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INTERVIEW: Jackson Howard

Hi Jackson, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?

Thanks, it’s great to be here!  I have been frantically preparing for this tour as well as my tour of Germany this September.  It’s been busy and a lot of work, but so exciting at the same time!

Can you talk to us more about your song “Just For The Mystery”? 

Of course!  Just for the Mystery is the opening track and lead-off single for my new album of the same name.  While much of my music leans acoustic/alternative, this song has a poppy, danceable groove that makes it fun to play.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song? 

About a year and a half ago, I played a concert in my hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (United States) and many friends from high-school days came out.  Afterwards, a group of us went out, had some beers and reminisced about old stories, past flames, etc., the way people do who knew each other as kids.  As I caught up with a girl who had dated my brother in high school, she made the observation that she would never love anyone the same way that she had loved him, which was not to say that she would never love anyone as much, but simply that it would always be different.  The comment that stuck with me was when she said, “At that age, there is only one question to consider…do I love this person or not? As we get older, life becomes more complicated as careers, location, finances, and lifestyles all have to enter this equation.  Because of this there will always be an allure to the teenage romances of the past for the pure simplicity they offer… but that simplicity could never exist now”.  I’m probably taking creative liberty with her exact words, but that was my take away. So the next night I wrote all the melody and lyrics to the song while driving 12 hours overnight from Pennsylvania to St. Louis using a voice recorder on my phone.

Any plans to release a video for the track? 

As a matter of fact, my close friend and one of my favorite people in the world, Britt Neufer is currently working on a video for Just for the Mystery.  I don’t want to give too much away and lose the *ahem* “mystery” (Michael Jackson may be the king of pop, but I’m certainly the king of dad-jokes), but we shot everything on a green screen and it’s going to be a wacky one.  We had a blast shooting this thing.  Britt is a genius and the bits I’ve seen so far have me very excited.  She has worked on major television and film content and really knows her stuff.  We met completely by accident when serendipitously assigned to the same Ultimate Frisbee team last fall and become fast friends before deciding to put this video together.  Can’t wait to share it with you!

Why did you name the album after this song in particular? 

There were several title options floated around, but this title stuck.  In many ways, I feel that “Just for the Mystery” is a decent explanation for many of my life decisions lately.  In 2013, I completed a PhD in Exercise Physiology at the University of Pittsburgh and then moved to St. Louis to do research in behavioral treatments for Obesity.  It wasn’t until I was living in St. Louis that I began performing, and within a year or so I was doing pretty well locally.  That’s when I started to get the “What if?” itch and toyed with the idea of making a living from music in my mind.  Eventually, “What if?” turned into “How?” which became hard work and an increasing revenue stream from music.  I really wanted to know what it would be like to quit my job and play music full time… so I did. 

After playing mostly local gigs for two years in St. Louis, I started to map my first major tour… this one.  The question I’ve gotten most from musician friends has been “Why are you touring?” or “What is your goal with this tour?”  And honestly, my goal is not to achieve super-stardom, not to make a fortune (though an income close to my old job would be nice), and not to get myself in-front of important A&R execs.  So, with that in mind I had to dig a little to answer why I wanted to tour so badly, and the simply answer became very clear.  I wanted to tour because it sounded fun!  I want to tour because I’m young, unmarried with no kids and I still can.  I want to tour, to see what it’s like, make a lot of new friends and have an unforgettable experience.  In many ways, calling this the “Just for the Mystery Tour” is very appropriate!

How was the recording and writing process? 

As I mentioned before, I wrote the song while driving 12-hours solo through the night and singing into a voice recorder app.  That actually proved to be a great way to stay awake, and was the second time I had written a song this way as “A Place in this World” came from the drive a week earlier from St. Louis to Harrisburg.

Recording this song was a blast.  A college friend of mine and amazing musician Andre DiMuzio drove down to Nashville from North Carolina to play piano on the album, and we also worked with Jared Kneale on drums (who plays currently with Ben Rector and formerly Kacey Musgraves), as well as Danny O’Lannerghty on bass, and Jonathan Crone on guitar.  We recorded at Playground Recording Studio in Nashville, TN, tracking simultaneously in one giant room as a band.  Everything gelled immediately and I think we knocked this one out in one or two takes.  We all got so into the groove that when the end came, we played right through it resulting in the unusual way everything seems to fall apart at the end.  That wasn’t how the song was supposed to end, but we loved it and decided to keep it!

You got to work with several producers on this album – why so many and how did they influence the album? 

The album has two producers and four different engineers.  The initial pre-production I did with my friend Andre DiMuzio at his place in North Carolina.  I went out there about a month before we began recording and we spent three days going through 7 of the songs from the record (and one that didn’t make it on).  He had some really great input on the album, adding the epic outro to “Run with Me”, the dramatic key change to “Dizzy” and tasty re-harmonization on a number of other tunes.  I’ve admired Andre’s writing since we were in college, and it was a real treat to get to work with him.

Then I took the updated versions of the songs to Dark Horse recording studio with producer Billy Smiley where we spent another 3 days making additional tweaks.  Billy has great pop sensibility and feel for how to perfect the flow of a song.  On Just for the Mystery, he completely scrapped the bridge I had written and had me play a guitar solo instead.  To be fair, it was a pretty strange bridge before, and as a guy who is almost always on an acoustic, it was definitely fun playing a little lead!

Did Paul Simon and Jason Mraz influence the writing on this record? 

I sure they did in some way.  I admire both artists as lyricists for completely different reasons.  Simon for his vivid imagery and distinctly unusual and conversational phrasing and Mraz for his rhythmic use of language with almost percussive phrasing over brilliant internal rhyme.  I’m sure I’m always striving for something that approaches their mastery when I write.  Certainly the verses of Just for the Mystery are built on the same type of quick internal rhyme that is such a signature of Jason Mraz, while other songs on the album like “This Town” follow a softer more conversational approach like Simon.  Any artist you really fall in love with is bound to influence your writing.

What mysteries did you get to dive on this record? 

The record covers a lot of topics like home, identity, love, nostalgia, hope, friendship and bitter resent.  I think I’m most proud of “If I Fall” both lyrically and harmonically.  I’ll let that one speak for itself, and you can find it on Spotify searching “Jackson Howard”.

How has the road been treating you so far? 

Tomorrow is the beginning of my first major tour, so in many ways that is yet to be seen.  I have travelled a lot already for music this year though, and have had a blast.  One of my favorite things about touring is how many old friends I get to see who I might not have had a chance to reconnect with had music not brought me to their cities.

Any highlights? 

In January I played a show for a packed house at Gaukurinn in Reykjavik, Iceland with Nick Jameson of Foghat.  The vibe in that room was amazing. The full to brimming room was completely engaged and supportive and Nick is such an incredible performer that I had more fun watching him than I did playing that night!  Adding that the next week was spent climbing mountains, exploring glaciers and hiking waterfalls, it’s hard to beat that experience.

What else is happening next in Jackson Howard’s world?

For the next two and a half months I’ll be touring throughout the Midwest, New England, Mid Atlantic and the Carolinas, and then it’ll be off to Germany for a 23-show tour.  Things are fuzzier past that horizon, but I kind of like it that way.  l’m not doing any type of Kickstarter or GoFundMe, but would love all the support I can get from people either following me on Spotify, buying my album on iTunes, or simply sharing my music with friends!  Thank you so much for your time!

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About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, play guitar, music geek, movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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