sometimes say stop day dreaming, don’t be such a dreamer, but I think dreamers are really valuable people to have in society and you seem to be one, so I was wondering if that’s true and if you have other dreams?
You’ve got to dream, you’ve got to have dreams, otherwise where you’re going with all of this, this one life that you’re given to you and this one life – I don’t want to give too esoteric here – but you’re given all – too philosophical – you’re given one life and if you don’t have dreams and aspirations, wow, I don’t know what you’re supposed to do with … but I’ve always had dreams about the things I want to do, but the main thing is, I’ve got up and really had a good crack at following them., I’ve been playing the guitar since I was a little kid and never stopped playing and always – always enjoyed the fact that I always seemed to get better at it, and always sung and always enjoyed singing and always sort of kept it up, and so the dream of having an audience … and once upon time somebody told me that my record was going to be played on the radio for example, I think I made that quip to some – to a – during some interview at some stage and, “Hey Mum, my record’s on the radio.” It’s pretty cool, like it’s – that is the culmination of some people’s dreams. I mean for me the dream is to – to be playing to audiences that really want to hear the music and that’s – that’s the beauty of where I am at the moment. I’m – I’m now getting a following of people that actually want to hear the songs that I’m singing and playing and writing and that is the dream come true, as opposed to a lot of musicians, spend a lot of time playing other people’s songs and – and never really being able to express them because they haven’t written them. And to be able to play your own songs and to audiences that want to hear them, is – is a pretty special thing.
Do you think it’s hard being a dreamer in the modern world though, in – in the life of being a householder and having to manage things – is it difficult to keep dreams alive?
Oh look, I think being a dreamer is a fantastic thing, so long as you actually act on it. I mean for – to be simply just dreaming and not doing anything about it would be a really frustrating process I reckon. But I’m a committed dreamer, there you go, so – so I get a dream and off I go and have a good go at it. I did that with music in so many ways. I dreamt of being a Flamenco guitar player about 15 years ago, and ten years ago, I committed myself to the instrument and I was playing the bloody thing the whole time, and learnt how to play Flamenco guitar, went to Spain, did the whole thing, and sort of, lived the dream, and that was a great experience. And I never would have got – never would have done that if I hadn’t had that – that dream of wanting to be a Flamenco guitar player at some stage in my life. I’d always been attracted to that sort of music and I was – I’d always been a country player and country singer and it was such a great challenge to, sort of, have a go at a whole different genre and then actually go to the country where it lives and breathes and take it on head on, and that’s what dreaming gets you I guess.
Do you think – do your songs start as dreams or do they start as ideas or memories or a collection of different things?
Look, every single one starts off as a feeling. Every single time you write a song, it’s a feeling. You have an emotion that you’re trying to convey and it comes out and sometimes, often what you’ll do is you’ll sit there and you hear about these guys that write, they write nine to five literally, they go into work and they’ll start writing songs at nine o’clock and – sort of get into Nashville being a bit like this at times where they’ll start at nine o’clock and they’ll finish at five o’clock and they’ll go home to their family and they’ll help cook dinner and they’ll get up in the morning and do it all again. I can’t relate to that. I just don’t know how it works, but – but I don’t do that. I find that I’ll sometimes sit down thinking, oh, I need to write and I’ll be at this time when I’ll start to write and – and then I might play for an hour before anything comes out whatsoever and then all of a sudden I’ll get into a feeling, into a vibe, into a musical sort of expression and all of a sudden I start writing a song, and they just come out. It’s not always quite like that, I must admit. “Hired Hand”, I think I wrote that on the way to a rehearsal. I got the guts of it in the car on the way to rehearsal, I was, sort of – I had the feeling of a song that I wanted to write and I sort of – I was humming it all the way to rehearsal, and I sat down there at rehearsal, I’ve got this thing, so I started playing it and then of course wrote a couple of verses quite quickly and because it was a story that was easy to tell because it was my story, so it was easy to sort of get it down and get it out. But I tend to write in a more emotive state rather than a sort of purely constructed state, the songs – when people write in a very constructed way, they tend to sound like that I think.
Well, and one could argue there are whole albums full of songs out of Nashville that do sound a bit the same, yes [laughs].
Yeah, well. [laughs] Look, I think every genre suffers that fate, I mean whether it be pop or country or soul or rap, I mean a lot of people are under a lot of pressure to produce albums, they’ve got these contracts that they’ve got to deal with and so they’ve got to pump the material out and, God bless them. But hey, I don’t know if I want to write like that. I’d rather – I’d rather do what I’m doing at the moment, sort of saying well I need to produce another album at some point, so I’m going to sort of generally start, sort of, putting together tunes that I think are going to work on it, and follow up to the current album that I’m about to release and then when it goes to recording of that – that will be quite different, that will be another great fun experience and I can just, sort of, hit that pretty hard. But – but in terms of putting the material together I’d hate to have to sit down over a sort of a two-week period and write songs, that could – they wouldn’t be any good [laughs].
I think the – I think audiences respond to feelings as well and you – when you were talking earlier you said, oh, you don’t mean to get too esoteric, and – but I actually think that one of the things that people really respond to in country music is that it’s not – it’s not about easy stuff a lot of the time. Quite often the songs are about things in life that the audience might need to work out for themselves or might need to hear someone else saying so they feel reassured, and I think that that’s one of the great strengths of it as a genre, is that there’s permission – permission to have feelings, permission to be sad, permission to be happy; you’re not expected to just be one emotion the whole time.
I think that’s right with country music, I think the beautiful thing about country music is that it gives you the right to express, unbridled, so that you can just say what you feel and put it in a song and get out there and – and people do respond to it. I mean you just look at that last song that Johnny Cash produced, I mean what an amazing song, I’m just trying to think of the name of it, but it was—
I can’t remember either.
Oh look, it was the last one he did and it was the last video clip and it was about his death, it was – imminent and upcoming death. I mean what a difficult subject to deal with, but – and he did die, and he left this incredible legacy, I wish I could think of that song, the name of it.
I might Google it while we’re talking just so I can – I’ll see if I can come up with it.
I was absolutely perplexed by that song by the intensity of it was – it was just an expression of the end of his life.
It’s called “Hurt”.
“Hurt”, yeah, it’s an amazing song, it’s an amazing song. It’s probably one of the – probably, well, in my opinion, oh ,it’s very sad because everybody will argue that I’m wrong, but for me it was the most important song he ever did, incredible, incredible song. But once again, here we go, so a country song expressing something that people generally probably don’t want to talk about too much or – and there it is, and it doesn’t have to be sort of all candy apple pie, it can be – it can be anything and he’s doing it totally from the heart, totally from the soul and so people listen to it and get onto it.
And Rosanne Cash, I don’t know if you’ve heard her album Black Cadillac, but she released it after – after Johnny and after June died as well, and it’s about all three of her parents, her biological mother and June and Johnny dying, and it’s – well, most of the songs are I think, and that’s – they’re country songs as well and she’s – they’re incredible songs, if you haven’t heard it, I recommend the album.
Is that that song, “I’ll pick you up in a black Cadillac”?
I don’t think so,
Okay, right, I’m sorry, I heard a song the other day that somebody threw at me how they really like it and I didn’t – I didn’t – we didn’t know who it was and it was an incredible song. It was a great song, it was about somebody’s death and it was about them, “I’ll pick you up in a black Cadillac”, it was actually about hearse.
This one, I think the lyric is, “it was a black Cadillac that took you away, was—“
This has got to be the song, who’s that by?
Rosanne Cash, Johnny’s daughter.
Oh, Rosanne Cash, okay, gee, I bet that’s the song.
That album has some fantastic songs on it, but at a guess it is, I think, yeah, country music started off as a – as a genre originally to address the hardships of life, it was what the white folks’ blues, I guess. It has evolved a lot in the United States, but I think still – I think in Australia it’s still, and in certain artists in the United States, but most of Australian country music is not overly manufactured, heartless stuff.
No, look, it can’t be. I mean the audiences wouldn’t – wouldn’t listen to it if it was too – too produced. I mean it’s just – people are looking for that sort of honesty in country music and hence why a lot of people play country music with single instrument or a trio or a simple group. We’re performing as a trio at the moment – violin, guitar, two vocals – and it’s that – it’s that lovely sort of honesty that makes it really work.
And for you, working just with a violin and a guitar, that’s actually – I think, it’s not a common – often you’ll get like drum and guitar or – I’m trying to think of the last time I saw just a guitar and a violin but does that – did that take some adjusting?
It depends who’s playing the violin of course, and I suppose the guitar too, but Nigel MacLean, he’s just the coolest fiddle player in the entire universe, which is of course the Milky Way, he’s just – he’s incredible and I love him to bits and he’s plays so incredibly well. He’s a Tamworth winner, he’s a – I don’t want to bang his drum too hard, because he might get a big head, but the reality is he’s a brilliant – he’s a brilliant fiddle player and when you’re playing with somebody of that calibre it does – I tell you what, traditionally if you look at Irish music traditionally — which of course is the root of most evil, is that – of course I love Irish music, don’t take it for a second that I don’t, I love it and spent – I’ve spent many, many evenings in Irish pubs listening to Irish music, but you often find a guitar or string banjo and – or a mandolin and a violin, so it’s a very, in that genre, it’s quite a common – quite a common duo.
But I think it’s – it must be interesting for a singer, and you as a singer, to do it because you’re quite exposed, I guess, there’s not the backup of the band to – to sort of underlay anything you’re doing, you really have to be in your voice on the night, the audience is listening to every breath, pretty much, as well as every word. So are there ever any moments where you think, oh, maybe I’m a bit too exposed?
The reality of a band is that you’ve got to rehearse it pretty hard and you’ve got to build it pretty right, and the quality and the integrity in the industry, we say, is that nobody is really prepared to jam any more, everybody wants to play it note for note, so that leaves … where I – it’s the reality, I mean, you go and do a gig, you don’t often get bands that are just jamming out songs, they’re playing them as rehearsed and – and there’s been many an argument in the band room afterwards for somebody who played that bad note or jumped a chorus or missed a middle A or something like that. And so that sort of playing is, sort of, gone, whereas when you’re two up, you can – you can be a lot more fluid and you can be a lot more – you can improvise a bit more and you can make it a bit more expressive. So I, sort of, like that, I think I prefer it some ways, although I guess if you’ve got an audience and it’s jump [up] and down dancing, it’s pretty handy to have a drummer.
But it must be – it must be an interesting creative process and possibly sometimes a frustrating one when you’re playing songs from an album that you’ve recorded a year ago and you’ve been doing a lot of gigs in the past year, and the album’s about to come out and essentially you’ve got to play these songs like they’re new, because for a lot of the audience they will be, is there a – is there a – do you find that songs morph over the course of playing them so long, so that by the time you’re playing them to promote the album they seem new again? Or are there some nights where you just think, I don’t want to play this any more?
No, look – look, I think they – they always – they all have – they always take on energy of their own each night. I mean obviously they become more and more similar, but they certainly do take on their own entity as you – as you perform them, and you’ve got to, sort of, drop yourself into the mode of each song, and each song has a definite, sort of, mood and mode that I’ve got to get into for each performance. So once you’re in that zone you’re okay, but there’s some – there’s some new material I’m trying at the moment that gives me a lot of room to sort of play, and I’ve sort of wrote a few songs thinking – I wrote a couple of songs in particular just thinking about, sort of, the possibility of being able to talk through certain sections of song and not having to – not really hold the song up rhythmically the whole time and that’s quite a nice relief, sort of, [from continuing] a barrage of four-four at 120 beats a minute. It’s quite nice, a little bit of light and shade is good. And, yeah, look, I think the reality is that you are trying to emulate the album generally, but – but you’re always trying to get the feeling of the song in there and I often do that acoustically with Mickey guitar, I don’t – I don’t need to have the band all the time. Like I say, if people want to jump up and down, but if they’re dancing, it’s certainly nice to have a drummer. But look, who was I listening to the other day? Steve Earle, there’s a – there’s a fantastic video of him doing “Copperhead Road” on the internet somewhere, where he’s just standing there with a mandolin, and solely – a mandolin is like a – it’s a soprano instrument, so it’s got a very narrow sort of musical range, and so as an accompanying instrument it’s pretty tough to just pull off a whole song without anything else. He does it – he does it incredibly well and it’s just a pure testament to the intensity of the performance. If you can perform to the point where the song is totally believable with a sparse amount of instrumentation then the song, in itself, is much more credible I think.
Yeah, it’s true, I mean that process of playing – playing them over and over again really sorts out whether they’re working or not. Which I guess is why all the musicians like to – a lot of songwriters like to test their songs live before they go into a studio, because then they can work out what songs are going to hold up.
Oh, absolutely – absolutely and you know when they bomb, you see people sort of starting, they’re looking at you because you’re singing on stage for [the] first few minutes, or first couple of minutes, or 30 seconds and then they start talking amongst themselves. You think to yourself, oops, you’ve got to – and that’s often though – that’s often in the presentation of the song and this is sometimes where bands fall down, they – the story of four-piece or five-piece band and they hammer away like I say four-four at 120 beats a minute and there’s only so much an audience can take of that, and if it hasn’t got the light and shade and it hasn’t the variety and it hasn’t got the structure, then you’ll really struggle. Of course, some people pull it off incredibly well and they have you mesmerised all night, but bands – the five-piece band in itself is a challenge.
Yeah, it’s – I haven’t seen many bands keep people mesmerised all night like that unless they’re so loud that people can’t talk.
That’s why we love country music, because they don’t do that.
I’m trying to think the only band I ever saw where like absolutely everyone was completely captivated the whole night was Soundgarden, but—
Yeah, well look, that’s right, I mean they had the audience probably in the palm of their hands and they were just feeding off it and it was rolling in ballads. I mean, think about the gigs you’ve gone to where there [wasn’t a] second where you haven’t thought about something else but what was coming at you, so it’s pretty rare, pretty rare.